BILL AND SUE-ON HILLMAN: A +60-YEAR MUSICAL ODYSSEY
Hillman Guitar No. 11
Hofner Fretless Beatle Bass
Hofner MemoriesDuring my first stint in college in the early '60s, my all-consuming major subject - Music & Guitar 101 - wasn't taught in any of the lecture rooms. True, I struggled through the History of Western Music, a Department of Music course taught by Lorne Watson. The main attraction here was the pass it provided to the great stereo listening rooms where we were to listen to famous operas and the great composers. Stereo records were a relatively new phenomenon then so night after night I would smuggle in all the stereo LPs I could afford to buy: Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Dave Brubeck, exotic percussion records, big bands, Nancy Wilson and other great girl jazz & blues singers, ... and anything that sounded good in stereo... even some of the required Classical records. Through the day much of my time would be spent in a room down the dorm hallway where one of my classmates, a HiFi Stereo buff, was eager to showcase his great sound system and his great reel-to-reel tape collection of the latest Broadway and Show tunes.
After our daily TV noon show and the occasional class, my visits downtown would take me to the Strand Theatre for a matinee and a browze through all the record, music, magazine book and second-hand stores, sometimes followed by a visit to a Chinese restaurant to satisfy a craving for my recently discovered food obsession.
A favourite music store was Johnson's Sound on Rosser Avenue. Albert Johnson was somewhat of a musical institution in the area. He had fronted a big band for many years, ran a dance hall - The Palladium - next to his shop, and had starred in one of the first live music shows on local television. In later years he designed and manufactured Johnson guitar amps and PA systems that he exported all over the world. I would often drop in and try out the guitars he had on display and he would often take time to share a few of the chords and riffs he knew on the instrument. The main line of guitars he sold were German imports: Hofners. One of the oddest of his stock of Hofner guitars was an electric bass, shaped like a violin. This bass wasn't a great seller... it hung there for years. Then, the Beatles hit and suddenly it vanished from the display window. I wish I had bought it.
A fond memory I have of the Hofner "Beatle" bass involves Lenny Breau. I caught his act at the Establishment in Winnipeg one night. He played the Hofner all night - solo. Amazing sounds, innovation, technique and imagination!
Fifteen years later. Beatlemania had come and gone -- and the popularity of the Hofner Beatle Bass had seen a sudden rise and fall. Friend, drummer and bass player, Kerry Morris and I were doing a lot of experimenting with a recording studio in the basement of our Maple Grove home and we realized that the sound needed the punch from a good bass.
Sue-On and I had been Beatles fans from the start -- in fact, we had the thrill of playing in many of the North East England venues that the Silver Beetles had played in their early days -- and where many of the touring musicians we worked with still carried on the Hofner tradition. Fortunately, at about this time the monthly special from one of our music wholesale catalogues featured a Hofner fretless bass that the company had some trouble moving -- probably because it was fretless. It was catching dust in their warehouse - until now. Within a week I was soon the proud owner of a Beatle Bass.
Sorry I didn't trust in your musical know how back then, Albert. You... and Paul McCartney . . . were ahead of your time.
REFERENCE INFO GLEANED FROM THE WEB
Hofner introduced their violin-shaped bass circa 1955 to limited success. Between 1955 and 1964 fewer than 250 were built. This changed in February 1964 with the appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, with Paul McCartney using his second lefty 500/1, which he acquired in 1963. This lefty 500/1, built in 1966, features the post-1964 'bar magnet' pickups, larger pickup mounting rings, and shorter tailpiece.
||Specs: HOFNER 500/1-I - 1963
30" scale length
Serial Number: Not Available. Year of Manufacture: 1959-60.
Background: In January 1960, Stuart
Sutcliffe exhibited a painting in "The
John Lennon who was living
with Stuart in a flat at Gambier Terrace,
This is that bass guitar.
Authentication: Signed statement by Astrid Kircherr and Klaus Voorman.
Sold: Sotheby's 28:08:86.
Hofner Factory Tour
Adapted and condensed as a fan reference
from the main tour featured at:
The North Coast Music Site
American Home of the British Invasion
Vintage 62 Hofner Bass &
H500/1 V63 Beatle Bass (Current Models)
In mid 1999, Paul McCartney sent his 1962 H500/1 bass back to the Hofner plant in Hagenau, Germany for some adjustments and repairs. This enabled the craftsmen at Hofner to have their hands on this truly magical and legendary instrument for several days. Many measurements were taken, which has allowed Hofner to issue the V62 Beatle Bass.
The top of the V62 Beatle Bass is carved German spruce, and the sides and back are made from highly flamed German maple. It is then finished in a deep sunburst topped with a highly lustrous clear lacquer. The picture showing the rear of the bass gives an excellent example of the flaminess of the wood used building these instruments.
A white perloid pickguard, control panel, and white body molding accent the sunburst finish.
Two of the venerable "staple" pickups are standard. These are an exact replication of the pickups used on H500 basses in the early sixties, before the change to the less desirable bar style pickups of the later sixties and onward.
A two piece European maple neck is faithful to the original neck design from 1962. The neck is about 1/4" thicker from the top of the unbound rosewood fret board to the rear center of the back radius when compared to the thinner neck of a Hofner Vintage 63 Bass. This "deeper" neck is often preferred by players for its more substantial feel and stability.
The neck is based on a 30" (or 3/4) scale.
Just the like original 1962 H500 basses, strip tuners are standard.
5000 Deluxe Beatle Bass
The Hofner H5000 Deluxe Beatle Bass is truly a unique and beautiful instrument, the ultimate in style
and performance. Each is hand made by the master Germany.
The Deluxe Beatle Bass is based on the Vintage 63 Bass body and slender neck profile, but that is where the resemblance ends.
The top of the Deluxe Beatle Bass is carved German spruce, and the sides and back are made from highly flamed African maple. It is then finished with a highly lustrous clear lacquer. Check out the zebra quilt on the back of the example of a Deluxe Bass shown at left. This is typical of the appearance of all the Deluxe Basses.
