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Paul McCartney reunited with stolen guitar ‘that kicked off Beatlemania’ after 50 years

<i>Central Press/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>The Beatles (from left to right)
Central Press/AFP/Getty Images
The Beatles (from left to right)

By Issy Ronald, CNN

(CNN) — Paul McCartney’s legendary lost guitar will gently weep no more as it was reunited with its owner more than 50 years after it was stolen.

McCartney played the distinctive Höfner bass guitar when recording The Beatles’ first two albums, including legendary hits such as “Twist and Shout” and “Love Me Do,” before using it as a backup bass for the rest of his time with the band.

He continued to play it once The Beatles had split up but it was stolen in 1972 from the back of a van in Notting Hill, London.

It subsequently disappeared until the Lost Bass Project, run by Höfner executive Nick Wass and investigative journalists Scott and Naomi Jones, sifted through more than 100 leads to track down the lost guitar in Hastings, a town on the English south coast.

“The search for the bass wasn’t just for Paul McCartney, it was for all the fans,” Wass told CNN on Friday. “It was so we could all see this … bass that kicked off Beatlemania.”

Their search was widely publicized, and they detailed the guitar’s distinguishing features, prompting the family who had the guitar to “come forward with photographs of the bass in their loft saying: ‘Is this it?’” Scott Jones told CNN on Thursday.

McCartney is “incredibly grateful to all those involved” in returning the bass to him and verified that it is the same guitar he played so often in the 1960s, according to a statement on his website.

Wass first launched the Lost Bass Project in 2018 after a conversation with McCartney himself, he told CNN on Friday, but it wasn’t until Scott and Naomi Jones joined the search after watching McCartney perform at Glastonbury that the “useful leads starting coming in.”

After issuing an appeal in the media, the crucial breakthrough came in October 2023, when the team received a tip from two of McCartney’s sound engineers who had parked the van in the Ladbroke Grove area of Notting Hill, as the former Beatle was recording an album nearby with his new band Wings.

It allowed them to discover precisely when and where the guitar had been stolen, dispelling earlier rumors that it had disappeared in 1969 just before the Beatles’ final rooftop concert.

The location also matched up with an email that Wass had received earlier that year, which he had initially “disregarded” because it “didn’t really make sense,” he said.

Wass added that he then asked for more information and the email sender said that his father had stolen the bass and taken it to Ronald Guest, landlord of the Admiral Blake pub nearby.

Meanwhile, Naomi Jones trawled through archives to verify those addresses and confirm that the story held up.

“The evidence along the way would suggest that the thief didn’t know what he was stealing that night,” Scott Jones said. “I think to him it was just a guitar and he later found out that it was Paul McCartney’s guitar.”

The thief asked Guest to “effectively hide the guitar for him,” Jones continued, and the team turned their attention to the pub, “starting to look through births, marriages and death records” and tracing “where the bass was going within the Guest family.”

Although the guitar is slightly damaged and will need some repairs before being played again, professionals will be able to restore it, the Lost Bass Project said.

“This guitar is invaluable,” Wass said. “In a sense it has no value except to Paul McCartney and to every Beatles fan in the world … it’s priceless.”

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