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The fifties may have been a decade of optimism and renewed hope for the future, but as far as the newly invented electric bass guitars went, it was almost a no hope situation in the UK.
The trade embargo with America was still in place, so nothing was finding its way to our shores from that direction. Out of necessity, skiffle offered a solution by producing the fabled ‘tea chest’ bass, which was better than nothing… but only just! Gradually European brands began to meet the demand, with Höfner models going mainly to Liverpool docks while Framus found their way to London.
The Höfner Violin bass and the Framus Star bass soon found favour with us Brits and they both featured a thinline, semi-hollow construction. Later, when the USA embargo was lifted and Fender and Gibson instruments flooded over, there were still many players who opted for semi-hollow designs. The Gibson EB-2 and the almost identical Epiphone Rivoli tended to dominate (if you could afford them) but the Höfner Violin experienced a resurgence of interest thanks to Paul McCartney, of course.
Sadly the appeal of the semi gradually declined towards the end of the sixties, yet great models continued to appear and are still with us today. True, they can be hard to find but they offer their own sounds, highly individual feel, very distinctive looks and generally don’t cost that much either.
As with most classes of instrument, today’s semis fall into two main groups: those that follow or emulate past favourites and those that add more than a touch of originality. Either is fine, just as long as they’re well made and in this we find that things are all well up to expectations. Sizes and weights also vary significantly and that may well have an impact on what you decide to try if your fancy is tickled by something from this genre.
So what’s the attraction of a semi-hollow, you may ask? Well the depth of sound and the generally lighter weight compared to a solid-bodied bass has a great deal to do with it, but the ‘different’ factor is there too. So if you’re not attracted by the industry giant solid body models (perhaps because so many people own one), these offer a cool-looking alternative.
Who knows, if you get to grips with one it might just become synonymous with you - just like Macca and his Höfner…