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So, I love guitar history and have studied a lot of it. Its absolutely fascinating. I'm no expert by a long shot, but I can find my way in through the in door and out through the out door OK enough most days. You have to broaden your mind and open your focus range to really 'see' the whole puzzle, so a singular puzzle piece you may be looking at has proper context. You can see where it fits, how it fits, and why. Then everything begins to make sense, then the history of a guitar as a product of its maker has some context to it, and context is King.

Looking at a single puzzle piece without looking at the whole picture of the puzzle is misleading and lead to many false assumptions, where the subject adds color and flavor to suit his/her own emotional wants or needs. In other words, they have an emotional attachment to the thing and very few facts, so their view becomes very skewed and inaccurate  based on what they 'prefer' to see. This can lead to grabbing at any shard of information the web provides you as 'truth', to support whatever you want to be true, when everyone knows the web is brimming full of inaccuracies. When you add in all the surrounding metadata, the facts begin to appear and the real story springs to life.

Most people will look at a guitar and no further than that, and that is an extremely narrow focus which doesn't yield much info and a lot of guessing with very little (to sometimes none) context to back up the guesswork. Basically, that is shooting completely blind.

I will go further, and state that even the owners of many of these vintage guitars and websites have no clue about guitar building, they've never built a guitar themselves, they're more likely nostalgia buffs than real guitar construction buffs.

You have to look at the time in history they were produced, what was going on in the world at that time, and what the local business competitors were doing. Anyone who is in business knows the nearest competition will always color your marketing strategies, with very, very few exceptions. If you don't consider your nearby competition, you will very soon have no business, no products, and no history, and no home, more than likely, because you no longer have a business.

That gives you a rich, colorful context which can lead to reasonable and intelligent conclusions. You may still be wrong since you are 'coming to conclusions', but your chances of being right go up astronomically when you add in the historical, business, and social context of the times for that puzzle piece. The 'surrounding metadata' call it. And that is why studying guitar history is so much fun, it adds all the color, all the metadata, all the context, to form a colorful story and fill in the other puzzle pieces. So you get to see your puzzle piece  in context of the entire puzzle. That is a hella lot of fun.

When discussing guitar nomenclature online over the decades, I find 70% of posters have no clue whatsoever how to look at a guitar as nothing more than a product of a business model to make profit, pay employees, and raise a family. In the Big Picture, its just a 'thing', no more than that. They look at a guitar in strict isolation of all the metadata surrounding the guitar. Usually they have it pedestalized on some sort of golden stand in their own mind, and sometimes actually want to avoid facts as facts will destroy the golden pedestal they have themselves built and worshipped at.

You look at the surrounding circumstances, the 'available surrounding metadata', the economy, the business models employed by these companies to make a profit and pay their employees so they keep returning to work another day (for you). Then you begin to have some context for that single puzzle piece. Without that, barring having the thing in-hand, you have very little to go on sometimes.

So, having said all that, to come to a reasonable conclusion about the Hopf Saturn, minus anyone ripping one apart, you look at the surrounding metadata and stop reading web inaccuracies spouted by people who may very well be ignorant of guitar history or guitar construction basics or how a business runs and makes a profit to stay in business to even have a history to discuss.

I will lay out some Basic Guitarbuilding Facts:

In every picture I've seen of a Saturn, there is no hint of bracing, none.  Laminated, veneered, pressed plywood tops and backs don't need bracing. The criss-cross of the plywood is where it gains its strength, and holds its shape, and is ridiculously economical (means lower price, means profitable). You make no profit, you have no history, because you have no business anymore.

No quality builder that I'm aware of would cut a big gaping hole for electronics in a real carved (=arched, =braced) Spruce top. It would run completely against the time and labor it takes to build the archtop in the first place. It would defeat the entire purpose of building a sonically resonant arched top in the first place, ask any archtop builder. In a business model, that is going backwards, and in a hurry. In a mass-production, profit-driven environment, it is a waste of time and labor. No company that wants to stay in business would ever do such a thing.

No quality builder that I'm aware of would put a stress-inducing (and eventually destroying) tremolo with its downward-pressure bridge system on a top that couldn't support it.

Laminated, veneered, pressed plywood tops are built to do exactly that, and economically too. It takes very little time and labor to produce a lammy top when you have the equipment. And at the time, EVERYONE had the equipment. America, Europe, Japan, they all did it, because it was fast, easy, and profitable.

If you find a real arched and carved and braced top, you will also find an appropriate pricetag to go along with it, because the time and labor to produce it is ten times the amount of labor it takes to produce a pressed lammy top. So ten times the price, that is basic economics at work.

