I bought a German-made Hofner Club bass, and it was an awful, chintzy piece of junk that had to be beaten, cooed and cajoled into anything near playable, and it’s still not up to snuff for a professional-level gigging instrument. I think I should have bought the Chinese "Contemporary Series" instead. Full details below, but I hope other German Hofner owners will chime in with their own experiences.
Mid-last year, I got a small bonus at work and decided on a whim to buy a Hofner Club bass from the Ignition series. It quickly became my favorite bass, over much more expensive solidbodies. It had a few foibles here and there (as one would expect from a $300 instrument), but overall it was very well made and sounded fantastic for the money when strung with decent flats. It changed my thinking on Indonesian-made instruments.
I was so pleased I decided I wanted the full Hofner experience. I debated whether to get the Chinese-made “Contemporary Series” bass for around $700-$800 or whether to buy a German made model. I decided I’d take a chance on a German model on the used market and bought one on e-Bay.
It arrived, and it was the most poorly designed, poorly executed piece of junk I have ever seen. In particular, the fretwork was, hands-down, the worst I have ever seen on a factory instrument. Several fret ends were loose and needed to be secured with super glue. The frets were not dressed at all – it was as though they’d been trimmed and had the ends beveled, and then the were left raw. I had to dress them myself.
Low action was utterly unachievable. The frets were seated so poorly that they needed serious leveling to prevent buzzes at odd spots on the fretboard. I leveled them as best I could. But, in another curiosity of design, this bass is fretted with teenie-weenie guitar fretwire. I could only level so far and hope to have anything left. At present, I’ve got action of 3/32 on the low E and 5/64 on the high G as measured at fret 15 with a capo at 1. I still get a little buzz around frets 4-8 on the G string. I can live with this action and play around the buzz, but, to be frank, a Squier can be set up to play better.
(My Ignition bass, in contrast, had great fretwork and bass-sized wire. Its action is 5/64 on low E and 4/64 on high G, and it never buzzes.)
Then there’s intonation. I had read that intonation is a problem on these basses. But when I bought my Ignition series bass, I found it actually intonated pretty well. Not studio-perfect, but more than close enough for live work, and within range of auto-tune for studio work.
Not so with the German Hofner. I intonated it so that the 12th fret harmonic on the low E and high G are correct, but it’s horrifically off in different ways on different parts of the fretboard. The only explanation I can think of is that the frets are improperly spaced for the scale.
Then, the pickups. Instead of being mounted in the body, they just kind of sit on top of it. The bridge pickup is too close to the strings and is probably contributing to the iffy intonation higher on the neck because the magnets are pulling at the strings. But there’s no lowering it any further because it’s sitting directly on the wood of the top.
This bass has two saving graces. First, it’s insanely light, probably four to five pounds. Second, the few notes that don’t buzz or fret horrifically out of tune sound amazing. Deep, thumpy, and everything you wanted a Hofner for.
I have heard that Hofner had some bad years and I’m wondering if my bass (SN: D 05132) is just a lemon from one of those years. Otherwise, I feel like I should have gotten one of the Chinese Hofners. If they’re anything like other $700-$800 Chinese-made instruments, I assume they’re pretty solid.
All in all, I'm disappointed. Thoughts from other owners?
This evening I decided to put this bass back on the workbench for another look. I got out a small fret rocker and determined that fret 4 was a wee bit low compared to its neighbors. It was slight enough that I didn't notice when I gave the frets a light leveling the first time around, but this time I got serious about about it. I taped off the whole board and did a pretty aggressive level until I brought them down to even with the low fret.
I took off so much meat, I had no choice but to re-crown the frets afterward. (I'm usually kinda lazy...if it's a really light level, I'll skip re-crowning and just polish.) After that I had to polish the frets.
The result is that I have action of 3/32 on the Low E and and high G (as measured at fret 15 with a capo at 1), with no buzzing when played with a pick. I could probably go a few 64ths lower if I were willing to only play finger style. To get this action, I also sanded even more from the bottom of the saddle. (I took off a little bit before, but needed to sand off even more to have ample adjustment room.)
With better action, I managed better intonation as well. Not perfect, of course, but well within reason for this style of bridge.
All in all, here's what I had to do to make this bass work:
-Repair five loose fret ends with CA glue
-Dress fret ends (see before and after pics below)
-Level, recrown and polish frets.
-Widen "D" string slot in nut to prevent binding
-Oil tuners (this is routine for these tuners, however)
-Sand down saddle
-Truss rod adjustment (another routine operation, but I needed a special wrench to fit the cavity)
Luckily, I have water-thin super glue, a fret leveling block, a crowing file, nut slotting files, a six-inch rule, a good tuner, wrenches, sandpaper and ample free time. Otherwise I probably would have spent $150 with a tech to make this instrument play.
Just so you can see what I mean by lousy fretwork, here are before and after shots. The before shot is the "zero" fret, which I left unfinished for the time being because it doesn't bother me when I play. The after shot is my work dressing the fret ends by smoothing the bevel and rounding off the sharp corners and polishing.
, on Flickr
, on Flickr