Bruce's Blog

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Höfner 500/1 violin bass

Höfner 500/1 violin bass

I like to keep giving myself challenges, just to make sure my brain still works. 😉  The most recent one is to learn enough bass to understand Paul McCartney’s approach to the bass, especially in the context of music of the Beatles. In order to really understand the instrument that shaped Paul’s playing, I felt it was really important to play on a Höfner 500/1 violin bass.

The one I’m using is designed like his first one, sometimes called “The Cavern Bass”.  The headstock has a fancier (matter of taste, I suppose – I like it) design and the pick-ups are much closer together. These are the two most easily recognizable differences between his original 500/1, and a new one that he bought in Oct ’63 (the latter is the one that we see him use on the Ed Sullivan show from 9 Feb 1963).

He used both at various times through the entire Beatles recording career, though the 1st one went missing just after the Jan 1969 “rooftop performance” and has never been recovered. I’ve been learning bits and pieces of various songs, the opening riff of “Come Together” is tremendously fun to play, and sounds just right on the Höfner.   Such a unique sounding bass!

Hofner with fancy headstock -- the "Cavern" bass

Hofner with ‘fancy’ headstock design — the “Cavern” bass

Höfner was a familiar brand to Liverpudlians. This affordable German brand was readily available in England and The Beatles all went through a number of Hofner guitars. Before getting his Rickenbacker 325, John had a Hofner Club 40, which was a guitar very common among the Liverpool beat groups.

John playing a Höfner Club 40

John playing a Höfner Club 40

And when Stu Sutcliffe’s painting sold after the John Moores exhibition for £65 in January 1960, which was then equal to 6–7 weeks’ wages for an average working man (according to Wikipedia), John convinced Stu to buy a Höfner President 500/5 model bass guitar from Frank Hessey’s Music Shop in Liverpool.

Beatles Trio on Truck

I don’t know why it got into my head to work on “I’ll Follow The Sun”.  It’s not one of my favorite Beatles tracks, to be honest.  But it is interesting in that it’s one of Paul’s earliest compositions. Wonder if he had a bass line in mind when he wrote it, as he wasn’t a bass player then? But it was likely one of his first compositions that he put a bass line to.

Paul playing John's Höfner Club 40 after John got his Rick 325.

Paul playing John’s Höfner Club 40 after John got his Rick 325.

But anyway I decided to learn this one.  I was hoping the transcription was going to be in one of the books I downloaded from Amazon.  They’re pretty good, actually and nice to be able to use it on my iPad.

It’s a great time to be learning music with all the digital stuff available now.  It’s so unbelievable that I can slow down a guitar solo in VLC but keep the pitch where it was.  And there’s always dozens of YouTube videos of everyone showing you their way of doing pretty much anything.

But alas, no transcription for this one in the books. Someone on the net had done something of a bass transcription, and it was a good start, but wrong in spots and incomplete.  They left out the intro (only four notes, but still…) and make a big mistake (IMHO) of transcribing one section an octave too low, which really detracted from the part.

John with Rick 325, George with Gretsch Duo Jet, and Paul with his first Höfner 500/1 violin bas

John with Rick 325, George with Gretsch Duo Jet, and Paul with his first (left-handed model!) Höfner 500/1 violin bass

Höfner 500/1 violin bass

Höfner 500/1 violin bass

A couple of points of interest in the transcription:  McCartney’s playing is seemingly very rudimentary in this song, using the adjacent 4ths and 5ths to make a very traditional root-5th bass part. But then he’ll throw in an interesting bit that brings it to life, like what happens in two bars before the 1st ending. This happens to be the part that was mis-transcribed to be an octave lower, interestingly, and doesn’t sound nearly as nice when played down there.

The part on the middle eight is interesting because it doesn’t suggest the changes that happen melodically when the chords go from Dm to Fm in the “And now the time has come / And so my love” line, like perhaps the bass part still fit the way that they were singing it on the early 1960 rehearsal tape. The melody line changed, and the chords in the guitars to support the vocal change, but the bass part remained the same.

Here is a 26 second excerpt of the 1960 version of “I’ll Follow The Sun” to be used for scholarly purposes only.

So here’s a PDF of my transcription of the album version.  Obviously it’s not like transcribing Charlie Parker, but hey, I’ve *literally* only been playing bass for a few days, so I feel a sense of accomplishment. Any comments on the transcription would probably be welcome, depending on how nice they are.  😉

My I’ll Follow The Sun Transcription

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