Bringing the Old Timers Up to Date

Back now to the year 1989 and Hӧfner’s full-bodied archtop range comprises of the prestigious (and expensive) Atilla Zoller guitars, together with the old-faithful 457, 463, 470, and 477 models.

Early in the previous year, 1988, Hӧfner had replaced the previous laminated spruce body top on the 470 model with a carved solid spruce table. This desirable feature had not been seen on the 470 since the late 1950’s. The retail price of the 470/E2 immediately rose from DM2340 to DM2820 but this was still substantially cheaper than the DM3,107 then being asked for the AZ Standard.

c1990 Hӧfner Model 470/E1-plus.

At the same time, Höfner put further thought into the long-established models generally, and decided that a range of pickup options should be offered for these which more closely corresponded with what jazz guitarist of that period were now demanding. From May 1988 therefore, the following pickup arrangements were offered on all of the four long-established models:



Single Shadow-made Atilla Zoller floating pickup mounted on end of fingerboard. One volume and one tone rotary control, body mounted.




As above, but with a Barcus-Berry piezoceramic pickup integrated into the bridge. One volume and one tone control, body mounted, plus 3–way selector switch.




Two Schaller-made “Hӧfner ’57 Classic” humbucking pickups mounted directly onto the body top. Two volume and two tone rotary controls plus 3-way pickup selector.



The four remaining old-model archtops had been continually re-detailed since the 1960’s of course, with the biggest change being the adoption of single-piece necks to the 457, 463, and 477 models. The 477 had always had a single-piece maple neck. The 457 had followed suit at around the time that the 477 had been introduced in the late 1960’s, and by the 1980’s even the 463 had a one-piece mahogany neck which was a very unusual feature for Hӧfner. The 470 lost its incredible eleven-piece neck around 1973, although some five-piece necks appeared just before that year. Headstock fascia designs were by now all “double-diamond” with the exception of the 477 which continued to retain the old bell-flower design.

1980s-90s Hӧfner Model 457 Acoustic Archtop.

1980s-90s Hӧfner Model 463 E2 Electric Archtop.

1980s-90s Hӧfner Model 477 E2 Electric Archtop.


Despite these changes, the remaining days of the four were numbered, with the first to go being the 463 and 470 in 1994. The 477 struggled on until 1995, with the 457 being the last to leave Hӧfner’s price list in 1996 after 45 years continuous production. A very sad day!


The Hӧfner Jazzica

The Hӧfner Company have always attempted to be innovative as well as traditional. Their traditional approach is well demonstrated by their perseverance with the four models described above. The innovative streak is hinted at by their adoption of the non-traditional electrics fitted to the AZ models. Hӧfner were now about to really shatter all the moulds with their next archtop guitar model!

Klaus Schöller and the Hӧfner family in the shape of Christian and Gerhilda Benker, who continued to head up the management team, must have finally come to the conclusion that it was no longer possible to rely on such early-1950’s designs as the 457, 463, and 470 in order to maintain their position as a respected archtop maker at the end of the 20th Century. Yes, the AZ guitars were certainly capable of meeting the requirements of the modern jazz guitarist, but they were expensive and hence had only a very limited market. What was required was something fully up to date, but with a retail price of something like half that of the AZ Standard. Klaus together with Janez Janus, one of Hӧfner’s oldest serving luthiers, therefore began work in 1987 on the first archtop that Klaus had ever designed.

Janez had started work in Hӧfner’s then new Bubenreuth workshops in March 1953. Having been born in Ljubliana, Yugoslavia, he found himself in Germany following the upheaval of WWII. He learned his trade from the old Schönbach luthiers “on the job”, and by 1987 was one of Hӧfner’s most experienced and skilful guitar craftsmen. Today’s equivalent at Hӧfner, Hubert Kaa, in turn learnt his trade from Janez, and in fact he continues to use the same tool rack at his workbench at Hagenau that Janez made for himself many years ago.

The result of Klaus and Janez’s efforts was un-veiled at the 1989 Frankfurt Trade Show. Hӧfner in their pre-show letter to prospective customers stated that “The model Jazzica certainly is the most elegant jazz guitar which we have ever built before”. That may be debatable amongst the many Hӧfner enthusiasts, but it has to be admitted that the revolutionary design still makes quite a statement.

1990 Hӧfner Jazzica.

Basically this was a fairly compact archtop guitar with a laminated spruce table and what Hӧfner described as a “curled maple” rim & back, although this was probably Anigre or African Maple which Hӧfner had now begun to increasingly use as a replacement for European Maple on their guitars.  A neck with a rosewood fingerboard that met the body at the 16th fret was fitted, and a single floating Zoller/Shadow pickup mounted on the end of the fingerboard. However, the features that made the guitar really stand out from the crowd were:

The tapered body width – from a very deep 11½ cm at the tail down to a shallow 5½ cm at the neck.