The body moldings are made from a combination of perloid and an accenting dark wood grain. The
pickguard is a rich black color, with white accents, and the control panel has a dark wood grain
The tailpiece, strap button, staple pickups, and tuner mechanisms are all plated in 24k gold.
The one piece neck is made of European maple, and features dual mother of pearl inlay fret markers on the bound ebony fret board. The head stock features diamond shaped mother of pearl inlays.
COLLECTING HOFNER GUITARS
By Stephen Candib,
Copyright 1995-1997, used by permission.
Adapted and reprinted from the Antique Vintage Guitars Information Site
Introduction.Guitar collectors may be a motley crew, but most are interested in the same brands and the same gear - Fender, Gibson, Marshall, Martin, blah, blah. It's a combination of the "icons of pop culture" thing and the herd mentality. As a result, less mainstream brands have remained in the cool shadow of obscurity, pleasantly affordable and oh so mysterious.
That's ok, because it leaves plenty of room for the contrarians among us, who prefer shadow to sunlight, who gravitate to the vastly less expensive pursuit of stuff that doesn't say Fender or Gibson. It's not that we're cheap or never pursued careers in dentistry (all of which is, sadly, true). It's just that collecting cheap, goofy guitar stuff is still a heck of a lot of fun, compared to verifying the lineage of potentially re-topped 1959 Les Paul Standards at many thousands of dollars a crack. Besides, my assets are all tied up in Eurobonds and Brazilian time-shares.
My contrarian approach embraces Hofner archtop guitars. They're cool, they're cheap, and they're big fun. And we knowledge professionals know of the long-standing relationship between German and American guitarmaking: Martin, Rickenbacher, Gretsch, Rossmeisl, and Bill Lawrence are just some of the German names in the American guitar pantheon (the guitardome).
Hofner is one of several European (mostly German) companies that built guitars in the post-war years. These included Framus, Hoyer, Hopf, Klira and a bunch of others, including some great custom builders. Many of these companies shared parts from the same suppliers. One sees the same tailpieces, bridges, tuners, inlay, and the like. By the late fifties most of these companies had broad product lines to rival Gibson.
Hofner Model Identification.Hofner used a simple numbering system for model identification. In arch-top terms,
these ranged from the lowly 449 up to the mother-of-pearl-encrusted 471. Even
though they changed the system around a bit over the years, their model numbers still
provide a great frame of reference. More on this another time. They used the same
approach as many American makers: the more crap you can put onto the same basic
guitar, the more money you can charge for it.
Most of these guitars are pretty much the same size as a Gibson ES175’s or L-4’s,
with varying depths (Hofner started doing thinlines, copying American styles, in the
late 1950's). They vary in terms of details, but the basic guitars are the same. As the
model numbers get higher, the laminated wood gets nicer and nicer, the amount of
plastic and mother of luncheonette increases, and the hardware gets fancier. They
also made a few bigger models in a size similar to Gibson ES350’s or L-5’s. And
they made smaller archtops, like the "Club" guitars, which are sort of like ES140T’s
or Guild Aristocrat M-75’s.
What about collecting Hofners?
In North America, they are pleasantly rare, so the thrill of the hunt is part of the
appeal. They never made a dent in the US, and by the time they got US distribution
figured out, their prices were totally uncompetitive. In 1968, an electric 470 listed for
US$695 through Sorkin.
Old Hofners in the U.S. are often from England, where Selmer distributed the line.
Hofner tweaked a few of its models a bit, put in the odd custom feature, so that the
Brits got the Congress (sorta like the 449), the Senator (sorta like the 455), the
President (sorta like the 457), the Committee (sorta like the 468), the Golden Hofner
(sorta like the 470)... and so forth. They introduced the Ambassador later on, but the
idea was wearing thin. Too bad they never got to the Whip or the First Lady.
Canada is good Hofner-hunting ground, perhaps because the heavy tariffs on
American guitars imported to Canada made Hofner more competitive by comparison.
Dealers such as Wilfer in Montreal, and Remenyi and Heinl in Toronto, sold Hofners
But what do they sound like?
The smaller bodied, L-4/ES175 sized archtops like the 456 or 457 make great
electric guitars for the very reason they are not brilliant acoustic archtops: they have
tons of top and middle, cut like hell, and have no bass (except what you dial in). The
acoustic versions are also very loud. The bigger, L-5 sized archtops sound pretty
good acoustically, as well as electrically, because the larger body size adds a fair bit
of bass resonance. Their pick-ups and electronics were not great, but are easily to
tweak or replace.
How do they stack up?
Given the juvenile bent of guitar dealers and writers to make comparisons between
instruments ... let's do it! What can we really compare them to in American terms?
The first thing to remember is that Hofner themselves confused the issue: their good
acoustic archtops were supposed to have carved tops, with laminate tops on the
same models as electric guitars. Typically, they screwed up: they often released
high-end acoustic archtops with laminate tops, or made the carved-top ones into
Most of their guitars were all-laminate construction, although specific higher-end
models did come with carved spruce tops (bad translations call it "pine", or
"bohemian pine", but that just doesn't wash among us information workers. As the
Rice Krispies guy says - what the heck didja think it was made with?). Unlike
Gibson, whose laminates are heavy and have grain with negligible aesthetic qualities,
Hofner's laminates are very light-weight and usually use lovely flamed maple, even in
the cheaper models. The lack of mass makes their guitars responsive and acoustically
loud. Following the discontinuation of the Gibson Tal Farlow, it took years, until the
introduction of the ES775 and ES165, for Gibson to use pretty plywood. Sure, the
reissued ES350T (with full-scale neck) in the 70's was a step in the right direction,
but no one even noticed it, coming as it did in the depths of Gibson's, ahem... "dark
In one sense, the 468/Committee electrics may be compared to Gibson's
ES5/Switchmaster/ES350/Tal Farlow model (all the same guitar): pretty wood, all
laminate, 17.5" bottom bout, deep-dish big jazz boxers. The smaller guitars can pretty
much be compared to Gibson's ES175 if they have laminate tops, and to the Gibson
L-4 if they have carved tops.
