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Karl Höfner GmbH & Co. KG is a German manufacturer of musical instruments, with one division that manufactures guitars and basses, and another that manufactures other string instruments, such as violins, violas, cellos, double basses and bows for stringed instruments.
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 part of 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 became involved in production for the Germany army in World War II producing wooden crates and soles for boots. After the war Germans were expelled from the Sudetenland and Hofner was forced to move to West Germany. The company initially moved to an ex-work camp at Möhrendorf in 1948 but soon became involved in the development of a new township and factories in Bubenreuth. The new Höfner factory was opened in 1950. This was expanded three times between 1953 and 1960. Karl Höfner, the founder, lived to see the company revival and died in Bubenreuth in 1955. In 1964 a further factory was built at Hagenau about 5km from Bubenreuth. This was used for the machining of wooden parts that were then assembled at Bubenreuth. The factory at Hagenau was expanded twice in the 1970s.
The daughter of Walter Höfner, Gerhilde, began working for the company in the mid 1950s taking an active part in all aspects of management. Her husband, Christian Benker, joined the company in 1963. They would together become the driving force for the company as Josef and Walter entered retirement in the 1970s.
Changes of ownership
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 December 2004, when The Music Group sold the company to Klaus Schöller, who had been the General Manager of Höfner for many years, and to his wife Ulrike Schrimpff, the Finance Director at Höfner. Klaus Schöller and Ulrike Schrimpff remain as the owners of the business today.
The Höfner company has always been responsible for much of its own distribution within Europe.
The exceptions to this have been:
- To the Netherlands where the distributor in the 1950s and 1960s was the Van Wouw company. (Company closed in the 1970s.)
- To Spain where the distributor is Keller.
- To the United Kingdom, in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s Höfner instruments were distributed by Selmer of London (not to be confused with The Selmer Company).
In 2005, Höfner's USA distribution was picked up by Chicago firm Classic Musical Instruments (CMI). This company ceased trading in 2012 and distribution passed to Musical Distributors Group based in New jersey, USA.
The names of these guitars were devised by the Selmer company for the UK market. Elsewhere, they were known 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. they produced regular, bigsby and a stereo (sterio) version.
- Violin guitar. Introduced subsequently to the violin bass.
- The V2 and V3 solid body electric guitars with a stratocaster like body shape.
Notable Höfner users
Beatles guitarists George Harrison and John Lennon used Höfner electric guitars. Harrison used a President model and a Club 40 early on in his association with the group. Lennon's first electric guitar was a Club 40 model purchased in 1959 from Hessy's music store in Liverpool. He used this for about one year then purchased a Rickenbaker "Capri" model. The Club 40 was briefly loaned to Paul McCartney and then it was sold. The band's original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe 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.
Höfner 500/1 bass players
- Peter Tosh bassist Robbie Shakespeare
- Amy Winehouse bassist Dale Davis
- Chris Wood
- Big Star bassists Andy Hummel and Ken Stringfellow
- Producer/Artist Terry Manning (Big Star, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Shakira, many more)
- Deerhoof bassist Satomi Matsuzaki
- Beach Boys bassist Brian Wilson on "Lei'd in Hawaii" (1967), and Alan Jardine on Carl and the Passions – "So Tough"
- Barenaked Ladies bassist Jim Creeggan
- The Searchers (band) bassist Tony Jackson
- Jamaican Reggae Bassist Errol Holt
- Christian Wargo with Fleet Foxes.
- Sum 41 bassist Cone McCaslin recorded bass lines for some songs from Screaming Bloody Murder with Hofner bass
Höfner 500/2 bass players
- Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth used a 500/2 bass
- Tom Petty performed with Mudcrutch playing a 500/2, and appears with a 500/1 in the liner notes for Playback (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album)
Höfner 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.
- At the age of 13, Jimmy Page made his first televised appearance in 1957 on BBC1 playing a Höfner President.
- 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.
- Tonny Koeswoyo used Hofner Galaxy Series & Verythin Series
- John Lennon of The Beatles bought a Club 40 as his first electric guitar in 1959
- 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
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