Hollow Body Basses Are Back

500/1 Violin Bass

Read Time 3 Minutes

An Old Sound Returns for a New Audience

In the early 60s, the electric bass was just catching on and Fender all but owned the new solid-body market. Then came the British invasion—and with it, a wave of Hofner, Epiphone, Framus and other short-scale, hollow-body four-strings aimed as much toward guitarists as bassists. Even though the hollow fad was relatively short-lived and solid basses quickly regained prominence, the vibey, unmistakable hollow-body tone is making a comeback and gaining new fans. Check out these new versions of “old favorites.”

Prices are not manufacturer’s list, but are typical online and store prices.

Hofner

500/1 Violin BassWhen the Beatles burst onto the scene, Paul McCartney’s violin-shaped Hofner turned heads—and ears—and quickly became the sound everybody wanted. And nothing makes that sound like the original German-made, 500/1 Violin Bass or single-cutaway 500/2 Club Bass (which explains why Sir Paul still tours with his 500/1).

New or used, one of these short-scale, virtually weightless beauties will set you back close to $3,000. However, Hofner has recently come out with two Asian-made lines, the Contemporary (CT) series (around $900) and the Ignition series (also sold as the “Icon,” around $500), that offer almost the same look, sound and weight of the originals. Feedback on the CT has been generally positive; the Ignition’s cheaper hardware and electronics haven’t earned great reviews.

Gretsch

Besides being played by The Monkees, early Gretsch basses barely made a splash. But their new models are definitely worth a look, starting with the Electromatic 5442 ($900). Two FilterTron pickups, 30¼” scale and very comfortable neck deliver both classic 60s “whump” and contemporary presence. It’s easy to play with either fingers or a pick (a must for the 60s sound) and comes in cherry or black. The single-cutaway Broadkaster 6119B, ($1,749) and Electrotone 6073 ($2,049) deliver similar tone and short scale length with upgraded features.

If you prefer a 34” scale, the Electromatic 5440 ($900) and over-the-top White Falcon bass (around $3,300) offer more string length, sustain and growl—but at the loss of some of the traditional hollow-body sound. Unless you can’t live without the long scale, the 5442 delivers the best bang (and vintage tone).

Gibson/Epiphone

Gibson EB-2 BassThe 335-style Epiphone Rivoli and Gibson EB-2 were popular with many British bands (and Americans going for the British sound). Now, Gibson has introduced an updated version as the new Midtown bass ($1,299) with a chambered mahogany body and maple top, 34” scale and two humbuckers. It’s a tough choice between cherry, sunburst or black. A few Pelham blue Midtowns are still available, but according to Gibson, the color has been discontinued.

Two Epiphone models, the Allan Woody Rumblekat ($399) and Beatles inspired Viola ($299), come with a 30¼” scale, two mini-humbucking pickups and Hofner-style control panel. Both play easily (especially with a pick) and deliver the fat low end and shorter sustain you expect from a hollow instrument.

Epiphone’s Jack Cassidy model ($699) is a slightly different animal. In production since 1998, this goldtop (also available in black) features one low-impedance pickup and a three-position Varitone switch for an interesting, though somewhat limited, tone range. The string spacing and flat radius on the long-scale neck give it a different feel from either typical Fender-style basses or from its short-scale Epi cousins.

Other Brands

There are a few other brands out there, including two Ibanez Artcore models ($499), the Lakland Skyline ($1,499), and the versatile Godin A4 Ultra ($1,150), which features a Lace Sensor pickup, piezo transducers and a 13-pin jack to utilize the Roland G3 synth. Also, don’t turn your nose up at a vintage Harmony, Kay, Silvertone or Danelectro, if you can find one. And be sure to try out something with flatwound strings, since to many, flatwounds define the hollow-body sound.

Whether you want to expand your sonic palette or put a new stamp on your band’s sound and look, a hollow-body bass will make a cool addition to your rig. Who knows … it might even take you back in time.

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Ronnie Brooks

Ronnie Brooks can be found lurking around Nashville, TN, where he writes magazine articles, Web content, songs, ad copy, jingles (little songs), and the occasional thank-you note. His songs have been recorded by Kid Rock, Joe Perry and Molly Hatchet; he’s played bass for Chuck Berry, produced Dolly Parton, performed on several Super Bowl ads, and seen the Beatles play live.

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Scott Tanner
5 years ago

The Mosrite Celebrity is a fantastic hollow body bass. Hard to find, but certainly worth mentioning as one of the best.

Doug
Doug
8 years ago

Nice article, Ronnie. I used to have a Hofner, hollow body, double cutaway, 4 string, in red sunburst. I don’t remember the name of it but it was sweet!

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