A Cremona Price List dating from c.1947.

Josef’s Story

Josef Hӧfner was the first of the two brothers to return from the war. He arrived back in Schӧnbach at the end of May 1945 to find his house occupied by four US Army officers, including a Colonel Hilton of the famous hotel family. Very soon afterwards, the Karl Hӧfner Company was taken over by the Czechoslovakian state and Josef, Walter’s wife Wanda, and Karl found themselves working as part of the management of the company that they had previously owned. The Czech state re-named the company “Cremona”.

In December 1945, a Mr W. Peterson arrived in Prague, the Czech capital city. Mr Peterson was the owner of the Wm. Gratz Company of New York, and he had been one of Hӧfner’s best customers prior to World War Two. After assessing the situation with regard to his former suppliers, Mr Peterson arranged for Josef Hӧfner together with two other instrument makers from the former Sudetenland to travel to Prague in order to discuss the future. At that first meeting, Josef explained the plight of the Schönbach luthiers and also first learnt about the plans of the Czech government to expel the majority of the German-speaking population from Czechoslovakia to what was left of Germany. Certain exceptions to this would be the Hӧfner family, as they would be expected to carry on managing instrument manufacture for Cremona.

On his return to the US, Mr Peterson did all that he could to arrange aid to be sent to the German craftsmen of Schönbach. He returned to that town in July of the following year, and inspected a large number of stringed instruments that Cremona had prepared for export. However, he was not at all happy with the quality of the state-made goods, and made that opinion very clear to state officials before leaving without placing an order. Naturally, the officials considered this to be all the fault of the Hӧfner family, who were accordingly put under considerable pressure, despite the fact that the resources being allowed by the state to Cremona made the production of quality instruments impossible.

The Hӧfner family, led by Josef, carried on as best they could for another two years in Schönbach. They were stateless, being without papers to show them as German or Czech citizens, but they were still expected to continue working in the interests of a country that had stripped them of their family business. Secret discussions even took place between Josef and Swiss businessmen who wished to explore the possibility of the Höfners migrating to Switzerland with hand-picked workers from Schönbach and then setting up an instrument-making company for them in Switzerland. However, the Czech authorities got wind of these discussions, the Swiss returned home very quickly, and Josef was interrogated at length. This really was “Cloak and Dagger” stuff.

Finally, the Czech authorities realised that special measures would be required in order to persuade the US distributors such as the Wm. Gratz Company to take their stringed instruments. An official asked Josef whether he would be prepared to represent Cremona in America and sell their products there. Josef explained that this would be impossible as neither he nor his family had any nationality papers, and therefore would not be allowed into the United States. Within three weeks, German nationality papers arrived. On 18 April 1948, the Hӧfner family left Czechoslovakia, not for America, but for Germany. On 19 April, the family were re-united with Walter Hӧfner in Mӧhrendorf.   


Fred Wilfer, the Entrepeneur

An influx of Schönbach craftsmen, led initially by Arnold Hoyer and later by a certain Fred Wilfer, had recently occurred into the little town of Mӧhrendorf which is just to the north of Erlangen in Bavaria.

Fred Wilfer was not a luthier. He was a very astute businessman in the same mould as Josef Hӧfner.  He was a man who got things done. After release from an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1945, he had first returned to his home in Schönbach from where he managed to be officially released for medical treatment at the University Clinic in Erlangen. After this treatment, Fred obtained work with the US army as a purchasing clerk and this involved him being able to travel freely between Czechoslovakia and Germany. It was all part of his plan to bring both human and material resources from Schönbach to Bavaria in order to re-start the musical instrument manufacturing tradition for which Schönbach was so justly famous.

With help from sympathetic US troops, Wilfer “liberated” sufficient machines and tone-wood from Schönbach to be able to get instrument making going again in Mӧhrendorf, all under the noses of the Czech authorities. This came to an abrupt stop in early 1946, when he was arrested by the Czechs following the withdrawal of US troops from Czechoslovakia. Luckily, a US army officer was still in the area at the time, and as Fred was an employee of the Americans, he insisted on his release.

Fred Wilfer helped organise immigration permits for further Schönbach craftsmen to move to Bavaria, and very soon he was in a position to start his new company. Very quickly he had workshops set up producing orchestral stringed instruments and mandolins in old barrack buildings in Mӧhrendorf.  Just one problem…….where could he find a person with the drive and expertise to set up and run the guitar manufacturing facility?


Walter Höfner works for Framus.

Walter Hӧfner had also been held as a prisoner by the US forces, but was not finally released until 1947. With the expulsion of the German speaking population from Czechoslovakia being in full force at that time, he could not return home to Schönbach. Naturally, Walter headed towards a re-union with his fellow instrument makers in Mӧhrendorf.

Fred and Walter very soon pooled their complimentary talents as partners, and the guitar side of the Framus Company was born. The barrack buildings in Mӧhrendorf had been built in 1937 for the State Labour Service, and these were now being made available by the district authorities for both housing and workshops in order to accommodate the refugee instrument makers.  There was however a problem in the fact that Walter had not yet been formally cleared of Nazi involvement, so he could not enter into any business partnership until this had been properly certified. This problem was initially overcome by Walter’s wife, Wanda, being nominated as Fred’s partner in Framus. Josef Hӧfner also was co-opted into the Framus company the following year after he had arrived from Schönbach. He began the search for export opportunities that would eventually be so important to the future Framus success story. As one would expect, Walter threw body and soul into getting things up and running again under the Framus banner at Mӧhrendorf, and he very soon had a small range of archtop guitars under production.

