Die HŲfnering (collecting Hofner vintage guitars), Part One.
By Stephen Candib, email@example.com. 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 2, General Model Info.
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.
Most of these guitars are pretty much the same size as a Gibson ES175ís or L-4ís, 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 ES350ís or L-5ís. And they made smaller archtops, like the "Club" guitars, which are sort of like ES140Tís or Guild Aristocrat M-75ís.
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 for years.
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 period".
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 didnít 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.
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)?
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 450 Model 455 - sorta like the Senator Model 456 Model 457 - sorta like the President Model 458 Model 459 Model 460 Model 461 Model 462 Model 463 Model 464 Model 465 Model 468 - sorta like the Committee Model 470 - sorta like the Golden Hofner Model 471Hofner 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.
Go to Part 3, Specific Model Info, models 449 thru 459.
Go to Part 4, Specific Model Info, models 460 thru 470/S.