114-116 Charing Cross Road, London - The Home of the Selmer London Company in the 1940's.

Ben Davies’ Company

By coincidence, the first shoots of the Selmer Company appeared at round about the same time as those of the Karl Hӧfner Company in the mid 1880’s. The paths of the two were destined to come together briefly in the period between the First and Second World Wars, but most significantly again in the early 1950’s when a mutually beneficial association began which was to influence Hӧfner for many years.

Henri Selmer was born in France in 1858. He grew up to become a musician, playing clarinet in the French Republican Guard and later with the Opera Comique and Lamoureux Orchestras. He set up in business in 1885 initially producing reeds and mouthpieces for clarinets, just two years before Karl Hӧfner had begun manufacturing violin bodies under his own name in Bohemia. As had happened with Karl, Henri Selmer’s company quickly expanded with the introduction of his instruments into the Unites States, so by the end of the First World War, it had become a major musical instrument manufacturing company based in Paris.

A third member of the cast now enters the scene – a saxophone player by the name of Ben Davis. After playing Jazz and Dixieland music in the UK following his leaving the British Army after the First World War, Ben, being the very shrewd person that he was, could see that there would be more of future selling musical instruments than playing them for a living. In 1928 therefore, following a meeting with Henri Selmer, Ben set up the Selmer Company in London at 114-116, Charing Cross Road. The exact terms of the agreement between Ben and Henri are not known, but it would appear that Selmer London had a great deal of independence from Selmer Paris. In the period up to the re-commencement of war in 1939, Selmer London became one of Karl Hӧfner’s many customers.

After peace had returned to Europe, Ben joined at this stage by his brother Lew Davis, put all their efforts into developing the business and in fact they moved away from the French company by integrating Selmer London into a public company called Musical and Plastic Industries in 1953. The other half of this company rather bizarrely manufactured plastic toys and garden furniture!

Ben and Lew needed products to sell both wholesale and retail in their palatial showroom in Charing Cross Road. The obvious place to buy guitars from was the USA whose manufacturing industry had not been greatly affected by World War Two. Just one problem though…the UK government had put import restrictions on US manufactured goods. Britain was bankrupt after funding the war for six years, and the US now wanted re-payment for the loans made to Britain during and after the war. Becoming even more in debt to the Americans due to British consumerism did not seem to make sense to the UK Treasury, so US-made guitars were definitely not an option until 1960 when the restrictions were finally lifted. Guitar making in the UK was very much a cottage industry at that time, so it was natural that Ben Davies would have remembered that company from Schönbach who had supplied Selmer with a few violins and guitars before the war.

It was not guitars however that Selmer London first obtained from Hӧfner after World War 2, but double basses from March 1948 onwards. This was of course the Big Band  and Jazz Band period, and the enormous demand for guitars was still a few years away.

Selmer Advert
in Melody Maker
April 1948.
(Note the incorrect
spelling of Karl.)

The First Selmer-Distributed Hofner Guitars

Somehow or another, probably in 1952 but it could have been even earlier, Ben Davis and Josef Hӧfner must have met and agreed a deal. From then on, Selmer London was to become Hӧfner’s distributor for their guitars, not just in the UK but also throughout the British Commonwealth. That in turn opened up a very large world market for the sale of Hӧfner guitars.


Ben Davies fooling around during a visit to Hӧfner in Bubenreuth during the 1950's.

In 1952, Selmer set about publishing a new eight-page brochure to feature the guitars available from the company.

The 1952/53 Selmer London Guitar Catalogue

Although the new brochure also includes other instruments such as three Selmer-branded lap-steel guitars and a Truvoice 15 watt amplifier together with four Hӧfner–made guitars, the emphasis is definitely on Hӧfner, with the brochure being given the title “Hӧfner 1752-1952.”   It would appear that Ben Davies’ enthusiasm was perhaps a little too supercharged here, as in his determination to provide Hӧfner with the reputation of being a long-standing company with 200 years of experience, he had overlooked the fact that the founder of the company, Karl Hӧfner, had not been born until 1864! Nevertheless, the President, Senator, Square Dance, and Concert looked magnificent in the illustrations. The descriptions against each model were a little over the top, but hey, we do have a message to get across here!

For instance, the President model description:

“Here, in this President model, the violin makers’ craft has been applied to the plectrum guitar. Only a discriminating soloist can appreciate the subtleties of construction which give the new guitar an unusual delicacy of response. Here is a rich lingering sostenuto which can be clipped with the crispness of a piano damping action. Glissandos and slurs, which give that “orchestral finish” to the feature chorus, articulate with the same ease as the brilliant “brass” chords……..”

In the Concert model description, the following is advised:

 “As each instrument receives the personal attention of Karl Hӧfner, only a limited number can be built and orders will be dealt with in strict rotation.”

The “Concert” model was actually a re-named Hӧfner 497 Classical model, which although being a good quality instrument (what Hӧfner described as a “Master Guitar”) may not have been given too much attention from the company’s founder, who much preferred violins to guitars.

 The first three Hӧfner cello guitars supplied to Selmer provided a model for most pockets and abilities, the "President", the "Senator", and the "Square Dance". Ben Davies wanted something a little special for the UK so instead of simply taking existing models, he had insisted that up-grades be made to the usual Hӧfner specifications in order to obtain a more luxurious product for his customers.

1952/53 Hӧfner President (Note: the pickup and volume control were added later by a previous owner.)