Hofner either had some very perverse notions related to build quality or liked to fool
its customers, because the undersides of many of the tops also show spruce grain.
Mere mortals might assume that such instruments have solid wood tops, but detailed
goofoid spasticological investigation reveals that such tops are often laminates,
cleverly disguised as solid tops. It's hard to tell the difference at first glance, but tone
(or its absence) does not lie.
Collecting Hofners is not a random choice. It's not as if I might just as easily focused
on Hopf or Hoyer. Having seen and played many German guitars over the years, I
think Hofner was the only large-scale German shop with a decent aesthetic
vocabulary when it came to proportion and scale.
In general, Hopf, Hoyer, Klira and Framus all settled in on a cartoon guitar gestalt.
It's as if they were copying American guitars, but they were really drunk that day.
Many of their designs are just plain ugly (even a guitar with a shape as cool as
Framus' Strato-Melody series was built to suggest cheesiness). This is not to say that
these other companies didn’t make some great guitars. For example, unlike Hofner,
Hoyer did build some fabulous all-solid wood arch-top guitars.
Hofner guitars are in a different aesthetic league. Their proportions are quite elegant
for their small and large-body archtops, both cutaway and non-cutaway. They draw
on the best proportions of Gibson, Epiphone and Stromberg. This kind of aesthetic
balance is not rare: many good guitars have it, and it is easier to notice those that have
missed the boat than those that have nailed it. For instance, Fender and Gibson
solidbodies usually have it; Guild solidbodies never had it. Paul Reed Smith has totally
nailed it; Joe Lado just keeps swinging.
The other thing is the necks: most of them are great big bats of wood, with a beautiful
"c" profile: just the kind of thing to make Jeff Beck proud. And with a manly 25.5"
scale length on almost all of these instruments, skinny shortscale wanker neck
syndrome is avoided.
Perhaps the best thing about Hofners is the way the necks are attached to the bodies.
Until to late 60's, Hofner used a tapered mortice joint, with no dovetail. This kind of
joint tends to creep with time, given string pull and exposure to humidity. Old Hofners
almost always require neck resets, which are incredibly easy to do as a result of the
simple joint. Hey, a neck reset every thirty years keeps the doctor away ... and keeps
prices nice and low, where I like them.
Alas, this too must pass...
Now that the supply of vintage American instruments is being outstripped by demand,
the deus ex machina is turning its attentions elsewhere: Guild is still waving its hand
frantically, trying to get noticed, Davoli's are starting to cost money, and everything
from Teisco to Weissenborn to Micro-Frets is being thrown into the maw, the ever
widening gyre. Hofners are beginning to get noticed.
There are three books out that deal substantially with Hofners: "Elektro-Gitarren
Made In Germany", by Norbert Schnepel and Helmuth Lemme, "The Hofner Guitar -
A History", by Gordon Giltrap and Neville Marten, and a wonderful new book,
"Hofner Guitars Made in Germany", by Michael Naglav. There must be some serious
European-based collectors out there, and these books are a great source, but there
are still a lot of missing pieces to the puzzle. These books support the idea that no one
knows too much about Hofner. Giltrap's book includes an interview with Christian
Benker (who married into Hofner and worked there for many years) that is laughably
vague. The real questions still aren't answered, like who designed these guitars, and
how many of each model were built. Surely this information must exist, and now that
Hofner has been sold to Boosey & Hawkes, who cares about old guitar statistics for
models that no longer exist (ie. all of them)?
Hofner Model Numbers.
As previously mentioned, there were several Selmer model Hofners that were
basically the same as German models. Listed are some notes on German models from
the late fifties/early sixties, with an indication of the parallel Selmer models. Because
the Germans used model numbers instead of names, and did not use serial numbers
on non-export instruments, figuring out when changes were made to specific models,
or when models were added or discontinued, is difficult without reference to old
catalogues from specific years. Even then, Hofner took a page from Gibson and
loaded its catalogues with a combination of puffery and vagueness which leads one to
believe that their prime motive was to drive future guitar history buffs to distraction.
Here is a listing of Hofner hollow-body archtop guitar models. This does not include
"Club" or "Verithin" guitars, just straight-ahead jazz boxes.
Model 449 - sorta like the Congress
Model 455 - sorta like the Senator
Model 457 - sorta like the President
Model 468 - sorta like the Committee
Model 470 - sorta like the Golden Hofner
Hofner archtop guitars evolved from the mid 50's to the mid 60's, parroting trends in
North America. Hardware such as tuners, pickups and wiring harnesses became
better, but lost much of their charm in the process. As well, several things happened
over time to make some model features overlap. Hofner replaced big mother of toilet
seat block markers with dot markers on some guitars, changed some of its binding
schemes, altered models slightly for export, and were generally up to no good when
the foreman was not looking.
Finally, I can only tip my hat in awe to any company confused enough to build its
guitars with beautiful flamed maple laminates, attach its guitar pickguards with
common finishing nails, and load its istruments with enough carefully inlaid mother of
toilet-seat to furnish the lobby of a Miami Beach hotel.
PART 2 Part 2, General Model Info.
In the gripping first episode of the Höfner saga, we threatened to provide more
detailed information on Hofner's model numbering system. In the absence of
inducements to forget about the whole thing, we have prepared the following guide to
General Model Information
Selmer imported several Hofners into the U.K. that were very similar to German
models. And Sorkin imported German model Hofners into the U.S. Listed in this
article are decriptions of German models from the late ‘50’s/early ‘60’s, with an
indication of the parallel Selmer models. Unlike guitars produced for European
consumption, Selmer Hofners had labels, indicating model names and serial numbers.
