In 2021 short-scale basses are often seen as less desirable, as instruments purely for beginners, but not for ”serious” use.
Back in the Fifties, Sixties and much of the Seventies, a wealth of great music has been recorded by bassists playing short-scale basses. To some degree this was out of pure necessity, as many guitar manufacturers didn’t regard the electric bass guitar as a serious instrument in the early days. Those companies simply used slight redesigns of their guitar models with longer necks and different pickups, in order to have something to sell to the public. Gibson, for example, only released its first long-scale basses – the Thunderbird II and IV models – in 1963, while Gretsch and Guild stuck to their ”modified guitars” well into the 1970s.
Other companies designed their short-scale basses from the ground up:
In 1956 a German luthier called Walter Höfner developed a comfortably light and compact semi-acoustic bass with a violin-shaped body. In keeping with the Höfner Company’s nomenclature this new bass received the rather uninspiring name Höfner 500/1.
This bass might have become a mere footnote in history, had it not been for a young British musician, who ordered a left-handed 500/1, while working in a nightclub in Hamburg (West Germany) with his band. This young bass player was, of course, none other than Paul McCartney, and the Beatles’ global fame from 1963 onwards catapulted the Höfner 500/1 right into the limelight.
The Fender Company, whose founder Leo Fender was the father of the electric bass, introduced its first short-scale bass in 1966. The Fender Mustang was based on their legendary Precision Bass, and was meant as a companion to the company’s Mustang Guitar.
Regardless of their affordable price tags, the models in this review are straight descendants of the Höfner 500/1 and Fender Mustang models.
When the Fender Musicmaster Bass was released in 1971 it was Fender’s most affordable electric bass, making it an ideal choice for beginners, music classes, and – in the late 70s and early 80s – for Punk or New Wave bands. The original Musicmaster Bass used the same body as the Mustang, but sported a redesigned scratchplate and bridge, cheaper machine heads, and a covered guitar (!) pickup.
The Squier Affinity Bronco Bass (current price in Finland around 200 €) has been the brand’s most-affordable bass for many years, until the very recent arrival of the Mini-P Bass, which is a few euros cheaper.
The Indonesian Bronco Bass is clearly based on the Musicmaster Bass from the Seventies:
The Bronco Bass sports the same Mustang-style body, and shares its predecessor’s simple, two-saddle bridge, as well as the 19-fret bolt-on neck. The new scratchplate design, which is clearly Strat/Precision-inspired is much prettier, though.
The satin finished maple neck is a one-piece affair, with the frets directly installed into its curved front, and it offers easy truss rod access next to the top nut. The tuning machines are improved versions of the originals.
Squier’s websites aren’t especially clear on the body material; some places state it is made from agathis, while others mention poplar. Be this as it may, our review sample comes finished in a beautiful Torino Red gloss finish. The bass is also very light in weight.
The single-ply scratchplate holds a powerful ceramic Stratocaster pickup, and the master volume and tone controls.
The quality of workmanship on the reviewed Squier Bronco Bass is simply amazing. I’m old enough to remember affordable instruments from the late Seventies, and this little bass is simply in a completely different league. Everything is clean and crisp. The neck profile is a very comfortable ”C” and the fretwork is very good. The playability of the bass is buttery and there are no annoying mechanical buzzes or rattles. You could basically grab this bass and do a gig.
Due to the very spartan bridge the Bronco’s intonation is never completely spot-on in the higher reaches of the fretboard, but I feel I can live with the small compromises required.
What the Squier Bronco offers is great playability, a healthy acoustic tone, and a surprisingly balanced and full-bodied performance from its single-coil guitar pickup. The Bronco Bass sounds like a ”real” bass played through a quality bass amp.
Höfner’s Violin Basses are currently produced in three model ranges:
The Made-in-Germany range comprises several vintage reissues, reliced basses, and an ecologically-conscious Green Line-version.
Höfner’s mid-price range is called the Contemporary Series (HCT), and it is produced in China. The Contemporary Violin Bass models come equipped with genuine German pickups, but differ slightly in construction by adding a feedback-reducing centre block inside the body.
The most affordable instruments are the Höfner Ignition models (HI). These instruments are also made in China, but offer less painstakingly exact recreations of Höfner’s most famous models.
The Höfner Ignition Violin Bass SE (current price in Finland approx. 350 €) is the newest update of the McCartney-inspired Ignition-version of the Höfner, which adds a few features that have been requested by many fans:
The body’s bass-side shoulder is now adorned with a vintage-style Höfner-decal, while the previous Jazz Bass-style control knobs have been replaced with Höfner’s famous teacup knobs. Additionally, the bass now also comes with a replica of the famous BASSMAN-sticker in the box. During the making of the Beatles’ Get Back/Let It Be film and LP, Paul McCartney had peeled off the sticker from his new Fender Bassman amplifier stack and stuck it to the top of his bass. For some Beatles fans this sticker has since become a legendary piece of memorabilia, which has now been made available to buyers of the Ignition Violin Bass SE.
The Höfner Ignition is a beautifully made instrument that closely follows the most crucial aspects of the German original’s build:
The hollow body of the Violin Bass is made from an arched plywood spruce top and plywood flame maple for the rims and the arched back. The set neck is carved from rock maple, while the rosewood bridge is held in place on top of the body by the downward force of the strings in Jazz-guitar style.
The most obvious difference between German (and HCT) basses and the Ignition is the exact build of the neck. The original features a freestanding, so-called cantilever fingerboard between the neck joint and the neck pickup. The Ignition’s neck continues as a solid block of maple for the whole way, which actually even makes the neck joint a tiny bit stronger. Additionally, while German 500/1s come with (depending on the model) necks made from either two long strips of maple, or a central piece of beech sandwiched between two outer strips of maple, the Ignition’s neck is one-piece maple with a separate piece glued on for the headstock.
For environmental reasons Höfner now uses thermo-treated jatoba wood for the fingerboards on Ignition Violin Basses. The string trapeze is chromed, while the tuning heads are four separate units with pearloid knobs.
The Ignition pickups are actually reissues of rare Japanese Staple pickups, which were used on some ”New Special” models for the Japanese market back in the Eighties. They look similar to the classic Staple pickups on Paul McCartney’s 500/1, but are slightly wider, and – what’s more important – easier to adjust for height than the German originals.
Many players who are new to Höfner-basses have trouble with Walter Höfner’s classic ”Aggregat” control console that also comes installed on the Ignition Violin Bass SE. I hope the above picture will do its bit to clear up which component does what.
It looks like a Höfner, it’s built like a Höfner, and – surprise, surprise – the Ignition Violin Bass SE sounds like the genuine Höfner it is! This is a quality instrument, and very compact and light to wear on a strap. The set-up and playability of our review sample was spot on, making the Ignition SE a fast and comfortable player. The neck’s depth may be a bit chunkier than on many modern basses, but the relatively narrow U-profile means that a Höfner neck sits very nicely in the palm of your hand.
It is true that the Höfner 500/1 (aka Violin Bass aka Beatle Bass) will forever be associated with Paul McCartney and the Beatles, but that shouldn’t lead to the instrument being pidgeonholed as a ”Sixties music” bass. I know what I’m talking about, as I have been a very satisfied 500/1-owner since 1990, and I regularly use the Violin Bass in many different contexts. As long as you don’t need to play slap bass or high-gain Metal, a Höfner will handle anything you throw at it.