Hofner HC504-1/2 – Converted Fretless Alto Classical Guitar

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Tuning: G2 C3 F3 Bb3 Eb4 Ab4

Scale Length: 530mm / 20.866″

Strings: Custom set – Well balanced mid-hard tension

  • Trebles: Savarez Alliance KF Carbon – .0205 .0260 .0331
  • Basses: D’addario Pro Arte Lightly Polished Basses (EJ46LP) .030 .036 .044

Features:

  • Solid Cedar top
  • Mahogany back, sides, and neck
  • Rosewood fretboard

Modifications:

  • Side soundport
  • Strap buttons
  • Fretless conversion

I wanted to try a fretless nylon guitar after hearing a couple, and figured I would have most use for it in my alto tuning. I filtered down a number of cheap classicals, 1/2 size, for the appropriate scale length for this tuning.  I settled on this Hofner HC504 (which come in a variety of sizes) for the reputable brand, wood selection, and the fact that it has a small 44mm nut width.

It was a solid purchase for its price. Good build quality with just a few flaws (pictured below). Warm tone, with projection and sustain somewhere between a standard classical guitar and a ukelele. The tuning machines are very smooth to use and hold tune perfectly. Assuming the entire HC504 range is of a similar quality, I can’t recommend them enough for a cheap classical guitar.

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Firstly, a little bit of a clean up, and my standard acoustic procedure – adding strap buttons and a side soundport. For the soundport, I first drill some guide holes and then remove the wood with a needle rasp. If you haven’t tried this before, start small so you have room to learn, fix errors, and sand a smooth shape. I’ve seen it done very easily with a hole saw (drill attachment) before, but I don’t have one of those and prefer an oval anyway.

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The next step is to sand into shape. Here I’m using 80 grit. Especially on laminated sides like these, it is important to only sand in downwards motions, else you risk chipping the laminate and finish. You can see a small chip (oops!) on the second picture, which I sanded out further to mostly cover.

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Next came the fretless conversion. Heat the fretwire with a soldering iron to melt the glue, and then gently remove the fret with fret pullers. Be very careful not to chip the board – you can see an almost-chip in the third picture. After tidying up with some light sanding, wood filler is added. Again sand away the mess, using a radius block if necessary (this classical guitar has a flat fretboard). Use a straight edge to make sure there are no high points, as these will cause dead notes.

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After the board is clean and oiled, the nut, and saddle (if an acoustic guitar) will likely need lowering significantly for good action.

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And she’s finished! All in all a lovely little guitar. Given its small size and being fretless, it sounds a little weak acoustically but really comes to life in a recording. Here are my very first sounds as I struggle to keep my intonation on this fretless shortscale;

And some photos of the Hofner in its final form;

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-Tom

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