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Maude

NBD Hofner 185 (resto thread)

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Hi all, 

Whilst browsing eBay I came across a bass I recognised but had been toyed with at some point in the past. The neck markers are what grabbed me. 

lILerm3.jpg

A closer look and the body, bridge, tailpiece and neck looked to be original, with the tuners and scratchplate, pickup and electrics being 'modified'. 

The seller had it listed as a 'Jamie' bass and wanted £280 including the Hiscox case. 

Now all original ones seem to go for around the £600-£700 mark, this'll never be worth good money due to the missing parts, and vintage replacements are rare and expensive. I had to decide, do I take a chance unseen? 

Then I saw this picture of one with a replacement scratchplate and headstock plate, from what I can tell they had a plate covering the headstock, as well as the quirky textured vinyl covered body, anyway my mind was made. I could do a sympathetic restoration with similar, but not necessarily genuine, parts. 

This is the picture that swung it, 

a1SoVig.jpg

I offered £200 and he agreed. 🙂

This thread will be a bit of a project journal (and detective work) as it's not enough to go in the builds section I feel. 

Next post : Bass arrival and stripping. 

 

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The bass arrived safely, I booked through Eurosender using the forum discount code, £12.50 from North Yorkshire to Cornwall using DPD and it took two days, you can grumble at that. 

First inspection, Hiscox case in good condition, that has to be a third of the price taken care of. It's got Schaller tuners which once removed felt very light indeed. I'd like the standard ones which are square pearloid ones but the only ones I can find are two for £35 each and a further one for £45 on ebay.

Mytsmx3.jpg

The neck is original and also very light and in good condition really but could do with a refret, I should add I played it before stripping and it played really nicely and sounded good. I really like the fret markers which are cream/brown/cream pearl. The brown part is possibly a clear resin that has yellowed with age as I think you can see the rosewood grain below it. 

82Y9lB0.jpg

The bridge and tailpiece are original and will polish up hopefully. The bridge appears to have a brass top and the tailpiece is possibly aluminium. I'll know more when I work on it. 

GubhtKC.jpg

anFU63g.jpg

I had no idea what the pickup was going be other than a Musicman style hunbucker, turns out it's a Kent Armstrong HBMN-1 and sounds nice, but ultimately completely wrong for what I want so will either go in my parts drawer or get sold.

JiR8pw6.jpg

9mToM7d.jpg

The electrics? Who knows? But they're going as it should have two volumes and two tones, and possibly a pair of pickup on/off switches depending on model. The scratchplate is homemade and will be going as well, as obviously it won't fit the pickups I'll be fitting. 

Now onto the body. This was going to be the interesting part as it would hopefully tell me what model, and age, the bass was. 

There's some history on the Hofner 182/185 here if anyone's interested. http://www.vintagehofner.co.uk/hofner2/artb.html

Off came the scratchplate and up went the confusion level. Apart from the MM route I was expec a neck pickup route as the 185 had a neck and bridge pickup at both extremes of the body, but it had a central pickup route that had been filled. Also the neck pocket had been shortened with a little infill. 

The outline of the body looks to be identical to all the pictures of 185's (not the very early ones that were pre offset and had the classic Hofner control plate) and is relatively thin, as I believe the Hofners were, but the pickup and neck route don't make sense. 🤔

K52L7KZ.jpg

If it is a different body I don't mind as it's nice and light and the neck fits perfectly. I also checked the scale length was correct as if the pocket had been filled and the bridge fitted to a different body then I might have problems later on, but no, it's bang on 30". Oh yeah, did I mention it was short scale. It strangely doesn't feel or look it though. 

I'll see what appears when I start sanding the body and headstock. 

 

 

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What a lovely project and thread. Following with interest. Looking forward to more historical enlightenment. 

Thank you  @Maude

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I've just noticed that the tuners have 'Made on W. Germany' stamped on them, meaning that although they are replacements they must be over thirty years old themselves. 

Also, although a fair bit has been changed on this bass, it appears to have been done quite well and used extensively in its current form. I wish basses like this could tell their story. 

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The fret markers on those 185s were almost invariably made of celluloid. Be careful if you need to apply heat near them!

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1 minute ago, Happy Jack said:

The fret markers on those 185s were almost invariably made of celluloid. Be careful if you need to apply heat near them!

Thanks for the tip. They're one of my favourite bits, once the neck is all cleaned up it'll be lovely. 

I can't quite work out what the brown stripe is, research say its tortoise shell (colour) but in May photo it looks like the grain of the rosewood is showing through, meaning they're are/were clear. Unless it's just a coincidence that the light and dark tones of the rosewood line up quite well with the tort patterning. I'll look at the others tomorrow. 

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Good score and great project Maude; I once saw the guitar version of this which had the body totally covered in textured faux snakeskin!

It seems to be a feature of German basses and guitars of this era that the strings run almost parallel from nut to bridge, such that there is very little taper on the neck.   I had a Framus Grand Star jazz guitar just the same.  Or maybe it was a European thing?

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Yes @Shaggy, most of these would've had a vinyl 'snakeskin' body, and yes, very tight string width, I think about 14mm at the bridge and like you say, practically parallel along the length. 

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Looking forward to seeing this process.  Still absolutely love the Kay you did (still want first dibs should you sell, too!)

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32 minutes ago, Pea Turgh said:

Looking forward to seeing this process.  Still absolutely love the Kay you did (still want first dibs should you sell, too!)

Funny you should mention the Kay, (not selling yet 😁) as a lot of these had a vinyl covering and some were two tone, ie white front and black back which met in the middle like my Kay, I didn't know this when I did the Kay. 