So, although the President model was based on Hӧfner’s existing 457 model, Ben required the following changes to be made:

The headstock fascia to be changed from the pearloid/mock tortoiseshell/pearloid strips of the 457 to a black-dyed holly wood fascia which was heavily inlaid with mother of pearl in a “Bellflower” design. On the standard Hӧfner range of 1952, this type of headstock fascia was reserved only for the very top model, the 465.

The European-looking strip fret-markers of the 457 were replaced by more American-style triple-dot markers.

The trapeze tailpiece was changed to a Selmer-designed “Compensator” tailpiece that had previously been used on the UK-made Stratton archtops that Selmer had been selling before the appearance of Hӧfner in their catalogue.

The white pearloid pickguard was replaced by one made from a more conservative-looking brown mock tortoiseshell.

A blonde finish was to be offered in addition to the standard brown sunburst which in 1953 was the only finish on offer for the 457.

The President was therefore the first Hӧfner model to be offered with an option of either “blonde” or “brunette” finishes. This was almost certainly at Ben Davies’ insistence, and it marks the first of many times when Ben’s ideas for his own range of guitars would be subsequently adopted by Hӧfner for their standard range. Blonde finishes on guitars such as the 455, 456, and 457 began to appear in the general Hӧfner price list from 1954 onwards.

1954 Hӧfner Senator

The Senator model was in fact an up-rated Hӧfner 455 archtop. The differences being:

The headstock fascia changed from the simple white pearloid with central diamond of the 455 to an equally simple though more conservative tortoiseshell with dot design.

As with the President, triple fret marker dots were used on the fingerboard rather than strip markers.

Again as with the President, the very basic looking trapeze tailpiece of the 455 was replaced by one of Selmer’s “Compensator” units.

The white pearloid pickguard of the 455 was exchanged for a more refined mock tortoiseshell plate.

And again, a blonde finish was on offer as well as the brunette sunburst.


1954 Hӧfner Square Dance (pickguard missing)

The Square Dance model is a difficult one to fit into the story of how Hӧfner adapted their standard models to meet with Ben Davies’ expectations. There doesn’t seem to have been an equivalent model in the standard Hӧfner range at the time! It seems that an earlier and what appears to be an identical Hӧfner model had been supplied to Selmer prior to 1952 which is probably the year in which the first brochure described above was published. This was called the Hӧfner “Four Square”. It is probable that this model was supplied to Selmer (and maybe other UK wholesalers) prior to them becoming Hӧfner’s sole distributor for the UK as a very cheap guitar made with the sole purpose of providing the impoverished Brits with a means of making music.

The main features of the “Square Dance” (earlier known as the “Four Square”) were:

14½” body width.

Laminated maple/plywood body construction.

Flat body top and back.

Simple trapeze tailpiece.

Simple binding to top body edge only.

Tortoiseshell celluloid scratch plate screwed down onto top of body.

Four single fret marker pearl dots inlaid into a fingerboard made from an inferior species of timber to rosewood, perhaps dyed pearwood.

The headstock was not capped with a fascia material, but three simple pearloid dots were inlaid directly into the neck timber.

This guitar would soon metamorphose into the much loved and more capable Congress model two or so years later.


A Committee to Design the Committee?

Less than a year later following the launch of the above three models, it would seem that the admirable President model, although being a thoroughly good workhorse of an archtop guitar like its cousin the 457, did not totally match Ben Davies’ aspirations to supply the leading British musicians with an equivalent (in looks, if nothing else) to the Gibson L5. He was obviously hoping that a big, flash, 17¼” wide large bodied Hӧfner guitar would look well on stage in the hands of the time-served guitarists with the popular bands of the day such as the Billy Cotton, Ted Heath, and Joe Loss dance bands. Things actually worked out a little differently though!

A late-1950s Selmer advertisement listing out some of the UK's top guitarists at that time who endorsed Hӧfner guitars.

The Selmer advertising stated that “Frank Deniz, Ike Isaacs, Jack Lewellyn, Freddie Phillips, Roy Plummer, and Bert Weedon worked together in producing the design of this super guitar.” Here were the names of most of Britain’s top session and band guitarists during the 1950’s. When they weren’t playing in specific dance orchestras, bands, or jazz ensembles, they were dashing around London going from recording session to recording session in order to back the latest “crooner” to hit the steadily expanding popular music culture in 1950s Britain. Would it have been possible to pull these guys all together around a table at the same time in order to discuss their preferences for the new Hӧfner guitar?

Matters surrounding this supposed “committee” of guitarist get even more cloudy when one considers that Ivor Mairants, probably the most well-known guitar exponent in the UK back then, has stated that he was actually approached, presumably by Ben Davis, to allow the new Hӧfner to be named after him, but he refused on the basis that he much preferred the sound of the Epiphone Emperor that he was playing at the time.

Perhaps a clue to the level of involvement of the six “committee” members can be gained from a photograph which appeared in Melody Maker that was taken in the late 1940’s, a few years prior to the Hӧfner Committee making its appearance. This shows what is obviously a Selmer-arranged launch of the new Straten Symphony archtop guitar, with a collection of guitarists including Jack Llewellyn and Jack Deniz in attendance. Perhaps the “committee” input for the new Hӧfner was on a similar very informal basis? Whatever, it seems to be an unfortunate fact that the committee members all had their own preferences for their personal guitars which doesn’t seem to have changed too much after the launch of the Hӧfner Committee; the hard to obtain Epiphone brand being especially popular. Bert Weedon was the only one to use Höfners almost exclusively through into the mid-1960’s, after which he changed his allegiance to Guild, reputedly following total exasperation with the reliability of the electrics fitted to Hӧfner guitars at the time.