As well as a good selection of orchestral stringed instruments, the Framus price list of August 1948 schedules a total of eight guitars, four of which are “Spanish” and four “Gibson” models. Framus, in line with several other German manufacturers at that time, described their archtop guitars as being “Gibson” models; this seemingly being the generic term for the type of guitar that the US maker had developed and was certainly the leading manufacturer of. The Framus model numbers however bore no relation to those used by Gibson. These numbers do look very familiar and were in fact based upon the old Hӧfner product number system as used for the Primus archtops made in Schönbach before the war. The following table provides an English translation of what was in this early Framus price list:


No. 455

"Gibson Model" Simple Equipment

DM 108.60

No. 456

Gibson Model. Solid Execution. Brightly Polished

DM 135

No. 457

Gibson Model. Fine Inlays, Good Execution, Brightly Polished

DM 176

No. 465

Gibson Model. Produced from Fine Woods. Fine Fittings. Artist’s Instrument.

DM 284


We do have some photographs, taken for publicity purposes, of these four models. They have a strong resemblance to the guitars made later by the Hӧfner Company in style, body and headstock shape, and even the fittings used. Walter Hӧfner’s design skills seem to have developed considerably during his enforced break from the guitar-making world during the war years. Without a doubt, these are the predecessors to the Hӧfner Company’s long running and very successful archtop range which we are about to discover in the following chapters of this book.


c1947/48 Framus 456 Archtop Guitar.

The Break from Framus and the Resurrection of the Hӧfner Company

The old barrack buildings at Mӧhrendorf, 1948.

With the two Hӧfner brothers being re-united in Mӧhrendorf once again, it was inevitable that their thoughts should turn to re-creating the Hӧfner Company. Before that disastrous war, Hӧfner had been the largest stringed instrument manufacturer in Europe, and it must have been very depressing for Walter and Josef to be now working for a company that had not even existed before 1947. OK, Walter believed that, through his wife, he did have a substantial stake in Framus, but that was not quite the same as having his own family name on the business letterhead. Fred Wilfer was very much the senior partner in Framus, and quite rightly so. The Hӧfner brothers decided to go their own way and resurrect the Hӧfner Company.

Walter’s departure from Framus was not an amicable one. Previous agreements had been on a verbal basis only, and so disputes went on for years after Walter had finally left Framus in October 1948. However, Walter’s guitar designs continued to be used by Framus for a short period, and examples featured on Framus’ first trade stand at the 1949 Export Trade Fair in Hanover. Very quickly after the partnership split however, Framus changed the direction of their guitar designs, with the more familiar and distinctive Framus models appearing from 1949 onwards, including the famous “Black Rose” archtop model launched in 1951.

Framus packed up and left Mӧhrendorf at about the same time as Walter left them, and Fred Wilfer set up his new workshops in nearby Baiersdorf. The new Hӧfner Company decided to remain in Mӧhrendorf and to use the old barracks as temporary workshops until they became fully established and a more suitable site became available. Hence with Josef and Walter at the helm, and with many of their loyal employees and home-workers from the Schönbach days, the Karl Hӧfner Company re-commenced business in January 1949.

Inside the  Mӧhrendorf barracks workshop, c1950.

Within a year, the two brothers had been so successful in starting up the company that they were able to produce an eighteen-page catalogue in 1950, which as well as a good selection of orchestral stringed instruments and classical guitars, also included five archtop guitars which were referred to as “Schlag-Guitarren” in the catalogue. Hӧfner’s first pre-war archtops were therefore announced to the World in the following manner:


Schlag-Guitarren, (swelled back and top)




Maple back and top; F-holes; black-white celluloid bindings round back and top; celluloid finger-rest.


Back and top maple construction; F-holes; inlayings around back, top, fingerboard & F-holes; highly polished.


Black varnished; highly polished; white celluloid inlayings around back, top, fingerboard, & F-holes; inlays on neck head.


Back & sides mahogany; spruce top; fine wood inlayings around back & top; finger-rest.


Back & sides rosewood or birds’ eye maple; selected spruce top - choicest material; pearl inlays on fingerboard and neckhead; fine master work.


Early-1950s Hӧfner Model 455

The 455 (above) and 456 (below) did bear a very close resemblance to the Framus 455 and 456 models referred to above. They are very similar in concept to each other, both being basic 16" archtops with laminated maple body tops. The 456 however has a slightly up-rated specification with binding to the fingerboard and sound-holes, together with a more ornate headstock fascia than the 455's simple but characteristic rhomboid design. 

Early-1950's Hӧfner Model 456.


Early 1950's Hӧfner Model 460

The 460 was really a deluxe version of the 456 model, with increased purfling around the body edges, neck, and soundholes, plus heavily inlaid mother of pearl fret-markers and up-rated hardware.


Early 1950's Hӧfner Model 463

The 463 was a mahogany-bodied archtop with carved spruce top and heavy ornate purfling around the body edges. This would appear to have been a new model, although of course Walter Hӧfner had produced mahogany bodied archtops in the pre-war days at Schonbach. As it happens, the 463 proved to be one of the backbones of the Hӧfner archtop range through the years. It was in this first set of models to be produced by the pre-war Hӧfner Company and it was still being offered in 1994, by which time the old-style archtops had been superseded by the new Jazzica model. More of that later though!

c1952 Hӧfner Model 465 (non-original floating pickup fitted.)

The 465 was a very similar guitar in concept to the Framus 465 model, with rosewood body, but the new Hӧfner guitar was also offered with the option of a bird’s eye maple back and rim. The 465 was intended to be very much a “luxury” level guitar, and this was demonstrated by the heavy purfling around the body edges and neck, the mother of pearl “bell-flower” design inlaid into the headstock, and the double arrow-head fretmarkers inlaid in mother of pearl into the initially rosewood (but later ebony) fingerboard.

Hӧfner was now back in the archtop guitar-making business!

Josef Hӧfner surveys the stock of timber outside the barrack workshop at Mӧhrendorf





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