Hofner instruments were distributed in the UK and throughout the commonwealth (except Canada) by the largest British musical instrument distributor Selmer. They produced their own Selmer brand amplifiers, and would ultimately distribute guitars by Fender, Gibson, Hagstrom and several other less well-established makes. But in the 1950s, before the mass appeal (and availability in the UK) of these brands, Selmer's guitar offering consisted almost exclusively of imported German Hofner instruments; mostly hollow-bodies, but adding solid body guitars into the range starting with the Hofner Colorama.
Selmer-distributed Hofner guitars sometimes differed from those sold elsewhere, and typically had their own model designations. The UK's Hofner Colorama was sold in Europe as Hofner models 161, 162, 163 and 164: Colorama I for single pickup guitars, and Colorama II for dual pickup models.
The Hofner Colorama range of (mostly) solid body guitars underwent numerous changes in design, construction, and materials throughout the years of production, and, in effect the guitar was completely revised every year or two. Not all Hofner Colorama guitars are equal; earlier set-neck Coloramas feel significantly nicer instruments than later examples. Generally, one and two pickup versions were available, with optional vibrato available in some incarnations. The Hofner Colorama was listed in Selmer catalogues from 1958, and last included in the catalogue dated September 1964, though European models shipped through the 1960s.
The Colorama was first offered in 1958 and these early examples (1958-1960) had a single cutaway body, sharing the same basic shape/design as the Hofner Club or even the hollow body President / Committee (also similar to the Gibson Les Paul / Melody Maker, though with a more rounded lower horn). But the body itself wasn't solid - rather a block running the length of the body, with a separate top, back, and sides. These were nicely-built and exceedingly light guitars, with (from 1959) a lovely translucent Cherry nitrocellulose finish. The earliest literature described the Colorama as being "carved from selected timbers" and added "their completely solid construction renders them virtually indestructible".
But the body shape and construction changed in very late 1960/early 1961. Like the Les Paul / Melody Maker, the body was redesigned to a double cutaway, now with a true solid body for the first time - replacing the semi-solid construction of earlier instruments. The image here shows two early Colorama examples - a semi solid 1960 Hofner Colorama II (European model 162), and a solid body 1961 Hofner Colorama I (European model 161). Note the change in overall lengths and the new headstock on the right.
The circa 1961 solid body Colorama was surely one of the nicest guitars with the name, and a pretty nice guitar all round. It was no doubt less time-consuming to produce, but maybe not by a lot. The body size was almost identical to the previous single cutaway version, but the change from a semi-solid to completely solid construction, larger (Fender-style) single-sided headstock and chunkier neck, all added weight to the guitar. But despite this, the new Colorama was far from heavy. It was shown in the 1960 Selmer catalogue, but was short-lived, and perhaps not shipped much beyond late 1961. It was a well-made guitar, Gibsonesque in looks (have a look at the Les Paul Junior in the 1960 Gibson catalogue), with it's dark cherry finish and double cutaway body style, but also Gibsonesque in construction and materials, having a hardwood body, mahogany set neck and rosewood fingerboard. It had "the styling today's guitarists demand" and was not too highly priced. Sounds perfect, but it was only short-lived, and by late 1961 was replaced by a similar looking model, but with a much cheaper to produce bolt-on maple neck, and often vinyl covered body. One change for the better, however, was the replacement of the tricky control consul, in favour of a volume and tone control for each pickup.
By 1963 the body style had changed for the last time - to an offset cutaway. With the earlier change to a bolt-on, and a new shade of red finish the transition from 'Gibson' to 'Fender' was complete. The new finish was more Fiesta Red than Cherry nitrocellulose, but it was also available in Ice Blue and Cream.
Coloramas remained in the Selmer range until 1965, but some of the guitars on which they were based remained in production for the European market right through the 1960s
The hardware changes (especially in terms of scratchplates) made to all Hofners also applied to the Colorama, and within each distinct Colorama 'phase' there are earlier and later examples differently equipped, and these offer an additional means of dating these guitars.
The Colorama was shipped between 1958 and 1965, and over this time just about all of the hardware changed, the pickups changed, control layouts changed, and the construction changed. But not all of this happened at the same time, and there are numerous examples with transition features
1958-59 black plastic bar pickups
1960-61 Hofner Toaster pickups
1961-63 Hofner Diamond logo pickups
1963-65 Hofner Staple pickups
1958-59 single cutaway metallic finish (typically gold or blue), set neck, 2x3 headstock
1959-60 single cutaway cherry finish, set neck, 2x3 headstock
1961 double cutaway cherry finish, set neck, 6x1 headstock
1961-63 double cutaway red, white or blue paint or vinyl finish, bolt-on neck, 6x1 headstock
1963-65 asymmetric double cutaway red, white or blue finish, bolt-on neck, 6x1 headstock
A lot of Hofner guitars use Preh pots. These typically have the rating (e.g. 250Ω), and a date code in the format WWY - where WW is the week of the year, and Y is the final digit of the year. e.g. 403 would mean week 40 of 1963. More about reading pot codes