Review: Squier Affinity Bronco Bass & Höfner Ignition Violin Bass SE

This is a slightly shorter version of an article in Finnish published at Rockway.fi.

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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.

Paul McCartney still uses his iconic Höfner bass.
Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads; Tom Tom Club) is regularly seen with her Höfner 500/1, as well as with Höfner 500/2 Club Basses (as in this picture).

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.

Most classic Status Quo hits were recorded by Alan Lancaster playing his Mustang Bass.
The Rolling Stones’ original bass player Bill Wyman used his Mustang Bass on stage between 1968 and 1971.

Regardless of their affordable price tags, the models in this review are straight descendants of the Höfner 500/1 and Fender Mustang models.

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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.

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A German Höfner 500/1 ”Mersey”.

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.

* Click/tap the picture for a larger view *

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.

Uusi kirja: The Complete Höfner Violin Bass Story

Höfner Book 1

Hiljattain on ilmestynyt ensimmäinen vakavasti otettava kirja Höfnerin viulubassosta.

The Complete Violin Bass Story on Höfner-asiantuntijoiden – Steve Russellin ja Nick Wassin – huolellinen ja kattava historiikki Höfnerin klassikkobassosta.

Höfner Book 2

320-sivuiseen kirjaan on hyvin kirjoitetun tekstin lisäksi mahdutettu suuri määrä bassokuvia – skaala ulottuu tunnetuista varhaisen 1960-luvun viulubassoista…

Höfner Book 3

…ja 70-luvun malleista…

Höfner 4

…nykypäivän reissue-mallistoon.

Kirjassa on mukana myös Tommi Posan ottamia kuvia minun omasta 90-luvun Höfneristäni!

Classic Basses, part 6: Höfner 500/1

The Höfner 500/1 is a German electric bass guitar, which has been in production since 1956.

It is quite likely that this hollow-body, short-scale model (76,2 cm = 30″) would have been destined to become a mere footnote in bass history, if not for one small incident in 1961. A young, newly ”elected” bass player from Liverpool – named Paul McCartney – was browsing the local instrument stores in Hamburg (Germany), for a mid-priced electric bass, preferably left-handed. He found the Höfner 500/1 – and the rest, as they say, is history…

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During the first years of production many of the  500/1’s specifications were changed on nearly a yearly basis.

The first production models came equipped with two long and narrow singlecoil pickups, which were placed in the neck and middle positions. An oval control plate sported two volume and two tone controls.

50058_front_01

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In 1959 Höfner changed the control layout: a long rectangular plate offered two separate volume controls, as well as three two-position sliders for turning each pickup on or off and choosing between solo (full power) and rhythm mode (slightly dampened). This switching (Aggregat E2 B) also gives you a fat, treble-deprived signal, whenever the middle (later bridge) pickup is turned off using the slider switch – Reggae-bass galore.

h5001-59_01

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The singlecoils were switched to humbucking pickups in 1960. The metal covers on these units are stamped with a diamond and the Höfner-logo. This model is the bass that Paul McCartney bought in Hamburg (it had to be ordered left-handed):

5001-61-14-br-to-01g

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In 1962 the second pickup was moved close to the bridge. Shortly hereafter it the 500/1’s humbuckers were switched to the so-called staple-top-pickups, which, despite their look, are singlecoils. The pickups got their nickname, because the bridge-facing polepieces look somewhat like staples. In 1963 Paul McCartney received/bought (the available info is not quite clear on this) this type of Höfner 500/1 – which he continues to use to this day!

h500-1-62_01

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From 1967 onwards Höfner’s new blade-pickups were installed on the 500/1.

The Höfner 500/1 stayed more or less this way until the latter part of the Nineties, before the Beatles Anthology -series kicked off a renaissance.

My own 500/1 -bass is a January 1990 -model. Then, demand for Beatle-basses was so low, that Höfner only built them on order, and for a very advantageous price.

Hofner full

My Höfner sports a maple neck, which is one-piece save for the neck heel. The tuners are sealed Gotoh guitar models.

Hofner headstock

Hofner tuners

The top of the hollow body is spruce plywood, while the sides and back have been crafted from anigré-plywood (lat. aningeria spp.).

Hofner body

Hofner back

The Höfner’s sound is big, fat, huge and warm, but still has ample zing and growl with roundwound strings.

I’m mainly a fingerstyle player, but tend to use a plectrum whenever I play the 500/1, because its strings sit rather high above the body and are quite close to each other.

Hofner side

For some strange reason my Beatle-bass sounds fantastic plugged directly into a mixing console or soundcard, even without using a DI-box!

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These days Höfner produces the excellent mid-price Contemporary-version (made in China) alongside its more pricier German reissues:

hct-500_1-sb_01

The main difference is that the Contemporary 500/1 is semi-solid, with a maple centre block running the length of its body. This adds some sustain, as well as making the bass less susceptible to feedback than an original.

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The Höfner 500/1 -sound is probably known to all of us – listen to virtually any Beatles-record pre-1966. Later examples include the Beatles-tracks Get Back and Come Together, as well as McCartney’s solo-single My Brave Face.

You can also check out my Höfner here and here.

…and rounding it all off, here’s a snipped I copied from one of my ProTools-sessions:

Höfner 500/1 sound

Klassikkobassot, osa 6: Höfner 500/1

Saksalainen Höfner 500/1 ilmestyi vuonna 1956.

