THE NEW HOFNER COLORAMA HE CP-90 ..... BEAUTY OR BEAST?


The December 2004 issue of "GUITARIST" dropped through the letterbox just in time for a spot of breakfast reading. Glancing quickly through it, my eyes lighted on the usual one-page advert for "Peter Cook's Guitar World", from where several of my collection have originated. I couldn't help but be drawn to the name "Hofner", especially as the price shown next to it was just 135.... A quick check on their website showed that this was not a printer's error, so me and Smokin' Al jumped in the car that afternoon for a drive down to Hanwell for a closer inspection.....

* Click on each picture for larger images *

The Hofner Colorama HE CP-90 (also known as the "Special") is now - like many budget guitars - made in China. However, the first thing that struck me was the "quality" appearance and feel, making it seem like a much more expensive instrument. The Mahogany body and the glued "set" Mahogany neck are finished in a flawless 'wine red' see-through finish that really shows the lovely grain of the wood. The bound Rosewood neck features abalone position dots, but in the somewhat unusual configuration of THREE per fret! The neck is topped off with a slightly retro-shaped headstock, in black with a pearl block "Hofner" logo and a beautiful intricate lily inlay, reminding me of the Epihone Sheraton headstock. On the hardware side of things, the Colorama features chrome Grover stamped tuners (how do they do it for the money?) and Gibson-style chrome tune-o-matic bridge with a stop tailpiece. There are 2 volume controls, 2 tone - similar to Gibson "speed dial" style, in black - with a 3-way p/up selector switch. The rather plain black pickguard, somewhat heavy-handedly screwed to the body with three large screws, is one of the few disappointments...

The Colorama features two P-90 soapbar-style generic pickups with black covers, offering three distinctly different tones from the three selector switch positions. This guitar sounds amazingly good - on the bridge p/up, it is bright and clear, but add some gain and the P-90s really growl! On the neck p/up, with the tone turned down a little, you can get a creamy blues sound. The pickups are fully responsive to the tone controls, making this quite a versatile guitar. Additionally, the sustain is surprisingly good. Other plus points are: the nut was seated and cut almost perfectly; the neck is as straight as an arrow; the neck joint is spot-on; the pickup routes in the body are clean and neat; and the finish on the body, headstock and back of the neck is amazing. Couple this with the weight of the Colorama - just 6.6 lbs (3 kG) - and you've got a comfortable but impressive guitar for not much money. Too good to be true? Well, into every life a little rain must fall, as they say, so I'm also going to be brutally honest with every little shortcoming that me and Smokin' Al found while we were getting this guitar ready to play. BUYER BEWARE - you really MUST possess at least the basic set-up skills (and tools) to be able to transform the Colorama from an "off the shelf cheapy" to a serious playable guitar. Here's what you'll need to check out:

Cosmetically, there are very few problems - the tuners are not quite fitted dead straight, there was a little laquer overspray on the fingerboard binding, the fingerboard was quite dry and needed a good coat of Lemon Oil, and one of the volume knobs was set a little high on the body. First thing I did with the awful "speed dial" knobs was discard them and replace them with 4 black Tele-style metal barrell knobs.

Electrically, if you stand near your amp you may notice some speaker hum when switched to the bridge pickup; however, this is only a shielding problem, common in most budget guitars - get yourself some shielding tape. One of the P90s was not seated correctly (you'll need to cut a foam pad) and you'll need to adjust the pickup heights.

The factory set up was pretty poor. In fact, there was no set up! It came fitted with those awful Chinese pre-rusted strings (8's or 9's), which should just be discarded straight away. Some of the medium size frets, although fitted nicely, had rough nicks in places (you'll need to do a fret dress). The action was a little high, and the intonation was some way out.

IN SUMMARY.....

Be honest - for 135, you would not EXPECT a perfect set-up. I paid 1700 for my Gibson 335, yet still took it straight to my guitar tech and spent 75 on a fret dress & crown, new strings and a full set-up before I even took it home. If you enjoy taking a "budget" guitar, working on it to take off its "rough edges", setting it up just how you like 'em, putting on your favourite strings, and then feeling the satisfaction of being blown away by its sheer playability and versatility of the guitar, the Hofner Colorama HE CP-90 could be just what you're looking for. Expect to be pleasantly surprised.......

* UPDATE: OCTOBER 2007 *

In October 2007, I suffered REALLY bad * G.A.S. * for a Gretsch Duo Jet, one of the early guitars used by George Harrison. I couldn't justify the "real thing", but having checked out Gretsch's Chinese made offering, the Electromatic Pro Jet, I just knew I had to have one. Sadly, the Colorama was simply not being played enough, which I think is a real shame for any instrument, so I reluctantly sold it to make room for the Gretsch. However, the good news is that it went to a very good home, my good friend Smokin' Al - so I still get to play it when the need takes me. A great little guitar.......

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