|Founded||Schönbach, Austria-Hungary 1887|
|Products||Electric, acoustic, resonator and classical guitars|
Karl Höfner GmbH & Co. KG is a German (originally Austro-Bohemian) 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 electric bass guitar throughout his career. This violin-shaped model is commonly referred to as the "Beatle bass".
A German luthier, Karl Höfner (1864–1955), founded the Höfner company in the town of Schönbach in Austria-Hungary (now Luby in the Czech Republic) in 1887. He soon became the largest string instrument manufacturer 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 German army in World War II producing wooden crates and soles for boots. After the war, Germans were expelled from the Sudetenland, forcing Höfner 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 opened in 1950, and expanded three times between 1953 and 1960. Karl Höfner, the founder, lived to see the company's revival, and died in Bubenreuth in 1955. In 1964, the company built a further factory at Hagenau, about 5 km from Bubenreuth, to machine wood parts for assembly at Bubenreuth. They expanded the Hagenau factory 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 together became the driving force for the company as Josef and Walter entered retirement in the 1970s.
Changes of ownership
In 1994, Höfner became part of the Boosey & Hawkes Group, and was able to expand and upgrade its facilities with the influx of cash. In 1997, the company moved from Bubenreuth to Hagenau.
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, with his wife Ulrike Schrimpff, the finance director at Höfner along with Rob Olsen and Graham Stockley who were USA and UK partners. Klaus Schöller and Ulrike Schrimpff remain as the owners of the business today.
The Höfner company has nearly always been responsible for its own distribution within Europe. The exceptions to this have been:
- The Netherlands where the distributor in the 1950s and 1960s was the Van Wouw company (which closed in the 1970s)
- Spain where the distributor is Keller
- 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 the mid-1990s Höfner became part of the Boosey & Hawkes Group and UK distribution was taken over by them until the sale of Höfner in 2004 when distribution switched to GNC, a company formed by Graham Stockley and Clive Guthrie. Today electric guitars are distributed by Barnes and Mullins while classical guitars and stringed instruments are still distributed by Clive Guthrie.
EMMC based in NJ was the distributor for bass guitars for many years until Boosey & Hawkes bought Höfner in 1994.
Boosey & Hawkes took over distribution from 1995 to 2003. During these years the improvements of quality and brand exposure were significant. The overall bass and guitar lines were redesigned and new successful 6-string jazz guitar models were created and introduced in late 1999.
The Music Group, a Venture Capital Company took over Boosey & Hawkes from 2003 until 2004 when the Höfner company was purchased via a management buyout.
In 2005, Höfner's United States distribution was picked up by Classic Musical Instruments (CMI) in Kenosha, WI. CMI ceased trading in 2012 and distribution passed to Musical Distributors Group (MDG) in New Jersey. In late 2018 MDG merged with Adam Hall North America and is the current USA distributor.
Rob Olsen - 1998–current: Rob Olsen worked at Boosey & Hawkes as Höfner Product Manager in late 1998 and remains responsible for USA distribution for Adam Hall. He designed or co-designed, with Klaus Schoeller and Graham Stockley, many key Höfner models, managed overall quality, and increased visibility of the company (especially from 1998 to 2012). Rob Olsen era Höfner models include: HAS acoustic series, Jazzica Custom, Verythin Classic, The New President, The Vice President, Verythin Standard, The Chancellor, The Club Bass reissue, The 50th Anniversary Violin bass, Club 40 John Lennnon limited edition, Violin finish guitars and basses, Colorama reissue, H5 jazz guitars and many others. Rob may be best known for creating the flagship Icon/Ignition series basses and guitars. He was responsible for negotiations and creation of the Ed Sullivan Series basses, Guitar Hero and Beatles Rockband connections.
Rob Olsen opened and managed the Höfner Custom Shop (still in operation), which produces special instruments and colors for shops and artists, including Wilco, Lenny Kravitz, Bruno Mars, Cheap Trick, Bon Jovi, Tesla, Sheryl Crow, and others. The most famous custom shop model may be the Paul McCartney Jubilee bass that Paul used for the Concert For The Queen in 2012, where Paul sported a painted in a transparent colored Union Jack flag custom shop bass.
