Paul McCartney’s Stolen Höfner Bass Returned After 50 Years

Paul McCartney's stolen bass
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Paul McCartney's stolen bass
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Photo Credit: The Beatles / YouTube

A five-year search for Paul McCartney’s stolen Höfner bass has resulted in the musician being reunited with the instrument after more than 50 years.

Paul McCartney’s guitar gently wept without him for over 50 years, but now the violin-shaped 1961 electric Höfner bass has been reunited with the legendary musician after a five-year search by the instrument’s manufacturer. The guitar is estimated to be worth $12.6 million.

McCartney asked Höfner for their help in finding the missing instrument, which he had played hundreds of times during the Beatles’ early days and on their first two albums, featured on hits like “Love Me Do,” “She Loves You,” and “Twist and Shout.” Höfner executive Nick Wass teamed up with journalist Scott Jones to track down the elusive guitar.

“Paul said to me, ‘Hey, because you’re from Höfner, couldn’t you help find my bass?’” said Wass. “And that’s what sparked this great hunt. Sitting there, seeing what the lost bass means to Paul, I was determined to solve the mystery.”

Paul purchased the distinctive looking violin-shaped guitar for about 30 pounds ($37) in 1961 during the Beatles’ residencies in Hamburg, Germany. It was rumored to have been stolen around the time the band was recording their final album in 1969, but no one was certain exactly when it went missing.

“Because I was left-handed, it looked less daft because it was symmetrical,” the star once explained. “I got into that. And once I bought it, I fell in love with it.”

An email from sound engineer Ian Horne, who had worked with McCartney’s band Wings, was the first major breakthrough in the hunt for the lost bass. Horne said the bass was pilfered from the back of his van in the Notting Hill area of London in 1972.

“I’ve carried the guilt all my life,” said Horne, despite McCartney having told him at the time not to worry about the theft, and the pair continued working together for another six years.

But publishing the information about where the bass had actually been stolen from led to further breakthroughs — including a message from a person who said their father had stolen the bass. Their father had apparently not set out to steal McCartney’s instrument specifically, and “panicked when he realized what he had.”

From there, the instrument was sold to Ron Guest, the landlord of the Admiral Blake Pub, for “a few pounds and some beers.” As Wass and Jones set out to locate relatives of Guest who might know of the instrument’s current whereabouts, word had reached his family independently, and Guest’s daughter-in-law contacted McCartney’s studio.

Ron Guest passed the guitar to his oldest son, who died in a car wreck, before passing it to a younger son, Haydn Guest, who died in 2020. Haydn’s wife, Cathy, said the bass had been in her attic for years. The instrument was returned to McCartney in December and authenticated around two months later.

The guitar’s estimated value is based on a Gibson acoustic guitar played by Kurt Cobain on MTV’s Unplugged that sold for $6 million. But McCartney’s guitar “held almost no value” for the past 50 years.

“The thief couldn’t sell it,” said Jones. “Clearly, the Guest family never tried to sell it. It’s a red alert, because the minute you come forward, someone’s going to go, ‘That’s Paul McCartney’s guitar.’”

A message posted on Paul McCartney’s website reads: “Paul’s 1961 Höfner 500/1 bass guitar, which was stolen in 1972, has been returned. The guitar has been authenticated by Höfner and Paul is incredibly grateful to all those involved.”