For many in the U.S., the Hagstrom name might seem relatively new, but to the rest of the world they’ve been making great guitars for over 50 years. The Swedish Hagstrom Company started manufacturing electric guitars in 1958. The first Hagstrom solidbody guitar featured a sparkle celluloid finish, a very cool choice of materials borrowed from their accordion production line. Hagstrom expanded its guitar line to include hollowbody guitars like the Viking, the flagship Swede series, basses (including the legendary 8-string) and a series of acoustic and classical guitars in the early 1970s.
The original Hagstrom Company stopped production in 1983, making the guitars instant collectables. Twentythree years later, the legacy continued with reissues of the original models built to the same quality and unique designs that made them beloved all over the world. The artists that have played these instruments are as classic and diverse as the Hagstrom body shapes: Elvis Presley, Frank Zappa, Björn Ulvaeus (ABBA), Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music), David Bowie, ZZ Top, Noel Redding, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford (Genesis), The Beatles, and many more. Now that we know where they’ve been, let’s see where they’re going with the new Swede.
The Wow Factor
The guitar showed up in great condition and was wrapped and boxed very well. It was easy to tune and didn’t require an initial setup, so I was able to jump right in and sample this beast. When you first take a look at it, this guitar has lots of wow factor: the classic 24.75" scale single-cut design and snow white finish brings out your inner-punk. It will compel you to pull out your Sex Pistols and Germsalbums, cranking them up and remembering why you play guitar in the first place. When I finished my punk assault upon my neighbors, I sat down with the guitar and really started to examine all the little details that make the Swede a real gem.
Hagstrom's H-Expander alloy truss rod
and Resinator composite wood fretboard.
First, you’ll notice the fancy 18:1 ratio tuning pegs, a cut above what you usually get in this middle price range, and which made the guitar stay in tune perfectly. The tail piece is made of a sturdy metal plate that contributes to the sleek look of the guitar and adds a fair amount of sustain to boot. Speaking of sustain, let’s talk about the H-Expander alloy truss rod that adds tension to both ends of the neck and runs its entire length. This allows for the action to be set lower than average with no string buzz. The fretboard is made from a composite wood they call Resinator. It’s a stronger material that provides a smooth feel and complements the 22 medium jumbo frets.
The neck is a husky “C” shape with a flatter fretboard radius and very comfortable feel; it’s easy to bend notes 1-1/2 steps without sacrificing any string volume and sustain. This is also due to the graphite nut that is the icing on this tone cake. It’s these little upgrades and additions that set Hagstrom guitars apart from the crowd; their design philosophy is all about adding sustain, tonality and playability, but they present it in a very cool retro-styled instrument.
The Swede Elements
The 45mm body and neck are both mahogany, and on this model the 10mm carve top is also mahogany, which makes the guitar a little bit darker, but it’s a good complement to the vintage-voiced Custom 58 humbuckers. The covered pickups are a little hotter than true vintage buckers, but the tone is smooth and balanced. For most guitars in this price range the pickups usually are the weakest link and I’d suggest upgrading then. But in this case the pickups are definitely not weak. Hagstrom has gone the extra mile and wound quality-sounding pickups that would suit this guitar.
The Swede also features a high-grade polyester finish, which is smoother and denser, producing a better sonic performance than some polyurethane finishes do. But I wish that the top coat was sprayed a bit thinner. You see this thick glassy finish on a lot of import guitars, and it makes the instruments sound compressed. This is a mistake in my opinion. I also wish that the solid-colored Swedes had a maple top; the Super Swedes do and I’m sure the added brightness makes a difference. The Swede comes with two Volume and Tone controls and a three-way pickup selector toggle, but the fun doesn’t stop there.
The Swede has a second 3-way toggle switch located on the bottom horn that provides filter controls for additional tone options. When the switch is up, you get an added midrange boost, kind of like a half-cocked wah. When the switch is down, you get an added boost of bass. The filters are bypassed in the middle position. These filters work on both pickups and the shifts in tone will definitely make your ordinary riffs sound outstanding. The filters are usable for clean as well as distorted settings, and the added bass was great for jazz. I spent a week nailing my favorite John Scofield riffs, not to mention the mid boost for lead playing. An added bonus of the Swede’s filter controls is that it becomes a very versatile guitar for recording. The filters work great for making your guitar sound different, especially when layering guitar tracks. If you’re looking for that wall-of-guitar sound, then look no further. The Swede will save you from having to run multiple amps in the studio. This guitar is a lot of fun to play and a time saver in the studio.
The Final Mojo
The Hagstrom Swede is a lot of guitar for the money. The attention to detail demonstrated by the custom hardware and upgraded pickups shows that they listen to their customers about what features are important at this price range. The added tonality of the Swede makes this guitar extremely versatile for any style of music. I do have a request for Hagstrom and I’m sure I’m not alone when I ask: when is the Pat Smear model coming out?
you’re looking for a mid-priced retro rocker with lots of upgrades.
you’re looking for a guitar with a locking tremolo and active pickups.