Rob Olsen along with Graham Stockley in the U.K. (and later based in Germany at the Höfner workshop) were the key players in exposing and bringing the brand to desired status by creating quality features and models, artist- relations and signings of visible artists (officially with Paul McCartney), Cheap Trick, Bon Jovi, Tesla, Wilco and many others. They also achieved rapid dealer growth and the creation of the ad campaigns during the USA Höfner brand launch years.
The Selmer company devised names for these instruments 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.
- The President: a family of mid-range archtops, with a single cutaway.
- The Senator: a family of archtops, with many variations.
- The Shorty. A relatively recent (1982) travel guitar Now made in China.
- The Verithin. A semi-acoustic guitar with a 30mm deep body. They produced regular, Bigsby and stereo versions.
- Violin guitar. Introduced subsequently to the violin bass.
- The V Series solid body electric guitars.
- The Galaxie solid body electric guitars.
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 that he purchased in 1959 from Hessy's music store in Liverpool. He used this for about one year, then bought a Rickenbacker "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 songwriter, 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 got his second 500/1. McCartney used his 1963 bass almost exclusively during The Beatles' touring career, using his 1961 bass (repaired and refinished in 1964) as a backup. By 1965 McCartney had begun using a Rickenbacker bass in the studio—but 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. Though he continued to primarily use his Rickenbacker throughout the 1970s and 1980s, McCartney began using the 1963 Höfner extensively again on the 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt and continues to use it to the present day.
Höfner 500/1 bass players
- The Beatles and Wings bass guitarist and singer songwriter Paul McCartney
- Amy Winehouse bassist Dale Davis
- Barenaked Ladies bassist Jim Creeggan
- Beach Boys guitarist Carl Wilson on "Lei'd in Hawaii" (1967), and Alan Jardine on Carl and the Passions – "So Tough"
- Big Star bassists Andy Hummel and Ken Stringfellow, and Alex Chilton bassist Terry Manning
- Chris Wood
- Deerhoof bassist Satomi Matsuzaki
- Errol Holt
- Fleet Foxes bassist Christian Wargo
- The La's bassist John Power, in the meeting that had the band in 2005
- Peter Tosh bassist Robbie Shakespeare
- Steven Tyler bassist Rebecca Lynn Howard
- Sum 41 bassist Cone McCaslin recorded bass lines for some songs from Screaming Bloody Murder with Höfner bass
- Tame Impala members Kevin Parker and Nick Allbrook
- The Bright Light Social Hour bassist Jack O'Brien on Space Is Still the Place (2015)
- The Searchers bassist Tony Jackson
- Brian Wheat -Tesla
- Tom Petersson - Cheap Trick
- Michael Rhodes - studio bassist
- Leland Sklar - The Section (band), studio bassist
- Bob Glaub - studio musician
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
- Prolific session bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen often plays a 500/2 bass
- Nicolas Godin of Air French Band
- Tony Scherr played on a 500/2 live with Bill Frisell
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.
- Hugh Cornwell ex member of The Stranglers used a Höfner Razerwood S7L solid-body.
- 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 Höfner President bass.
- Albert Lee's first guitar was a Höfner President acoustic.
- Tav Falco has played only a Höfner violin guitar, with built-in factory fuzztone, since 1980.
- Tonny Koeswoyo used Höfner Galaxy Series & Verythin Series
- John Lennon of The Beatles bought a Club 40 as his first electric guitar in 1959.
- Chris Rea's first guitar was a Höfner Verithin 3, which he played until 1979.
- Bernie Marsden's first electric guitar was a Colorama.
- 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.
- ^ "The Höfner Shorty - Fact File".
- ^ "Harrison Hofner".
- ^ "Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass".
- ^ Sum41 (6 February 2010). "Sum 41 Studio Day 6". Archived from the original on 2021-12-22 – via YouTube.
- ^ "Albert Lee - Official site of the Grammy Award-winning guitarist". Archived from the original on 2017-12-29. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
- Acoustic Guitars: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Chartwell Books. 2011. ISBN 978-0-7858-3571-4.
- Official website
- Höfner GmbH page at The Music Group (web archive)
- Vintage Höfner: a collector's site
- Jazz Gitarren (English)
- Verithingeoff A reference site for Höfner Verithin
- Gerhilde Benker NAMM Oral History Interview (2008)
- Christian Benker NAMM Oral History Interview (2008)