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My horrific Hofner experience – other owners, chime in!

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by senp5f, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. senp5f


    Jan 27, 2008
    Santa Barbara, CA
    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.

    before by club_bass_1, on Flickr

    after by club_bass_1, on Flickr
  2. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thousand Oaks, CA
    John K Custom Basses
    IMO, either you got a bad one, or the used one that you purchased was refretted poorly. every german made club bass that i've owned (a total of four, three 60's ones and one 2002 RI) have all been great sounding and playing basses and had none of the issues that you've mentioned.
  3. senp5f


    Jan 27, 2008
    Santa Barbara, CA
    Dang it! I suspected as much. Oh well. Live and learn. Next time, I'll buy new from a reputable dealer with a return policy. Any recommendations on dealers? Harrowing as my experience was, I still love these basses.
  4. cdef


    Jul 18, 2003
    I began playing bass under the McCartney influence, and can recall being distinctly underwhelmed by Hofner basses even in the mid-60's. They felt wobbly and rickety to me, especially the semi-acoustics, with unstable necks and weak tuners. They were like guitars with double-heavy strings on them. On the other hand, the pickups did sound good for the music that was being played then, and I guess they still do. But bass-wise, Fenders felt like a whole other deal.
  5. FunkMetalBass


    Aug 5, 2005
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses
    Have you considered taking it to a reputable luthier or tech and having the fretwork done and pickup looked at?
  6. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thousand Oaks, CA
    John K Custom Basses
    well, if you're used to playing a fender, i agree, but if you can appreciate a Hofner for what it is, IMO, they're awesome basses (just a lot more delicate!).

    my '68 beatle (i bought it in 1973 for $125!) has never given me any problems and has always played and sounded great. here's a pic of it:

  7. Matt R.

    Matt R.

    Jul 18, 2007
    Huntsville AL
    Dude I think you got a lemon. I own a lefty Club. This is my 3rd Hofner. I owned a violin, a previous club, and this one (all German). They have all been works of art sonically and construction-wise. Sorry you had a bad experience.
  8. senp5f


    Jan 27, 2008
    Santa Barbara, CA
    Yes, that's the next step. I wouldn't call myself a proper luthier, but I've built an instrument from scratch before and done enough partscaster/repair work to know my way around frets a little. I fixed what I could with standard dressing and leveling/recrowning, but it needs more skill than I have -- probably a flat out refret.

    As to the pickup, I don't know that that can be "fixed." It can't go any lower because there's nowhere for it to go unless you route a cavity into the body, which can't happen because the mounting rings are attached to the top beneath the pickup. (I'd post a photo, but I'm at work.)

    Other German Hofner owners: Did your basses have guitar sized fretwire or bass sized? Mine had guitar-sized. If that's not stock, that would help figure out if this thing had a botched refret.
  9. senp5f


    Jan 27, 2008
    Santa Barbara, CA
    Yeah, that's how it's sounding. So...anyone want a super cheap lemon? I don't know whether it's worth throwing more money at this thing. Probably should unload it cheap and eat the loss...
  10. Matt R.

    Matt R.

    Jul 18, 2007
    Huntsville AL
    Hm, I don't know enough personally about different fret sizes, but mine didn't jump out at me as being ridiculously small. Haven't had any issues and have been able to sport low action on every one I've owned.
  11. foq1978


    Aug 7, 2009
    Rio de Janeiro
    Did you check its authenticity? Was it reformed in any way by the previous owner?

    I have never even played a Hofner by the way (U$ 3.200 for a used one, around here), but they do have a reputation, you know.
  12. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thousand Oaks, CA
    John K Custom Basses
    if you look at the stock frets in my pic, you can see that they aren't all that small. they're definitely larger than fender's vintage frets (6230 size).

  13. senp5f


    Jan 27, 2008
    Santa Barbara, CA
    I did question whether it was authentic. However, it came with the correct case, and the tuners, bridge and everything else seemed to check out. Even the serial number was in the right place (signed on the label inside the control cavity, along with "Joseph Franz," who I presume made the bass.) If it is a fake, they went to great lengths to get the details correct. The only thing that seems wrong is the fretwire, so I suspect it was refretted, and poorly.