The “slash” soundholes. These were supplied with foam plugs that could be inserted when necessary into the soundholes to reduce feedback when playing at high amplified volumes.

Initially, a very unusual but attractive rounded neck-heel.

A 25¼” scale with the neck meeting the body at the 16th fret instead of the conventional 14th, hence allowing access to a greater part of the fingerboard.

Iinitially no binding/purfling around the edge of the body back. This was not a cost-cutting exercise as with some of Hӧfner’s budget guitars made in the 1950’s, but a design feature. It allowed the lower body edge to be slightly rounded off, giving an almost liquid look which mated in nicely with the stylish heel.

Initially, no pickguard, unlike all previous archtops produced by Hӧfner. Presumably it was felt (quite rightly) that the typical Hӧfner-shaped pickguard would have spoilt the looks of the guitar.

Initially, an ABM manufactured “Jazz” tailpiece; perhaps the nicest looking of all the tailpieces made over the years by that illustrious German company. Again the “liquid” feel of this design suited the Jazzica perfectly.

Initially, just a volume pot was mounted on the body top. Within the year however, this had been supplemented with a tone pot.

A choice of three very dynamic finishes – Bordeaux Red Sunburst, Antique Brown Sunburst, and Turquoise-Green Sunburst.

In 1991, an up-rated version of the Jazzica model appeared which was called the Jazzica Special. This had a blonde (natural) finish and an ebony fingerboard. Because this new version had a natural finish, a lack of binding around the back of the body would have exposed the rim/back joint. Binding/purfling was therefore added and the neck heel re-designed slightly. Finally, the headstock fascia of the Special was given a figured anigre veneer varnished with clear lacquer instead of the Jazzica’s plain black fascia. A raised plastic Hӧfner logo, as last used by Hӧfner in the mid/late 1960’s, now replaced the decal logo. These changes added around 5% to the retail price of the original Jazzica, which however was still produced in parallel with the new Special.

1994 Hӧfner  Jazzica Special.

A much more significant change was added to the Special’s specification in 1997, when a solid carved spruce table was substituted for the previously laminated body top. At this time, Hӧfner’s archtop models were again being reviewed, with the “New President” model being on Herr Schöller’s drawing board. This conventional new model was to have a solid carved top, so perhaps it was felt that the Jazzica Special also warranted such a feature as both models were being aimed at a similar price level and also at the same jazz-playing market. Shortly afterwards in 1999, the highly respected Zoller/Shadow pickup previously fitted to both the Standard and Special Jazzicas was changed to a floating neck-mounted Hӧfner-badged/Kent Armstrong designed/Schaller manufactured mini-humbucker (designated as the Hӧfner 514/FN-G). Again, this fitted in with the use of that same pickup by the new Hӧfner archtops and semi’s that were now appearing. But, we will move onto those in the next chapter!

In the Year 2000, after Boosey & Hawkes had taken over the Hofner Company (see below) , B&H’s technical representative from the US, Rob Olsen, came over to Hagenau to meet Klaus Schöller and to put forward his suggestions for improving the image and sales in the US. Subsequently, both the Standard and the Special Jazzicas were replaced by a single model - the Jazzica Custom. The following main differences between this new model and the previous Jazzica Special were apparent:

The carved spruce top was re-graduated and different bracings used in order to improve the acoustic properties.

A stylish polished ebony wood pickguard had now been added.

An ebony wood-faced tailpiece now replaced the metal ABM Jazz tailpiece.

A black composite material fascia with the traditional mother of pearl Hӧfner bellflower design and Hӧfner logo now adorned the headstock.

Ebony wood buttons on the Schaller tuners in place of the previous gold-plated metal buttons.

A substantial deluxe hardshell case, covered in cream tweed and made by the Hӧfner family’s long-standing friend Jacob Winter, now came as standard with each guitar. This replaced the Ameritage cases that had been supplied by B&H for their American customers.

All these changes were intended to bring the Jazzica into line with the new archtop and semi models referred to above.  Initially, just natural/blonde finish was offered, but by 2003 an Antique Brown Sunburst was also available.  From then on, this sunburst finish was available on a rather spasmodic basis and this was made even more so by the finishing of many Jazzica Customs in Violin Varnish from around 2005 onwards.

2003 Hӧfner Jazzica Custom, finished in Antique Brown Sunburst.

The Jazzica disappeared from the Hӧfner catalogue at the end of 2008, although a few have been produced to special order since, including at least two Jazzica custom models fitted with twin humbuckers. The Jazzica ended up being one of Hӧfner’s best-sellers in recent times, and it was used by many jazz artists including Booby Broom and Zane Carney who still play Jazzicas to this day, together with David Gilmore, Robert Conti, Sid Jacobs, and many more. Up to the end of 1999, only approximately 250 Jazzica and Jazzica Specials were shipped, but in comparison a further 680 or so Jazzica Custom’s were shipped in the similar time period from 2000 to 2011. The above contrast in the model’s output before and after the year 2000 may possibly have been due to the disruptive effect on production due to the closing of the Bubenreuth facility in 1997. However, what also should be considered is the boost to Hӧfner’s marketing in the US that was given by the Boosey & Hawkes Company during the period 1999-2002.


