Hofner 185

Hofner 185

Have you heard the line, “If Hendrix had a Magnatone, Strats would be worth $200 now?” A highly debatable proposition, for sure! But if Paul McCartney had not used a Höfner bass through much of the Beatles’ career, few collectors would remember the Höfner line today.

Unlike other German-brand guitars, such as Klira, Hopf, or Framus, some Höfners are prized vintage pieces, especially those with a connection to the Beatles.

The bass, however, is not one of them. Representing Höfner’s mostly forgotten solidbody line, it remains an example of how European guitar makers took inspiration from the era’s American giants, then went off in their own, often eccentric, way. The design owes a lot to Fender, but the pickup layout, scale length (30”), and, most obviously, cosmetics are a world away from the Precision Bass. Textured naugahyde covers the body (black-to-red sunburst was available, as well) which, if not as eye-popping as the accordion plastic favored by Italian concerns, still looks a bit strange. The pickups are the same “staple-pole” models found on the Beatles-era 500/1 bass and the pearloid-button tuners are similar, though the alternating-color plastic position markers are a feature the 500/1 never sported.

This bass dates from the era when insatiable demand for electric guitars of any kind was felt worldwide. In Europe, where Fender and Gibsons were very expensive (or unavailable), most up-and-comers used home-grown mid-priced guitars like these. The English bands of the early ’60s made extensive use of Selmer-distributed Höfners, about the best guitars in the U.K. at that time. Club 40s, Club 50s, larger archtops, and huge hollow President basses were standard issue to most Liverpool bands of the era.

As American guitars began to appear and British competition (eg., Burns and Vox) picked up, Höfner lost its dominant place in the U.K. market. Luckily, the U.S. beckoned and the 500/1 became a good seller stateside. Höfner solidbodies never had such luck. Though interesting and relatively well-made, if not particularly wonderful-sounding, these instruments today take a back seat to their more glamorous hollowbody cousins.

This article originally appeared in Vintage Guitar Classics No. 2 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.