The Germans used model numbers instead of names and did not use serial numbers
on non-export instruments until the ‘70’s. They also replaced big mother of toilet seat
block markers with dot markers on some guitars, changed headstocks and binding
schemes, altered models for export, and smoked like fiends.
So figuring out the fine details, like when changes were made to specific models, or
when models were added or discontinued, is difficult without reference to old (and
unreliable) catalogues from specific years. Hey, just call me a big picture kinda guy.
The design and construction of Hofner archtop guitars evolved considerably from the
early ‘50's to the late ‘60's, parroting trends in North America. Just like Gibson,
Epiphone and Guild, Hofner designed its product offering around a few guitars that
could be decorated and modified to support the perception of a broad product
offering. In addition to different trim levels (each with its own model number), various
Hofner’s archtop guitars were at different times offered with:
full-body or cutaway styles
blonde or brunet (sunburst) finishes
deep body or thinline styles
various pick-up configurations.
optional Bigsby vibrato units and DeArmond pick-ups
optional Bigsby-derived Hofner vibrato units
tacky on-board active electronics on some models.
Following is a review of the features of these guitars. The information comes from a
variety of Hofner catalogues, The Hofner Guitar - A History (by Gordon Giltrap and
Neville Marten) , Electro-Gitarren Made in Germany (by Norbert Schnepel and
Helmut Lemme), Hofner Guitars Made in Germany (by Michael Naglav) and
personal observation of hundreds of Hofner guitars.
Hofner had been building guitars since 1925, and started to build guitars after WWII
at the beginning of 1947. They moved to a new building in Bubenreuth in 1951. In the
early ‘50’s, there were several archtop guitar models:
455, 456, 460, 462, 463, 464, 465, 468
By the mid-’50’s, the model range had widened considerably, and from then to the
mid-’60’s was Hofner’s heyday, during which period they offered a wide range of
archtop guitars. Hofner also offered a variety of other guitars as well, including
classical guitars, steel string flat-tops, lapsteels, solidbodies, short-scale bass guitars
and compact archtops. The only non-archtop of any interest to me is the Model 499,
which was like a Gibson J-185 decked out to resemble a Hofner Model 468
archtop. This article reviews only the archtop and compact archtop guitars, including:
125, 126, 127, 128,
449, 450, 455, 456,
457, 458, 459, 460,
461, 462, 463, 464,
465, 468, 470, 471
During this period, hardware such as tuners, pick-ups and wiring harnesses changed
and improved. However, the maze of slightly different-looking Hofners is actually
quite simple to decode, even with partial information, based on consumption of
several shots of Wilhelmina and an analysis of features related to:
Body Dimensions - widths, depth, length
Fingerboard Styles / Woods / Inlays
Peghead Overlay Styles
Bindings and Purflings
Controls and Control Configurations
Potentiometer Date Codes
The potentiometers of electric Hofners can be used to date instruments from about
1958 onwards. Prior to that time, Hofner used solid shaft pots with cylindrical metal
bodies, the ends of which comprise composite material out of which lugs protrude.
These have resistance values indicated typically at 250k, but no date codes.
Hofner started using "Preh" branded pots with cast bodies in about 1958, capped
with square composite ends out of which lugs protrude. The composite material is
stamped with the pot value (typically 250k) and a date code. One great feature of
these pots was the inclusion of eyes at each of the corners to allow for easy solder
connections for grounding.
The date code had either two or three numbers. The last digit refered to year, and the
preceding digits refered to week. So 295 was the 29th week of 1965, 501 was the
50th week of 1961, and 89 was the 8th week of 1959 ( or 1969, but other features
make it obvious which decade applies).
Hofner started using adjustable truss rods in 1960. Access was at the headstock,
Gibson-style, using a hex nut adjustment. By the end of the ‘60’s, the hex nut was
replaced with an allan nut. Truss rod covers evolved as well, from a style with two
smooth curves reaching a top point, done in 2-ply w/b plastic (with a thin black top
layer) or white mother-of-toilet-seat (solid or over a white layer) to a pear-shaped
style with a bulge on either side at the bottom (usually done in b/w/b plastic).
Guitar Top Dates
Hofner provided useful dating information: dates were often written on the undersides
of the tops, and may be found using a dental mirror, some illumination and a lot of
patience. I was quite delighted when I first stumbled upon such a handwritten date
while visiting the interior of an old Hofner.
This information is found between the treble strut and the treble f-hole, although it
sometimes appears between the bass strut and the bass f-hole. I have observed dates
hand-written in pencil, ink, as well as stamped in blue ink.
Hofner continued to use old hardware inventory after the introduction of new
hardware features, so many examples exist that have combinations of old and new
features. New pick-ups were introduced on top-of the line instruments and trickled
down the models. As well, especially among the 450, 455, 456 and 457 (and
perhaps because of their similarities), many hybrid guitars were built, such as a 456
with a 457 neck, or vice-versa. This may have been due to experimentation, model
changes, lack of correct inventory, backorders or plain carelessness.
How old is that Hofner in the Window?
This information, combined with a basic understanding of the different model features,
makes it easy to identify old Hofners.
Going through the models from simple to fancy, Hofner used a variety of tuners.
Open-back strip tuners came on brass plates, with small white plastic buttons, usually
squared off in appearance, and cheap pressed metal bushings. Nickel-plated plates
also appeared. Buttons were made of white plastic or mother-of-toilet -seat.
Individual open-back tuners on nickel-plated plates appeared on better models, with
larger squared-off buttons and high-quality machined bushings. These plates had
parallel sides with a floral profile at top and bottom. Fancier tuners used similar
plates, but with more elaborate buttons, moulded with the same floral reference. Top
of the line tuners were gold-plated, covered, and with elaborate chasing and the same
elaborate mother-of- toilet-seat buttons. The fanciest tuners were manufactured by
Kolb, and were also used on Hagstrom and Guild guitars.
