The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”: Paul McCartney’s Isolated Bass

Editor’s note: This week is Isolated Bass Week III. Follow along and be sure to check out all of the Isolated Bass Week archives too.

Today we get a good listen to the bass line on the Beatles’ song, “Dear Prudence” from the 1968 album known as The White Album.

Paul McCartney covered a lot more than just the bass on this one – including drums, piano, flügelhorn, tambourine, cowbell, handclaps and backing vocals – according to the Wikipedia article about the song:

“They recorded the song at Trident Studios in London on 28, 29 and 30 August 1968. Utilising state of the art eight-track recording equipment, the basic track included finger picking guitar performed by John Lennon as well as George Harrison on the lead guitar, plus Paul McCartney playing the drums in place of Ringo Starr, who had temporarily left the Beatles. The next day, McCartney performed and recorded the bass track and Lennon recorded additional layers to his vocals. Handclapping, tambourine and cowbell were then added by McCartney and Harrison. On the last day of the recording session, piano and flügelhorn tracks were recorded by McCartney.”

But of course, we’re all about the bass, so it is cool to hear this line in isolation. Some people think Sir Paul is playing his Rickenbacker. Others think he’s playing his Fender Jazz. What do you think?

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  1. there’s a reason we all want to be this guy as bass players

  2. Sounds more like a Rickenbacker then a Fender Jazz… Especially @ 03:05…

    • Steve

      Fender Bass VI -hear the loose sounding strings? Now listen to Helter Skelter isolated bass track done on Fender Bass VI by John. Similar, right?

      Paul, what DID you use?

      • David Harvey

        Paul actually used his left-handed Fender Jazz Bass on the majority of the WA songs and it had a distinctive hybrid clicky bass sound, achieved by the use of flatwound bass strings and a heavy pick, similar to what you hear on “Glass Onion”, “Yer Blues” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

        Paul played bass on “Helter Skelter”, not John, and the studio outtakes make this obvious when Paul is heard singing in unison with what he is playing on his bass.

  3. I’d guess the Rick.

  4. I bet that’s a Hofner

  5. Definitely think it’s the Rick

  6. Definitely not a Fender. Was gonna say Hofner, but listening to the string slap, I say Rickenbacker.

  7. No doubt, must be the ’64 Rickenbacker. Definitely not a Fender Jazz nor a Höfner.

  8. “Cowbell” whisper at 0:43 and 0:48 – funny

  9. Remember Paul made it cool to be a bass player

  10. Too hard to tell either way whether or not it’s the Rick or the Jazz, but definitely some flat-wound strings played with a pick and possibly muting the strings occasionally.

  11. howcan one make a track like that???

  12. Rickenbacker for sure. Listen to the hollowness of the E string especially when he attacks it. No Fender would dare sound like that

  13. Sounds to me like a rick w both pickups on..Did his even HAVE two pickups ?

    • Ian Woff

      Definitely Rick with both pick-ups on, up to around 3.00″, when the bridge pick-up is soloed, and yes, Troy, Sir Paul’s Rick was a two pick-up model!

  14. Probably the Rick. I’m not hearing any Fender clang or Hofner nasal tubbiness there (though the flatwounds, still the standard at the time, would mute these tendencies somewhat). I just like hearing all the little rubs and skrunks (longtime headphone freak – it’s the ONLY way to listen). Sounds like it might be direct to the soundboard, as well. I’m going to check out more of these. Good stuff!

  15. Definitely not a fender to my ears

  16. thats a rick with a mute

  17. no doubt sounds like a rik to me

  18. rickenbacker bass with damped strings (4001s have this foam dampers mounted to an adjustable platform beneath the string saddles) and i could hear mcca’s right hand picking picking away

  19. Totally sounds tonally like a hollow body to me.(the mechanical noise too) That’s my 2 cents…

  20. no question . Rick . I own a 4001 … flatwound strings , muted.

  21. Definitely a Rick with flatwounds

  22. Paul McCartney was so ahead of his time as a bassist. Amazing!

  23. Ricky with flat wounds and a mute

  24. manipulated sounds in recording by George Martin and you ask the question is it fender or rickenbacker, common people wake up, beside paul bass playing always in tune, but not that eccentric, so lets lay off the superlatives, have you ever head Pastorius or Jack bruce?????????????????????

    • Leo

      He – along with Rocco Prestia – was Jacos biggest influence. That was stated by Jaco himself.

    • Orlin

      Eccentric is over rated. It doesn’t sell records. In not impressed as much from fast fingers, that’s is an accomplishment, but you can’t teach finesse and getting just the right stuff for the song. That is a gift.

