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This article was originally published in issue #19
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If you thought time machines were the stuff of science fiction, think again! Here's the Hofner President bass, brought back to life from a DNA sample left in the Cavern Club back in the early 1960s. Dan Veall finds out how it will survive in today's world.
This might be about as iconic as a 1960s bass can get - maybe short of a Burns Bison or a Fender Precision or, of course, a Hofner 'Beatle bass'! Just taking it from its case instantly took me back to looking through vinyl gatefolds as a kid, staring at '60s albums that featured an array of different Hofner instruments. Back then, especially in Europe, where Fender and Gibson basses were more or less unknown (and certainly unaffordable!), Hofners were the basses most aspired to and, indeed, Stuart Sutcliffe played one of these in the early days of The Beatles. And when Mr McCartney took over bass duties, what did he buy? Why, a Hofner, of course!
The bass we have for review here is a Hofner 'contemporary' version of the original 500/5 President Bass and it oozes those classic stylings so much so that you can almost smell those smoky clubs of yesteryear! The sunburst finish over the curvy spruce topped acoustic 'semi' body looks wonderful. The big F-holes in the top are neat and, well, a bit cool really. I also really love the look of the tail piece hanging in mid-air, anchoring the strings to the back of the body. The bridge assembly is a simple affair with little adjustment available for intonation - but we'll come to that later.
Moving up the body, Hofner includes two 'Black Bar' pick-ups, one placed at the end of the fretboard and another forward of where you might find a Precision pickup. It's certainly simple to use, thanks to the 'famous Hofner control panel' (their description!),
So how does it stand up? Well, the sounds available from this bass are surprisingly characterful and rich. Don't expect sustain for days but the Hofner has a very pleasing low end rumble from that fretboard position pickup alone. In fact it's so successful it makes you wonder why more manufacturers aren't doing it. Yes, I appreciate the 'slappers' amongst us may find it in the way but I really don't see this particular instrument as a slapper's delight anyway! The controls allow the two pickups to be mixed with level controls, but also offers two switches which allow each pickup (or both) to be totally turned off as well. The third switch, a rather natty addition (that I'd probably like including on a bass of my own!) is a 'solo' switch that when engaged, boosts the output level of the bass. It's very useful for doing just that, a nice bass solo. Sadly, unless you have a bit of time between your last note proceeding the start of the solo, it's actually really hard to get over to the switch, play a solo and back again! It feels like it is miles away!
Let's turn our attention away from the front of the bass - check out the sides and back of the President bass - wonderful pieces of flame maple that look so tasty under the vintage sunburst finish. The sunburst isn't just reserved for the body either. The back of the maple/beech maple laminate set-neck is similarly attended to, as well as topped off with binding down the fretboard and round the body. Up to the headstock and we're in for more of a treat. The strings pass over a zero fret for optimal string height and through a white/black/white striped plastic nut. Even these small details look great. The headstock, a glossy black two-a-side layout features a flower inlay and the Hofner script logo. Finishing off the headstock are four rather small nickel tuners with pearl tips, holding the installed Hofner HCT roundwound strings in tune.
Playing the bass is actually a joy - though for some it may take a little getting used to! The 30" scale and very close string spacing (a mere 48mm at the 12th fret according to the specs) feels squat for big hands. That's not to say it's impossible to play, for example, all of my basses feature a 16mm spacing or less, so getting to grips with the President even with huge hands like mine isn't that hard.
All the same, be prepared for 'something completely different' if you try one!
I think the Hofner President bass does what it sets out to do admirably. Would you want one? Well, it suits certain styles of music very well and would be invaluable if you were in a band where the look of your instrument is important - a Gerry and The Pacemakers tribute, perhaps? But please don't assume this nicely made instrument is only fit for that sort of role, because it can offer you so much more.
Are there downsides? Well, intonation up the neck can be an issue, given the limited adjustment available, but who is going to be soloing on a bass like this? Also, I'd also hazard a guess that certain brands of strings may have problems with the smaller keys if the thicker windings protrude over the nut up past the keys. Worth checking, or of course, stick to the Hofner strings. Grumpy Editor insists that feedback is also an issue with semis like this but I'd say this is still a great-looking bass, perfect for tribute acts, getting jazzy or for that cool photo-shoot, but don't dismiss it for a whole lot more.