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Hi guys,

I need your help reverse-engineering a vintage guitar. Since I started building electric guitars my dad wanted that I make one of his favorite guitars.
It is the "Saturn 63" made by Hopf. It was used by the guitarist of the band "The Cure" (if I'm not mistaken)

I always put off making it because it seemed too daunting but now I thing I'm up to the challenge.

Since that guitar is pretty uncommon, the info I can find is pretty limited.
There is a couple of things that I'm not sure on about how it is constructed.
Also the model had a lot of variation, almost each picture I find on Google has different controls and trem system.

*To clear things up, there was a recent re-issue by Eastwood (around 2012) but that version is lacking a lot of details.

Here is what it looks like:

1804859666_Saturn63Preview.png.5a82873fe03cd0e013d368f7323459fc.png

Here is what I need help for:

1# The guitar has an arch top (and back) but I'm not sure if it is fully hollow or semi-hollow.
I don't see any braces (from reference pictures) through the large "f holes" and I don't know how they would fit.
So maybe the top and back are not carved-out.

I lean toward semi-hollow because I'm certain it is not built with bent sides, but don't know if it has a center block or if it is braced.

2# I'm trying to find a tremelo/tailpiece that would look as close as possible. I first thought to use a bigsby but it doesn't quite match the looks.
I managed to find a Teisco tremelo that is similar but it does not have a tailpiece. What is bothering me is that the space at the back of the Teisco tremolo is not that high so if I wedge a tailpiece on top of the trem's baseplate I fear it will prevent bending backward. Looking at pictures of the Saturn 63, the top of the trem is resting (relatively) high above the body.

here is the tremolo I foundThe tremolo I found

3# The tone control on this guitar looks "interesting". On the plate it is engraved: "B-, T+B+, T+B-, T-"
With the addition of a "chicken head" knob, I suspect it is not a simple potentiometer with a capacitor.
Could it be a 4-way rotary switch? Also the guitar is certainly passive so I'm not sure how the bass and treble boost works (T+B+, T+)

4# I'm not sue how I'm gonna make those chrome tube bindings.
I found stainless tubes with 0.5mm wall thickness that should be bendable. But I'm not too confident on how to bend them and mount/glue them.

That sums up pretty much what I am missing. Any additional detail that you could find is appreciated.

 

To the moderators: Now that I think of if, the post might be more appropriate in the "Solidbody Guitar and Bass Chat" sub-forum. If it does please move it there. Thanks.

Edited by Polymaker
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Wow! That sure is a challenge! I once found a site with all kind of German guitars, a very quick search for it gave me this: https://www.guitar-list.com/hopf/electric-guitars/hopf-saturn-63-archtop

According to that, the answer to #1 is semi-hollow, then again https://www.gbase.com/gear/hopf-saturn-63-1960-sunburst  says it's fully hollow. The latter has the answer for  #3 about the B-TB-BT-T rotary - my guess is that it's B for "Bass" i.e, neck pickup  and T for Treble i.e. bridge pickup, maybe with some electronics included, or in/out of phase wiring. Think of the "Rhythm-Lead" switch plate on LesPauls with a phase switch.

As you can see the tailpiece on your picture is longer than on my links. Could it be slideable???

#4 Could those be plastic? I've seen similar looking chrome strips in automotive shops, self adhesive. 

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14 minutes ago, Bizman62 said:

#3 about the B-TB-BT-T rotary - my guess is that it's B for "Bass" i.e, neck pickup  and T for Treble i.e. bridge pickup, maybe with some electronics included, or in/out of phase wiring. Think of the "Rhythm-Lead" switch plate on LesPauls with a phase switch

According to your website, this description is for the knob beside the volume. So it is the one labeled: O, I, I+II, II (or 0, 1, 1+2, 2 in decimal)
My personal guess (before this information) was 0 = kill switch, 1 = neck, 1+2 = neck + bridge and 2 = bridge.

