View Full Version : ID Please: Hofner or Hofner Copy?

Apr-21-2009, 3:33am
Gday folks!

I'm new here and new to mandolin culture, so please be kind. :grin:

I have recently acquired a beaten-up old mandolin, and all my searches have led me to believe that it could be a Hofner 545. However, I have read on this Forum that all Hofners were branded as such (usually on the back of the headstock), and I cannot find anything on the instrument other than a post-finish decal on the front of the body which says "Swee Leelo".

Please check the attached pics and tell me what you think. I have stripped all the hardware off in order to give it a much-needed clean, but have taken some fairly ordinary photos of the bits in question. I'll post those later if anybody's interested.

Thanks in advance.


PS: There is a fairly major break in the neck which has had a terrible repair job, and the bridge is missing, and I'll be quizzing you good folks about that in the appropriate section of the Forum...:whistling: Please let me know if this is in an incorrect section of the Forum. Thanks.

Martin Jonas
Apr-21-2009, 3:59am
Well, "Swee Lee" are a music wholesaler in Singapore. The company history on their web site here (http://www.sweelee.sg/Aboutus.htm) suggests that they may well at one stage have distributed mandolins under a house brand. It's possible that Hofner supplied unlabelled ones, to be rebranded by Swee Lee, but I'd think it's more likely to be a clone made in South East Asia (an area not short of local manufacturing capacity).


Apr-21-2009, 4:52am
Since the 1960s, Swee Lee has been able to identify and capitalise on market trends in the music industry, quickly moving and expanding into various segments of the music business.

Thanks Martin for the prompt reply.

Your suggestion seems to match precisely Swee Lee's mission statement... I don't LOL but if I did, I might do so now.

Sounds like I may have a dud, but at least the body has been made well enough to survive the years and transition from steamy Singapore to dry, windy Melbourne...

Either way, I intend to restore the thing to its former semi-glory - if only to serve as a reminder to myself to be a bit more discerning in the future.

I wonder if there's a way to keep that "Swee Leelo" decal in place while I attempt to clean and refurbish the thing...

Thanks again.


Apr-21-2009, 5:19am
Swee Lee Co(mpany) has been in business in Singapore since after WWII and according to first-hand accounts they were the distributors for Hofner, which was then made in Germany. Back in the day, it was a popular brand here for those who couldn't afford a Fender/Gibson/Martin. There are several Hofner guitars from the 50s-70s popping up for sale every so often and I have one fine acoustic archtop guitar myself.

For some reason the practice in those days was to stick the retailer logo at a prominent location, these days they do it on the back of the headstock. I don't think they have ever sold any instruments branded as Swee Lee, yours is probably just missing the Hofner logo. That particular Swee Lee logo also dates back to at least the 70s.

I would say that your mandolin is not an Asian-made copy. This is probably what you have http://www.vintagehofner.co.uk/gallery/bluegrass/mandolin3.html (No 547)

Apr-21-2009, 4:27pm
Swee Lee Co(mpany)...

Ahh - that makes better sense! "Swee Lee Co"...

...I would say that your mandolin is not an Asian-made copy. This is probably what you have http://www.vintagehofner.co.uk/gallery/bluegrass/mandolin3.html (No 547)

Thanks BloozeGit, but before I took off all the hardware the instrument looked more like this (http://www.mandozine.com/index.php/instruments/instrumentinfo/hofner_model_545_mandolin_1963/), this (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?p=169648) and this (http://www.vintageguitars.org.uk/hofner67p11.php) (I didn't find the second link here until just now, and the third link seems to be down temporarily :redface:). The 'trapeze bar' tailpiece is a perfect match to the ones in my link (I've added a really bad photo), and it doesn't have the scratch-plate bracket pictured in your link.

Thanks for the interesting info! Whatever the actual brand, I've got a job ahead of me to fix the thing and find an appropriate bridge.

Thanks again.


Jim MacDaniel
Apr-22-2009, 12:54pm
Gday folks!...

Welcome, but shouldn't that be Gdae? ;)

mildini mandolini
Apr-22-2009, 1:38pm
hi there

this looks definitely like a Hoefner mandolin

I had one of those as my first instrument and as Iwas living i9n germany at the time close to Bubenreuth in Bavaria, ihad bought it directly from the factory (for something like $80 at the time)

the bridge as I remember was a solid wood one piece
I think David Grisman plays one of those on the first or second tone poems CD

mine was like yours all mahagony

hope that helps

Apr-22-2009, 4:01pm
Welcome, but shouldn't that be Gdae? ;)Howdy Jim!

I've never even so much a strummed a mandolin, but I'm a veteran ukulele player of 4 months. How does 'gCEA' sound? :grin:

this looks definitely like a Hoefner mandolin...

...the bridge as I remember was a solid wood one piece

Thanks Mildini!

In the photos I've seen, the 545 (or 547) has appeared with both a solid bridge and a compensated, adjustable bridge. I'm led to believe that the latter will improve the playing experience (when and if I ever manage to restore the thing).

For what it's worth, I've included a pic of the original tuning machine.

Thanks all.


PS: I've started a thread on the (possible) repair and renovation of the instrument here (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?p=658113#post658113). Thanks.

Apr-26-2009, 7:37am
oops comment on the wrong post! dohhh!

Jan-30-2016, 9:07pm
This is reviving an old thread in case FlyBri might see it. A friend just bought one of these mandolins on eBay. What do you recommend to clean the wood?


Jan-30-2016, 11:11pm
Just a note. Nobody would fake one of these.

What is on the wood? Pictures would be good. Generally I use a damp (not wringing wet) soft cloth to clean any wooden stringed instrument.

Jan-31-2016, 10:29pm
Thanks, Mike. It's just grime on the wood. It is coming off with a slightly damp microfiber cloth. I took off the ivoroid pick guard and am cleaning the rusty screws with a vinegar soak.

The tuners were frozen, but all I had to do was loosen the outer screws of the round gears to get them to move. The shafts and worm gears are rusted steel. The round gears are brass, but held on by a steel screw, also rusted. These are the screws I loosened. Now they turn, most of them easily, but I guess I should turn them by hand to break them in. Should I try to clean the rust from the worm gears? Should I lubricate them somehow?

Thanks much for any help.