HAGSTROM WAS FOUNDED IN ALVDALEN, SWEDEN IN THE 1920S by 19-year-old Albin Hagstrom. The company initially specialized in making accordions, and business grew steadily through the ’30s and ’40s, despite the economic turmoil of World War II. In addition to building musical instruments, the company also operated a large chain of music stores throughout Scandinavia. By the late 1950s, Hagstrom jumped into the burgeoning guitar market in a big way and successfully marketed their instruments world wide through various distributors, including Selmer in the U.S.
Throughout the tumultous ’60s and ’70s, Hagstrom maintained a high level of build quality and design. Their innovations included their patented H-bar truss rod design, created for extremely low action and stability. The H8, introduced in 1967, was the first production-line 8-string bass, and in the late ’70s, in partnership with Ampeg, Hagstrom developed the Patch 2000 guitar and bass synthesizers, with bodies based on the Swede design. Unfortunately, due to a combination of business factors, the company ceased all production in 1981.
The Swede could certainly be considered the crown jewel of the Hagstrom bass line. Their early basses, including the Futurama series, were derived from existing guitar models, and were mostly short-scale mudblowers with bright colors and accordion- inspired plastic ornamentation. The Swede’s straightforward, no-frills design was no doubt inspired by Gibson’s Les Paul line, and was a move towards more traditional solidbody building techniques. There were fewer than 1500 of these mahogany beauties manufactured between 1972 and 1976.
The transparent finish on this bass, which belongs to Nashville bass monster Sean O’Bryan Smith, shows the Swede’s mahogany body and neck to great effect. It has aged beautifully to a golden honey tone, and the cream binding sets it off beautifully. The fret markers and especially distinctive Hagstrom headstock and floral inlay are all top-notch. The Swede’s 31" scale is a bit deceptive, as it feels like a longer scale bass. The neck profile is deep and chunky enough to feel solid, but is still easy to get around on. In fact, the more you play it, the low action and accessibility to all 22 frets feel “like butter.” The Gibson-style bridge and tailpiece have enough mass to make the Swede “sing” acoustically, and the piano-like quality of the sustain is surprising for a short-scale bass.
Hagstrom was always known for its good sounding pickups, and the Swede is no exception. The mid-size silver humbuckers have a full, balanced tone and a nice bit of growl. The lower of the two 3-way switches is a pickup selector, and the upper switch is a 3-way EQ control with some subtle but interesting tonal variations. The center position is flat, and the up position gives a upper midrange cut that brings out the woof factor in a very cool way, and the lower position offers a slight midrange boost that brings out the upper harmonics and articulation really well.
On a recent recording session, I used the Swede for a pulsing eighth-note part on a moody minor key tune, using both pickups and the midrange cut switch. It sat perfectly in the track with just the right amount of boom while still retaining a bit of Fender-ish top end. With good reason, there is still a sizeable cult of Hagstrom enthusiasts out there, and after a long silence, the company has reappeared on the scene in recent years. Only time will tell if they can recapture and maintain the high quality and cool vibe that Hagstrom instruments came to represent for most of the last century. ’Til next time, peace, love and grooves!