Whatever the design heritage of the Hӧfner Committee, it certainly was a very impressive instrument when first introduced in late 1953 as a full acoustic archtop. The large 17¼” body gave an impression of importance, but this was totally eclipsed by the headstock. Officially described as a “frondose” shape, this resulted in a headstock bigger than seen probably on any other guitar before or since. It would not have looked out of place on the front of a carved Bavarian cuckoo clock, also fashionable in the UK at the time. No committee of British working guitarists ever came up with that design! Special tuners with long peg-shafts had to be made in order for the ornate (and very fragile) plastic buttons to clear the erratically-shaped sides of the headstock. And then there was the mother of pearl inlay work on the headstock fascia and fingerboard…

1953 Hӧfner Committee Acoustic - Serial No. 2000 - the very first production one.


The main features of the Hӧfner Committee as originally introduced were:

17¼” Body Lower Bout Width.

Solid carved spruce body top.

Laminated birds-eye maple back & rims

White body & neck binding (changed to white pearloid from early-1957) with multiple black and white purfling.

Fleur-de-Lys style design purfling to body back

Large Frondose headstock, with rose-design mother-of-pearl inlays

Elaborate rose-design mother-of-pearl inlaid fret markers

Clear Perspex pickguard

Lyre-style tailpiece

Option of blonde or brunette nitro-cellulose finish.

1955 Hӧfner Committee Electric

 The first Committee electric version appeared in early 1956, factory fitted with two Hofner rosewood bar pickups and an elliptical shaped control console with volume and tone pots for each pickup. In addition, two independent pickup selector switches were fitted adjacent to the console. This arrangement was simplified in mid-1958 to the well-known Hofner rectangular control console. A further option was provided in the second half of 1959, when the Thinline Committee made its appearance, with a 2” deep body.

1958 Hӧfner Committee Electric

A major change occurred to the Committee models however in 1962. At that time, the 18” bodied Golden Höfner was discontinued, and Höfner (or maybe more likely Selmer) presumably felt that this would leave a gap in their archtop range. The new Committee was therefore provided with a Golden Hofner 18” body profile. At the same time, the Frondose headstock was ditched and replaced with one of a conventional shape. The specification of the Committee from 1962 onwards was therefore:

18” Body lower bout width.

Laminated spruce body top.

Laminated birds-eye maple back & rims.

Pearloid body & neck binding with multiple black and white purfling.

Fleur-de-Lys style design purfling to body back.

Conventional symmetrical headstock, with rose-design mother-of-pearl inlays.

Elaborate rose-design mother-of-pearl inlaid fret markers.

Clear Perspex pickguard with gold Hofner logo and surround strip.

Escutcheon-style tailpiece in place of the previous Lyre-style.

Option of blonde or brunette nitro-cellulose finish.

Option of full-bodied acoustic, full-bodied electric, or thinline electric versions.

Large pickup selector switch located on top bass bout, with master volume, two tone controls, and an unusual Solo/Rhythm rotary controls. (The solo/rhythm control was deleted from around 1966 onwards.)


1964 Hӧfner Committee Electric

Selmer now had a full-range of archtops, from the flamboyant through to the workman-like, and down to the budget level.


From Square Dance to Congress

Sometime around 1955, Hӧfner’s budget guitar was up-rated, being given a domed body top (table) and back. Perhaps Hӧfner had finally got around to making up the necessary moulds for pressing a domed laminated top for a 14 ½” bodied guitar, or perhaps it was once again Ben Davies pushing for that little bit extra for his Selmer-distributed range of instruments all the time. Certainly, a few other improvements also appeared, such as simple mother-of-pearl inlays to the headstock fascia, double dot fret-markers, and a pickguard that was now suspended over the body top and not simply screwed down onto it as with the previous model. Even the name, Congress sounded much less frivolous than “Square Dance”, and it now fitted in well with the US theme set already by the “Senator” and “President”. There was no doubt in Ben’s mind as to which country led the rest of the world with regard to popular music.

1955/56 Hӧfner Congress

The detail specification of the Congress was to change frequently over the years, as with the rest of the Hӧfner/Selmer range, but at least its basic spec had now grown up, making it an excellent small-bodied alternative to the 16¼” bodied Senator.

1958 Hӧfner Congress

At its introduction in 1955, the main features of the Congress were:

14½” Body Lower Bout Width (increased to 15” in mid-1957)

Laminated maple body, with some flaming on body back

White binding to edge of body top only

Un-identified fingerboard timber similar to rosewood

Two-piece maple neck

Simple trapeze tailpiece, later changed to the Compensator-type.

Plastic mock-tortoiseshell floating pickguard

Simple design mother-of-pearl headstock inlay

Three double-dot fretboard markers

The Congress was to become Hӧfner’s best-selling Selmer-distributed archtop model, with sales of well over 13,000 before being discontinued in the early 1970’s.


Join the Club?

Selmer commenced importing the Hӧfner Club 40 and 50 in September 1955 with the Club 60, appearing in 1958, almost certainly after Ben had asked Hӧfner to produce a deluxe version.


  Advertisement from September 1955
in which Selmer introduce the Club 40
and Club 50 guitars to the UK.

