How to play bass like Paul McCartney

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Always an odd bass idol, Paul McCartney. In his more than 60-year musical career, the left-handed musician had a variety of positions, including composer, arranger, remixer, and producer. One of the greatest singers and composers of all time, McCartney was a member of The Beatles and wrote classic songs including “Get Back,” “All My Loving,” and “Hey Jude.” However, McCartney never seemed to think much about playing bass. He even said that he wasn’t very interested in playing the instrument in the first place.

In his book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, Paul McCartney explains, “We couldn’t have three guitars and no bass. Nobody wanted to be the bass player in those days because it was always the fat guy playing bass, There seemed to be some sort of stigma attached to it.”

Paul McCartney landed in a position that he would help define for the following seven decades almost by mistake. His development included learning to play the bass guitar in less than five years after never having done so before. He underwent a noticeable transformation in style during that time, developing from simple playing to some of the most inventive and enduring bass lines in rock music history. Even John Lennon subsequently gave McCartney the credit he deserved.

Lennon told David Sheff in 1980, “Paul is one of the most innovative bass players, Half the stuff that’s going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period … He’s an egomaniac about everything else, but his bass playing he’d always been a bit coy about.”

McCartney’s reserve most likely results from his lack of bass-playing experience growing up. McCartney primarily focused on the guitar and piano as his primary instruments throughout his boyhood. McCartney had always played either guitar or keyboard in the ensembles which eventually gave rise to The Beatles since he started performing with Lennon in 1957 when he was just 15 years old. McCartney most likely would have continued playing the guitar if Stu Sutcliffe’s departure from the band in 1961 had not occurred. However, McCartney was destined to play bass, as fate would have it.

The Beatles’ early recordings made it clear that Ringo was hesitant to completely embrace the instrument. ‘Love Me Do’, the band’s debut hit, includes a bass line that may be charitably described as simplistic. When The Beatles signed their record contract with EMI and started recording, McCartney had just started playing the instrument a little over a year earlier. In addition to having little studio time and prioritizing composition, McCartney spent the most of the Beatlemania years producing passable, though forgettable, bass parts.

McCartney’s transition occurred as a result of several factors. For starters, McCartney became aware of the way American music evolved through labels like Motown and Stax Records, which gave the bass more prominence and loudness. McCartney had greater time to produce in the studio as a result of the Beatles’ displeasure with touring, which was mostly caused by the absence of suitable amplification. After years of playing, McCartney stopped considering the bass to be a necessary evil and was able to give it the respect it deserved. As a result, there was a huge flood of iconic bass lines that pushed the limits of what the instrument might sound like.

McCartney had some new equipment, which was another significant adjustment. McCartney finally received his left-handed 4001S bass guitar after years of collaboration with the Rickenbacker firm. The Rickenbacker’s richer tone provided McCartney the assurance to start tinkering with his bass lines. McCartney would develop distinctive lines and harmonic motions that functioned almost as another lead instrument rather than simply following the chord changes. Instincts from McCartney’s lead guitar playing started to appear more prominently in his bass playing, resulting in busier and more diverse bass sections in songs like “Lovely Rita,” “Dear Prudence,” and “Come Together.”

McCartney’s perspective on the bass shifted after The Beatles broke up towards the end of the 1960s. McCartney carried over some of the more unusual playing approaches into his solo career since he was now fully in charge of his compositions. ‘Silly Love Songs’ and ‘Temporary Secretary’ both included electronic synth bass sounds, which McCartney adopted as a reflection of the era. By this time, McCartney’s bass playing style would frequently vary from song to song, going back to the fundamentals when necessary or emphasizing the melody when appropriate.

You must first have a bass in order to play bass like Paul McCartney. Throughout his 60-year career, he used a variety of instruments, but his Höfner 500/1 violin bass and Rickenbacker 4001S were his go-to picks. Although particular eras could call for more specialized models, these two bass guitars capture the essence of McCartney’s playing. Similar to how The Beatles were most known for using Vox amplifiers, McCartney has recently become a Mesa Boogie fan.

Regarding McCartney’s playing technique, it is beneficial to see songs from a compositional standpoint as opposed to a bass-forward focus. His passion for walking bass lines ran throughout his whole career, beginning with the song “All My Loving,” developing in music hall-inspired songs like “Lovely Rita,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and even continuing into solo songs like “Teddy Boy” and “Heart of the Country.” Another significant influence was early pre-funk R&B; McCartney studied under James Jamerson for songs like “The Word” and “Drive My Car.”

McCartney is known for his fondness of octaves, which can be heard in songs like “Dear Prudence,” “Come Together,” and “Sun King.” Paul McCartney occasionally experimented with his bass lines, utilizing fuzz bass on “Think For Yourself” among other examples. But the majority of the time, with songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Something,” and “Taxman,” his somewhat hectic and extremely melodic melodies were psychedelic to the core. Paul McCartney may have his heart in songwriting, but his bass lines enhance that sensitivity and also give him the freedom to go crazy when the occasion calls for it.


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