  25. Definitely the Rick 4001 due to the nature of the bright tone as opposed to the “thuddy” sound of the Hofner. Also it’s much more in tune. Also, Paul didn’t have a lefty Fender Jazz Bass at the time. They had 2 right handed Fender basses. a 1968 Fender Jazz Bass & a 1968 Fender Bass VI both sunburst and RIGHT HANDED. Usually John or George handled the Fender basses while Paul used HIS lefty Rick or Hofner.
    And yes, I am aware that Paul could play a righty strung instrument very well but for recording purposes his playing wouldn’t be suitable playing an instrument strung upside down.

    • Ami

      Great comment. It sounded a bit clumsy – could it be he was playing a right-handed Fender? I don’t think the base sounded like a Fender at all, though.

    • Scott

      Paul did have a left-handed Jazz Bass at the time (a ’66, if memory serves). Pictures of it can be found with a GIS for “Paul White Album Jazz Bass”. It isn’t a flipped righty, either.

  26. At around 49 seconds does Macca say “Cowbell?”

  27. Whatever bass he played on that track, it is a great bass part :-P

  28. I would say that’s a Rick….. fantastic bass line !!! Macca is a genius !!!

  29. Ami

    Sounds more like the Hofner than either the Rick or Fender.

  30. Definitely the Ricky. Very strong neck pickup component in this tone.

  31. too dead for the jazz, gotta be a rick…

  32. Blackie

    Ricker, the horseshoe pup click is undeniable and quite the groove, man!

  33. Andy R

    I own an old S model Ric with a horseshoe pickup, a Hofner 500/1 and a Jazz bass. To my ears this is definitely a Ric.

  34. Of course it’s a Fender Jazz Bass with 60′ pickup spacing and muted flatwound strings through the tube amp. It’s sound very vintage but it’s surely Fender.

  35. bootoxkicker

    I play an all original 1975 Fender Jazz going on 39 years now and that bass line does not sound anything like it.

  36. No sustain. Dead as a log. It’s the Ricky. Fender Jazz would be singing all over the place. (MS)

  37. Definitely an old school Rick with flat wounds and the mute activated. It lacks the sharpness of a Fender Jazz; you can really hear it when he digs into the E string.

  38. I bet that is the Hofner too.

  39. Enrique

    It sounds like the old Rickenbacker 4001 I used to play back in the day when we used to cover many Beatles numbers. Nevertheless I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. We used to get the best Rick Beatle bass sound by using the Ric-O-Sound stereo adapter and playing through two amps.

    • Some great comment shares …and certainly one thing for certain, I could not stop smiling and shaking my head . Sir Paul, once again with a unique bass line dance !!

  40. Mike

    definitely the rick

  41. Easily one of my favorite bass lines. I have learned more about writing bass lines from listening to Paul McCartney than I have taking lessons or reading books.

  42. Stephen Willcock

    Is this in drop D? Drop D and C?

  43. stev mar

    Definitely a Hofner or some hollow body bass!!!

  44. The thing that makes it so interesting is all the additional “air” around the track- as if there is a mic placed similar to how one would when recording an acoustic guitar- mixed at least as prominently as the direct signal….

  45. Ian Woff

    I run two Jazzes and two Rick 4001V63s, all set up with flatwound strings, and that’s definitely Paul’s Rick on “Dear Prudence”, for mine, starting off with neck and bridge pick-ups combined, then finishing off with bridge pick-up only – lovely!

  46. Connor Groscurth

    Did anyone catch the edit right around 3:19?! The low end in the tone gets a little beefier too! I love finding little things like this with these isolated tracks in Beatles songs.

  47. Ian Woff

    Come on, folks, how much more Rickenbackerly could it possibly sound? (both pick-ups selected up to 3.00″, when the bridge pick-up is soloed) This is one of the many Beatles numbers from the “White Album” and “Sergeant Peppers” that made me sooo keen to replicate Paul’s stunning Rickenbacker tones, which I achieve these days via a couple of 4001V63s, both equipped with Ernie Ball Group I flatwounds. That distinctive Rick top end sits above the rest of the track so beautifully – not the slightest iota of doubt.

  48. David

    It’s in the Rick………..

  49. this is the bass with F holes…..this is not a solid bass….hollow bass and flatwounds

  50. this is the bass with F holes…..this is not a solid bass….hollow bass and flatwounds…TRUST ME IM AN ENGINEER…..I RECORD INSTRUMENTS….

  51. John Congerton

    Got all his basses, I’m voting for the Hofner, no Ric snarl.