Note the reference to these guitars being
"Les Paul style". 

An account of how Selmer’s “Clubs” fitted into the story of Walter Hӧfner’s 125, 126, and 128 models is given in the previous chapter. However, it may be worth reflecting at this stage as to why Ben Davies gave these little guitars the name “Club”. Selmer had actually used the name “Club 40” for a particular model of Straten guitar back in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s when Dick Knight, who was Straten’s luthier, worked direct for Selmer London making his fine archtops. There was therefore some history behind the use of that name for the new little Hӧfner, and also the "Compensator" tailpiece fitted to many of the Hofner guitars supplied to Selmer and which had been originally designed by Lew Davies in the late 1940's for use on such guitars as the Stratten Club 40.


An early 1950s Straten Club 40, complete with its Compensator Tailpiece.

The Very Strange “Colourama” Model

As we have implied above, Ben Davies didn’t get many things wrong. However, in 1957 he commissioned Hӧfner to make a rather bizarre version of the Senator. This guitar was presumably intended to satisfy the demands of the “show business” and “cabaret” artists back in those days for glamour and glitz……….but not in the same way as the Golden Hӧfner! The Colourama model (not to be confused with the Hӧfner Colorama solid models) was finished in what the catalogue described as “glitter nacrolaque” in either red, gold, or silver finishes. Two colour "nacrolaque" was also used for the headstock fascia and fret marker inlays.

1957 Hӧfner Colourama, fitted with post-retail pickup.

This model did not sell well, and only two or three examples are known to currently exist, which therefore gives the Colourama the distinction of being one of Hӧfner’s rarest guitars.


Luxury……..the Committee Deluxe and the Golden Hӧfner

The Hӧfner Committee was by 1957 demonstrating good sales in the UK. This happy trend was being helped along by the use of that model by some of the new British “rock n’ roll” artists, in particular Tommy Steele. Tommy was really the UK’s first “superstar” of Rock n’ Roll. ”Discovered” in 1956, he seems to have always appeared on stage playing (some would say “posing with”) a blonde Hӧfner Committee. This must have been exactly the exposure of the Committee that Ben Davis had been hoping for. Tommy Steele sold records in hundreds of thousands….and Hӧfner Committees in hundreds! Bert Weedon was also gaining further public recognition at this time, and of course it was a blonde Committee that he was soon mostly likely to be seen playing.

Perhaps it was this type of exposure that prompted Ben Davis to believe that the envelope could be pushed further. Why not an even better appointed version of the Committee for such big-name celebrities? So, “OK, Höfner. What can you give me?”

At this time, around late 1957, Hӧfner had produced nothing more luxurious than the Hӧfner Committee and its European market cousin, the 468 model. However, if Ben wanted even more then, being Hӧfner’s best customer, they were not going to disappoint him. The new guitar was given the name “Committee Deluxe” in the Selmer catalogues, although Hӧfner simply typed “Deluxe” on the body labels.

The Hӧfner Committee Deluxe, as advertised in the Selmer London catalogue of 1958.

The basic Committee design was used, including the 17¼” body width and frondose headstock, but with the following additions:

An eleven-piece neck rather than a five-piece on the standard Committee.

Top-quality flame maple veneers for the back and body sides instead of Birds-eye maple used on the Committee.

Additional purfling around the body top & back edges, including a dark brown stained strip incorporated into the edge purfling and a more elaborate and dark-stained Fleur-de-Lys design on the lower part of the back, together with a complimentary detail adjacent to the neck cutaway.

Enclosed tuners.

Engraved escutcheon tailpiece rather than plain “Lyre”-style tailpiece on the standard model.

Engraved pickguard bracket.

Gold plating to all metal parts.

Available in blonde only, rather than providing a brunette option as with the standard Committee.

Available ex-stock only as an acoustic version. The Standard Committee had been available from stock as an electric version since late 1956/early 1957.

The fact that the guitar was available only in natural blonde finish was indicative of the pride that Hӧfner took in the superb flame maple laminates used on this lovely guitar. Ben Davies’ angle on it was probably that the guitar could be more clearly seen and recognised on a television screen! Supplying the guitar only as an acoustic is a little more difficult to understand. Perhaps it was felt that screwing pickups and controls onto such a magnificent-looking instrument would detract from the craftsmanship that had gone into it. Maybe it was simply believed that making the guitar any more expensive would not be sustainable. After all, with a price tag of 80 gns, the acoustic Deluxe already cost 15 gns more than a standard electric Committee.

The Committee Deluxe appeared in just one Selmer catalogue edition printed in 1958. Because of this, the vast majority of avid Hӧfner enthusiasts, including myself, were totally unaware of the existence of the model until only about 15 years ago. Things only changed when the internet allowed more photographs of such people as Bert Weedon and Tommy Steele to become available for general viewing. It was only then when it became apparent that there had actually been a predecessor to the much better-known Golden Hӧfner. Since then, a handful of Deluxes have appeared and by studying their serial numbers and using a little guesswork, it would appear that probably only around thirty were ever made, during 1958 and the first half of 1959. It may also be that a small proportion of electric versions were produced, despite not being offered in the catalogue. Bert Weedon had what appears in photographs to be a Deluxe fitted with twin Hofner “ Bar” pickups, and what could well be a prototype fitted with just a single bar pickup in the bridge position can be seen in many of the (unfortunately indistinct) photos of Tommy Steele.

