Paul McCartney Reunited With Bass Guitar That Disappeared 50 Years Ago—With a Little Help From His Fans

The iconic instrument heard in many of the Beatles’ hits was stolen from the back of a van in 1972

Paul McCartney Playing Bass
Paul McCartney plays the Höfner bass during a 1964 performance. David Redfern / Redferns

​​The “most important bass in history,” lost for half a century, is back in the hands of its owner: Paul McCartney. Used in the Beatles’ first two albums and as a backup instrument until the band’s eventual breakup, the guitar was a mainstay throughout the musician’s career, its dark, echoing sound resounding in breakout hits such as “Love Me Do,” “She Loves You” and “Twist and Shout.”

McCartney purchased the instrument—a violin-shaped Höfner 500/1 bass guitar—for just £30 in Hamburg, Germany, in 1961. The guitar played a central role in the burgeoning Beatlemania: It was present at the band’s first recording session at Abbey Road Studios and in its first national TV appearance in Britain. The bass was last seen just a few days before the Beatles’ final live gig in 1969. Soon after, it went missing.

Determined to recover the historic instrument, devoted Beatles fans formed the Lost Bass Project in 2018. Organizers thought the guitar’s disappearance was the “greatest mystery in the history of rock and roll,” according to BBC News’ Andre Rhoden-Paul.

However, the four-year-long search didn’t gain international traction until Scott and Naomi Jones, both British journalists, joined the effort.

Scott, curious about the status of the original bass after watching McCartey’s 2022 Glastonbury performance, contacted Nick Wass—who is the “world’s expert on violin Höfner basses” and “the expert on Paul’s bass,” as Scott tells the Washington Post’s Victoria Bisset.

“We were just fascinated by the routes that guitar may have gone down,” he adds. “We also could see that if we were successful, this would have a real legacy.”

Eventually, media interest in the effort started to build, and the Lost Bass Project was flooded with over 100 leads and calls from over 600 people asking to help the cause, according to a statement on the project’s website.

“People wished McCartney well and wanted to help, [and] because of that, we had all these people come forward,” Naomi tells BBC News. “The search wasn’t about attributing blame. We were saying to people: You can speak to us on an anonymous basis.”

One of these tips led the group to their breakthrough: A sound engineer who had once worked with McCartney said that thieves stole the guitar from the back of a van in 1972, according to the New York Times’ Isabella Kwai.

Armed with that information, the group discovered that the bass was sold to Ronald Guest, the landlord of a local pub in Ladbroke Grove, London. In the years that followed, they suspect that the bass remained in the Guest family.

The final piece of the puzzle came in September, when the group wrote an article for the Telegraph that detailed the search, garnering global exposure.

“As a result of the publicity, someone living in a terraced house in Hastings on the south coast of England contacted Paul McCartney’s company and then returned the bass to them,” writes the Lost Bass Project. “The search was over—Paul had his stolen bass back at last!”

Specialists have since verified the guitar’s authenticity.

“There were no leads, no evidence really where it might be,” Scott tells BBC News. “To have found it quite quickly is amazing, and we’ve heard how thrilled Paul McCartney is to have it back. That’s just the icing on the cake to know that bloke we all love is smiling tonight because his old guitar is back.”

The bass was returned intact, along with its original case. Though the instrument suffered minor damage, some quick repairs should make it playable again, according to the group.

McCartney is “incredibly grateful to all those involved,” according to a statement on his website.

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