So, I recommend stop pedestalizing guitars on golden pedestals and start looking at business models and what creates profit and what doesn't, that's where you find your answers, that's how the puzzle begins to come together to make a real story, and the real story is usually so much more colorful that an imagined one.

Thoughts and opinions always welcome.

 

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Solid comments about profitable building, no arguing about those.

For clarification, when I talk about a carved top in this very model, I don't mean an acoustically carved top like on arch top jazz guitars. I'm talking about a thick slab of wood that has been hollowed in the inside and carved on the outside. Making a hollowed body is common practice, so why can't you just make a similar top? I've done that on one of my builds. It was a through-neck but it could even more easily have been a set neck or bolt-on. 1789781977_Kuva2411(2).jpg.6906a22a74864

Someone here experimented recently with a sunk-in top where the body was larger than the top. Couldn't they have made something similar in the 1960's, hiding the seam under the chrome band? Just guessing here, however that would be easy to do without a laminating press.

The natural Saturn posted earlier has a 3 piece top which might be a bit difficult to laminate - or then not, I'm no expert. Anyhow, it's easy to find three suitable pieces of 5" planks in a pile of construction wood compared to dedicated single or two piece guitar tops.  On the video it shows that there's a silvery band surrounding the body, another place where you could hide a seam.

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I liked your comment about Spruce being easily attainable in Europe, true fact dat. Just as Gibson used to source its Eastern hardrock Maple from Virginia when they were located in Tennessee, same basic business principle at work. So yes, those types of facts are very important to commerce decisions and do indeed come into play.

As well, I worked in several fabrication shops in my 20's, metal and plastics. In the case of plastics, one side of the shop was mass-production (with vacuum heat presses, just like lammy tops more or less) The other side of the shop was purely artistic creations, staffed with technical artisans, that created one-offs and went for soaring prices. Same company, two completely different applications for what is basically the same basic material, plastic, Just as with some guitar companies, like Fender's regular production and their Custom Shop. Gibson has much the same thing over the years, everyone had real luthiers on staff, but the prices for their services were always separated by a wide margin from the mass-produced stuff. So you can tell a lot simply by the price, its that simple when you can tie price to high-quality skilled labor, which it generally usually is.

Hopf, I'm pretty sure, had the same thing, mass production alongside real luthiers making real archtops. Their history started out with real luthiers making real authentic guitars. But they added on a mass-production component, and many of these companies 'jobbed out' the lower lines and just stuck their name on it. Same company, two very different products, with two very different price tags. Anything experimental would have a similar price tag, very expensive.

America, Europe, and Japan (later), then Korea, the list goes on. They all used basically the same format and materials unless you got to the artisan custom one-off stage. But at that point, the price goes up ten-fold.

Veneered laminated pressed plywood is cheap, easily attainable, and extremely dependable. Those inexpensive-to-produce guitars were made in the hundreds of thousands and most are still holding up and going strong.

So I would toss that back at you, why would anyone rock the boat and try something experimental when they already had a dependable reliable economical process already tested, tried, and stable? From a business standpoint, it just doesn't make any sense at all.

As a one-off small-time builder, you can try anything, but a business depends on reliable income and reliable, repeatable sales. That means repeatable, guaranteed assembly-line (the repeatable part) results with very few defects or returns, because reputation is also King (for sales purposes). That keeps people employed with a steady job.

Remember, Context is King, the assembly line process came out of the World Wars and military production techniques. They took all those resources and what they learned and applied them to post-war production where it was now free trade (to an extent) and competition for profit. And a lot of countries were still trying to recover from the damage war had induced on their populations, their geography, and their worth as a nation or country. Stability, everyone was trying to stabilize their economies and gain wealth back again.

There are lots of pics available (at least there used to be) of all these guitar shops where you can easily see the assembly line production in action. And those pictures are very reminiscent of World War assembly line pics, and for obvious reasons!

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I wonder how big or small a company Hopf was during the 60's. I mean, would it be profitable for a one man company to get a lam press? I know absolutely nothing about their pricing but for what I've seen in the Höfner video the machine is pretty big. And by the looks I'd say it had been used for decades before the video was filmed. Based on the Jazzgitarren site the German guitar manufacturing was more or less about smaller companies who bought services from each other, stamping the brand according to which of them got the big order. Then again, who knows if several small companies used the same lam press, stacking tops on their shelves for the next few months? Also, as the current Hopf employs half a dozen people, wouldn't they have grown bigger with effective mass production?

