One of the most iconic and identifiable instruments in the world is the Hofner 500/1 violin bass, sometimes called the “Beatle Bass.” That’s because Paul McCartney used it on all his early tours and recordings and during most of his Beatle’s career. He still uses on when he tours.
One of the reasons Macca was drawn to the Hofner is it’s symmetrical shape, and back in the 60s that was important for a left-handed player since true left-handed guitars and basses were hard to come by. According to McCartney:
“I remember going along there, and there was this bass which was quite cheap. I couldn’t afford a Fender. Fenders even then seemed to be about £100. All I could really afford was about £30 … so for about £30, I found this Hofner violin bass. And to me, it seemed like, because I was left-handed, it looked less daft because it was symmetrical. Didn’t look as bad as a cutaway which was the wrong way. So I got into that.“
The violin bass was introduced in 1955 and McCartney actually had two of them in the old days, a 61 and a 63.
If you’ve never heard one live, the violin bass has a distinctive and deceptively big bass sound that you don’t expect to come from such a small and light instrument.
The video below shows how the Beatle Bass is made and I know you’ll find it interesting. One of the things that struck me in the video is how much of the bass is hand-built. Except for a bit of CNC on the neck, there’s a craftsman working on it at every stage. It’s pretty amazing how accurate they are and how much they rely on their eyes rather than a template.
A word of warning though, it’s probably best to turn off the lame background movie and speed the video up to 2X for best enjoyment.