c1952 Hӧfner 457 Archtop Guitar

The Move to Bubenreuth

Josef and Walter Hӧfner had achieved a remarkable turn-around in their fortunes. Their eighteen-page catalogue of 1950 had increased to fifty seven pages by the following year and whilst Walter was getting on with the practicalities of setting up the manufacturing facility that was necessary to produce such an impressive range of products, his brother Josef was busy renewing all his old overseas contacts that had been so important to the Company before the war.

The biggest hurdle to such growth however was the lack of suitable sized workshop and office premises. The old barrack buildings at Mӧhrendorf were just not adequate in either size or layout. Worse still, the inhabitants of Mӧhrendorf were becoming increasingly agitated about the large influx of refugees from Schönbach that had been attracted to their area once news got around that the old Hӧfner Company was rising again from the ashes. This should not have come as any surprise as Walter was already highly respected for his running of Hӧfner in Schönbach during the 1920s and 30s. So,….what was to be done?

As well as developing the vital export market, Josef Hӧfner also found the time to sort out the above problem. Being highly astute and something of a diplomat, he struck up contacts with the local dignitaries, in particular Herr Willi Hӧnekopp who was the County Administrator and the politician most responsible for establishing the Bubenreth luthiers’ settlement. Joseph asked for his help in finding a permanent home for his company and also for the Schönbach luthiers. Very soon, in July 1949 he was invited to attend the local council meeting at Bubenreuth, which is just three kilometres from Mӧhrendorf. At that meeting, he explained to the people of that town just how important it was for the luthiers and the Company to find a new home, and he also presumably stressed the advantages to the existing community of having a world-wide exporter such as Hӧfner on their doorstep. Whatever he actually did say certainly worked, with the council there and then declaring that “We want to help these people”. Hӧfner had found their new home.

Land was allocated very quickly at the edge of Bubenreth for the new Hӧfner workshops as well as good quality housing for their refugee workforce. Grants were obtained to help finance all this, and by the end of 1949 the first residents were moving into their new houses. A year later at Christmas 1951, the first Bubenreuth offices and workshops were completed, and so production moved from Mӧhrendorf to Bubenreuth at the end of 1951. Josef and Walter each took one of the newly-built houses. These just happened to be the two closest to the Workshops, on opposite sides of the appropriately named Schӧnbacher Strasse. They lived in those homes for the remainder of their lives, with a larger detached house being later built in the 1960s directly adjacent to and overlooking the Workshops for Walter’s daughter Gerhilde and her husband Christian Benker, who in the future were to take up the running of the Company for many successful years.

The Bubenreuth Workshops in the 1960s. Note the timber stockpiles evident in the aerial view below.

A Period of Archtop Design

Walter of course had been busy in the meantime. New guitar models were necessary in order to keep abreast of the demands of Josef's new customers. In 1952, almost as a celebration of the move to Bubenreuth, Hӧfner’s most loved and debatably best “players” archtop appeared; the 457 model, pictured at the top of this page. This was the guitar without the glitz but with an in-built quality of design and construction. It was a 16¼” full-bodied archtop with basically the same specification as the earlier 456 model but with (initially) a solid carved spruce top and beautiful flamed maple back and rims. A five-piece spruce/mahogany neck with good quality rosewood fingerboard was fitted, and suitably modest binding and purfling was provided to body sides, sound-holes, and neck. For the first year, the body had no cutaway, but this was available as an option from 1953, together with factory-fitted electrics. Just like Ford’s Model T, it was initially available in any colour, providing that finish was brown lacquer!

Three other models also appeared at the same time as the 457 in 1952 - the 459, the 461, and the 462. After the rock-solid conservatism of the 457 model, Walter seems to have decided to have some fun with these new models.

1952 Hӧfner Model 459

The 459 used the basic 456/457 formula, but...it did have a birds eye maple back, serious-looking black binding, and those sickle-shaped soundholes instead of the conventional F-holes. On the plus side, most of the 459 examples made were finished in clear blonde lacquer which of course showed-off the birds eyes nicely, and it also had a solid carved spruce top. A twin arm tailpiece, similar to those fitted to some of  Epiphone's archtops, was fitted.


1955 Hӧfner Model 462/S

The 462 adopted the same formula, but instead of having sickle-shaped soundholes it was provided with what are usually known now as “cats-eyes”. It also had white body and neck binding with more purfling around the body. The same twin arm tailpiece as the 459 was fitted, that type being only used regularly on the 459 and 462 model.

The general impression given by the above two models is one of Teutonic eccentricity rather than Kalamazoo class. As an aside, the photos taken at the 1952 Dusseldorf Trade show shows the 459 with a small oval soundhole adjacent to the neck in addition to the two sickles, similar to that on the 461 described below. That feature was however very soon dropped, certainly by the time that the catalogue photos had been taken.

1964 Hӧfner Model 461/S in rare cherry red finish.

The 461 went even further with what are best described as “seal-like” soundholes, together with a small oval soundhole adjacent to the neck. A little more ornamentation was provided than on the 459, with plenty of line purfling around the body edges and neck, together with what appears to be a rocket inlaid into the pearloid/tortoiseshell facia. Most significant though was that the 461 was Hӧfner’s first archtop supplied as standard with a body cutaway. At first, the guitar was finished in highly polished black lacquer, but later examples appeared in several other finishes, including blonde sunburst, cherry red, and even white!

The 459, 461, and the 462 had that boldness, quirkiness, and “joie de vie” that only seems to have been re-captured by Hӧfner in 2012 with the introduction of their “Gold Label” range.