  52. Don’t know what it is but sure is ugly ” plonk plonk plonk …”

  53. Mac McNabb

    definitely the Jazz bass

  54. It’s a Ric with a pick on flatwounds, mostly neck pickup and with a bit of mute, 100%.

    People invariably associate Ric basses with that snarling Geddy Lee/Chris Squire/Bruce Foxton sound, but they all used roundwound strings.

    I have a ’69 Jazz and recorded an album with it strung with Thomastik flats with a chunk of foam under the strings….and it sounds nothing like this.

    As others have said, his Hofner wouldn’t have created that clank….and he probably wouldn’t even have been able to dig in hard enough without knocking the strings off the saddles.

    Awesome line, fantastic tune. Larry Graham obviously thought so too – check out “Priscilla” from Graham Central Station’s 1974 album “Mirror”.

  55. Steven

    I vote Rick. The fret slides give it away. Jazz bass less “click” and more buzz when you slide. Jazz bass has less beef to the tone when going straight to the board. Which is more than likely how they did it back then..

  56. Plug in a Fender Jazz with flats and a mute to a Bassman into a 2×15 cab and mic with a U48. This is the sound. The Ricky has a different body, attack and sustain than this.

  57. michaelfigure18

    It’s a Rick – you can hear the clicking on the lower notes – very Rick texture – or it’s his Hofner with nylon strings

  58. Just read comments galore! Wow. Havent got a clue but I dont seem to hear a Ric. Could there be 2 different basses at work here? Hence the edit. If it was one. Any number of studio things could be going on here. I once sped a track up a minor 3rd and played the bass line at breakneck speed in G and slowed it back down to E where it belonged for the playback. It was deeper/thicker sounding and sounded kinda like someone else playing. I would have done different things at the normal speed in E. Highly doubt that Paul did that here though!

  59. It has a ring like a ric but I can understand the comments about the hollow body sound. I vote ric, muted at times and a pick.

    • has anyone ever seen Paul play with his fingers rather than a pick? I don’t think I have.

      • John

        The only time I have seen Paul appear to play with his fingers, instead of a pick, is in a couple of scenes from the movies, A Hard Day’s Night & Help! It appeared to me that he was pantomiming. I have watched tons of you tube videos, where he is clearly playing with a pick.

  60. Ernick

    I’d go for the Rick with flats and mute pad on.

  61. on it’s own sounds crappy, but sounds a lot better in the entire mix

  62. Bill Stroum

    This may finally end this discussion… the Beatles definitive history of the recording and origin of each of their has an instrument listing for Dear Prudence. It states that Paul is playing his Rickenbacker 4001.

  63. Stephen Knill

    I think the Ric although it has a fatter low end than most. Sounds like the amp was mic’d. Otherwise not sure how he’d get the overdriven sound.

  64. Jonathan K Lyerly

    Hofner. I can hear the resonance of the body when he starts thwacking it towards the end!

  65. Danny L Brown

    DEFINITELY a Rick 4001 with flat wounds. HEAVY compression. Probably one of the Altecs. I know that attack sound backwards and forwards because I recorded a guy for years who played the same set up. I really fought that “clack” sound when he played live and was putting on a show.

  66. O' Bonnel

    Bass on Dear Prudence in very creative Mc Cartney’s style .
    To me he plays on a heavy Rickenbacker with a plec , doesn’t sound like a Höfner or a Fender bass .

  67. John Mikealson

    Paul is playing the bass on his Hofner Bass. The sound is iconic of the Hofner intonation…with ease of slide action on the neck…in the passages….

  68. Dean Bagdasarian

    Sounds like a Rick. My band did this song . I played it on a Stick

  69. Alex Wadolny

    Im going with the Hofner.

  70. William Adkins

    Absolutely a Ric.

  71. Timothy A Bockmiller

    Let’s star with what it’s not.
    It is decidedly not the Höfner. It’s way too “solid” for that to be the case.
    It isn’t the Bass VI. While the Bass VI is definitely an awesome instrument (that sound you hear is me kicking myself again for selling mine), jt is not, sadly, a proper bass, and I can’t imagine that deep sound coming from it’s relatively skinny strings and short scale.
    Which brings us to the, like, Fender Jazz Bass, daddy-o. Though it’s, like, a way-gone jazz cat of a bass that all the crazy chicks dig, it’s bottom end is, like, Nowheresville compared to the
    (Cue herald trumpet fanfare)
    Rickenbacker 4001, with the toggle switch on the neck position, where it mostly lived on Paul’s bass.
    Which is what we are hearing.