From the iconic Hofner Bass to the Strawberry Fields Mellotron
Renowned as one of the the most successful musicians of all time, Sir Paul McCartney is much more than just one of The Beatles; he’s an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist, a master songwriter, a sonic architect, and overall, a cultural phenomenon.
From his time as mop-topped heartthrob in The Beatles to his works with Wings and beyond, McCartney has asserted his status as a musical legend over the course of close to 60 years, consistently achieving critical and commercial success throughout his long career.
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Despite turning 75 this year, McCartney continues to tour and record new music, with Australian fans rejoicing as the master musician announced his first tour down under in almost 25 years. In anticipation of the One on One tour, we take a look at the gear that made Paul McCartney’s iconic sound.
1961 Hofner 500/1
Known ubiquitously by fans as the ‘Cavern Bass,’ McCartney bought his first 500/1 after previous Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe quit amidst a run of shows at the Cavern in Hamburg, Germany – leaving McCartney to handle four string duties for the band. Favouring the symmetrical shape of the instrument because it looked ‘less daft,’ McCartney acquired the bass for 30 pounds and restrung it to suit his left-handed style, using it regularly until it was stolen in 1969 from EMI Studios in London along with two of George Harrison’s guitars. To this day, McCartney’s original Hofner has yet to be returned.
1963 Hofner 500/1
Received as a gift from Hofner in 1963, this updated model of his previous Cavern bass featured slight body and pickup modifications and a rounded, responsive bass tone, quickly becoming Paul’s long standing number one instrument. The prominent flat-wound tone of the ’63 Hofner can be heard on many of the major recordings across McCartney’s career, with the bassist comparing it to Charlie Chaplin’s cane, saying ‘you just expect to see it.’
1964 Rickenbacker 4001S
Personally given to McCartney by John Rickenbacker at The Beatles’ 1965 Hollywood Bowl performance, this short scale, left-handed 4001S was initially painted in a radiant Fireglo finish, and was used as a appearing in several promotional videos for Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club with a colourful psychedelic refinish. After using his Hofner and a 1966 Fender Jazz Bass across The White Album and Let It Be, McCartney returned to his Rickenbacker for the Abbey Road sessions, where its fat bottomed tone can be prominently heard on the slinky psych-groove of ‘Come Together.’ Post-Beatles, McCartney sanded the instrument back to reveal its natural finish, favouring the Ric’ as his main bass while recording and touring with Wings.
1962 Epiphone Casino
In many ways, the Epiphone Casino is almost as synonymous to the image of the Beatles and Paul McCartney as his Hofner 500/1. Following the recommendation of bluesman John Mayall, McCartney purchased his right-handed Casino in 1964, with Lennon and Harrison quickly purchasing their own models after falling in love with the instrument.
After modifying the it for left-handed playing, McCartney adopted the Casino as his primary electric guitar for The Beatles, where it can be heard on the blistering guitar solo on ‘Taxman’ as well as ‘Drive My Car’ and ‘Paperback Writer.’ McCartney still uses his Casino (sans pickguard) as his primary guitar today, stating “If I had to pick one electric guitar, this would be it.”
Gibson Les Paul
A longtime vocal enthusiast of Les Paul’s design, McCartney owns several models of the workhorse guitar, including one of two left handed 1960 Les Paul Standards ever made as well as an original 1957 Les Paul Goldtop, considered by many to be the holy grail of electric guitars.
McCartney has been snapped playing a Fender Esquire around the recording of Revolver, and was often seen playing a Sunburst Tele live while touring with Wings in the 70’s.
Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexi
Keen eyes have also spotted a fibreglass Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexi in the video for ‘Helen Wheels’ by Wings, with McCartney owning the only left-handed instrument every produced of the cult guitar model.
1957 Framus Zenith
Before breaking big with The Beatles, McCartney owned and loaned an assortment of cheap acoustic guitars amidst the skiffle craze in Britain, mainly using a 15 pound per-month 1957 Framus Zenith Model 17 and a Framus 5/1 parlour guitar for songwriting.
Epiphone FT-79 Texas
Purchased at the same time as his Casino, McCartney used this Epiphone Texan to record ‘Yesterday’ in 1964. McCartney later used the $175 guitar for The Beatles’ performance of the song on the Ed Sullivan show in 1965, and still uses it frequently in his live shows equipped with a Fishman Matrix Infinity pickup system, showcasing the guitar as a tribute to its place in musical history.
McCartney has often been seen using Martin and Taylor guitars in recent years, notably using a Taylor Richie Sambora Signature model in the video for ‘FourFiveSeconds’ with Rhianna and Kanye West. McCartney also used a Barrato Cigfiddle cigar box guitar for his 2012 collaborative song with Nirvana ‘Cut Me Some Slack’
Vox AC-100 & T60 Cabinet
While he’s been known to use various Ashdown and Fender amps in the studio, Paul McCartney has been a consistent devotee to Vox Amplifcation for almost all of his long career.
Previously relying on a single AC-100 head with a Vox T60 cab for his bass duties in The Beatles, Paul now uses two AC-100 heads through a pair of Mesa-Boogie Standard PowerHouse Bass Cabinets for his modern bass rig, ran in conjunction with a Mesa-Boogie Strategy Eight 88 Bass Head to pump some extra bottom end through the mix. For guitar, McCartney runs his pair of hand-wired AC-100’s through two Vox 4×12 BN cabinets, sourcing the powerful tube tone of the beast for live performances.
Despite occasionally using a Gary Hurst Tonebender for his lead guitar work with The Beatles, McCartney (somewhat remarkably) has limited his pedal usage to a relatively simple multi effects unit since the 1980s. Custom made by Pete Cornish, McCartney’s simple pedalboard contains a guitar/bass switch, distortion and chorus effects, as well as a mute switch and built in Boss TU-12 Chromatic Tuner.
McCartney tends to favour Yamaha grand pianos for recording, and has also been spotted in the studio surrounded by various Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer Electric Pianos, and currently uses a colourful painted Knight upright when playing piano live.
Sir Paul was also one of the first popular musicians to adopt synthesisers in the late 60’s, making use of a monstrous Moog Modular unit to record the Abbey Road cut ‘Because.’ However, McCartney is most renowned for being one of the first popular musicians to use the Mellotron, an early tape-based synthesiser, notably reversing the instrument’s flute patch to create a haunting soundscapes on The Beatles’ psychedelic odyssey ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – check out a video of him explaining how the song came together below.