How Paul McCartney was reunited with the bass guitar that helped ignite Beatlemania

How Paul McCartney was reunited with the bass guitar that helped ignite Beatlemania

In the early Seventies, Notting Hill was a haven for creatives – music fans could expect to rub shoulders with stars such as The Clash’s Joe Strummer, David Bowie, and the rock band Quintessence. But no one wandering between the music shops, old boozers and recording studios would have had any idea that one of Paul McCartney’s most prized possessions was just yards away in the Admiral Blake pub, stashed there by a panicked thief.

After more than 50 years, the Beatles legend has been reunited with the bass guitar he played on some of the Fab Four’s most famous early songs, including “Love Me Do”, “Twist and Shout”, and “She Loves You”.

McCartney bought the Hofner bass for £30 (around £800 today) in 1961, before he rose to global stardom with the band he co-founded as a teenager in Liverpool. The distinctively shaped guitar, which was said to be his favourite, was last seen around the time The Beatles were recording their final album, Let It Be.

Arguably one of the most famous instruments in the world, the bass helped power Beatlemania: it was played by McCartney hundreds of times at the iconic Cavern Club in his hometown, as well as in Hamburg during The Beatles’ storied Hamburg residencies in the early part of the Sixties. He used it during recording sessions for the first two Beatles albums: Please Please Me and With the Beatles (both released in 1963).

McCartney held on to the bass until October 1972, after The Beatles split, when tragedy struck and it was stolen from a van that was being used to transport instruments for his band, Wings. Roadies Trevor Jones and Ian Horne told The Lost Bass Project that they parked the van on the street near Jones’s home in Ladbroke Grove, and went outside the next morning to find the heavy padlock locking it had been cut and the doors smashed open.

“I knew it was bad news. I looked inside and the bass, along with one other guitar and two Vox AC30 amps, had gone,” Horne told the project.

Paul McCartney on stage at the Cavern Club in Liverpool with his Hofner bass in the early 1960s (Keystone/Getty)
Paul McCartney on stage at the Cavern Club in Liverpool with his Hofner bass in the early 1960s (Keystone/Getty)

He said he and Jones went to Notting Hill police station and reported the theft, as well as going door to door and asking if anyone had seen anything. The story was picked up at the time by The Independent’s sister paper, the Evening Standard; the people behind The Lost Bass Project believed this made the thief – who was living in one of the squats in Ladbroke Grove – realise just what it was he’d stolen.

“At that point, the thief realised he had Paul McCartney’s bass. It’s very clear to us that he didn’t set out to steal The Beatles’ bass, and he didn’t know he was taking such a piece of Beatlemania history,” husband and wife team Scott and Naomi Jones – who joined the project with Nick Wass from Hofner – told the BBC’s Today programme on Friday 16 February.

Apparently believing the bass was “too hot to handle”, the thief is then thought to have scuttled over to the Admiral Blake pub, where he knew the landlord, Ronald Guest, and asked if he could stash it there. The Lost Bass Project team believe he might eventually have sold it to Guest, who then kept it in the family for the next 52 years.

McCartney was apparently devasted after the guitar was stolen (Getty)
McCartney was apparently devasted after the guitar was stolen (Getty)

Nothing more was heard about the instrument until 2018, when a nationwide search was launched by The Lost Bass Project. After a fresh appeal for help from the public last year, the team received an anonymous tip-off – apparently from a relative of the late landlord – that it was sitting in the attic of a terraced house in Hastings, on the south coast of England.

On Tuesday (13 February), a photo was posted to social media by 21-year-old film student Ruaidhri Guest, in which he claimed to be holding the elusive instrument. Guest, a Doctor Who fan who has met Scottish actor David Tennant, claimed he had inherited it and that it had since been returned to McCartney.

A statement posted to McCartney’s official website said: “Following the launch of last year's Lost Bass project, Paul’s 1961 Hofner 500/1 bass guitar, which was stolen in 1972, has been returned. The guitar has been authenticated by Hofner and Paul is incredibly grateful to all those involved.”

The Independent has contacted Ruaidhri Guest for comment.

“We are extremely proud that we played a major part in finding the lost bass,” the people behind the project said in a statement. “It has been a dream since 2018 that it could be done.

“Despite many telling us that it was lost forever or destroyed, we persisted until it was back where it belonged. We want to thank everyone who helped with the search, all those who sent us leads and ideas and many who just wanted to lend their support to us. Thank you all so very much. Very much indeed! We did it!”