For the other knob with (B- T+B-, etc..) the site describe: "The next rotary seems to be for tone caps but only one position seems to alter the sound."
So no luck for this one 😅

About the tremolo, I simply think it is a variation. If you look at the pictures of the two sites you linked, they both have different trem and tailpieces.
As I stated in my first post, the trem/tailpiece is different in almost each picture I find.

As for the binding, I also thought it could be plastic but I don't know what it could be named and where to search.
If you have an idea let me know!

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I took a deeper look at what Google Image Search could reveal and I still have a feeling that the trem could be moveable! Here's why I think so: There's three decorative slots in the trapeze, on some models the middle one is located closer to the bottom than the two other ones. Why hide such a decorative thing? Or why make it decorative if it will be hidden? Germen are engineers by nature, functionality is their art form...

Another thing I found when looking at the links behind the images was that there was several knob combinations, mostly about the center knob. As you said, there's O-I-II-III but there's also a similar to the volume pot version, from 1 to 10 so most likely a pot (and a switch between the pickups): https://reverb.com/item/14840462-hopf-saturn-63-e-guitar-germany-1963-star-club-show-gitarre-original-sunburst. Could the descriptions for the Roman numbers and B-T have changed? Also look at the difference in the location of the trem between the small link picture compared to the actual piece! Different models, obviously but the trapeze slots are similar, only the trem is at a different spot. And on this one the trem is way up:

Here's the plastic strip, your car decoration dealer might have similar on the shelf: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chrome-Adhesive-Styling-Moulding-Exterior/dp/B00JWJ3994/ref=pd_sbs_1?pd_rd_w=lcCsJ&pf_rd_p=fbd048ad-ab90-4647-94dd-974b91bedef1&pf_rd_r=F7XT3R7XG2MKEP9WBAG6&pd_rd_r=69ef1bae-02ab-4c87-98df-78fd54d34158&pd_rd_wg=P5llW&pd_rd_i=B00JWJ3994&psc=1

This vid shows the two mysterious knobs in action:

Oh, and I found the site I was talking about earlier! It tells a little more about the construction. So apparently the strange plate behind the bridge is a mute unit? Saturn 63 is about in the middle of the scroll: http://jazzgitarren.k-server.org/hopf.html

This project sure is going to be a puzzle to solve! The details are hidden one by one on various auction descriptions, I just found one telling that it has a chambered mahogany body and a spruce top.

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3 hours ago, Polymaker said:

My personal guess (before this information) was 0 = kill switch, 1 = neck, 1+2 = neck + bridge and 2 = bridge.

For the other knob with (B- T+B-, etc..) the site describe: "The next rotary seems to be for tone caps but only one position seems to alter the sound."
So no luck for this one 

I'm with you, I suspect the function of this control changed with revisions to the model. A rotary with functions 0/1/1+2/2 sounds like a pickup selector. The guitar that shows this option also lacks the big chrome toggle switch above the pickups. Photos of models without the 0/1/2 control have the toggle switch,

T/B/-/+ etc sounds like a fixed treble and bass boost/cut function. Easy enough to do using passive circuitry, but without further details of what's going on inside the guitar it'd be anyone's guess precisely how they've gone about it at a component level.

A lot of the text in those descriptions use words like 'seems' and 'appears', so I'd also take their understanding of those functions with a grain of salt - they either don't really know what those controls do or don't know if they're working properly ;)

There appear to be a lot of different variations on this guitar out there. You're going to have fun trying to decide on a definitive version to base your build on.

2 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

I took a deeper look at what Google Image Search could reveal and I still have a feeling that the trem could be moveable!

Not aure. On the versions with the shorter tailpiece plate it appears (there's that word again...) that it wouldn't still be long enough to attach the tremolo mechanism if you moved it as far forward as it appears in the longer tailpiece version. I think it's just another version of a similar thing.

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6 hours ago, Polymaker said:

To the moderators: Now that I think of if, the post might be more appropriate in the "Solidbody Guitar and Bass Chat" sub-forum. If it does please move it there. Thanks.

