We’ve been hearing a familiar story in guitar and bass manufacturing lately: A company enjoys success for a decade or two, and then changing economic climates and world influences force it to close its doors. Fast-forward 30 years, and scores of brands are coming back with “new” old instrument lines.
The Hagstrom story follows a similar plotline, having ceased guitar manufacturing in 1983. The Swedish brand was resurrected in 2004, with manufacturing taking place in China under strict quality control and exacting specifications. Here we take a look at the semi-hollow Viking 4-string bass—a variation on the company’s 1960s Concord bass.
The Nuts and Bolts
At one time, the hollowbody bass was a staple on the rock scene. Though the popularity of this style will probably never again reach the same heights it achieved during its heyday, there is plenty of room for it in today’s market. In that light, constructing a retro-model instrument is a tricky undertaking. When designing a bass of this nature, there needs to be a certain amount of give and take with regard to features and engineering—capitalizing on the good and eliminating the bad. Hagstrom has shown both respect and restraint with the Viking by bringing modern touches to a vintage design.
The first thing that struck me when I saw the Viking was, well—the whole thing. From its trapeze tailpiece to the slick 22:1 tuners (which have the same regal aesthetic as those on Hagstrom’s über-popular Swede guitar model), the instrument screams classic. The 6-position, chickenhead pickup selector on the treble bout is a nice touch (more on that shortly), and the Hagstrom designed, alnico-5 Dyna Rail humbuckers, with their “Razer-Mesh” covers, runneth over with vintage vibe.
Oftentimes instruments as affordable as the new Viking exhibit finishing touches that are a little rough, but this bass not only featured a flawless transparent wild-cherry finish, but it also felt really solid—no mystery rattles, loose screws, or fittings. The binding on the body and the thin, low-profile neck was beautiful, but, more importantly, the neck passed my initial “cut test” (which entails running my hands down the sides of the neck to check for sharp fret ends). For whatever reason, smoothing down the fret ends is not always a priority in some factories, but not in this case. They were smooth as silk.
The Viking felt really good in my hands when I went to play it, too—like I had owned it for a long time. Though the contoured semi-hollowbody was not as light as expected, my shoulders would easily welcome it for a three-hour set. The chambered maple design allowed it to open up and breathe unplugged—which is the first test I put any instrument through—showing tons of sustain and clarity without even touching the amp. The hard-maple neck is fast, almost J-bass thin, and is topped with a “Resinator” fretboard, a composite material Hagstrom likens to ebony. However, the neck-heavy Viking needed a little help to keep it level, having taken a bit of a dive when I attached a strap. The strap button is behind the heel, and though I appreciate the nod to the classics, a little more balance would be welcomed.
For this review, I plugged the Viking into a trusty 1965 Ampeg B-18, an Eden WT800 and D410XLT, and a Korg headphone amp. I was wrong in thinking beforehand that I would only hear long-gone tones from the Summer of Love—this bass is way more flexible than the vintage classic I expected. With the volume and tone controls cranked and the rotary switch engaging both pickups, the tone was rock solid and powerful, which got me wondering how I could work it into my next gig.
Selecting the neck pickup only is what really drew the vintage side of the Viking out. The tone was smoooooth, and when I moved my plucking hand directly over the pickup, it inspired soulful grooves that had me thinking about the closest R&B clubs in town. One more turn of the selector knob, and I found the tone more pointed, with more attack. Where the neck pickup had a laid-back sound that begs you to play behind the beat, the bridge pickup was its brash little brother with its strong, defined tone. Scrolling through the other pickup combinations, I found them all to be useful, distinct variations on the theme—but each still had an individual identity. And while the Viking was not designed to win first place at a slap competition, that’s okay—this bass has other places to be.
Being a sucker for vintage semi-hollow and hollowbody instruments, I really appreciated this bass. When Hagstrom talks about their signature sound, they have a legitimate claim. And this holds true for the Viking, which has a tonal character all its own and makes no promises it can’t keep. The sound may not be as instantly recognizable as a P bass or a Rickenbacker, but it should be at home in a wide variety of applications. I would take it to a rock or a country gig, and would love to use it in the studio. I wouldn’t play metal with it, but I would put it through the rigors of a surf-punk band. Likewise, the Viking might not be the first choice for a funk outfit, but it would be perfect for an R&B or soul act.
The problem with older hollowbody basses is their limited applicability—they’re often only useful for specialized situations. Hagstrom has overcome this with the Viking and produced a bass that brings the past forward and adds new life to the company’s storied line. While some players may find themselves leaving the rotary switch in one place over the course of a gig, the beauty isn’t just switching tone, but rather knowing you can switch it. This bass is a solid value for the price, and most certainly worth exploring a little deeper.
you want refined vintage tone.
your tastes run a bit more modern.