’59 500/5 bass

Sometimes known as a Stu Sutcliffe model as the early ex-Beatle played one while he was with them, and also erroneously called a President bass as it resembles the President guitar which was its contemporary.  (But this is 17¼ inches wide; Presidents are 16¼).

Like my ’60 Les Paul TV Special, this instrument also belonged to my dad, who bought it ca. ‘63 to string as a sort of baritone tenor guitar because jazz chord-comping was his preferred style and he had quite big fingers. It came with a Selmer TV8T 5w combo amp whose tremolo circuit was broken, sadly long since deceased (tho’ I can remember it used to sound good cranked up with my first SG, an otherwise pretty forgettable cherry ’72 SG Deluxe).

Hofners were popular in the UK in the late fifties/early sixties.  Not only did a post-war trade embargo on US goods like Gibsons and Fenders remain in place until about ‘62, but they were also relatively affordable.

Most Hofners shipped into the UK during that period have a Hofner decal on the body front just above the neck join, and are typically made of stripier European spruce and sprayed much yellower. They either came with a semi-matt finish or acquired one over time.

This one has a beautiful pale coffee sunburst over a finer wood, maple laminate, and still very high-gloss. Great tight flame on the back and some on the sides too. The pickups and headstock inlay indicate it comes from ’59 and the 8.1.59 date inside the treble f-hole confirms this.  However, it’s never had a label inside to corroborate things – apparently this suggests it was originally sold in Europe rather than imported to the UK by Selmer.

I’ve seen one similar once, a few years back in the bass shop in Denmark Street. They were asking a lot of money for it.  This is in much better shape, almost minty, astonishing for a guitar that’s now over 50 years old : the neck is huge and very round. A nice touch is the intonation on the arched bridge, which is adjusted by moving tiny fragments of fretwire between the four thin slots between the layers of laminated ebony it’s fashioned from.

It’s a very photogenic guitar which I kept hold of it mainly for sentimental reasons, but I’ve started to play it again recently having rediscovered what a warm and modern sound it can produce.

(These pictures were taken at sunset, so they give the impression the guitar is yellower, and more like most other Hofners from that period. It’s actually a very subtle pale coffee colour which my camera has some difficulty in resolving – like the pink Musicman guitars also featured on this site).

Many thanks to Steve Russell for his kind help with much useful additional information. You can find visit his excellent, fact-filled site here.  Great stuff on Hofner, Selmer, Watkins/WEM, Fenton Weill and Bird amps too.  And Futurama guitars!

10 Responses to ’59 500/5 bass

  1. WOW!!! I actualy have 2 Höfners at home. One from 69 and one from 70. Both accoustic guitars. Not even do they sound awsome, the play great and beeing vintage is only a bonus. They where both owned by a very famous Danish guitar player from back in the days. They are both of great value on the marked today.

  2. Rockbeare says:

    Thanks for your post, Dennis. My Hofner is more an a sentimental/heirloom ‘keeper’ for me – it’s not that easy to play and has limited if also very distinctive sounds. It’s in fabulous shape, easily and by ar the best example of its kind I’ve ever seen, though a friend has a Golden which is equally astonishing and much fancier. Enjoy yours and best wishes!

  3. peacefrog35 says:

    Wow, what a beautiful bass. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting one of the new 500/5 bass guitars. They have the looks and the performance and are a great buy,but yours has that vintage quality that only time can give any instrument. Yours is amazing and as you likely know, quite valuable. I’m glad you are choosing to keep it. Thank you for sharing the great pics!

  4. Jeff says:

    I’m restoring a 59 Hofner can you send me close ups of yours for reference

  5. Rockbeare says:

    With pleasure, once you’ve established your bona fides.

    Please send me fresh pix of yours with today’s newspaper (showing the date), and at the same time let me know the angles / closeups you need for your project.

    Hopefully not too many!

  6. Jan Rudolf Pettersen says:

    I have an 1960 model 500/5 bass, with only one microphone. I need a case for my bass, and woud like to get advoce were to get a suitable case for this model.

  7. Rockbeare says:

    Hi, Jan and thanks for your post. I would imagine that it is almost impossible to find an original case and if one did emerge it would either be very worn or very expensive! So the best way is probably to scour the web for likely modern replacements and then contact the makers with the exact dimensions of your Hofner to make sure you get a good fit.

  8. Pingback: Shout out to Hofner experts… | Rockbeare Guitars

  9. Carl Jeppesen says:

    Karl Hofner senior started the Co. in 1887. What do you also need to know about Karl Hofner basses from Hamburg then moved to Bubenreuth, West Germany. It was stamped in ink by the end of the neck on the mother of pearl on the reverse side? I had a 1959 Cavern model 500/1 with the gold decal on the beautiful spruce sunburst body when I was sixteen. It was with two micro phonic diamond emblem pic-ups that you could talk through or get feedback! With the two pickups moved closer to each other forward it had a heavier bass tone! It had three multiple switch positons rhythm, treble, bass, and solo with two different positions on each switch creating a total of six different tones. Also two volume knobs separate. The neck was rosewood very warm sounding 30” scale with using Hofner flat wound strings. It had two steel trust rods for neck adjustment. The only problem I knew with the basses was the neck sometimes warped? It came with a small brown leather case with two belt tie around straps. It is a must for a collector and great bass for recording!

  10. Rockbeare says:

    Not for sale, cherished family heirloom.

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