Selmer London Advert in Melody Maker c1959

What is very clear however is that Selmer wanted an ultimate version by mid-1959. Something as grand as the Committee Deluxe, but with an 18” wide body in order to rival the Gibson Super 400. Enter the Golden Hӧfner!

1960 Golden Hӧfner Electric, Serial No. 42

Production of Golden Hofners commenced in the last half of 1959, and they were introduced into the Selmer catalogue at about that time. Contrary to the policy that had been adopted for the Deluxe, the Golden was offered from the start with options for twin-pickup electrics and also an electric thin-line model. Perhaps it had been realised after experience in marketing the Deluxe that in-built means of amplification were now essential for professional-level instruments. It had been planned to introduce adjustable neck truss rods into the whole Hӧfner range at the beginning of 1960, but the very first Goldens made in late 1959 were given the privilege of having truss-rods fitted a few months earlier. Another innovation planned for the beginning of 1960 by Hӧfner was the introduction of their new “Toaster” single coil pickup, made by Franz Pix. However, the very first few Golden electric versions were fitted with the old “Bar” units.

The differences between the Committee Deluxe and the Golden Hӧfner can be summarised thus:

18” body width for the Golden instead of 17¼” for the Deluxe.

Adjustable truss rod fitted in the neck of the Golden, but not the Deluxe.

Electric and Electric Thinline versions available for the Golden from stock. The Deluxe was only available as an acoustic version ex-stock.

Brown pearloid body & neck binding used instead of white pearloid for the Deluxe. After the first batch of 12, the binding reverted to white pearloid.

Additional purfling around the edge of the headstock fascia. This disappeared on later Goldens following the first batch of 12.

The price of the acoustic Golden Hӧfner in 1960 remained the same as that of the previous Committee Deluxe at 80 gns. The Electric and Thinline versions of the Golden both retailed at 95 gns. The acoustic version of the Golden was advertised as having a body top of “…well-seasoned pine, selected by craftsmen... hand carved and specially bowed.” That probably was the general case with the acoustics, but close inspection of most electric and thinline electric Goldens reveals that their bodies were made of laminated spruce, which is perhaps disappointing.

As was now becoming the norm, Hӧfner took notice of Selmer’s decisions as to what they wanted producing. Walter and Josef Hӧfner obviously had a great respect for Ben Davies’ judgement and so whilst fixing the Committee Deluxe specification in 1958, they decided to produce a similar luxury 17 ¼ ” model for their other European and Worldwide markets. This resulted in the introduction of the Hӧfner 470 model into Hӧfner’s main catalogue in 1958. The 470 however differed from the Committee Deluxe in an important aspect; a normal sized (and shape) “Gibson-style” headstock was used instead of the flamboyant “frondose” head of the Deluxe. Less important differences were that the headstock inlays on the new 470 were of the “bell flower” design rather than the “rose flower” for the Deluxe, and double arrow-head inlays were used for the fretmarkers in place of the Deluxe’s more delicate rose-twirl pattern. Both acoustic and electric versions were offered, but strangely, Hӧfner delayed the introduction of the 4700 Thinline model for nine years until 1969.

1958 Hӧfner 470/S/E2 Electric Archtop Guitar.

The actual numbers of Goldens made over their production period between mid-1959 and 1962 is not known for sure. However, from the serial numbers that have surfaced over the years, it would seem to be slightly less than seventy full-bodied acoustic and electric guitars and approximately fifteen Thinlines. The surviving guitars rarely appear on the market, being cherished by their owners who quite rightly consider that such examples of fine workmanship and eye-stunning glitz are unlikely to ever be produced again.

Unfortunately for Hӧfner and Selmer, the Golden Hӧfner was an anachronism before the very first one was shipped out of Bubenreuth. It was quite simply five years too late. The popularity of archtops was waning, due to both changes in the popularity of styles of music and also the introduction of guitar types with greater playability, such as solid and semi-acoustic thinline instruments. Even the “show” element of “show business” was being overtaken for a more down-to-earth form of performance, which of course finally culminated in the Beatles, long hair, and the 60’s pop revolution. Ben Davies had missed the boat with this one; a very rare occurrence for that shrewd business man.


Thinline Bodies & Slenda-Neks

 Selmer London Advert in Melody Maker 1960

An archtop guitar is perhaps not the most comfortable guitar to play. This is due to the body size and depth which as a standard is of a 16” and at least a 3” depth. Maybe not too bad when sitting down, but getting one’s arm over such a body when it is on a strap is not particularly comfortable. And then of course there are those body widths of 17” and 18” on the more expensive guitars...

Gibson in the USA must have had this matter very much in mind when in 1955 they introduced their ES-225T model, shortly followed by the Byrdland and ES-350T. OK, there was of course a trade-off in acoustic tone between the thinlines when compared to full depth bodies, but hey, everyone was now starting to play amplified archtops with all sorts of things like pickups and potentiometers screwed down onto the once important “table”, so perhaps the acoustic tone issue wasn’t that relevant any more.

Thinline versions of the Hӧfner archtops first appeared in the Selmer Catalogue in 1959. The electric versions of the Committee, President, and Senator models were from then on all offered with the option of a Thinline 2” deep body instead of the standard 3”. It is again significant that it was those models made especially for Selmer that received this option first out of all the archtops that were then been shipped out of Bubenreuth, (although a variation of the 457/S/T2 model had actually appeared in the 1958/59 Hӧfner general market catalogue with a 6 cm. (2.4”) deep body.)

