Die Höfnering (collecting Hofner vintage guitars), Part Two.|
By Stephen Candib, firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
General Model Information
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:
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, 468By 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, 471During 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:
Potentiometer 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).
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.
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 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.
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 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 ‘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 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 ‘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 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-‘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 mid-‘60’s.
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 1950’s to retrofit onto acoustic archtop guitars.
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!
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 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-‘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 widths.
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.
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 ‘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 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 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:
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 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:
Model Numbers - Theory and practice during the 1960’s:
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.
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 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-’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 from layer to layer.
Go to Part 3, Specific Model Info, models 449 thru 459.
Go to Part 4, Specific Model Info, models 460 thru 470/S.