In the early ‘50’s, even the fanciest guitars used strip tuners (often elaborately
chased) that resemble classical guitar tuners. The shafts of these tuners were metal,
wrapped with white plastic sleeves (of classical guitar dimension) with oversized brass
bushings. These sleeves were soon eliminated and shaft diameters were reduced to
conventional diameters by the mid-’50’s. In general, shaft diameters on the better
tuners were 7mm, wider than the 1/4" shafts found on American tuners by Kluson,
Grover or Waverly (except for Kluson Seal-Fasts or Grover Imperials, which hover
In the mid-‘60's, Hofner introduced covered tuners, with plain rectangular metal,
white or mother- of-toilet-seat rectangular buttons. These tuners were nickel-plated,
or goldplated on the top models.
In general, Hofner arched-top guitar headstocks were thicker than comparable
American guitar headstocks, so the tuners had extra-long shafts. Other than original
tuners, Schallers are the only currently available tuners with long enough shafts to
routinely provide adequate clearance.
Pick-up controls were originally mounted on single-layer mother-of-tortoiseshell
plates mounted on the bottom bout, on the treble side. On/off switches (black plastic
switches, aluminium surrounds) for each pick-up were located below the mounting
plate, right near the edge of the guitar. One pick-up guitars utilized a circular plate,
typically with single volume and tone knobs. Two pick-up guitars used a larger, oval
mounting plate, typically with two volume knobs and two tone knobs in a "cloverleaf"
array. The plates were decalled in English with "Volume" and "Tone" in gold, and had
bevelled edges finished in white paint. Knobs were of the "teacup" variety.
In the late ‘50's, these plates were replaced by the classic "radio control" rectangular
plates, with two volume knobs and three switches, so familiar to Beatle bass
aficionados. The plates were single-layer mother-of-tortoiseshell, also edged with
white paint, with white "teacup" knobs and white switches. Single pick-up control
plates had only a single knob and three switches. White mother-of toilet-seat plates
with black painted edges were also used and became the norm into the ‘60’s.
In the ‘60’s, many of these control plates were replaced with pots mounted directly
through the face of the guitar, usually in rows of three or in Gibson-style 2+2 format.
Finally, pick-up switches appeared, usually in the upper bass bout. The switch had a
flimsy black plastic tip in a rectangular black metal housing attached to the guitar top
with two screws.
Hofner teacup knobs were off-white, with concave gold caps pressed into the tops.
There were two versions, one with a rounded top lip, one with a bevelled top lip.
Very old teacup knobs also appear in tortoiseshell.
Hofner skirted knobs, introduced in the ‘60’s, had grooves in the skirt, concave
nickel or gold tops pressed into place, and VOLUME or TONE deeply embossed
on their surfaces. Skirted knobs also appeared in black occasionally. They looked
somewhat like a combination of ‘60’s Fender Stratocaster and Fender amp knobs.
Original Hofner knobs were attached with slot head set screws, and were cast to fit
Hofner solid shaft pots, which were 6mm in diameter. They do not fit on American
1/4" solid shaft pots unless the knobs are drilled out.
In the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, Hofner used slot head screws. They often used round headed
nails to secure tailpieces. Around 1964, they started to use black Phillips head screws
to attach truss rod covers and to attach Gibson-style pick-up mounting frames to
Hofner developed a distinctive pickguard shape for its non-cutaway as well as its
cutaway guitars, For the most part, pickguards were either thick one ply white
mother-of-toilet-seat, or thick one- ply tortoiseshell, although other types occur, such
as two-ply white mother-of-toilet-seat over white, or two-ply brown
mother-of-toilet-seat over white. On the fanciest guitars, the pickguards were clear
acrylic. The pickguards usually had chamfered edges.
In the ‘60’s, Hofner started using b/w/b/w/b pickguards with chamfered edges, again
more closely resembling Gibson in choice of material. The clear pickguard featured
on the top models was now routed for a wide pinstripe and a Hofner logo, filled with
Hofner attached its pickguards at three points, so the plastic never came into contact
with the guitar tops. Common finishing nails were used to attach pickguards at two of
those points: a small hole was drilled at the side of the neck and another on the base
of the bridge. The nail was sandwiched between the pickguard and a small piece of
pickguard material glued underneath. This wonderfully shoddy approach is part of the
charm of these guitars. On the top of the line guitars, the clear pickguard was
attached to the neck and bridge with neat little pins drilled right into the side of the
A bent metal bracket was attached to the guitar side with a single screw running
through a countersunk hole in the bracket. With most pickguards, the bracket was
friction fit to the underside of the pickguard through a slot made of glued-up
pickguard material. With clear pickguards found on the fanciest models, the bracket
was attached to the pickguard with a single nut and countersunk bolt.
In the late ‘60’s’, Hofner adopted a new "reverse" pickguard shape, following the
contours of the guitar cutaway, the idea for which came from the "Beatle bass"
pickguard. Originally mounted like the older pickguards, they were eventually
mounted directly onto the guitar face with countersunk philips head screws, with small
risers to raise the pickguard off of the face of the guitar.
Hofner generally used nickel-plated metal parts except for its top of the line guitars,
which used gold-plated parts. Hofner started to use chrome-plated parts in the
mid-’60’s, on its own vibrato tailpieces, metal bridges and "nova-sonic" humbucking
pick-ups (usually refered to as "staple" pickups).
Pick-ups went through several changes manufactured by Fuma in Berlin; single-coil,
with six multi-slot screws on chrome-plated metal bodies riveted to matching
non-adjustable chrome-plated bases
Hofner single coil pick-ups with rosewood bodies and black plastic caps, mounted
on matching rosewood bases with height-adjustable knurled aluminium rings on
Hofner single coil pick-ups with all-plastic cases, usually black, sometimes white,
mounted on matching bases with height-adjustable knurled aluminium rings on
Hofner single coil pick-ups with slotted metal covers, nicknamed "toaster" pick-ups,
mounted in thick black plastic rings. Height adjustment was through double set
screws threaded directly through the bass and treble sides of the plastic ring, directly
holding the pickup. The rings were attached to the guitar body with two countersunk
screws through two tabs on the treble and bass sides of the rings, hidden from view
by the pickups themselves. This meant that the rings had to be attached to the bodies
first, then the pickups installed. No holes were cut into the guitar faces as a result, but
for small holes drilled to allow pickup wires to pass through the guitar tops.
