PHIL'S UPGRADE & CONVERSION WORK
ON THE HOFNER COLORAMA HE CHB "CUSTOM"


My mate Phil and I have lots in common, not least of which is (a.) a mutual love of guitars, and (b.) an eye for a "bargain with potential". When Phil spotted the Colorama he too saw a guitar laced with possibilities. This is Phil's story, as told in his own words with his own pictures. Read on.....

"Like Steve, I got turned on to the new Hofner Colorama for two reasons - its 50s/60s vibe, and the astonishing low price tag at Peter Cook's. Oh - and I wanted a guitar with P90 pickups in my collection.

For a complete beginner, there was, arguably, a list of problems with this guitar. However, for a long-term guitar freak, there was real potential in this instrument - real wood, nice finish, bound fretboard, set neck, nice tuners, decorated head - and those P90s. So, I decided to take on the challenge.....

Arriving at Peter Cook's, I found that the P90-loaded Colorama 'Special' was only available in black. A shame, as I dislike all-black guitars - but I tried one anyway. Solidly built, good sustain, electrics all worked, but.... the P90s were a bit insipid. So I asked for a wine red 'Custom' to compare, with the Hofner mini-humbuckers. The finish was a good deal more attractive than the black, and the humbuckers sounded okay. I also preferred the three-knob control arrangement, lacking that toggle switch that I always hit with my hand as I strum (the pickup selector on the 'Custom' model is a low-set rotary switch).

Although the finish was well-polished, there were a few flaws, so Cook's happily unpacked another one for me (* note: ALWAYS try 2 or 3 if you can - no 2 guitars are ever the same *); this one was much better finished all over, with the exception of a large blob of red lacquer on one of the fret markers (which came off later with a sharp screwdriver blade and a good deal of careful surgery). Decision time - I'd come out for a P90 guitar, but didn't want a black one. However - I could take the wine red dual humbucker 'Custom', and convert it to a P90 guitar.... So out came the plastic and 145 later I was heading home with a wine red Hofner Colorama Custom!"

* Click on each picture for larger images *

"A closer inspection at home showed that the neck was straight and well made, although the fretboard dry as a bone and flecked with polishing compound. The strings were crap. The humbucker pickups were neat and sweet, but I wanted to replace them with P90s - they'll find a home on another guitar one day...! I stripped down the guitar (see above) and found that the pickup switching is unusual, taking the form of a four-way rotary selector. The humbuckers are four-wire jobs, and bridge unit is marked '4.7 kohms' which is pretty low for a 'bucker. With typical Chinese perversity the selector knob, when turned towards the neck, selects the bridge pickup, and vice-versa! On the plus side, the switch is a full three-pole four-way, and solidly built. The volume and tone pots are standard but conveniently large size, and the output jack was traditionally loose on its plate.

There is plenty of room in the control cutout, which which was filled with several miles of unnecessary wire, all coiled up; it had also been given a cursory spray with that nasty graphite "shielding" paint that just wears off in time and gets in the pots. I intended to line the control compartment with copper foil, but couldn't locate my ample supply anywhere so ended up compromising with aluminium cooking foil (cheaper and easier to use!) which I glued in place with Evo-stick. The downside of aluminium is that you can't solder to it, but the fitted volume pot made a good contact to it, and I soldered all the earth points to the pot case. I changed the tone pot (which 'died' during removal!), and as I'm not a fan of traditional guitar tone controls decided on a six-position switch offering: no load (clean); passive overdrive (two BAT42 'Schottky' diodes in anti-parallel, which give a good overdrive sound, a favourite mod); four positions with increasing treble cut capacitors (from 2.2 nF to 15 nF) to round off the tone progressively".

"First off I oiled the fretboard. I know that there is a preference for lemon oil these days, but old habits die hard and I applied a couple of coats of my preferred alternative, teak oil, and the board came up a real treat. Now for the pickups......

I decided to replace the pickups with a pair of 'Wizard' P90s at just over 30 each via their website www.wizardpickupsltd.com, and bought a 'Classic' for the neck and a 'Rocker' for the bridge position. Sod's Law - when they arrived they were 9mm longer than the originals, so the routs had to be enlarged; luckily, they were the right width. Using the P90 case as a template, I carefully marked out the top of the guitar, and decided to trust a sharp chisel and a steady hand to do the work rather than set up a router. Note: I'm of an age when boys were taught how to wield a chisel properly at school - if you are not confident and competent with this kind of job, take it to a Luthier.

I enlarged the routs, and chiselled out gaps for the P90 wire to pass underneath, plus the pickup base screw heads. The old rout for the bridge 'bucker was already too deep, and the P90 mounting screws wouldn't reach the bottom, so I also glued in an MDF packing piece using wood adhesive. The woodworking was more fun than I had expected; the lacquer finish didn't smash to pieces as it might have, and the wood was surprisingly firm and nice to work. I half expected Hofner's description of the wood as 'Chinese variant Mahogany' to mean that well-known ubiquitous tonewood, 'The Indonesian Plywood tree', but this is the real deal".

"After two days the guitar modifications were complete and I was the proud owner of probably the world's ONLY Hofner Colorama 'Custom Special'. The available sounds are great when I get the chance to crank the amp right up, and they're very different from my other guitars. There are some excellent blues tones available, and all the combinations of pickups and tone settings are pleasant and offer great versatility.

Well - was it all worth it? At the recommended retail price of 230 - 250, Hofner have a lot of thinking to do if they are serious about this guitar. Some Chinese guitars, overseen with Korean quality assurance are of exceptional quality, and if you are a beginner, there are much better bargains on the market than this one. However, if you can find one at Peter Cook's price of 145 and you are capable of upgrading & setting up a guitar correctly, then get round there and try a few before they sell out".

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