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This article was originally published in issue #6
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Hagstrom began making guitars in Sweden way back in 1958, starting out with the very modern looking (for the time) Standard, De Luxe and De Luxe A. Production continued until 1983 with a variety of models and, despite never quite cracking the international big time, the individualistic company pioneered some interesting design ideas and, along the way, secured a few Grade A artists using their guitars - including no lesser beings than Joe Walsh, Kurt Cobain - and Elvis Presley. Original Hagstrom guitars have become collectors items over the years, as you might imagine!
In 2004 Hagstrom returned as a brand - not exactly the original company, but following the original's ideas and with family involvement. The plan was to embrace the Hagstrom heritage while reflecting modern trends in technology and production techniques. As you would expect, production no longer takes place in expensive Sweden, but all the raw materials for the guitars are sourced from the USA and Korea, which should make Hagstroms a cut above some of the mass market brands.
The Swedie model we were loaned for review is a relative newcomer to the range and leans in terms of both its name and inspiration on the highly respected Hagstrom Swede. Despite being an entry-level model (in Hagstrom terms), it impressed us in every way with its construction and build quality. It features a mahogany body with mahogany top, matched to a mahogany neck and Hagstrom's trademark 'Resinator' fretboard.
As we've said, this is one of the cheaper guitars in the Hagstrom range but its price tag certainly doesn't reflect the quality of the instrument. Everything feels expensive and solid, with a flawless build and finish. The corner cutting, normally associated with lower cost guitars, simply doesn't feature here and the frets, neck and body are all superbly put together with no cracks, flaws or warping to speak of. There are no flame or quilt veneers to add sparkle and flair, just a simple opaque finish to keep costs down, with five colours to choose from. Everything about this guitar says quality and value for money. The design is obviously vintage - in fact very 60's - but the unique headstock and body shape make it stand out from the crowd.
Some of those ideas that characterised the original Hagstrom flair and innovation appear even in this lower cost guitar. For example, the 'Resinator' fretboard is made from a composite wood material and offers greater stability and fewer dead spots along the neck, the company says. It's not the first time a guitar maker has tried replacing traditional fingerboard materials with composites and in this case it seems to work well. On the Swedie it also looks great and the instrument performed well across its entire range. The truss rod, meanwhile, is another example of Hagstrom's design innovation. Always ahead of the pack with truss rod and neck design, Hagstrom's H-Expander design, running the full length of the neck and providing tension at both ends, offers a rigidity that allows for a very low action and a thin neck. In fact our Swedie was beautifully set-up and easy to play, with a low action and comfortable neck profile, helped by its 15" radius allowing for a flatter fretboard. Tuning was superb and, for once, a guitar arrived with the strings pre-stretched and in tune out of the box!
Strummed and picked acoustically the Swedie is very resonant and has great sustain with a bright, bold tone. Plugged into our valve head on the clean channel, the custom designed humbuckers are clear and confident sounding, without the muddiness associated with some budget models. All three position were useful and musical, without harshness on the bridge pickup. Overdriven and higher gain tones were punchy and had enough to to cut through without being piercing, The neck pickup retained clarity and top end and had clout in the lower range frequencies with a tight attack, aided by the mahogany construction. The three-way filter switch located at the bottom horn of the body is used as cut for high and high/mid frequencies. It performed its job as expected, although it's not something I could see myself using as the sound became a little muddy with it engaged. Personally, I preferred it in the centre bypass setting although, I'm sure experimentation and combining it with the EQ controls on your amp would yield better results.
The guitar also features high quality hardware with a custom designed Graphtech nut, Tune-O-Matic bridge and lovely 15:1 ratio die-cast tuners for accurate tuning.
All in all the Hagstrom Swedie represents a fabulous value package that feels like a much more expensive instrument than the price tag suggests. A long heritage of instrument building seems to have ensured good quality across the board and if you require a more flamboyant finish - well, the more costly Swede range can provide all sorts of bells and whistles!
If, on the other hand, you want a single cut guitar that is a little different to the rest of the crowd and has a few unique features coupled with great build quality and hardware, at a price that's sensible then check out the Swedie. All in all a great guitar at a superb price - you can't really go wrong with this. I look forward to checking out the rest of the Hagstrom range.