Hofner single coil "super-response" pick-ups with six exposed slot-head screws and
the Hofner logo in a rhombus stamped on the faces (the Hofner logo facing either
toward or away from the screws depending on whether it was a neck or bridge
pick-up). These were larger than the "toaster" pick-ups, and were mounted in
thinner-walled black plastic rings. Height adjustment was again through double set
screws threaded directly through the bass and treble sides of the plastic rings, directly
holding the pickups.
Different ring heights were used depending on pickup placement at the neck or
bridge, and different pick-up heights were also used, particularly on the "Verithin"
model guitar. The rings were attached to the guitar bodies with two countersunk
screws through two tabs on the treble and bass sides of the rings, hidden from view
by the pickups themselves. This meant that the rings had to be attached to the bodies
first, then the pickups installed. No holes were cut into the guitar faces as a result, but
for a small holes drilled to allow the pickup wires to pass through the guitar tops.
Hofner "nova-sonic" humbuckers with chrome covers. These had the same six slot
screws as the "super-response" units, but opposite each screw was an exposed
rectangular "staple", hence the nickname "staple pick-ups". These pickups had the
same dimensions as the "super-response" pickups, and were mounted the same way
on early examples, but were introduced right around the time when Hofner changed
its pick-up mounts.
The new humbucking pickup-style system had the pickups suspended from
Gibson-style black plastic rings by two spring-loaded, slot-head machine screws with
squared-off tops. The rings were attached to the guitar bodies with four black
countersunk Philips head screws at each corner of the rings. This meant that tops of
the guitars had to be cut under the mounting rings to allow the pickups to hang
This affected the construction of Hofners in that the struts, which had previously been
glued to the underside of the top in a v-shaped configuration, converging toward the
neckblock, were eventually replaced with parallel struts, spaced widely enough apart
to accommodate the holes in the top now required for proper pickup installation. But
the change in strut placement took place well after the change in mounting ring styles,
so one sees many guitars from the mid-‘60’s with crudely cut holes that leave the
struts exposed, or cut partially through them. The crudeness of these transitional
installations speaks volumes about the state of Hofner’s archtop production in the
Hofner bar pick-ups with a solid blade in a black plastic surround set into the
chromed cover. The blade was notched below the B string and there were six
adjusting screws set in the chrome cover near the pick-up edge. There were two
versions of this bar pick-up, one of which fits into the existing Hofner pick-up
mounting rings, the second of which was longer and narrower, and fit into very
cheesy-looking oversized mounting rings.
These were followed by humbuckers which increasingly came to resemble Gibson
In addition to these pickups, Hofner also offered a variety of after-market pick-ups in
the late 1950’s to retrofit onto acoustic archtop guitars.
Hofner used several bridge assemblies. They had wooden bases, with knurled
aluminum wheels on aluminum posts, on which sat wooden bridges. By the late ‘50’s,
there were several different types of bridges for "cello-guitars":
Ebonized (dyed maple), with fret (bone or white plastic insert) , height
adjustable with 2 screws. This was the basic bridge. The "fret" or insert was
set in diagonally across the top. I have also seen ebony and rosewood versions
of this style.
Ebony or rosewood, with moveable fretwire, height adjustable with 2 screws.
This was the classic Hofner bridge, with four open slots, separated at the ends
with white plastic, into which were friction-fit pieces of fret-wire that could be
moved between slots to optimize intonation.
Ebony, adjustable, with celluloid and mother-of-pearl inlay ( I have yet to see
Standard rosewood or ebony two-piece bridge, similar to those found on
Gibson or Guild archtops (Guild used a lot of German hardware - their
wooden bridges were probably German as well)
Several other good quality bridges were subsequently used as well. In the early ‘60’s,
Hofner introduced the "micro-matic" bridge, which was a version of Gibson’s
"tune-o-matic" bridge, and sat on a height-adjustable rosewood base.
Hofner also introduced some really stupid bridges. One design used adjustable white
plastic inserts which slid along channels in the top piece of the rosewood bridge. This
bridge was not so bad, but the design was subsequently copied in black plastic, and
appeared on many cheaper Hofner archtops. It stained the top black under its feet,
and had extremely poor tone transmission qualities. Hofner also introduced a
distinctive chromed or gold-plated metal bridge with adjustable clear plastic inserts
that could be intonated by being slid along a metal channel, all on a solid black dyed
maple base. Ugh!
Hofner used maple for its necks. Most Hofner necks had glued-on heel extensions,
although one occasionally finds ‘50’s necks profiled using single pieces of wood.
Early necks had a shallow headstock pitch, which was changed in the mid-’50’s to
more closely match the Gibson headstock pitch. Neck cross-sections were typically
two piece, three piece with a center seam of beech, or five piece (not including any
additional wood glued to either side of the headstock).
The five piece neck style was a copy of the five piece Epiphone / Guild neck, with
two thin strips of mahogany sandwiched between three pieces of maple. Throughout
the ‘50’s, the thickness of these mahogany strips varied slightly, as did the width of
the centre piece of maple, but by the ‘60’s it was standardized. There was also an
eleven piece neck on the top of the line 470/S archtop, related to but surpassing the
seven-piece neck style of the Epiphone Emperor. In the early ‘70’s, this neck was
simplified to become a seven-piece style, very similar to the by-then defunct
Hofner always used volutes on its instruments, which varied from hard, defined edges
to soft edges. Necks were always attached to bodies at the 14th fret, using simple
tapered mortise joints. The fingerboard tongues extended over the bodies in a
violin-like manner, with clearance underneath the board. Early Hofners had this
tongue supported by the maple of the neck, which continued underneath the board
and tapered up to the end of the fingerboard. In the mid-‘50’s, the company altered
this design, replacing the wood under the fingerboard from the 14th fret forward with
a piece of quartersawn spruce. This was because the tongue tended to warp upwards
during the dry winter months, dangling as it did over the guitar top with nothing to
keep it in place. The soft, high moisture content spruce was much more stable and
less susceptible to seasonal humidity changes. The rationale behind this design was
based on avoiding contact with the vibrating guitar top to optimize its acoustic
properties. This rationale was directly contradicted by all of Hofner’s electric archtop
guitars, with pickups and controls bolted onto or cut into the guitar tops. Oh, well.
