Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hofner Ignition Series Vintage Violin Bass Review


Most every bass player on the planet over the age of 40 can picture Paul McCartney playing his Hofner bass as he stood up in front of The Beatles. I have never had the desire to own one of these instruments, though I have often wondered how well they play. After trying out their super bargain basement version Ignition Series Vintage Violin bass I still have to wonder, as there is no way he played something this crummy if he had any other choice.

These unique basses go back 60 years, when they were designed by Walter Höfner in 1955. The 500/1 Violin Bass is the one that McCartney plays, and they are still being made in Germany, with price tags that approach $5000 ($3500 street), and they must be at least pretty good for that kind of money. Now, the Ignition Series instruments like the one I am reviewing are made in China, and judging by this example they are miserable chunks of crap.

If you take a casual glance at this violin bass, it has the same shape and style as the original. It has a spruce top and flamed maple sides and back. It is available in sunburst or black, though why would you ever get a black one? McCartney didn’t play a black one. There is simple white binding on the semi-hollow body and a “mother of toilet seat” pickguard to give it a classier look.

The set neck is made of maple and beech with a rosewood fretboard. This 30-inch scale neck has 22 frets and little dot markers set into it. The neck is not bound and the nut is 42mm wide, and it has a relatively thin profile so those with smaller hands might be happy.

On to the hardware and electronics. Tuners are open-geared nickel-plated Waverly copies and the bridge is rosewood with what looks like little chunks of frets set into it. There are two humbucking pickups that are wired through a volume and a tone knob. There are also three switches: bridge pickup ON/OFF, neck pickup ON/OFF, and a rhythm/solo switch.

This all sounds pretty good, but when I looked at how this thing is put together and how it sounds things go south in a hurry.

The finish on the body is poor, with fisheyes and dirt in the paint. The binding is sloppily applied, with finish running over the edges of it, and a portion of it looks like it is already coming loose. Everything about the neck is terrible. The frets are not level, and the edges have such a large ramp on them that the E and G strings easily come off the edges of the fretboard when digging in a bit. The headstock end of the fretboard looks like it was cut with a chainsaw and you can see the chipped end in the gap between the fretboard and the very crudely cut nut. On to the electronics! This thing sounds terrible. The pickups have almost no output, and the tone knob seems to do nothing at all.

It plays terribly too. Because the nut is cut so high the action is incredibly high on the first few frets, and the intonation is especially bad on these. Intonation is universally bad on the rest of the frets, and there is virtually no way to get this thing so that most of the notes on each string are in tune.

Pretty much the Hofner Ignition Series Vintage Violin bass is a toy, as it feels and plays like something you would get with your Guitar Hero video game. If you have to get something that looks like this and use it for more than a wall decoration, Rogue makes something similar that is acceptable. Or you can pay a few thousand bucks and get a German-made one…

Should you go against my recommendations, at least you will not be paying a ton of money. The Hofner Ignition Series Vintage Violin bass has a street price of $349 (List $499), and no case is included. Do not say I did not warn you, though.


1 comment:

  1. Yeah, not the best choice. Sorry to hear that these are so poor.
    The current German made ones are of pretty stellar workmanship compared to the late 1960s/1970s models. The guitars were always pretty nice.