So why were the Selmer-distributed instruments a year in advance of Hӧfner’s standard range? It can only be that Selmer London, and Ben Davies in particular, had sensed that Gibson were onto a winner with the new Thinline idea and wished to take full advantage themselves. Selmer had the buying power and therefore commercial clout to ensure that Hӧfner did as they were asked. It took the more traditional-thinking Germans some time to realise that Selmer were right and that perhaps they should adopt the idea for those standard range archtops marketed directly by themselves. We will consider how Hӧfner developed the concept in the next chapter.

Hofner introduced adjustable neck truss-rods for almost all their archtop models in early 1960. This innovation allowed them of course to provide a slimmer neck profile with improved playability. Once again, they were lagging somewhat behind the US manufacturers, and perhaps they had been prompted into this by Selmer who would be well aware of the need for Hofner to supply their guitars with an up-to-date specification. Certainly, once the thinline bodies and slender truss-rod reinforced necks from Hofner had finally arrived, Selmer London promoted these features heavily in both their catalogues and by means of advertising in the music press.


The Very Thin "Verithin"

In February 1958, the Gibson Company in the USA announced a radical new type of guitar to the World. This they designated the Gibson ES-335 T. The new guitar had a 1 ¾” Thinline body with arched top. However, its most revolutionary visual feature was the twin symmetrical cutaway shape of the body which allowed almost full un-hindered access to the highest section of the neck. There was more of a surprise hidden away though. The body was not entirely hollow as a centre block of maple ran down the full length of the body which was therefore effectively split into two acoustic cavities, each with its own soundhole. The definitive semi-acoustic guitar had been born! A year later, in 1959, Gibson moved backwards a little and brought out a similar looking model but without the centre “sustain block”. This they designated the Gibson ES-330.

Just as with the Thinline body concept a year or so before, the Davies brothers at Selmer in London probably realised how the new Gibson designs were taking off in the US. The ES-33X models looked great…modern, practical looking, and definitely more Rock n’ Roll than the old dance band archtop designs. Selmer needed to be selling something very similar (but considerably cheaper) and there was no time to lose! The telex machine between Charing Cross Road and Bubenreuth no doubt swung into action and Ben Davies’ requirements were passed on to Walter Hӧfner in Bubenreuth.

1960 Hӧfner Verithin Thinline Guitar

Hӧfner’s new thinline really was just that, but more so with a body width of 30mm (1.25”), half an inch shallower than the Gibsons. Perhaps Walter didn’t quite understand the idea behind the centre tone block, or maybe it was a case of him not being prepared to move that far away from the all-hollow principle of the archtop guitars that Hӧfner had produced up to that time. Whatever, the new “Verithin” was fully hollow, like the Gibson ES330.

In common with all their mid-range archtops, the Verithin was provided with plenty of ornamentation, including the mother of pearl inlayed “bell flower” design on the headstock, multiple strip fret-markers, binding to the neck and soundholes, and plenty of body edge purfling. This degree of bling was only to be found on the top-of-the-range Gibsons; labour costs were cheaper in Germany than in the US! The body top was also made of laminated spruce, as opposed to the laminated maple used on the ES-33X models.

The finish adopted by Walter for his new guitar was initially “Russet Red”, which was soon changed to the brighter “Cherry Red” a year or so later, and in fact almost exclusively red Verithins were shipped to Selmer in the UK continuously from their introduction in 1960 through to around 1967 when Selmer stopped their orders for that model. It is interesting to note that Gibson started offering cherry red ES33X guitars from sometime in 1960 after Hӧfner’s red Verithins had arrived on the market. Perhaps that great company in the States had actually learnt something back from Hӧfner?

1963 Hӧfner Verithin

Selmer offered their own vibrato unit, which was licensed from the Bigsby Company in the US, as an option on all their Hofner electric archtop guitars. This proved to be a very popular option on the Verithin, and in fact it appears that more of that model were supplied fitted with a Bigsby than with the standard Lyre-type tailpiece.  Initially, the electrics fitted to the Verithin were the Hӧfner rectangular console controlling twin “Toaster” pickups during 1960 and most of 1961. However, the controls and pickups changed over the years in line with all the other Hofner models. One unique difference between the Verithin and the other models however was the option of stereo wiring offered for a couple of years or so around 1963-65.

At more or less the same time as Hӧfner had begun supplying the Verithin to Selmer, the same guitar was put on offer to all Hӧfner’s other worldwide markets, designated as the 4574 model. As well as being offered in a few more finishes in addition to Cherry Red, these European and World market guitars were developed further into a myriad of different versions on the same 30mm body theme, one of which was the 4575 model. A small number of Selmer-distributed Verithins were also supplied fitted with three pickups, these being re-badged Hӧfner 4575 guitars.


Florentine Body Cutaways

In 1965, probably in an attempt to revive the flagging sales of Hӧfner archtops in the UK, it would appear that Selmer asked Hofner to consider updating body cutaways from the traditional “curved” Venetian style to “pointed” Florentine. This request was taken up for both the existing Verithin and the President models, together with a totally new model called the Ambassador (see below). The Florentine-bodied Verithin “66” first appeared in the September 1965 Selmer catalogue. The “66” was a marketing man’s ploy which gave the impression of the guitar being a brand-new product based on the anticipated date of sale of the new guitar, although around 200 units had actually arrived in the UK by the end of 1965. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to let Hӧfner know about the “66” designation, and presumably for the want of further instructions the people at Bubenreuth decided to call the new guitar “Verithin Deluxe” which they promptly began typing on all the body labels! After a couple of hundred guitars with the wrong labels had been delivered to London, Selmer realised the mistake and instructed Hӧfner to type “Verithin 66” on future labels. Things became even more confusing later on from late 1966 when catalogue numbers were also added to the body labels, i.e. “Verithin 5137 (66)”.

c1972 Hӧfner Verithin "66", in a very rare sunburst finish.