Hofner archtop guitars were built with 25.5" scale lengths, 22 frets, and zero frets.
The "Club" guitars are an exception to this, with 24 3/8" scale lengths. Fingerboards
were always rounded at the body end, except for the Club 60 models. Frets were of
varying styles, with brass frets on the least expensive models, and a tendency to
increase fret size as the models got fancier. With a few exceptions, the tendency was
to bind the necks before fretting them, and to cut through the bindings to
accommodate the frets. To American eyes, this makes the guitars look like they have
been improperly refretted, but they were mostly built that way. However, specific
models were fretted without cutting the binding.
There was little standardization of neck shapes on pre-truss-rod Hofners. They
ranged from boxy and narrow to clubby and narrow to clubby and wide (my
favourite). Following the introduction of truss rods in ‘60, neck shapes became more
standardized on a round "c" shape. These "c-shaped" necks tended to vary more in
terms of mass than in shape. Measurements at the nut reveal a universe of neck
Heel shapes changed from the early ‘50’s to the early ‘60’s as well. Early heels
tapered to a narrow and rounded end, with flat plastic end caps. Later heels did not
taper as much but were also rounded, so the flat plastic caps were usually larger. In
the late ‘60’s, when Hofner completely changed its body styles, they went to flattened
(as opposed to rounded) heels, like those on contemporary Heritage archtop guitars.
Headstock shapes, coverings and Hofner logos
Hofner used many different headstock shapes and headstock overlays between the
early ‘50’s and late ‘60’s. It hurts the brain to go through them all. Maybe later.
There were two basic Hofner bodies, most easily compared to Gibson’s ES-175 /
L4 size and its ES-350 / L5 body sizes. Hofner also introduced a larger size in 1960,
although it is much less often seen. These three Hofner shapes have the following
width across bottom bout 16" 17" 18"
width across top bout 12" 12" 13"
length of body 20" 20" 21"
depth (fullbody) 3" 3" 3"
Catalogue information is vague in this regard. Different models based on these bodies
are described as, for instance:
width across bottom bout 16.5" 17" 17.5" or 18"
length of body 20.5" 20.5" 21.25" or 20.5"
depth (fullbody) 3.5" 3" 3.25"
"Club" guitars had small bodies:
width across bottom bout 13"
width across top bout 9 1/2"
length of body 17 1/8"
Bodies were always built with laminated backs and sides. Tops were either solid
spruce or laminated, depending on a variety of factors. These laminates were three
ply (eventually Hofner used five-ply) and were lightly fabricated, resulting in
lightweight and responsive guitars. Solid bent hardwood kerfing was used and
neckblocks and endblocks were made of spruce. Necks were glued into endblocks
using the above-mentioned tapered mortise joints and violin-style tongues. Two large
bass bars or struts were fitted to the undersides of the tops in a non-parallel
arrangement, converging toward the neckblock.
Lower end models had laminate tops with a single or bookmatched outer face layer
of maple. On these models, the inside face layer of laminate was usually mahogany,
sometimes maple. Higher end models had either solid spruce tops or laminated tops
with face layers of spruce.
On cutaway instruments, all of which had venetian (round) cutaways, the lower
numbered models had cutaway sides that were parallel to the rest of the sides. The
irregular flat space between the top edge of the cut-away and the curvature of the
neck joint on the treble side was filled with binding material. The joint following the
curvature of the neck on the bass side was plain. As the trim level increased, as with
the Model 457, Hofner added a layer of side binding following the curvature of the
neck on the bass side.
As the model number and trim level further increased, the side of the cutaway closest
to the joint was no longer built parallel to the sides of the guitar but was built to match
the tapered curvature of the neck joint itself, with a thin strip of side binding on either
side of the neck joint as a result. This meant that the top of the guitar in the cutaway
area where the neck met the body was wider than the bottom of the guitar where the
heel met the body.
The most complex and elegant construction method eliminated the thin strips of
binding from either side of the neck joint and replaced it on the cutaway side with a
radiused piece of solid maple between the neck joint and the matching tapered
In the late ‘60’s, Hofner significantly changed the way it built archtop guitars. Large
maple endblocks replaced small spruce endblocks, and the curvature of the laminated
guitar tops and backs was flattened out in the neckblock area to simplify construction.
The neck/body joints now looked like those of Gibson archtop cutaway guitars, and
necks were glued into these neckblocks in the Gibson style.
The arch of the top was altered to accommodate this change. The oldest style had
pronounced arching, which continued symmetrically to the edges of the guitar, all
around. There was a gradual move to less pronounced arching into the early ‘60’s.
The new style had an arch which flattened out completely in the area of the neck
block, both on the top and back of the guitar, to allow for more positive contact with
the neckblock at the top and back, as well as to make it easier to set the neck in at a
The neck changed as well. It was shortened to have only 20 frets, which allowed the
neck pickup to be mounted further away from the bridge.
Hofner also developed an intriguingly crappy bolt-on neck joint, which made some of
their archtops resemble Fender’s LTD and Montego guitars in the neck/body joint,
although the Hofner system used a single screw with a hook and eye arrangement.
Hofner introduced florentine cutaways on a few models in ‘67, aping the florentine
cutaways introduced in ‘61 by Gibson, like the Super 400 CES, L-5CES, Birdland,
Switchmaster and ES-350T.
