Old School: 1964 Höfner 185 “Artist Bass”

Zsolt Váradi sent us this wonderful story (and video) of his equally wonderful 1964 Höfner 185 “Artist Bass.”

1964 Hofner 185 Artist Bass - full view

Höfner’s “Vintage” site has this to say about the Artist Bass:

Introduced in late 1962 as the main two pickup bass for the UK market, it replaced the Hofner “Solid Bass” which was actually the European market Hofner 182 model. The Artist bass was called the 185 model by Hofner in Europe.

The “offset-waist” body design and large strip fret markers made it a very attractive instrument. All Artist basses made for the UK were finished in red – usually red lacquer but a few were also produced in red vinyl. A bolt-one single piece neck was used together with a bound rosewood fingerboard. Larger than the usual Hofner tuners for that era were fitted.

Electrical controls initially were simply a rotary volume and tone control for each pickup; the pickups being turned off by turning down the volume controls. Later Artist basses had two individual pickup slider switches mounted on the treble side of the scratchplate, in addition to the four rotary controls.

Here is Zsolt’s story behind his 185.

How long have you owned it?

It has been sitting in our family garage since the late ’90s. I’ve owned it since 2005.

How did you come across it?

My uncle – who worked in the mid ’90s in Passau, Germany – found this bass during a seasonal clearing out in his neighborhood in 1996. The previous owner has just put this bass on the street to be taken away – clearly not knowing it’s value – along with a 1961 Dynacord Bass King tube amplifier head. Since it’s a real eye-catcher, my uncle thought he’d bring it home (along with the amp), and then gave it to my older brother. My brother was playing blues harp at the time and was clearly more interested in using tube amplification to create his sound rather than playing the bass. I still recall old memories of myself holding the bass in my lap, trying to pluck out notes with my thumb, which had swollen up immediately afterwards. In the late ’90’s, it was placed in the corner of our dusty, humid garage, and it had gone forgotten for many years.

It wasn’t until the winter of 2004, that the bass was brought to life once again. Since I was spending a lot of time with my friends at our garage, I figured I might as well give it a good old dust-off. The same year I got a new set of strings for Christmas, (it still had 10+ year old flats on it), and I hooked the bass up to my HiFi station. I was 13 back then, and after that, there was no turning back.

Stock or customized? Give us all the specs!

The bass is completely original, down to the last screw. Here you the specs:

  • Body: Contoured, Off-Set-Waist, Alder, with a glued-on PVC coat
  • Neck: chunky, fat “C” Shape, Maple, with High-Gloss Black Lacquer
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Inlays: Perloid
  • Scale: Medium 30″
  • Nut width: 1 6/8″
  • String spacing: 14 mm
  • Trussrod Adjustment: Hex nut at body end
  • Pickups: 2x Höfner 511B 8-Pole Humbuckers
  • Switches: On-off for both pickups
  • Controls: Tone and Volume for each pickup

Any special characteristics?

This bass has a very unique, two-color leather-like PVC coating on the body: the white front and the black back join with a black binding on the side. I like to call this finish “Dragonskin”. It has a very glittery feel… gotta love it. And of course, it’s always a show-stopper at meetings – everybody wants to touch it! And as soon as you hear the name, you can’t stop laughing.

The second special thing is the incredible resonance. In my opinion, this just comes with the years, (this is also called “Stradivarius Effect”), with lots of playing. The wood gets sort of a “resonance-treatment” through playing, and that’s what makes it worn-in.

What’s your favorite story about the gear?

The first notes I heard while trying to thumb-pluck out “Smoke on the Water” in my garage at the age of 14. I didn’t even know the song’s name, I only remembered the tune from this commercial I saw on MTV. I had the bass sitting in my lap, fretboard facing skywards, fretting with my other thumb, friends around, sun shining. The amp was cranked up – as it’s supposed to be – no tuning whatsoever. That was the first time I felt “freedom through music”. Maybe not the same way I understand it now, but it was a very pure experience.

Any notable bassists (other than yourself, of course) play the same instrument/use the same gear?

Although I have seen some basses of the same kind in poor or refinished condition in a few shops on Denmark Street in London, I’ve never came across any Youtube videos, sites or actual people showcasing / reviewing this particular instrument. The closest I came to it was seeing a 1962 Höfner 182 for sale once on eBay.

Any special history or story behind this instrument or the company who made it?

In the early ’60s in Europe, it wasn’t easy to find affordable instruments which could produce the sound of western Rock ’N Roll. Thats why Höfner decided to deliver more instruments to the market. Most USA-made instruments were highly overpriced or unavailable. So to save some time (and obviously, money), Höfner simply switched from sanding, painting, and buffing the bodies to covering them with these crazy PVC coatings. The glue dried much faster than lacquer. These instruments were crearly made for television marketing: the new, Höfner-signature inlays and the strict black-white contrasts made the instruments from that era especially spectacular on black and white television. Höfner also made these real weird Flower-Power PVC coatings, such as on the “175” guitar (e.g. Tony Bacon: The Ultimate Guitar Book, p. 102).

In 2009, I’ve made contact with Mr. Michael Naglav, Vintage Specialist at Höfner, who confirmed the dating of my instrument. According to him, a huge amount of potentiometers were produced in 1964, which were used from 1964-1966, which makes the dating difficult.

Do you use it on gigs?

I do like to use it on gigs, especially to play chords in the higher register, or to play solos. Thanks to the short scale length, this bass sounds crazy with a light overdrive boost!

1964 Höfner 185 “Artist Bass” Photo Gallery:

Any other vintage gear?

A 1961 Dynacord Bass King tube amp.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in 1992, and I’ve been playing bass since 2004. I currently have my own band in Hungary called Varadi Jam Factory – we play jazz, funk and fusion. The other band where I play bass, is a Djent band from Erfurt, Germany called Contradictions.

Other gear:

  • 2012 Fibenare Globe Bass (coming in August, custom-made)
  • 2010 Fender USA Deluxe Jazz Bass in Natural
  • Richwood Jazz Bass Copy
  • Harley Benton MB22-2T Jazz Bass Copy, refinished to Natural, converted to fretless
  • Cremona Classical Guitar
  • Cremona Hollowbody Jazzguitar from the ’80s

If you own any vintage gear you'd like us to spotlight in "Old School", we'd love to hear from you! Drop us a line at [email protected].

Get daily bass updates.

Get the latest news, videos, lessons, and more in your inbox every morning.

Share your thoughts

  1. The nice thing about these old Hoffies is that you can pick up a real vintage guitar for a few hundred dollars unlike the big name brands which will cost $$$$$. Those old and rarer vinyl covered ones are especially good to own. Nick – Hofner.

  2. Yup, sounds like shit – just like they always did. Guys played these while they saved up for a Fender.

  3. Candy Del Mar of the Cramps played a Hofner Artist.
    a nice bit of her in these videos.


  4. I’ve got the same bass. Anyone want to buy it?

    • brian crow

      I had the same guitar several years ago and loved it. the guitar sounded better than my Fender.
      what would you have to have for it. I loaned it to one of my friends and he took it the pond shop,
      I was devastated over it. that was over 20 years ago. still looking for the guitar.

  5. I owned asimilar model over forty years ago it did not have the two little switches on it what model would it have been.

    • David

      As it says above, it was an earlier version of the same model. We had one too.

  6. I got the same. all of what you say is true. And: I Have a Dynacord Bassking. When I pluggeg in first time it was amazing! Real great sound!