The President’s change from Venetian to Florentine also took place in the latter half of 1965 for both the full-depth and thinline body versions. It was not a great commercial success though, with only around 500 Florentine Presidents were made, compared to the 9,000 Venetian-bodied version. The Florentine Verithin 66 didn’t do any better though with only about 400 produced, as against 4,000 of the Venetian cutaway version.

1966 Hӧfner President "66" Electric Version

The old non-cutaway Senator model was also up rated by the adoption of a body cutaway at this same time. This change however bucked the trend as the Senator “66” model, as it was then called, was given a Venetian (rounded) cutaway rather than the Florentine. 


Hӧfner Senator "66" Electric Version

The Ambassador

 The last Hӧfner-branded guitar model to be introduced by Selmer to the UK was the Ambassador which appeared in the UK during 1965. At first glance at the twin Florentine cutaways, one could be excused for saying that the design of this guitar had been more than heavily influenced by the Gibson Barney Kessel, but maybe that isn’t quite fair. For one thing, the Ambassador’s body dimensions are totally different to those of the Gibson. The lower bout measurement of the Hofner is an average 15.25”, which doesn’t line up with the above-average 17” of the B-K. Also, the depth of the Ambassador’s body is that of a thinline archtop, 2”, rather than the B-K’s Jazz guitar size of 3”. Although both guitars had fully hollow bodies, it would appear that the B-K was intended for jazz whereas the Ambassador was more of a general purpose guitar, and perhaps more useable with that smaller body. In effect, it was similar to the President Thinline with double Florentine cutaways and a different neck/body joint.

1965 Hӧfner Ambassador

Strangely though, the Ambassador felt more like a Gibson than a Hӧfner. Rather than the lightweight delicate feel of most Hӧfner archtops including the President, the Ambassador felt more rugged and workman-like. Perhaps that was something to do with it having a long body/neck joint rather than the usual Hӧfner short joint with its cantilevered fingerboard extension. Yes, this type of joint had been introduced with the Verithin, but another ¾” of body and hence joint depth certainly made a difference. Other than that, all the usual mid-range Hӧfner appointments were there, including the mother of pearl inlaid headstock and binding to the neck and soundholes.

When first introduced, the Ambassador was fitted with two twin-coil Type 511 “Staple” pickups. However, within a year or so, an Ambassador Deluxe version was made available fitted with American DeArmond pickups as an option, and all for the small additional surcharge of six guineas! In 1967, the last few “standard” Ambassadors made were given the new Hӧfner Type 513 “Blade” pickups. It would seem that some at least of these last Ambassadors were also provided with a centre sustain block, a development that was to continue on general-market Hofner twin cutaway thinlines.

By 1968, the Ambassador had disappeared with only around 500 being produced over four years. It now seems rather a shame that one of the nicest thinline archtops made by Hӧfner should have suffered such a fate in the UK. The good news is however that Hӧfner had starting selling their 4578 model, which was basically the same guitar, to their other markets in Europe and around the World from 1967. The 4578 was successful outside Britain and in fact continued in production until 1981.


Selmer-Branded Höfners

Did we say that the Ambassador was the last Hӧfner model to be introduced into the UK by Selmer? Well, that is indeed strictly the case. However……..in 1967, Selmer London instructed Hӧfner to produce a range of guitars; acoustic archtops, electric thinline archtops, and even a Jumbo flattop, all of which were branded “Selmer” with no reference to their Hӧfner origin. Why Selmer made this request is far from clear, as the Selmer catalogue already contained a comprehensive range of similar guitars with the Hӧfner logo clearly displayed.

1967 Selmer Astra Thinline Archtop

As usual though, one cannot help speculating why this new range was commissioned. Perhaps Selmer felt that, after nearly 15 years of being offered to the British public, the Hӧfner brand-name had become rather worn out and stale, particularly with the influx of the more prestigious US-made guitars into the UK at that time. Maybe Selmer believed that the old Hӧfner designs needed a modern facelift and a move away from heavily ornamented headstocks, fancy fret markers, and multiple finish options; in other words to be more of a player’s work tool. It could even have been that Selmer felt that as one of the top musical instrument suppliers in the UK, they should follow the lead of JMI/Vox and sell guitars with just their own logo displayed. Whatever the reasons, the new “Selmer” guitars certainly had strong characteristics incorporated into their design. These can be summarised as follows:

Simple but classical overall designs, without being cluttered with ornamental headstock and fingerboard inlays.

No binding used on fingerboards and only moderate purfling around body edges. Soundholes were however bound without exception.

All models finished in tobacco sunburst with no other options.

Florentine body cutaways used on most cutaway models instead of Hӧfner’s traditional Venetian style.

Schaller twin-coil pickups used on all electric archtop models, rather than Franz Pix-made Hofner units.

The Selmer “Lyre” company logo used in every conceivable location – a “Lyre” decal on the headstock, a very large and impressive “lyre” on the tailpiece, and even one stamped into the top of each metal control knob on the electric models. 