Consider it done :)

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Thank you both for helping me in my hunt for information!

Also I should have mentioned that I'm not looking to make an exact replica, but rather a close look-alike.
Like for example, in my design I have changed the body shape to have better access to the upper frets.
Also the original has a short scale-length (can't remember or find where I got this info) so I'm making it with the standard 25.5in.
I'm also thinking of skipping the arched back for simplicity.

But for the most part I try to keep it as close as possible to the original.

Now about the construction, some website says that it is a semi-hollow.
That would mean that it is not braced but rather it has a center block right?

Otherwise should it be braced something like this: (I'm not so sure how the brace should end up around the controls)

image.thumb.png.7a81acc2525c1e540ec09aec69f8d4a5.png

I don't have much knowledge about arch-tops and semi-hollows and I was wondering how well the tremolo would be supported.
Also the bridge looks like it is mounted with tune-o-matic style posts instead of a surface mounted bridge common for arch-top.

Would-it need some kind of reinforcement? I know it is common to have a reinforcement plate under the bridge but with inserts for tune-o-matic like posts it would have to be much thicker.

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You could probably take your construction cues from other semi/hollow bodied guitars that are fitted with something like a Bigsby. I've not handled such a guitar but it would make mechanical sense that the area underneath the Bigsby would need to be reinforced in some way in order to allow the arm to be depressed without deforming the top. That could be a centre 'log' running the full length of the body, or some kind of post underneath maybe?

The bolt-on neck and apparent Tune-o-matic studs could also be clues that perhaps there is something solid under most, if not all of the centre of the body.

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3 minutes ago, curtisa said:

The bolt-on neck and apparent Tune-o-matic studs could also be clues that perhaps there is something solid under most, if not all of the centre of the body.

This is what I believe also. And that would make the building process a whole lot easier. 

Thanks for your opinion on the matter!

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None of this below is meant in any kind of negative way. It is meant to get you on track to building a quality guitar. To do that, you need to start setting your own parameters, not chasing down every detail of a 50 year old guitar, unless you really seriously have the current chops to pull it off.

I mean, what can you do, seriously? You showed a pic of an X-braced archtop, can you build an X-braced archtop for real? I don't know, and I need that kind of feedback from you to help me help you the best way I can. Show me some current work so I can get a gauge on your skills. Right now, I have no idea what you can do and can't do.

What I would recommend you do is to start making a few decisions for yourself and get some feet planted firmly on the Earth. What I mean by that is to stop chasing all the particulars (letting the build lead you by the nose, where you are not in control) And just build what is within your grasp to do professionally (make the guitar what you want it to be and what is within your means). This is how you Take Control of your situation and your build, and if you're building it, you need to take control of it.

So, chances are it has the same basic guts/build as my Ovation Thunderheads, which originated from imported German bodies (could be Schaller, could be Hofner, there are debates on the topic out there) from roughly the same time frame. Roughly. What I saw when I looked up the Saturn looks close enough to me to probably be the same thing. The reason I say this with at least a little confidence is the bridge is nearly Identical to my Ovations. Close enough for me to say 'same for same'.

You'll never, ever see anywhere else what I'm going to show you, as I'm the only one I've ever known that's ripped one apart and taken pics of the autopsy. I can't believe I was so stupid as to only take one shot of the corpse ripped apart, I should have taken many more, but whatever, at least there's one. I bought three in various conditions to make two excellent ones,, this is the body from the third, which was toast.

So, to get to your question...It is neither a true braced archtop nor does it have a centerblock, now what are your plans knowing that? Do you see what I mean? Chasing shadows will waste your time and confuse you and send the build into the 'not fun' space.

Just make the call that is Best For You. Centerblock, great. Do it. See how easy that is? Make your own calls, it will hold you in good stead in the course of a build.

So what it probably has is what I call (my term, because there is no other term for it) is a modified poor man's ladder brace system under a pressed plywood arched top. In my case it's pressed plywood under a Spruce veneer. Basically it's like a poor man's archtop (or...cheap and affordable) ladder brace system.

