MEMORIES OF AN OLD HOFNER PLAYER

(Or Steve's ramblings in which he recalls his youth.)


"The Telstars": 1962. 

L. to R.: Myself with the Broadway, Richard Hewer with Hofner Solid Bass, and Dave Thompson complete with vinyl covered Colorama II.



My first guitar wasn't a Hofner, it was a Broadway 1921Model Solid. This was a single pickup, fixed neck, solid guitar imported by Rose-Morris, I think from Japan, and given a suitably showbiz name for the British market of that time. (My pal had a set of drums with the same name on them!) I received this from my parents, much against their better judgement, as my Christmas present in 1961. (See the Broadway Guitars Website for further details.)

It all started for me though earlier that year in the Park during the annual summer show. Being 14 years of age, boredom was inevitably setting in whilst watching the assembled 12 year-old pianists and tap dancers on the temporary stage, doing their best in the talent competition. However, interest began to return when four youths in dark suits and narrow ties took to the stage, particularly as I recognised them as being Sixth Formers from my own school. Guitars were plugged into mysterious radio-like boxes at the rear of the stage, and "The Strangers" launched into "Walk Don't Run". I had not believed before that day in the park that such a sound could be produced outside a recording studio, or away from the stage of the London Palladium; let alone in the middle of a field in Yorkshire by four schoolboys! My mind was made up. I now had to acquire an electric guitar at all costs.

In those days, a company called Bell from London advertised their catalogue of guitars in the New Musical Express every week. This was obviously the way to make progress, and so the catalogue was duly applied for by post. Actually three catalogues arrived in response; the proper Bell publication, full of guitars ranging in quality and price from a 5 guinea "Spanish" to the Burns Vibra-Artist. The other two unsolicited documents were both from Selmer, one describing the Selmer-Truvoice amplifiers, and the other describing Hofner and Futurama guitars. My first contact with Hofner guitars had been made.

After days poring over the two guitar catalogues, (the relevance of the book on amplifiers totally escaping me at the time!), I came to the conclusion that there was no chance of my `father laying out 50 guineas or so for a Hofner electric. There may be a possibility of something in the £20 region as a special Christmas present however, and following a vigorous campaign, the Broadway was purchased from Woods Music Store in Huddersfield, a few days before Christmas, 1961.

Luckily, my enthusiasm was also shared by three friends, who were persuaded to obtain, in the next few months, drums, bass guitar, and another electric guitar. The other two guitarists had more co-operative sponsors than myself, and hence a red, vinyl covered Hofner Colorama II and a twin pickup Hofner Solid Bass, as well as my Broadway, now equipped the "Telstars". Everyone understood though that regardless of lack of talent or equipment, I was to be the lead guitarist!

On commencing rehearsals, the previously unconsidered matter of amplification began to grow in importance. Old valve radios of any quality invariably had banana plug sockets fitted on a rear panel that allowed them to be used as makeshift amplifiers. This form of amplification was immediately drowned out as soon as drums were introduced, and for several weeks, the bass player's long suffering family, who owned a very expensive and reasonably loud radiogram, were allowed the privilege of accommodating "The Telstars" for all rehearsals. This at least had the effect of embarrassing the other two guitarists' fathers, and I was allowed a very large advance on pocket money which was sufficient to purchase a Bird 15watt "Golden Eagle" Reverb amplifier, with a Watkins Westminster for the rhythm guitarist also appearing. The bass player was treated to an un-named 15 watt piggy-back bass amp, presumably as an attempt by his father to save what was left of the radiogram's loudspeakers!

Music played by this first "rhythm group" was almost entirely Shadows' covers, with a little Ventures, Duane Eddy, etc. thrown in. All instrumentals however. Practising was carried out in front rooms, garages, and eventually in a church hall on a Friday evening when the local youth club was in session. Presumably the vicar thought that the violent tendencies of the adolescents at his club could be offset towards ourselves rather than the furniture in his church hall.