Walter Hӧfner was now in his stride, and it would seem that he was determined to set up a range of full-bodied archtops that would suit all tastes and (more importantly) pockets. This he actually achieved in the fourteen year period between 1948 and 1961, with only a few replacement full-bodied models being produced by him after 1961. The models described in this chapter, and the end of the last chapter, therefore can be considered to be Hӧfner’s definitive archtops, which of course are the most numerous and also probably the most well-known.

c1953 Hӧfner Model 450

The next model to appear was the 450 in 1953. This was Hӧfner’s budget archtop before the appearance of the small-bodied 449 just a few years later. The 450 had a full-sized 16¼” body, but it was made entirely of laminated maple, as with the earlier 455 model. Ornamentation was kept to a minimum, with no binding to the back of the guitar body or the neck. A simple trapeze tailpiece was fitted, and on the early examples no facia plate was fitted to the headstock, leaving the three-piece neck lamination on full view. Three-dot fret markers were used instead of the full width fingerboard inlays used on the other low to mid-range models.

c1956 Hӧfner Model 449

The 449 was of similar plain construction, but it had a 15” wide body. This guitar seems to have grown out of the Congress model that Hӧfner had been supplying to Selmer London since 1955, but more of that one later! Rather strangely, the 449 did not feature in any Hӧfner price list or catalogue until 1963, although it is obvious from those examples still in existence that the 449 had been produced since the mid to late 1950’s. It really is the model that Hӧfner forgot that it made! It is also the one which attributing precise production dates to is a challenge!

Also introduced in 1953 were the 464 and 468 models. These were obviously intended to cater for the upper-end of the market.

c1958 Hӧfner Model 464/S

 The 464 was a feast for the eyes, with its deep gloss red finish, heavy purfling work around body edges and neck, and brilliant white pearloid headstock complete with plastic treble clef sat inside a black diamond-shaped inlay. Most striking however were the soundholes – twin sickles plus a diamond-shaped hole just below the end of the neck and bridged by yet another plastic treble clef. The guitar’s timbers were however conventional with initially a carved solid spruce body, and flame maple back and rims. A body cutaway was standard together with a top quality “Escutcheon” tailpiece, otherwise this guitar could really have been considered to be just a tarted-up 457 model. Handling a 464 is somehow different though, as it gives the impression of being a light, delicate, and strangely beautiful guitar rather than something to gig with every night in a steamy jazz club, for which the 457 would have been ideal.


 1953 Hӧfner Model 468/S

The 468 was a large bodied guitar with a body width of just over 17”. It was intended to be luxurious, and this was reflected by the lavish mother of pearl double-arrowhead fretboard inlays, the bell-flower inlays to the holly wood headstock fascia, and the heavily embossed tuners with floral buttons. Turning the guitar over revealed the attractive "Fleur de Lys" purfling to the lower area of the body and, on the first examples at least, a sort of square clover design adjacent to the neck heel on the body back. Top quality timbers were used of course, with heavily figured laminated flame maple for back and rims, solid carved spruce initially for the body top, and a combination of flame maple and beech for the five-piece neck. The guitar was available with or without a body cutaway from day one, although it seems that cutaway made up the very first production batch. As with the new 464 model described above, that was unusual for Hofner at the time.  

So, on to 1954 with Walter having filled in most of the gaps in his archtop range. Just two remained, one of which was practical and the other aesthetic:

c1955 Hofner Mӧdel 4550/S

There was by now obviously a demand for large 17”+ bodied archtops in addition to the “standard” 16¼” body width. The large 468 was obviously way out of the reach of most musicians’ budgets, and so the 4550 archtop was a necessity. This was quite simply a Hӧfner 455 but with the wider body. Like the 455, it had a laminated maple top with modestly flamed laminated maple for the back and rims. Decoration such as body and neck binding, strip fret -markers, etc were however similar to the 456.

1957 Hofner Mӧdel 458/S

The aesthetic evolution came in the form of the Hӧfner 458. This was really a 456, but finished in a beautiful black gloss rather than the 456’s brunette sunburst. The black finish introduced on the 460 in 1949 and the 461 model a couple of years previously had presumably received many complimentary comments, so maybe Walter decided to make the finish available on a more affordable guitar. There may well have been an ulterior motive of course; that black gloss could be used to cover up any defects in the timbers, or perhaps even allow non-figured laminates to be used. Walter generally had a good reason for everything!

The two brothers’ father, Karl Höfner, still remained as the elderly statesman within the company. By 1954, he had reached the age of 90, and yet he still loved noting better than to attend at his workbench every day. This grand old man of Bohemian and Bavarian instrument making passed away just prior to his ninety-first birthday.

Body Logos

Initially, Hӧfner archtops did not have the Hӧfner logo on their headstocks. In those less commercial days, apparently all that was considered necessary, and tasteful perhaps, was to have a small discrete logo somewhere on the body.

Up to around 1956, the logo was stamped into the body top just below the treble side of the bridge. Up to around 1953 on the high-end guitars such as the 468, the word “Meisterklasse” was also usually stamped directly below the logo in order to assure the owner that he was playing one of Hӧfner’s finest. Occasionally on the black lacquered guitars on which a stamped-in logo cannot be seen, a gold decal (transfer) logo was applied either adjacent to the bridge or on the upper bass-bout.

From 1956 onward, the gold decal logo found its way onto the upper bass bout of most of the lower-priced guitars, and also on some of the higher-end instruments. This practice was discontinued during the early 1960s, being replaced by headstock logos.

Guitars with the bell-flower headstock inlays such as the 465 and 468 received an inlaid capital-letter Hӧfner logo on their headstocks from around 1957/58.






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