    Ouch...$3,200 for a new Hof in Brazil. And I thought they were pricey in the US!
  14. Biggbass


    Dec 14, 2011
    Planet Earth
    Sounds like you have had a unique Hofner experience.
  15. senp5f


    Jan 27, 2008
    Santa Barbara, CA
    Yep, afraid so. Oh well.
  16. TRichardsbass

    TRichardsbass Banned Commercial User

    Jun 3, 2009
    Between Muscle Shoals and Nashville
    Bassgearu, Music Industry Consulting and Sales. Tech 21, NBE Corp, Sonosphere.
    Never compare an import to the real thing, in any brand. You will usually find these traits in a "price point" import:

    1 - Fat, thick fret wire. More ability for the factory to cheaply dress without having to worry about how much came off.

    2. Flat radius. Easier to manufacture smooth fretboards flat with machines run by people who barely have a 2nd grade education.

    3. Easy ability to intonate. Bridges and saddles made super adjustable and with great length so that any error in manufacturing can be remedied without a rebuild.

    I have owned a bunch of imports over the years, and with the exception of the Matsumoku stuff of the late '70's and early '80s, it has all been the same type of quality.

    As for your worry about intonation, none of these "vintage" designed instruments were ever perfect in intonation. My vintage Danectros have a single rosewood saddle. You can get near perfect intonation on the E and G, and the others are whatever they come out. There are thousands of songs recorded with Danelectro guitars and basses and you can't really tell the intonation is off, and on some its way off.

    As for action, Older Hofners are often a hit and miss. They are not Stradivarius, but good build to the original process and specs. The Club was not the best bass they ever built, either.

    Thin fret wire is a Hofner trait. These instruments were made to be played with a pick, like a guitar, hence the ultra thin neck and narrow string spacing, and the use of guitar fret wire.

    If you really want super low action, a Hofner or vintage design bass is NOT for you. They were not designed that way. Again, these were aimed at the guitar market and envisioned to be played with a pick. You just don't set your action that low for pick playing.

    You definitely got a bass that has seen some surgery over time. If its not what you like, sell it. Stick with your Chinese one. There is no shame in that.

    Or, better yet, buy a new Hofner 500/1 Beatle bass. You won't be disappointed.
  17. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thousand Oaks, CA
    John K Custom Basses
    IME, every German club that i've owned (4 of them) has been equal to every German violin bass that i've owned (6 of them), so IMO, it's NOT model specific.

    here's a 2002 RI that i bought used on ebay that's an awesome playing and sounding one (straight neck with low action and intonates very well):




  18. Thornton Davis

    Thornton Davis

    Dec 11, 1999
    There were some questionable years in the early 1990's when the first vintage reissues were released. Back then Boosey & Hawkes had just purchased Hofner from the Benker family and while the ownership was in transition some instruments left the factory with issues. I bought a new 500/1v63 back then that had all kinds of problems too.

    Boosey & Hawkes sold the company to The Music Group a couple of years later who in turn sold it to its current owner Klaus Schouler who had been the GM during the B&H years.

    The serial number of your bass D 05132 indicates that it was made in 2003. A=2000, B=2001, etc so it's not from the B&H era.

    Perhaps your bass had been exposed to some severe temperature conditions over a period of a few years which might have been the catalist that helped create the issues it currently has.

    There is a shop in the NW US called North Side Music, who specialize in Hofner repairs. You might want to contact them to see what they would suggest and what it would cost to give your bass a new life. www.northsidemuse.com

    Good luck.

  19. senp5f


    Jan 27, 2008
    Santa Barbara, CA
    JohnK, thanks for posting the pic of your newer Club. Interestingly, it looks like it has somewhat thinner frets than your 68 Violin bass. Does it, or are my eyes just playing tricks on me on the computer screen? At any rate, it looks a lot like the wire on my bass from what I can see.

    TRichardsbass, I know where you’re coming from on this, and as I mentioned in my original post, I was able to get the action down to 3/32 on the low E and 5/64 on the high G, as measured at fret 15 with a capo at fret 1. Though it still has a slight buzz at frets 4-8, that action is very close to the same as the factory specs for a Fender.

    Fender® Support

    I guess the only reason I’m complaining is that in two key “gigability” aspects – action and intonation – I was able to get the $300 Ignition series bass to perform better than its more expensive counterpart.
  20. senp5f


    Jan 27, 2008
    Santa Barbara, CA
    Thanks for clearing up the serial number issue, and for the tips! I'm still trying to decide what to do on this one (we have some very good luthiers where I live), but it's nice to see a place that knows these basses.

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