2010 Special Order Hӧfner Jazzica fitted with twin pickups and with a Violin Varnish finish.

 The Winds of Change

By 1993, Christian and Gerhilde Benker were in their 60s and were looking for a reduction in the responsibility of running Hӧfner. Both had loyally served the family company for many turbulent and demanding years, and retirement beckoned. They eventually decided to sell the company to a long established major player in the music business - Boosey & Hawkes. So, on 1st January 1994, the firm started by Karl Hӧfner in 1887 left the family’s control and joined the Boosey & Hawkes empire.

Immediate changes were instituted by B&H, not the least being an amalgamation of Hӧfner with the Paesold orchestral stringed instrument company also of Bubenreuth, and the Jacob Winter instrument case company of Nauheim. Jacob Winter joined Christian Benker as joint managing directors of this amalgamation, and Gerhilde Benker decided to take a very well-earned retirement.

Klaus Schöller, now promoted to the position of Marketing Director as well as Product Manager for Guitars, worked both on consolidating an improved range of acoustic and electric guitars, and also producing a much more attractive and informative product catalogues than had been the case in the past.

The conclusion was soon reached that running both Hӧfner’s two workshops at Bubenreuth and Hagenau was un-economical for the current quantity of production, and so on a sad day in October 1997, Hӧfner’s remaining workforce based at the company’s historic home at Bubenreuth was moved over to Hagenau. In fairness though, B&H did plough a considerable sum of money into Hagenau in order to sufficiently modernise production there for the future.

Boosey and Hawkes had their roots in orchestral and wind instruments used by bands. They had purchased Hӧfner because of that company’s large orchestral stringed instrument production, which of course fitted in well with B&H’s Paesold company. However, guitars were a new product to B&H as well as to their sales people in the US, which of course was Hӧfner’s biggest potential market. Nonetheless, B&H soon became aware of declining Hӧfner sales in America, and launched the “Strap it On” sales campaign with the issue of a new brochure under that name in 1998. The guitars described in the brochure were the “N35” Nightingale, the “J5” Jazzica, the “P55” New President, the 500/1 Vintage 63 “Beatle Bass” and the 5000/1 “Deluxe Beatle Bass”. Also promoted in the brochure was a selection of “Strap it On” tea-shirts, baseball caps, etc.”.

The "Strap It On" Hӧfner US Brochure of 1998.

These efforts had only a lukewarm success, and there was a time during this period when there was a distinct possibility that the guitar-making part of Hӧfner could have been dis-continued. Luckily however, the President of B&H in America, Jack Faas, was a bass player and he recognised the potential of Hӧfner’s guitars and bass guitars. In 1999, B&H finally decided to recruit someone who actually did know something about guitars into their organisation. Enter Rob Olsen.

 Rob had 14 years’ experience in retail, but this was based on guitars used for rock n’ roll. He was now asked to help invigorate a product line that was dominated by instruments aimed at jazz and classical musicians. He had to learn quickly! After first talking to many US dealers, players, and friends in the business, he got onto a plane together with jazz guitarist Sid Jacobs and headed over to Hagenau with a list of ideas and suggestions to put before Hӧfner’s management over there. From that first visit sprung up a close working group consisting of the Klaus Scholler (and later Martin Meckback) of Hӧfner Germany, Rob Olsen from B&H in the US, and Graham Stockley from B&H in the UK. Martin Meckback worked for Hofner as Guitar Products Manager from 2002 to 2006. These were the people who chartered the path for all changes and additions to Hӧfner models for the next ten years or so.

One person that Rob Olsen struck up a relationship with in 1999, and has consulted with regards to Hӧfner archtops ever since, was Stephen Candib in Canada. Stephen’s knowledge of all types of archtop guitars is huge, and he has had an interest specifically in Hӧfner’s jazz guitars for many years, acting as the Hӧfner Company’s agent in Canada from around 2010 onwards. His “Die Hofnering” website, produced in the mid-1990s, was at that time the definitive source of information on Hӧfner archtops.

Things were just settling down nicely when out of the blue, Boosey & Hawkes made the decision to sell off their instrument manufacturing division. Therefore, at the beginning of 2003, Hӧfner found itself now under the ownership of a British investment company called The Music Group (TMG). This state of affairs did not last for long however, and in 2004 TMG had the company up for sale once again.

As it happened, Klaus Schöller and his partner, Ulrike Schrmpff who had been Hӧfner’s finance director since 1995, decided to lead a management buy-out of the company. In this, they were assisted by Graham Stockley and Rob Olsen. Their bid was accepted and so from late 2004 Karl Hӧfner GmbH was back in the hands of a local family again.





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