And I've never come across anything quite like it anywhere else. You can search the web all day long and never find the pics I'm showing you right here. Because I searched, and I never could find anything...for years and years, as these guitars are a pet love of mine...so I ripped the bastid apart!

It's pretty much a German thing, I've never seen it in any American build, anywhere.

So if you want to have a go at it, it, here it is, but if it were me, I would pick what I can build, within my reasonable means.

This is a pic of your Hopf bridge, which is 95% identical to my Ovations...maybe 98% identical...which means same manufacturer, which means, very close.

And I can see the wood grain under the paint which ALSO looks 98% identical to my Ovations.

viinjx3apwi6zrqzdxwo.jpg

AZcU1Wg.jpg

4I13xgR.jpg

TimTHuC.jpg

 

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One more thing...if you're going to make it a solidbody, than you can put any scale neck you want to on it.

At that point, you basically have a Fender Jazzmaster or something, not a Hopf hollow.

Most of those guitars had 24.5" scale necks. Not 24 3/4" Gibson, but 24.5".

And they sound absolutely divine like that, I would never consider putting a 25.5" neck on one of my Ovations.

It makes a difference if you're doing any sort of hollowbody config.

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7 hours ago, Polymaker said:

Now about the construction, some website says that it is a semi-hollow.
That would mean that it is not braced but rather it has a center block right?

Most likely yes. I'm tempted to say it's a thick block carved hollow because the edges are so heavily rounded. That construction would make carving the bottom easy as well. As @Drak said, "Just make the call that is Best For You. Centerblock, great. Do it. "

The Jazzgitarren link was an interesting read about German guitars of that era. It seems the German builders were co-operating more or less, using the same hardware and copying design ideas like the tear shaped sound hole from each other. Thus making your own decisions is true to the tradition!

 

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@Drak Thanks for the info! And you are right I totally missed that the short scale-length was because it is an arch-top, I knew that but I didn't connect the dots for this guitar 😂

I completely agree with your point and like I said before, I'm not looking to make an exact replica. I was ready to try my hands at making an arch-top but I wanted to know for sure how it was built before going that route. Now that I know that it is some kind of weird hybrid, I'm definitively taking the simpler approach. My CAD drawing was already made with a center block design in mind.

To not pollute this thread with images of other guitars, here is a link to an imgur gallery with the 3 guitars that I have built so far.

Also, I presume you don't have the third ovation bridge on hand... 😅 It would be great to find one like this.
The bridge I got for this build is the one on the recent reissue by Eastwood. I bought it when I first started looking to build this guitar a few years ago and I did not quite figure out at the time they were so different.

Anyway if someone knows where I could get a bridge similar to yours I would be very happy to know.

@Bizman62 I now regret buying the stainless tubes... I knew something like this existed but I did not know what it was called.
I got this for the larger outer binding and that for the f-holes bindings. Should be a piece of cake to install 😁

While at it... if you guys know where I could find similar knobs it would be very much appreciated. I might go for modern chicken knobs but I can't find something close for the volume knob.

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Thank You for posting the link, beautiful work, Bravo! Now I have a footing with you, so thank you very much or that, it helps me a lot.

So, you're not going to believe this, and it is a strange, small world we live in sometimes. I do not have the bridge from the third body. The body itself was trashed, but nearly every part on it was in gorgeous shape and all of the hardware got used on the other two. That's the primary reason I bought it, for all the hardware and the neck, everything except the body was in beautiful shape, and it was all gold hardware, which is what I use primarily, and I got a rock-bottom deal on it since the body was in bad shape, it definitely affects the selling price. So I got nearly an entire guitars' worth of hardware and a neck in perfect shape for an astounding bargain. But, that's how I roll, I'm always on the lookout for deals like that.

But the story gets way better for you. I bought a mint new NOS bridge, just like the others (so just like yours) but a chrome one, tho I never use chrome parts,

To be honest, I'm not really sure why I even bought it, many years ago. And since I have completed both of mine and am pleased as pudding with them, I have no need of this new NOS chrome bridge.

