Much of Höfner's popularity is attributed to Paul McCartney's use of the Höfner 500/1 bass throughout his career. This violin-shaped model is commonly referred to as the "Beatle bass."
The Höfner company was founded by luthier Karl Höfner in the city of Schönbach in 1887, at a time when the city, later to become Czech, was populated by Germans. He soon became the largest manufacturer of string instruments in the country. His sons Josef and Walter joined the company around 1920, and began spreading the brand's reputation worldwide. The company suffered some upheavals during and after World War II, but survived and continued to thrive. The company built new factories in Bubenreuth, Western Germany in 1950.
Changes of ownership
In the 1950s and 1960s, Höfner instruments were distributed by Selmer of London. They were considerably more accessible to budding musicians than American-made guitars, which were expensive if obtainable at all, giving Höfners a place in history as the "starter" instruments of several well known 1960s musicians.
After a near-bankruptcy in 2003 Boosey & Hawkes sold its musical instrument division (including the Höfner and Buffet Crampon companies) to The Music Group, a company formed by rescue buyout specialists Rutland Fund Management, for £33.2 million.
Höfner remained a part of this conglomerate until January 2005, when The Music Group sold the company to Klaus Schöller, who has been the General Manager of Höfner for many years.
In 2005, Höfner's USA distribution was picked up by Chicago firm Classic Musical Instruments (CMI).
The names of these guitars were devised by the Selmer company for the UK market. Elsewhere, they were know by model numbers.
- The Ambassador. A thinline semi-acoustic with two florentine cutaways.
- The Chancellor. A high-end archtop guitar available in limited numbers.
- Club 40, 50 and 60. Hollow bodied electric guitars without soundholes. Still manufactured, the current Clubs have Gibson Les Paul style bodyshape.
- The original Coloramas were inexpensive semi-solid body electric guitars with plywood construction. The current Chinese made ones are solid bodies with retro styling.
- The Committee was the top-of-the-range archtop.
- The Congress, a non-cutaway archtop guitar. Early models had a 12th fret neck join.
- J17. The current range of archtops.
- The President: a family of mid-range archtops, with a single cutaway. A version, the "New president" is still manufactured.
- The Senator: a family of archtops, with many variations.
- The Shorty. A relatively recent (1982) travel guitar Now made in China.
- The Verithin. A Gibson ES-335 style semi-acoustic guitar. with a body only 30mm deep. Chinese-made (CT-series) models are still available, renamed "Verythin" for legal reasons.
- Violin guitar. Introduced subsequently to the violin bass.
- The V2, V3 and V4 solid body electric guitars with a telecaster like body shape.
Notable Höfner users
Beatles guitarists George Harrison and John Lennon used Höfner electric guitars (Club 40 and President models) during the formative years of the group's career, and the band's former bassist Stuart Sutcliffe also played a Höfner 500/5 Bass.
The company is most famous through its association with Beatles singer and instrumentalist Paul McCartney, who is a longtime user of the Höfner 500/1 model hollow-body electric bass, first manufactured in 1956.
McCartney played two left-handed 500/1 basses during most of the group's career – a 1961 model with pickups mounted close together towards the neck, and a 1963 model, with the second pickup mounted closer to the bridge. McCartney used the 1961 bass until the recording of With The Beatles in late 1963, when he obtained his second 500/1. McCartney used his 1963 bass almost exclusively during The Beatles' touring career, using his 1961 bass (which was repaired and refinished in 1964) as a backup. Although by 1965 McCartney had begun using a Rickenbacker bass in-studio, he did bring out his 1961 model for the "Revolution" promo film in 1968 and for the documentary Let It Be the following year. During the shooting, however, the 1961 bass was stolen, and McCartney used his newer Höfner for the remainder of the film, including the famous rooftop performance. McCartney has continued to use his 1963 Höfner extensively throughout his solo career and continues to use it today.
Other Violin Bass users
- Peter Tosh bassist Robbie Shakespeare
- Amy Winehouse bassist Dale Davis
- Big Star bassists Andy Hummel and Ken Stringfellow
- Barenaked Ladies bassist Jim Creeggan
- Deerhoof bassist Satomi Matsuzaki
- The Searchers (band) bassist Tony Jackson
- Beach Boys bassist Brian Wilson on "Lei'd in Hawaii" (1967), and Alan Jardine on Carl and the Passions – "So Tough"
- Tom Petty
- Chris Wood
- Christian Wargo with Fleet Foxes.
- Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth used a 500/2 bass
Hofner guitar users
- Bert Weedon, now best known for his tutorial works, had a variety of Höfners.
- Hank Marvin's first guitar was a Congress.
- Eric Clapton learned to play on a Höfner acoustic.
- The young Ritchie Blackmore played a club 50.
- A Senator was Peter Green's first real guitar.
- Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones traded in a stack of records in order to purchase his first guitar, which was a hollow-body Höfner cut away.
- Folk Baroque pioneer Davy Graham played a Congress.
- Mark Knopfler's first guitar was a V2 solid.
- The Stone Roses' John Squire used a Höfner semi-acoustic guitar (featuring a self-applied Jackson Pollock-style paintjob).
- The Auteurs' Luke Haines uses a Committee.
- Jamie Hince' of The Kills
- Early Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe used prize money he won in an art competition (50 guineas) to purchase a Hofner President bass.
- Albert Lee's first guitar was a Hofner President Acoustic
- Tav Falco has played only a Höfner violin guitar, with built-in factory fuzztone, since 1980.
- Nick Allbrook of Tame Impala played a Höfner violin bass live, and Kevin Parker is seen playing one on the back cover of second album Lonerism.
- Paul McCartney World Tour booklet, EMAP Metro, MPL Communications 1989
- Fagan, Mary (2002-08-24). "Boosey Nears Sale of Instruments Division". The Daily Telegraph. Osborne, Alistair (2003-02-11). "Boosey Plucks £33.2 million (or, about $67 million) for Instruments". The Daily Telegraph. Wray, Richard (2003-02-12). "Boosey & Hawkes Sells Instruments Arm for £33.2m". The Guardian.
- Shorty fact File
- Vintage Guitars - Höfner 500/1
- Current Höfner GmbH website
- Höfner GmbH page at The Music Group (web archive)
- Vintage Höfner: a collector's site
- Jazz Gitarren (English)
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