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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Paul McCartney’s bass guitar was missing for 51 years, but fans helped find it

Paul McCartney performs during the opening night of his Got Back tour, Thursday, April 28, 2022, in the Spokane Veterans Arena.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
By Victoria Bisset Washington Post

LONDON – For decades, the fate of Paul McCartney’s bass guitar baffled the music world. Heard in recordings of some of the most famous Beatles hits, including “Love Me Do” and “Twist and Shout,” the bass guitar had been lost since it was stolen in 1972 without a trace.

Beatles fans flocked to help track down the guitar – and return it to its famous owner – as part of a project set up to solve the mystery.

“Following the launch of last year’s Lost Bass project, Paul’s 1961 Höfner 500/1 bass guitar, which was stolen in 1972, has been returned,” a statement published on McCartney’s website said Thursday. McCartney, it added, “is incredibly grateful to all those involved.”

Organizers of the crowdsourcing endeavor, known as the Lost Bass Project that was set up in 2018 to find the missing instrument, said they were “thrilled” by the news and “proud that we played a major role” in its rediscovery.

“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,” the statement said.

Scott Jones, a British journalist, was watching McCartney perform at Glastonbury – one of the world’s most famous music festivals – with his wife in 2022 when he suddenly wondered about the instrument the former Beatles star was playing. Was it the same bass guitar McCartney used to record some of the band’s greatest hits? (McCartney bought the bass guitar in Hamburg in 1961 and used it to record the Beatles’ first two albums, according to the project. It was later used as a backup instrument, but continued to be used until the group broke up in 1969.)

Jones said he and his wife Naomi – both journalists with a background in research and investigations – contacted Nick Wass, a McCartney collaborator who has worked at Höfner and had launched the project, to see if they could help.

Wass is “absolutely the world’s expert on violin Höfner basses, and he’s the expert on Paul’s bass,” according to Jones. Wass co-wrote the definitive book about the Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass and has worked closely with McCartney’s team to supply parts and basses, according to a Beatles museum in Liverpool.

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

At first, there weren’t many promising leads. They had been contacting music directors and auction houses for any information. But the project took off after Jones published an article for the Sunday Telegraph in early September .

By the end, more than 600 people contacted the Lost Bass Project offering help, the group said. There were 100 leads and suggestions – including information that the bass had been stolen from the back of a van in the Notting Hill area of London one October night in 1972. “This was the breakthrough we needed,” the project said on its website.

They were able to identify the thief – whom they have not named, in keeping with the project’s promise not to identify anyone involved – and discovered the individual had sold it on to a pub landlord, Ronald Guest.

The instrument was passed down through the Guest family, Jones said. A resident in southern England then contacted McCartney’s company to return the instrument. Höfner then authenticated the bass guitar was McCartney’s, according to the project’s website.

The Lost Bass project said the guitar was in one piece and still had its original case. “It has some damage but will be repaired and made playable again,” it added.

Jones said that finding out the instrument was confirmed to be genuine was “an incredible moment.” He’s been told that McCartney is “thrilled” to have the instrument back – and believes it’s an important discovery for fans of all ages, too.

“That sense of thrill and excitement is there for all Beatles fans to enjoy in their own way,” he said.

It’s not the first time that a Beatles instrument has been recovered. An acoustic guitar that once belonged to John Lennon was rediscovered in 2014 – more than half a century after it was last seen. It later sold at auction for $2.4 million.