Hyvin suurella todennäköisyydellä tämä onttokoppainen, lyhyellä mesuurilla (76,2 cm = 30″) varustettu basso olisi muuten jäänyt historian alaviiteeksi, mutta onneksi nuori brittiläinen muusikko Paul McCartney löysi vuonna 1961 Hampurilaisessa musiikkiliikkeessä juuri sellaisen Höfner 500/1 -basson. Höfner-basso oli kevyt, edullinen sekä tilattavissa vasenkätisenä – siis juuri sellainen soitin, jota McCartney etsi.

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Tuotannon ensimmäisissä vuosissa 500/1-mallin speksit muuttuivat nopeaan tahtiin.

Ihan alussa bassolla oli kaksi kapeaa yksikelaista mikrofonia, jotka asennettiin lähellä toisiaan. Yksi oli heti otelaudan vierellä ja toinen keskiasennossa. Basson neljä säädintä – oma volume ja tone kummallekin mikrofonille – oli asennettu soikeaan muovilevyyn.

50058_front_01

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Vuonna 1959 Höfner muutti elektroniikan speksejä: suorakulmaisessa muovilevyssä oli nyt tarjolla kaksi volume-säädintä. Kolmella liukukytkimillä laitetaan mikrofonit yksitellen päälle/pois, sekä valita täyden tehon soolo-moodin ja hieman vaimennetun rytmi-moodin välillä. Tähän kytkentään on lisätty myös Höfnerin erikoinen tapa poistaa signaalista kaikki diskantit, aina kun laitetaan keskimikrofonin (myöhemmin tallamikin) pois päältä liukukytkimellä – reggae-basistin unelma.

h5001-59_01

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Vuonna 1960 päivitettiin 500/1:n mikrofonit humbuckereihin. Mikrofonien metallikuoreen oli painettu vinoneliö sekä Höfner-logo, minkä takia niitä kutsutaan englanniksi Diamond-pickupiksi. Juuri tällaisen basson Paul McCartney tilasi Hampurissa:

5001-61-14-br-to-01g

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Vuonna 1962 toinen mikrofonista siirrettiin lähempää tallaa. Mikkien rakenne muutettiin jälleen (nämä mikrofonit ovat ulkonäköönsä huolimatta yksikelaisia): tallanpuoleisellä kelalla oli nyt näkyvät suorakulmeiset napapalat, jotka pilkistivät metallikuoreen läpi. Kaulanpuoleisellä kelalla taas oli säädettävät naparuuvit. Koska kiinteät napapalat muistuttavat ulkonäöltään nitomanastoja näitä mikrofoneja kutsutaan englanniksi staple-top-pickupiksi. Vuonna 1963 Paul McCartney sai tämän version lahjaksi silloiselta brittiläiseltä maahantuojilta Selmer – ja hän käyttä tätä yksilöä yhä!

h500-1-62_01

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Vuonna 1967 mikrofonit muutettiin sellaiseksi, että yksikelaisten keskellä on pitkä, terämäinen magneetti ja sen yläpuolella on ohuita naparuuveja.

Höfner 500/1 pysyi tällaisena 1990-luvun loppupuoleen saakka, ennen kuin Beatles Anthology -sarjan myötä kiinnostus 500/1-mallia kohti kasvoi jälleen.

Oma Höfner 500/1 -bassoni on valmistettu tammikuussa 1990. Silloin Beatle-basson kysyntä oli niin alhainen, että 500/1-tehtiin ainoastaan tilauksesta, ja hinta oli yllättävän alhainen.

Hofner full

Minun Höfnerissä kaula on veistetty vaahterasta – pitkän yhtenäiseen osaan on liimattu erillinen pala kaulakorkoa varten. Virittimet ovat Gotohin koteloidut kitaravirittimet.

Hofner headstock

Hofner tuners

Runko on tutun tapaan täysin ontto. Kansi on kuusivanerista, kun taas sivut ja pohja tehtiin silloin anigré-vanerista (lat. aningeria spp.).

Hofner body

Hofner back

Höfner 500/1:n soundi on iso, lämmin ja pyöreää, mutta bassolta saa myös mukavasti murahdusta mukaan, etenkin roundwound-kielillä.

Vaikka soitan pääsääntöisesti sormityylillä, käytän Höfnerillä aina plektran, koska kielet istuvat melko korkealla kannen yllä ja myös hyvin lähellä toisiaan.

Hofner side

Jostain kumman syystä aidot Beatle-bassot voidaan usein syöttää suoraan mikseriin (tai ulkoiseen äänikortiin) ilman DI-boksia – suora soundi on ja pysyy mehukkaana!

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Vanhojen mallien uusintapainoksien lisäksi Höfner teettää nykyään myös laadukkaan kiinalaisen Contemporary-sarjan:

hct-500_1-sb_01

Pääero Contemporary-sarjan Beatle-bassossa on, että edullisen mallin runko on puoliakustinen – rungon sisällä on vaahterasta veistetty keskipalkki, minkä ansiosta sustain on hieman pidempi.

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Höfner 500/1 -mallin soundi on laajasti tuttu kaikista Beatles-levyistä ennen 1966. Hyvät esimerkit ovat myös Beatles-biisit Get Back ja Come Together, sekä McCartneyn soolosinkku My Brave Face.

Soitan oman Höfnerin esimerkiksi tässä ja tässä.

…ja tämän lisäksi vielä lyhyt ote yhden biisin bassoraidasta: Höfner 500/1 sound

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