Eventually, the gigs (or bookings, as they were known as in those days) started to come in, and we began to appear in other vicars' church halls, 21st parties, school and church concerts etc around the area. My long suffering parents now appreciated that this may not be a one week craze on my part, and so, after a little more pressure, the day arrived when my father drove with me over to Kitchens of Leeds in order to trade in the Broadway for something a little more sophisticated - preferably something with a tremolo arm so that I could sound more like Hank Marvin. The favourite lead guitar in the Huddersfield area seemed to be the Futurama III (the original Grazioso model, which was also distributed by Selmer). This retailed for 45 guineas, and was my cheapest option for three pickups and tremolo. Imagine my distress when the salesman told us that he did not have one in stock; particularly after I had dragged my father all the way to Leeds on his Saturday off. However, Kitchens did have in stock a new sunburst Hofner V3, that had recently been superseded by a new model (the red, more strat'ish Super V3 with bolt-on neck). As the sunburst V3 was now an old model, the salesman could let me have it for the same price as the Futurama instead of the Hofner's 50 guinea list price. A Selmer crocodile covered case would also be thrown in with the deal. There was no hesitation on my part........ I was now the proud owner of a Hofner!

"The Telstars" were now carrying out engagements (another early 60's name for a gig) on a regular weekend basis, and it soon became apparent that two other essentials to success were necessary: louder amplification and.......... a singer! The singer was easily sourced. Just look around your circle of friends and choose the most presentable looking one with sufficient guts and lack of imagination to stand up on a stage! Dave was duly auditioned, approved, and on the next Saturday night he found himself singing "Travellin' Light" on stage at some Mechanics Hall in the Colne Valley. The fact that he was several semi-tones out of tune due to nerves did not really matter as he couldn't be heard anyway, using a tape recorder microphone plugged into the spare channel of the bass player's 15w amp!



"The Fieu-gatives": 1963

L to R: Me with the Hofner V3, Tim Collins on drums, Jane Brahm as the Manager, Dave Maffin on Vocals, Dave Thompson with Hofner Colorama II, and Richard Hewer with Hofner Solid Bass.


Improved amplification was a far greater hurdle to overcome. In late 1962 there were really only two options for professional quality guitar amplification in Britain; Vox and Selmer Truvoice. The most powerful models produced by these companies were both rated at 30w: the famous Vox AC30, and the Selmer Truvoice Twin Selectortone (later known as the Zodiac when it had acquired its crocodile covering and winking tremolo light). The Selmer had the advantage of a built-in reverb unit. The Vox had the credibility of being used by the Shadows. The bass player's father once again did the honourable thing and bought his son an AC30. The rhythm guitarist quickly followed with a new Twin Selectortone. As lead guitarist, my 15 watt Bird with its three heavily distorting elliptical speakers was now totally outclassed. Being still at school, there was no way that I could afford the 105 guineas that the new 30w amplifiers retailed for.

Selmer's previous top of the range amplifier, before the introduction of the Twin-Selectortone, had been (guess what?) the Selectortone 25watt. This was equipped with 15" speaker, tremolo, four inputs in two channels (no, they were certainly not switchable!), and six preset tone boost push-buttons which gave a very good range and, I suppose, was one-up on Vox who didn't come up with their Top Boost until around 1962. A rather battered second hand Selectortone, in Selmer's old livery of red and cream, had recently been traded in in by some lucky guy for a new AC30 at The Music Centre in Huddersfield. Seizing my chance, I traded in the Bird for this old workhorse. I was now more or less back in the running, but I had forgotten one thing; the old Selectortone did not have built in reverb - essential for any chance of sounding like the Shadows. Only one thing for it therefore....... sell the rest of my possessions (bike, train set, etc.) and buy an echo unit.

Binson, Vox, Meazzi, Dynachord, Selmer Swissecho, etc., were the units to go for in Britain during early sixties, but only if you could afford the £100 or thereabouts, retail prices. These were all tape repeat machines. Delay pedals had not been invented. My budget, and that of most of my contemporaries, corresponded to the Watkins and cheaper Selmer tape echo boxes. Watkins had the Copicat, a three replay head, two input machine in a very practical and pleasing top-opening box. Dave, our singer, purchased one of these second hand from Barretts of Oxford Road, Manchester during one of our many pilgrimages to this Mecca of musical instruments. Selmer had, from memory, the 200 Model and the 300 Model. The cheaper unit had three replay heads and a hinged front for easy access to the tape. The 300 had four replay heads, a three input mixer, and a multi output panel. Access to tape and controls was from the top as with the Copicat, but for street cred' the Copicat had it. I went for the Selmer 300.