You can have it, no charge, as I don't believe parts in a drawer do anyone any good. These things must go on working guitars to make music on, their destiny is to not sit in a drawer.

So, It never hurts to ask!

I'll dig it up and post a pic of it here, you can send me your address and I'll ship it off to you.

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Doesn't get much better than this, brand new mint NOS 50 year old parts, I love it!

Even has the snap-on cover, which is pretty hard to come by.

It's yours, on the house, as they say.

uPrIzyJ.jpg

 

doSXokZ.jpg

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6 hours ago, Polymaker said:

 I now regret buying the stainless tubes

Well... There's always use for a metal tube. Fretboard markers was the first thought, then after remembering they're stainless steel I started thinking about tools like hole punches, plug drills etc. Those may require some heating and quenching but that shouldn't be too difficult with a blow torch.

Hexagonal knobs seem to be hard to find, either it's those with more rounded caps or heptagonal like those on J-bass. Similarly the scales only seem to go from 0 to 100 instead of 10.

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Ha! I looked up the Jazzguitarren site and read the info on the Saturn. Wrong.

Quote

The top was made by solid (thick) spruce wood, the body would be maple

This is ridiculous BS, ...but I forgive them, I've learned a hella lot about German builds from that site over the years.

Construction-wise, it looks absolutely 100% identical to my Ovations.

Spruce veneered pressed plywood tops, Flame Maple veneered pressed plywood backs and sides.

It's a typical, mundane, economical factory build that they pumped out by the hundreds, or thousands, I don't know.

Real solid (carved, handmade) Spruce tops only go on very high end custom (which means very expensive) guitars, and are made in small numbers.

Just goes to show you can't believe everything the web tells you as truth.

 

Here's a link to a single pickup:

Hopf Pickup

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10 minutes ago, Drak said:

Ha! I looked up the Jazzguitarren site and read the info on the Saturn. Wrong.

Quote

The top was made by solid (thick) spruce wood, the body would be maple

This is ridiculous BS

To be fair, you are basing that solely on the look of the Saturn versus your experiences with other brands. It may be the case that the Saturn was built using a similar method you found in the Ovation, but without physically inspecting a Saturn it's not really known that it actually was.

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Not true, I'm not basing that solely on my Ovation at all.

I'm basing that on common sense, typical manufacturing scenarios, price range, availability, and production numbers for the time period.

It's an economics thing, it's a business thing, it's a standard issue consumer grade commerce item, not a custom build.

It just happens that my Ovations fall into that same class of consumer grade items.

Which actually helps prove the point. Same deal.

The (Ovation) bodies were a mass-produced item, just like Hopf's Saturns and others.

Mass-produced consumer item guitars (for the time period) got pressed plywood tops, sides, and backs, simple.

I've had Hoyers, Hofners, and a stray something or other (can't remember what it was) German job, all the exact same build characteristics.

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5 hours ago, Drak said:

The top was made by solid (thick) spruce wood, the body would be maple

An auction site said that the body would be mahogany. Without having a real Hopf Saturn 63 to study everything is speculation. There seems to be no "how it's built" reviews that are very common with the major brands. We all know how a LP looks like when cut into half...

 

5 hours ago, Drak said:

Real solid (carved, handmade) Spruce tops only go on very high end custom (which means very expensive) guitars, and are made in small numbers.

Spruce is a common wood also in Germany especially in the mountainside so it's relatively cheap. Also the Hopf family has a long tradition in making handmade instruments. The current factory was founded in 1909 but the history goes down to 1669 so I guess "high end" and carving have been the norm similarly to Gibson. Again just speculation, they may have lowered their standards in the 1960's to supply the demand.

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You could always fire off an email to the guy who runs the Jazzgitarren website and ask him directly about the guitar. The description he gives on the page implies that he owns the example shown there. It's an old site, but you might get lucky and get a reply out of him?

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