When most vintage instrument players and enthusiasts think of Höfner, visions spring to mind of the legendary Beatle bass, or maybe some stuffy jazz box.
And indeed, Höfner today is something of a throwback – the kind of company you might expect to build a stuffy jazz box. Though housed in a modern, state-of-the-art factory in Baiersdorf, Germany, Höfner crafters use many of the same old-world construction techniques they’ve used on violins since the company’s inception in 1887, employing scrapers instead of sandpaper, applying labor-intensive “French polish” finishes, and eschewing computer-guided cutting or shaping machinery. Each instrument is cut by hand, neck joints are fit by hand, frets are individually installed and finished, and neck profiles are hand-shaped.
Intrigued? We were, too. So we welcomed the chance to take a spin on the company’s new Verythin Classic model.
Höfner’s entry in the semi-hollowbody/thinline (think ES-335) market, the Verythin is even thinner than your typical semi-hollow, measuring about 1″ deep at the edge, and tips the scale at a mere 6.5 pounds. Its overall shape and proportion, along with the graceful lines of its soundholes, lack of pickguard, and Dark Violin finish, all make for considerable visual appeal, and give the guitar an old-world, highly-crafted look. Even the narrow-profile pickup rings, with their hidden height-adjust screws, add to the guitars uncluttered look.
The Verythin boasts a laminated, arched top made of German Spruce, with binding, laminated flame-maple back and sides, spruce center block, and a set 251/2″-scale flame-maple neck with bound ebony fretboard. It’s all finished in a rich French polish that gives the guitar an unmistakable vintage vibe. That finish is, by nature, prone to imperfections and, compared to your typical poly or nitro finish, will scratch more readily. But far more important for the sake of tone, the French polish also allows the guitar to resonate more freely, plus it simply feels fantastic! Sit down to play the Verythin, and you feel it resonate noticeably in your lap, while proffering very nice acoustic clarity.
Hardware on the Classic includes a gold-plated brass Höfner trapeze tailpiece, gold Schaller tune-o-matic-style bridge, gold Schaller tuners with tulip buttons and gold Schaller straplock buttons. The guitar is comfortable to play; its 111/16″-wide neck fits the hand nicely, and the double-cutaway body allows for easy access to the entire fretboard. The 251/2″ scale length gives the guitar a tight, responsive feel, and the bone nut on ours was cut neatly, with the correct radius and nice string height, adding to the guitars’ superb playability. Inlay and binding work is meticulously executed, from the real mother-of-pearl block inlays, the body’s bound top, back, and soundholes, to the vine inlay on the headstock. Electronics include two Höfner mini-humbuckers with embossed gold covers, each with Volume and Clear Contour tone controls, and a three-way pickup selector.
We tested the Verythin’s electric tone through an all-tube Carvin combo and a solidstate Lab Series L5, and were immediately impressed with its Clear Contour tone control, which adds an amazing amount of versatility to the guitar’s tone. With the control turned up, the pickups act as single-coils, with a definite Fender flavor. Roll it off just a couple notches, and the pickups became ultra-smooth humbuckers with silky, complex mids. Roll it off a bit more, and controls act as (and sound like) typical passive tone controls. We found the transformation from twang “bucket” to jazz box to be seamless in all three positions, giving us everything from a punchy Tele bridge sound to a solid SRV-style neck-position Strat tone to a dead-on fat, to a round Beatles “Day Tripper” bridge tone through the Carvin, to that silky sweet George Benson-like neck-pickup sound through the L-5. The longer scale adds to the Verythin’s punchy, twangy sound (especially in single-coil mode) but did not destroy the round, jazzy tones with the pickups in humbucker mode and the tone control rolled back a bit. We spent a good bit of time simply exploring the tonal versatility of the Verythin’s combination of pickups and “clear contour” tone control settings, all of which produced a high-quality tone that sounded unique and natural.
And it’s a rare instance when a guitar’s case is worthy of mention, but the Höfner’s is first rate. It boats all-plywood construction with arched top and back, high-quality cream-tweed tolex, heavy-duty chrome latches, rubber seal, plush, padded liner cut to hold securely, and built-in humidistat and humidifier. It is certainly one of the most attractive and well-designed OEM cases we’ve ever seen.
The Verythin Classic is an amazingly versatile guitar that plays effortlessly and will cover rock, blues, country, and jazz, all with equal aplomb. And its hand-built vintage vibe beckons a player from across the room, “See me, feel me, pick me, strum me!”
Höfner’s Verythin Classic
Contact: Classic Musical Instruments, phone (888) 942-2642; www.hofner.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s March ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.