Anyway, much as I like the above white/red one as inspiration, I've seen some really nice copper pearl scratchplate material which would pick out the brown in the fret markers, against a very creamy body. Then I thought the original copper brown I used on the Kay on the back would look good, like the Kay but reversed. Even a row of four of the knobs I used on the Kay because, as cheap as they are, I love them and they're a similar style to the Hofner ones. 

I've also got a couple of other ideas inspired by a Kay (American brand) acoustic that I nearly bought with an almost animal print scratchplate. 

Time will tell. 🙂

 

This shows the white and black vinyl. 

 

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The body is a bit of a mystery. Here's a pic of my old 185 for ref. Is it possible that the neck cavity and other channels have just been filled and overfinished so well as to be invisible?! 

IMG_4477.jpg.be1503229931c72d9228ee5e3541ee93.jpg

IMG_4481.jpg.1664ba6be7fc5b9483d542a1a0bbf98f.jpg

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Thanks @ikay, that's great. Was yours a twin pickup with one by the bridge? I'm just trying to get my head around the cavities and screw holes.

The control cavity looks to be the same although appears to have been widened slightly. I think mine is a genuine body, hopefully more clues will appear when I get the paint off. 

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Yes, the bridge pup is surface mounted on the pickguard. The neck pup is fitted from below and has more adjustment. Here are a couple more pics. I have a spare tuner from a 60s 185 and a neck pickup mounting plate. If they're of any interest for your restoration drop me a pm. Ian

IMG_0141.thumb.JPG.7cdcaecad2d647b7bf118f29b0595f98.JPG

209903439_BCMaut1859.jpg.1370fbbb5d6d96953f04e13faa6e4599.jpg

BC Maut 185 2.jpg

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Thanks for those pictures @ikay, they'll help me determine what's what.

I don't know what I'm going doing yet regarding replacement parts. Part of me would like to source genuine original parts and put it back to original, but it will still have had a refinish then and lots going on under the scratchplate that will mean it's not worth much. I'm not doing it to sell and make money but it's nice to know you'd get back what you've spent if I had to sell one day. The other part of me says refinish it, fit suitable, retro styled but new pickups, funky colour scratchplate and headstock facing so it's a cool, useable bass. 

The price, and rarity, of original parts makes restoring to original a bit of a non starter, I'd have to spend far more than it would be worth, and it might be worse to use. For example, it looks like it'll cost me £200 for set of original tuners and they'll more than likely be worse than the Schallers it's got at the moment. Although I did look on ebay and people are asking silly money for a set of these vintage Schaller M4 tuners. Likewise a pair of the Retrovibe HiGains (width dependant) would probably sound better than the original humbuckers, and the wiring is apparently quite odd in the way the controls interact with each other. 

I'm leaning towards keep what's good and a pair of pickups, loom and scratchplate material would only set me back about £100ish, refinish won't cost anything. Whereas to properly restore would cost roughly £500 give or take for the parts. 

But I feel bad 'ruining' what I think is a cool vintage bass. 

Sorry I'm rambling now. 

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You didn’t ruin it, the last person did!  I think making it a player is the most fitting tribute to any instrument.  Think of it like a castle - very few of them are 100% original!

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I wonder if the whole bridge/tailpiece/neck have been moved forward for some reason? The photos of the original examples do appear to have the tailpiece closer to the end of the body. Is there any evidence of extra screw holes under the finish?

Regarding the tuners, do the buttons come off? If so you could make/get some more visually suitable replacements for them.

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@BigRedX, that's an interesting thought regarding the neck pocket infill. I had noticed that the tailpiece looks slightly further forwards in some pictures I've compared to, and your theory would make sense. 

Also the tuner button idea is food for thought too as they do indeed have a slothead fixing on top so the button must be removable. I'll look into it when I've got a chance. 

Thanks 🙂👍

 

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Hofner still make the exact pickups used in this era. They're about a ton each. They're the same as used in the German Violin basses.

The Chinese- made pickups that look similar, used in the lower range models aren't quite the same size.

I bought an almost complete one to give to my best mate. Similar to one he had when he was 15-17

It was missing pickups, surround and the bottom of the bridge . 

I didn't want to spend much more so i bought Chinese pickups, and made them fit into a proper Hofner surround at the bridge. Wiring was all intact.

The bridge base was made up in aluminium by a chap at work on the cnc, from dimensions I got off an original

Was all rather nice once set up.

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On 22/11/2020 at 22:22, Maude said:

Thanks @ikay, that's great. Was yours a twin pickup with one by the bridge? I'm just trying to get my head around the cavities and screw holes.

The control cavity looks to be the same although appears to have been widened slightly. I think mine is a genuine body, hopefully more clues will appear when I get the paint off. 

One thing to bear in mind when you get the paint off is the front and back will have a layer of veneer, so don't expect anything attractive, cos it isn't!

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42 minutes ago, MoonBassAlpha said:

One thing to bear in mind when you get the paint off is the front and back will have a layer of veneer, so don't expect anything attractive, cos it isn't!

It'll only be an investigative rub, so to speak. 

I'll definitely be refinishing it as I'm not a fan of natural wood basses. I'll just get the blue/purple off as I don't know what paint that is and see what's underneath paintwise. Hopefully it'll still have the original paint, or more importantly, the sealer/primer so I won't need to go back to bare wood. So many people seem so insistent on stripping all the finish off when refinishing and then have the issues of painting bare wood, unnecessary work stripping which then needs more work painting. 

Thanks for the advice on pickups, but I'm not sure I want to spend £200 on them yet. I'll see what's available. Mounting dimensions and method for whatever I get is largely irrelevant as I'll be making a new scratchplate, just string width to worry about. 

I've got a Hofner Club so not massively worried about get that Hofner shortscale sound as I've already got it. 

I'll probably gather some parts, get the body painted and do it as a little over Christmas project. 

🙂

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