The production in Europe must have been very small compared to USA or even Britain, there's no iconic brands outside Höfner basses and even that is just because a certain Paul used one. The Italian Eko (whose manufacturing also seems to have been split among several companies) is the only European brand I can remember from my youth being somewhat common here, the rest was either the two big American names or the Japanese ones like Yamaha, Cimar, Kawai and later Ibanez. For what I've heard the local youth bands here built their own electric guitars in the sixties, I've even seen one. Supposedly post-war Germany was pretty much struggling with similar issues, making do with what they had. Interesting models but small production - that's why they're collectors items now!

Just as a proof of local building having been a must, legend tells that the first Fender Stratocaster in Britain was bought as late as 1959 after the import law was abolished, by one Harry Webb as a gift to his friend Brian Rankin who played guitar in his band.

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2 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

I'm talking about a thick slab of wood that has been hollowed in the inside and carved on the outside.

(Sorry Biz, I'm a post behind you!)

OK, do the math on that. Pretend you are the business owner and are responsible for keeping a company afloat and profitable, hiring, and moving forward.

Price out that 'thick slab' of real Spruce that you are going to carve most of it away at competitive, consumer-grade prices. Time, labor, dead-solid repeatable results every time, and done very quickly, with every one being hand carved, lots of time then. No room for wasted time or effort.

Are you using your A-Team high-paid luthier staff to do that work? Or are you using your semi-unskilled assembly-line production team (the regular guys) to do that work? This is your labor, minimum wage earners vs. top shelf luthiers, there is a big difference there.

Compare that price of an actual piece of real Spruce lumber to easily attainable and cheap sheet goods stock (laminated plywood sheets). That can be quickly and easily be heat-pressed into form. This is your materials, and also, a big difference in between real lumber and sheet goods.

Then do that a thousand times over and do a cost evaluation summary. Knowing you have to keep a company and your own family, and your mortgage, afloat. Let me know how you would proceed with the stress and pressure to realize a steady profit works for you.

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50 minutes ago, Bizman62 said:

The production in Europe must have been very small compared to USA or even Britain,

Ahh, it gets so interesting now. The bigger picture now starts to come into play, which is why I find guitar history so fascinating.

Again, no expert, but I'm reasonably certain the same reason the US and related nations won World War II is the very same reason the US and related nations steamrolled Europe in guitar production. They won the war, their geography and populations (speaking more to US) were left nearly untouched in comparison. They had winning and repeatable assembly-line techniques that were developed during the war effort, they had massive populations that were ready to work and buy a house (probably for the first time) and enjoy 'the good life'.

Capitalism and commerce were ready to overtake the entire world at large after the war. And the US was a powerhouse for all of that. They had the power, they were the Boss, they had the control, they had everything in place, they lost no factories or natural resources, it was all systems GO, and that they did.

Until Japan recovered and really started pushing the envelope, they wanted a piece of that commerce (goods and services) pie, and that means production of goods, open trade and commerce agreements. Flow. Things have to flow. Produce product and let it flow out into the world for consumption by the masses. And for a time after the war, the US had an unbelievable advantage over nearly everyone else.

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10 hours ago, Drak said:

the same reason the US and related nations won World War II is the very same reason the US and related nations steamrolled Europe in guitar production. They won the war, their geography and populations (speaking more to US) were left nearly untouched in comparison.

Add to that the War Reparations, dismantled or destroyed factories, patents and intellectual property confiscated by the Allies. That sure was a big boost to American economy!

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12 hours ago, Drak said:

Compare that price of an actual piece of real Spruce lumber to easily attainable and cheap sheet goods stock (laminated plywood sheets)

I fully agree that the material costs for plywood are a fraction compared to carved. My question is, could a small manufacturer afford the machinery. Back in 1963 the German Wirtschaftswunder had a major drawback due the depression which most likely affected the guitar manufacturing as well. As Hopf had been known for carved acoustics before jumping on the rock'n'roll train I wonder what their production numbers have been before and after. Most likely we're talking about hundreds rather than thousands of guitar a year!

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11 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

My question is, could a small manufacturer afford the machinery.

I don't know, interesting question.

Maybe they were approached by a middleman wholesale jobber builder who built the lower lines for them (that is a very popular method and still employed to this very day) and Hopf slapped their name on it, while keeping their personal A-Team of luthiers producing their own authentic upper-tier instruments. That practice is widespread across the globe and across time. Japan's Matsumoku factory, for example, jobbed out guitars to Dozens of different companies who then slapped their name on it, but at heart, its a Matsumoku build.

Price is always the telltale sign because the difference is not small, you can always tell mass-produced from custom-built, even today the gap is wide between the two. So you look at the retail cost of a Saturn back in the day and compare that to Hopf's nearby competitors offerings of the same class, it will immediately tell you what was handmade and what was mass-produced.

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