Collecting Hofner vintage guitars, part 2. Vintage guitars collecting info web site. Private vintage guitar collector. Pictures, history for vintage guitars amps lapsteels ukuleles.
Die Hfnering (collecting Hofner vintage guitars), Part Two.

By Stephen Candib, moniker@ca.inter.net. Copyright 1995-1997, used by permission. (Steve is a friend of mine with very unusual vintage guitar tastes. His article on this lesser-known brand of vintage guitars appears here as a special feature. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any strange Hofner questions, feel free to email him, and not me! - VGI editor -).

Go to Part 1, Introduction.
Go to Part 3, Specific Model Info, models 449 thru 459.
Go to Part 4, Specific Model Info, models 460 thru 470/S.
Return to the Feature Index.
Return to the Main Index.


    Introduction
      In the gripping first episode of the Hfner 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 Hofner models.

    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 50s/early 60s, 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 70s. 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 Hofners 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 50s, there were several archtop guitar models:

         455, 456, 460, 462, 463, 464, 465, 468
      
      By the mid-50s, the model range had widened considerably, and from then to the mid-60s was Hofners 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:

      Guitar

      • Body Dimensions - widths, depth, length
      • Body Woods
      • Neck Woods
      • Fingerboard Styles / Woods / Inlays
      • Peghead Shapes
      • Peghead Overlay Styles
      • Bindings and Purflings
      • F-holes

      Hardware

      • Tuning Machines
      • Bridges
      • Tail-pieces
      • Pick-ups
      • Pickguards
      • 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).

    Truss Rods/Covers
      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 60s, 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.

    Inventory Philosophy
      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.

    Tuning Pegs
      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 50s, 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-50s. 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 around 5/16").

      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.

    Wiring Harnesses
      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 60s.

      In the 60s, 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.

    Knobs
      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 60s, 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 60s 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.

    Screws
      In the 50s and 60s, 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 guitar faces.

    Pickguards
      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 60s, 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 gold detailing.

      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 pickguard.

      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 60s, 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.

    Plating
      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-60s, on its own vibrato tailpieces, metal bridges and "nova-sonic" humbucking pick-ups (usually refered to as "staple" pickups).

    Pick-ups
      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 aluminium posts

      Hofner single coil pick-ups with all-plastic cases, usually black, sometimes white, mounted on matching bases with height-adjustable knurled aluminium rings on aluminium posts

      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 properly.

      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-60s 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 Hofners archtop production in the mid-60s.

      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 pick-ups.

      In addition to these pickups, Hofner also offered a variety of after-market pick-ups in the late 1950s to retrofit onto acoustic archtop guitars.

    Bridges
      Hofner used several bridge assemblies. They had wooden bases, with knurled aluminum wheels on aluminum posts, on which sat wooden bridges. By the late 50s, 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 one).
      • 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 60s, Hofner introduced the "micro-matic" bridge, which was a version of Gibsons "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!

    Necks
      Hofner used maple for its necks. Most Hofner necks had glued-on heel extensions, although one occasionally finds 50s necks profiled using single pieces of wood. Early necks had a shallow headstock pitch, which was changed in the mid-50s 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 50s, the thickness of these mahogany strips varied slightly, as did the width of the centre piece of maple, but by the 60s 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 70s, this neck was simplified to become a seven-piece style, very similar to the by-then defunct Emperor.

      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-50s, 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 Hofners 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 widths.

      Heel shapes changed from the early 50s to the early 60s 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 60s, 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 50s and late 60s. It hurts the brain to go through them all. Maybe later.

    Bodies
      There were two basic Hofner bodies, most easily compared to Gibsons 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 approximate dimensions:
         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"	 
         depth                      2"	
      
      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 cutaway.

      In the late 60s, 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 60s. 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 given angle.

      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 Fenders 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 70s, they became little more than high quality Gibson copies.

    Model Numbers - Theory and practice during the 1950s:
      Hofners 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 455/G1.

      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 4550s 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 the 4550
      • only the 462 and 463 were ever offered in catalogues with three pick-ups e.g. 463/S/E3.
      • 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-60s, 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 1960s:

        Things got simpler in the 60s. 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 designs.

        As thinline guitars became popular in the late 50s and into the 60s, 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 50s to the 60s?
        Body woods
        The quality of the wood laminates changed. This is most obvious on Hofners 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-50s to modernist severity in the mid-60s. The 468 was also available with a flamed maple back.

        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-50s to precisely spaced tight ribbon flame in the mid-60s. 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 60s, there was a transition to slightly heavier five ply laminates that were of more even thickness from layer to layer.

      Go to Part 1, Introduction.
      Go to Part 3, Specific Model Info, models 449 thru 459.
      Go to Part 4, Specific Model Info, models 460 thru 470/S.

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