Echo replay quality on both the band's Copicat and Selmer was not good, probably made worse by our use of home made domestic quality tape loops, instead of those sold by the manufacturers. The Copicat sounded the better of the two, and an exchange was soon arranged in order that the vocals could take advantage of the Selmer's superior mixing system, and I could take advantage of a cleaner sound for my instrumental numbers. (The days of guitarists pursuing a heavily overdriven and distorted sound would not arrive for a further five years or so!) The multiple output of this unit also allowed the mikes to be fed into the AC30 and Twin Selectortone which, positioned at each side of the stage, could then double as a PA System. By the standards of the time, we now were sufficiently equipped to take on the larger venues in the area.

Our vocal repertoire up to that time had been very much early British rock - Cliff Richard, Johnny Kidd, etc., with the occasional one from across the water such as Connie Francis' "Sweet Nothings". All this changed however in the late spring of 1963, when we supported a Manchester band at the local dance hall. Their performance was our first introduction, and probably Huddersfield's, to the heavily rhythm and blues orientated Merseyside/Manchester Sound which was about to take over the rest of the world in the mid 60s. Our music at that gig was weak and insipid compared to the Manchester lads' sound. Needless to say, we could see the future, and a full review and change of our repertoire was immediately put in hand!

 

 

"D plus Four": 1963

L to R: Me again, Dave Maffin on Vocals, John Pashley on Drums, and Richard Hewer.

 


One major aspect of the new wave groups was their use of a whole range of alternative guitars to the Fenders that had been made so popular in Britain by the Shadows. It seemed that overnight, solid guitars were out, and semi-acoustics were a necessity. Gretsch, Gibson, and Rickenbackers were all over the television screen. I decided that, in order to obtain the right image, I too would have to change onto a semi, but without getting rid of the Hofner V3, to which I had become very attached. What was the choice in reasonable quality semi-acoustic guitars at that level of sensible price which would not need a trade in; obviously another Hofner!

Yet another pilgrimage to Barretts of Manchester, and the successful purchase of a second hand but immaculate Hofner President Thin Line in blonde. This guitar was about two years old when I bought it in late 1963. It had the toaster pickups and the classic Hofner square control console. To tell the truth, I found the President quite difficult to play after the V3. The neck was much thicker, the action higher, and I found the body size to be more uncomfortable after the V3's small solid body. I therefore found myself using the President on stage for only those numbers that I fooled myself would sound better with a semi. Anything requiring dexterity and speed, and I quickly reverted back to the V3's slim neck!

I kept the President for a year or so, and then sold it to John Verity, the band's current rhythm guitarist. Since then I have parted with many guitars, including an L-serial number 1962 Fender for £160, but my lasting regret is that I sold that President. I can only hope that its superb flame maple timbers and beautiful mother of pearl inlaid headstock are looking as well now as when I last saw it back in 1965!

"The Clique": 1964 

L to R: John Verity with my beautiful Thinline President, me still with the Hofner V3, Richard Hewer on Bass, and Tim Collins on Drums.


From around 1964 onwards, the availability of American instruments and amplification became commonplace in the UK. I can always remember going down to the Huddersfield Music Centre in June 1964, the day that I had finished my A-Level examinations, to examine the first Fender amplifier, (I think it was a blonde Tolex piggy-back Bandmaster), that the store had been able to obtain. With their fashion credibility now much reduced by Gibson, etc., second hand Fender Strats became comparatively cheap. It was therefore around this time that sales of Hofners began to tumble. Paul McCartney's continuing use of the 500/1 Violin Bass helped to slow down the decline a little, and the Galaxies' extrovert styling seemed to appeal to some for a few more years. However, the writing was on the wall for Hofner in Britain by 1965.

For some of us, nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and in the late 1980s my memory turned back to those formative years. Advertisements for old Hofners appeared regularly in the back pages of such magazines as "Guitarist", and occasionally an old Senator could be seen hanging on a dark area of wall at the back of a music store, probably taken in part-exchange for a Squire or Pacifica. I realised that such instruments (then!) could be purchased for a fraction of their true worth............That old Hofner Magic had got hold of me again!



 

A Telstar's Set-List from 1962. Note the large percentage of instrumentals!

 

 

 

 



Many thanks to Richard Hewer for providing some of the photos and the memorobilia above.

 



Return to MAIN HOFNER INDEX PAGE.