Retro-Rama: 1964 Framus 54-19

May 10, 2012
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THIS IS ONE OF THE COOLEST BASSES I have found in a long time. I fell in love with it from the first note, and had to take it home. Made in 1964 at the Framus factory in Bubenruth, Germany, it features the company’s famous “Black Rose” red-to-black sunburst finish, which Framus also used occasionally on its distinctive single-cutaway basses. (See Retro-Rama, July ’09.)

Framus was one of the great success stories of post-World War II manufacturing. Company founder Fredrik Wilfer needed to start from scratch after having to flee his East German homeland after World War II. The talented crew of violinmakers he brought with him quickly made the transition to other stringed instruments, and Wilfer greatly expanded his business on the gamble that guitars were going to become exceptionally popular. Affordable but high-quality, Framus instruments became popular with musicians from John Lennon to Bill Wyman, whose signature model was a bigger-body version of the Star Bass, which later came to be known as the Stone Bass.

This bass is in great shape, plays like a dream, and sounds incredible, too. The 30"-scale neck’s narrow but deep profile provides a solid feel not always found in short-scale basses. The finish on the neck has been sanded down, revealing a wide grain and three-piece neck construction with several glue joints that have held up well. The intonation is near perfect, another rarity in the short-scale world. The finish still looks great, and while this doesn’t have the fancier pickguards of other Star Bass models, its Les Paul-inspired body shape, ƒ-holes, and “trapeze” bridge are all classic design features.

This bass is very light and acoustically alive, and is surprisingly loud unplugged. Amplified, it is warm but clear as well, and even in response across all registers. This natural resonance gives its electric tone a punchy lower midrange that’s quite distinct from the “woofier” sound typical of Höfner or Gibson shortscale basses, and also a more hi-fi and less gritty sound than a Danelectro. The magnetic pickup sounds full and mellow, and the 2-way switch above the pickup gives two subtle tone variations, one with a bit more low-end depth.

A previous owner of this bass replaced the original saddle with one that has a piezo pickup built in. There is a separate output for that pickup, which has a bright tone that also benefits from the instrument’s natural resonance. While the piezo doesn’t sound as full as the magnetic, when blended together, there are interesting tone variations that would not be possible otherwise.

This bass has it all—good looks, excellent playability, and a sweet, fat tone. To top it off, it weighs next to nothing. Surprisingly, feedback is not a problem except at very high levels. The legacy of Framus has been well preserved by Fred’s son, Hans-Peter Wilfer of Warwick, who—like his father—has built his company up from scratch. The younger Wilfer even moved his company back to its homeland in the former East Germany, reclaiming its birthright in the area known for many years as the “Music Corner.”

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