Though they’ve operated in the shadow of bigger brands in America, Sweden’s Hagstrom has always built inventive, pro-quality instruments and provided cool alternatives for stubbornly independent artists. Hagstrom has also been a friend to the budget-conscious. The majority of Hagstrom’s offerings these days are in the sub-$1,000 range and provide major bang for the buck. Their latest axe, the Fantomen (Swedish for Phantom), costs just $799. And while it marks a stylistic departure from familiar Hagstroms like the Viking, Super Swede, and Hagstrom II, it keeps with the company’s idiosyncratic traditions and leanings.
The Fantomen is the fruit of collaboration between Hagstrom and the Swedish metal band Ghost. The mahogany body profile exhibits more than a hint of Gibson RD Artist influence, and the curvaceous lines are a natural fit for the distinct Hagstrom headstock and its Art Deco-style tuning machines. Our test model came in a white gloss finish. With black multi-ply binding, it suits Ghost’s stark and darkly theatrical visual identity.
There are some nice little touches that make the Fantomen feel more expensive than it is. The guitar comes with a high-quality padded gig bag that contains a thick internal neck support and Velcro strap to keep the neck secure. The stairstep design of the tuning pegs makes gripping them very comfortable.
The low-profile chrome volume and tone knobs are knurled, which make them easier to maneuver, though they are uniquely situated well aft of the tailpiece.The Fantomen’s mahogany set neck has a flat 15" radius with 22 medium jumbo frets. The scale is 25 1/2". The fretboard, meanwhile, is made from a proprietary composite material called Resonator Wood.
Workmanship on the Fantomen is very good overall. Cosmetically, the finish and detailing are excellent. In terms of playability, though, the guitar felt a little stiff. In spots, I sensed it could use a little fret leveling, or just a break-in period to take care of some of that new-guitar feel.
As great as it looks, the Fantomen’s body’s shape took some time to get used to. Personally, I like resting my picking-hand forearm on the edge or contours of the lower bout. On the Fantomen, this area is high and sharp, which makes it harder for me to get my elbow over the edge. I had to adjust my playing style so my whole arm rested on the guitar’s body. However, the Fantomen’s slim body makes this move relatively comfortable. And if you wear your guitar lower, or use a picking style that keeps your arm over the body rather than against it, then you’ll be fine.
Name Brand Pickups for Nameless Ghouls
One of the coolest aspects of the Fantomen is the passive Lundgren humbucking pickups, which are built around alnico 2 magnets in the neck pickup and alnico 5 magnets in the bridge unit. Lundgren is a Swedish company popularized by Meshuggah’s Marten Hagström. This was my first encounter with these pickups, and I was impressed. They sound great and feel very alive.
I tested the Fantomen with several amps including a Mesa/Boogie .50 Caliber Plus and a Fender Prosonic. Using the dirt channels of both amps with a moderate amount of gain, the bridge pickup dished meaty stoner rock, classic rock, and power pop crunch tones. Cranking the gain up and detuning the Fantomen generated a massive sound perfect for Periphery-type riffs that incorporate pull-offs on the lower open strings. Fantomen’s clarity and fast articulation made these figures sound tight and vibrant. With the neck pickup engaged, upper register bends really sang, and double-stop thirds on the B and G strings, played with slides, were throaty and huge.
For all these strengths, Fantomen’s pickups aren’t exactly the most dynamic. When I plucked strings rather than used a pick, I didn’t get the same pronounced timbral difference or touch sensitivity I experience from vintage-output units. The upside is that the Fantomen produces very impressive sustain and very nice organic decay. And for a guitar that’s designed primarily for hard-rock applications, I was won over by the beauty of the axe’s clean sounds. The bridge pickup was warm with plenty of cutting power. And it seemed carefully voiced to live at the edge where clear and warm could become too bright.
The pickups can be also be split via push-pull pots on the tone control. And while the split sounds were slightly noisy at high gain levels, they were ultra musical in cleaner modes. Individual notes were pronounced and present sounding whether I played muted pentatonic riffs or strummed ninth chords. In a Red Hot Chili Peppers-style funk-rock context, the Fantomen’s split-coil sounds would shine.
I expected the Fantomen to be a one-trick pony, but was pleasantly surprised by its versatility. It covers a lot more ground than its heavy-rock guise suggests. The Chinese-made Fantomen is also very well built, making the $799 price tag feel fair. Even if you’re not a Ghost fan, Fantomen is a looker, a great player, and bursting with cool and varied sounds.