The Selmer-branded models were:

The Selmer Triumph, with either a 3" bodied acoustic or a 2” bodied electric thinline version. Both guitars had Venetian body cutaways and the electric version had a single Schaller pickup located at the bridge. Being a straightforward 16” body width archtop, this guitar could be equated to the Hӧfner Senator of that period, but for some strange reason, the Triumph models were listed in the Selmer price list as 20% more expensive than the Senators.

The Selmer Diplomat again came in 3” bodied acoustic and 2” thinline versions. It was a similar guitar to the Triumph, but had Florentine cutaways. The electric version was also equipped with two Schaller humbuckers. A rather austere version of the President model, but again at a slightly higher price.

The Selmer Emperor was a twin-Florentine cutaway electric with a 2” deep and 15 ¼ ” wide thinline body, twin Schaller pickups and again very little ornamentation other than the large Selmer Lyre on the trapeze tailpiece. The Ambassador was the equivalent model in the Hӧfner range and this more heavily ornamented guitar could be purchased for three or four guineas less than the Emperor.

The Selmer Astra completed the archtop range. This had the 1¼” deep and 16” wide body of the Hӧfner Verithin, but otherwise had the same specification as the Selmer Emperor. The list prices of the Astra and the Verithin were within a guinea of each other despite all that mother of pearl on the Verithin’s headstock.

The Selmer Arizona Jumbo does not really fit into a web-book about archtops, but it is included for completeness. Again, acoustic and an electric model were on offer, with the electric version being fitted with a Walter Hofner designed pickup which was actually built into the end of the fingerboard in the location of the last fret. It was in fact a standard Hofner 491 Western Guitar, which Selmer continued to sell in parallel with the Arizona at more or less the same price, again despite the Selmer-branded guitar missing out on the mother of pearl headstock design and the neck binding.


1967 Selmer Triumph Acoustic

So, the next question is: why did Selmer attempt to charge more for most of their own-brand (but Hӧfner-made) guitars than the Hӧfner models on which they were so obviously based? Only a marketing manager could possibly answer that question, although he should of course also ask himself why so few of the Selmer-branded Höfners were actually sold. Examples are quite a rare find these days.


The Decline of the Selmer London Hofners

As we have seen above, Ben Davies became Hӧfner’s only distributor in the UK sometime around 1952. Hӧfner archtop sales in the UK were at their peak between about 1956 through to 1964, initially based on full depth acoustic archtops such as the Congress, Senator, and President and in the 1960’s by the Verithin in particular and perhaps the Thinline archtops such as the Senator and President. From around 1960, the emphasis was much more on solid guitar models, initially led by the Colorama but then by the very popular Galaxie.

From 1961 onwards however, after the UK had lifted import restrictions on US-made goods, the writing was on the wall for Hӧfner in the UK. The British lusted after American guitars, as used by the “stars”, and to play a Hӧfner hinted at a degree of amateurism. Although Fenders and Gibsons cost two or three times as much as an equivalent Hӧfner, hire purchase became readily available at that time, and musicians queued up at their local music shops to trade in their old Hӧfner for a US guitar, paid for on the “never-never”.

Ben Davies had of course spotted the trend, and so from 1962, Selmer London began distributing Gibson and Fender products, initially in a separate catalogue to the Hӧfner range. By the end of 1964 however, Gibson, Fender, and even Hagstrom guitars were in the same main catalogue as Hӧfner, who were by now very much the underdog. Things got even worse when the Japanese manufacturers began flooding the market with copies of US guitars in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Now, even if one couldn’t afford a proper Stratocaster or Les Paul, one could buy the Japanese version for less than the price of a Galaxie and at least look the part. Budget and mid-range UK customers therefore went the same way as the professional players had before them; i.e. away from Hӧfner.

From 1966 through to the early 1970’s, Selmer struggled on with Hӧfner guitars but finally had to give up, thus ensuring the end of such well-loved models as the Congress, Senator, President, and Committee.  It may have been different if Ben Davies had still been there to point the luthiers of Bubenreuth in new directions, but Ben and his brother Lew had retired in 1964 and gone off to the South of France for a well-earned retirement.

Hӧfner guitars did eventually return to the UK when Barratts of Manchester took up their distribution in 1977 for a few years into the mid-1980’s. However, Barratts sold the standard Hӧfner models of that period in very small numbers, and not the old Selmer London models.

An optimistic advertisement produced by Barratts of Manchester in 1977.

 Nowadays, the Selmer London distributed models are probably the most desirable and collectable versions of all the old Hӧfner guitars. That could be for two reasons, the most obvious being that as a general statement, Ben Davies insisted that those guitars being supplied to Selmer had more deluxe features such as mother of pearl inlays than Hӧfner’s standard range of models. Less obvious but perhaps more pertinent is that Ben also insisted on all guitars supplied to his company being marked using a highly regimented serial number system, whereas up until the mid-1980’s Hӧfner did not bother with workshop-applied serial numbers for their standard range of guitars. (Some US, Dutch, and Swedish distributors did however make a limited attempt at numbering guitars themselves before the mid-1980’s.)

Hӧfner could not have wished for a better distributor than Selmer London.  

October 1967 Selmer Advertisement




PROCEED TO CHAPTER 7: THE BOOM YEARS (1959 to the late 1960's)


 All Text is Copyright © 2022 Steve Russell. All Rights Reserved