At the same time, f-holes shapes were altered, as were headstock shapes and
fingerboard inlays. While many of these Hofners were fine instruments, they lost the
idiosyncratic charm of their predecessors as they were "improved". Into the ‘70’s,
they became little more than high quality Gibson copies.
Model Numbers - Theory and practice during the 1950’s:
Hofner’s approach to model numbers was simple - the higher the number (between
449 and 470) the fancier the guitar. So, theoretically, a 457 was fancier than a 455. If
a guitar had a cut-away, the letter S was attached to the model name. So a cutaway
455 was a 455/S. Some of the numbers were only used on instruments imported to
the US, and the meanings of some of the other numbers changed over time.
Most models had colours associated with them, usually sunburst variants, usually
referred to as "brunet" - a reddish ‘burst, a brownish ‘burst, a honey ‘burst and so
forth. Some models were available in blonde as well. If an ordinarily sunburst 455
appeared with a blonde finish, it was a 455/b. If it also had a cutaway it was a
455/S/b. Specific models had special colours (like black or red) associated with them
or were only available with cutaways (see below).
Electric archtop guitars had one or two pick-ups. Some models were available with
three pick- ups. Our beleaguered 455 could thus be a 455/E1 or a 455/E2. But there
were other pick-up and tone systems available as well. So our 455 might be a
455/T1 instead of a 455/E1, meaning that it had an additional tone circuit (and
additional knob on the face of the guitar. Or it might be a 455/G, with an ultra-cool
pickup mounted right into the end of the fingerboard (replacing the wood at the end
of the fingerboard past the 22nd fret) but no knobs. With knobs, it would be a
If the guitar looked just like a 455 but was 17" across the bottom bout instead of 16",
it was a 4550. In fact, the only large-body guitar catalogued this way was the 4550,
although there are two other high-end models that only came in the 17" size. An
interesting variation on the sunburst finish of some 4550’s was a dark strip of finish
running down the center of the tops, under the strings, creating a "skunk stripe" effect
on the tops.
Certain models had unique features:
only the 455 was ever offered in catalogues with an extra-wide 17" body as
only the 462 and 463 were ever offered in catalogues with three pick-ups e.g.
the 461/S, 462/S, 464/S and 470/S were only offered with cutaways. There
are no catalogued non-cutaway versions
the 468, 468/S and 470/S style guitars were only offered in the larger size (17"
across the bottom bout). They were not logically catalogued in the same
manner as the 4550, as 4680, 4680/S and 4700/S (although these numbers
appear in a later model numbering scheme related to body depth).
the 470/S was only available in blonde, but was not called a 470/S/b, In the
late-’60’s, a sunburst version of the 470/S was offered only in the US
catalogue as the 471/S. In Europe, the 471 was offered as a different guitar
entirely, introduced in ‘69.
some guitars were probably never offered in electric versions (like the 461 or
464, each of which had a third soundhole below the end of the fingerboard)
Model Numbers - Theory and practice during the 1960’s:
Things got simpler in the ‘60’s. The model line was progressively simplified as
the archtop guitar faded into obscurity. Hofner introduced a variety of new
guitars, including new solid-bodies, thinlines and thinline double cutaway
As thinline guitars became popular in the late ‘50’s and into the ‘60’s, Hofner
produced several thinline models based on existing full-body models. The
addition of a fourth digit, a zero, came to mean thinline, as was the case with
the 4500, 4560, 4680 and 4700 series of 2" deep electric guitars. As well, the
fourth digit was used to communicate specific variations on thinline models,
such as the 4572, 4574, 4575 and so forth.
The big, deep-bodied 4550 was still offered, defying the numbering system,
along with a cutaway version, the 4550/s. The 4550/s body was the same as
the one used on the 500/5 "Stu Sutcliffe" bass, albeit deeper.
Within the world of thinline guitars, Hofner offered different depths. This may
have changed over time, just as it did with Gertsch guitars. In addition to a 3"
and 3.5" depth for fullbodies, different thinline models were available in 2.25",
2" and 1.5" depths.
In the US, the designation for blonde finishes was move to a prefix: the blonde
4578 was now a B4578 instead of a 4578/b.
The introduction of vibrato tailpieces added the new suffix V. So a 4700/E2
(thinline 470 with two pick-ups) was a 4700/V2 if it had a vibrato. Hofner also
added circuitry such as treble boost and fuzz: a thinline (2"), double cutaway
(florentine) 457 with vibrato as well as built in fuzz and boost was a
4578/VTZ. Most of these variations bypassed the now withering full-bodied
archtops, and apply to various thinlines.
What else changed from the ‘50’s to the ‘60’s?
The quality of the wood laminates changed. This is most obvious on Hofner’s
two fanciest guitars, the 468 (Committee in the UK) and the 470 (Golden
Hofner in the UK).
The 468 had a laminated birds-eye maple back and sides, with a spruce top.
The top was either laminated or carved, depending on lunar cycles, how much
beer was consumed at lunch and other random factors. The amount of
birdseye grain diminished over time, from roccoco excess in the mid-’50’s to
modernist severity in the mid-’60’s. The 468 was also available with a flamed
The 470 had a laminated flamed-maple back and sides, with a spruce top.
Again, the top was either laminated or carved, depending on Brownian
movement, the weak force and so forth. The complexity and intensity of the
flame in the maple also diminished over time, from breathtakingly disturbed
patterning in the mid-’50’s to precisely spaced tight ribbon flame in the
mid-’60’s. Some people have suggested that the wood is not flamed maple but
flamed sycamore, which is related to maple. Perhaps Gibson or Guild should
try to find some of it, because it "sho' is purdy".
The laminations changed as well. Originally, laminates were three ply or five
ply, with laminate layers of varying thickness. In the ‘60’s, there was a
transition to slightly heavier five ply laminates that were of more even thickness.
||Hofner 60th Anniversary
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