Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hagstrom Bass Guitars

F-400 Bass
I had a discussion with my Face book friends regarding Hagstrom guitars. These guitars were produced in Sweden back by the Albin Hagstrom Company. The company was based in Sweden, originally importing accordions and later manufacturing them. As the company grew a whole line of musical instruments ensued. Most were imported from other Euro-Scandinavian countries such as Goya (Levin).

Switching to electric guitar production seemed to be a natural progression for European Manufacturers. As we see this same pattern for Italian companies such as Futurama, Italia and Wandre and German manufacturers such as Hohner and Framus.

There are a lot of Hagstrom instruments, but I am going to concentrate on their bass models.

I first encountered Hagstrom guitars when I was 12 years old. After school, on Thursday afternoon, I would drag my guitar on a bus to Dodds Music Store in Covington, Kentucky. What a place that was! They had the very latest in guitars, amplifiers and combo organs. The staff was incredible.

Gene Hughes worked there for a while. He was the lead singer in the group, The Casinos that recorded, Then You Can Tell Me Good-bye.

Gene Lawson was the repair man and probably the first person to build clones of Fender speaker cabinets. He later went on to Nashville as a recording engineer and own a microphone rental business.

Seymour Duncan worked as a repair man for awhile. His guitar pickups are the best in the world.

But I digress. Dodds Music had a wall full of all these wonderful and weird Hagtrom guitars and basses. Unlike Fender or Gibson instruments, early Hagstroms had only one potentiometer knob and a myriad of switches or push-buttons.

Hagstroms shared a large European market since after WWII Britain had imposed large tariffs on products imported from the United States. Britain owed a large war debt to the US and used the tariff to encourage domestic purchases to increase their tax base.

This model had an insert that was supposed to make it sound acoustic
Beginning in 1958 the Hershman Company began importing Hagstrom guitars, basses and amplifiers.

In 1962 Merson (Unicord, Univox) became the import agent for Hagstrom.

The first Hagstrom bass I recall seeing and playing was the F-400. These were also sold under the Kent brand name. The body shape was similar to a Fender Precision Bass only much slimmer. The Hagstrom had two pickups. One was near the neck and the other by the bridge, similar to a guitar. This arrangement was unusual since most bass guitars will have a pickup in the center and one near the bridge. The pickup assembly was mounted on a white molded plastic frame.

The lower distal end of the frame had the input jack that was mounted in a manner that was reverse of the sunken input jack you would find on a Stratocaster. There was a volume knob and four throw switches on the lower section of the frame/pick guard. Two switches were off-on for each pickup. A third switch was called Bass/Treble which must have activated some capacitors.

The fourth switch was labeled Mute, which was supposed to provide a deadened sound like a string bass. On the upper section of the pick guard was an on-off or stand-by switch that turned off all the electronics. Between the two pickups was a sunken area that had a section of gold molded plastic with a raised diamond design. It's job was supposed to enhance the sound if you played the bass without amplification. It was as functional as the Mute switch, which IMO didn't do anything.

This golden diamond area came to be known as a swimming pool by folks who write about guitars. The other feature about this bass was the top of the body was covered in some sort of a Naugahyde and the rear section was made of plastic. Both were bolted to each other. The four on a side Fender style necks on these models were standard Hagstom necks.

The necks and the head stocks were usually painted black on this model. I wonder if this was to hide the original Kent logo? The tuners were large spade-style tuners built by Hagstrom.

Hagstrom called their necks King Necks, due to the I-beam style truss rod that was inside the neck cavity.

Despite being extremely thin, Hagstrom necks were guaranteed against warpage. Hagstrom billed themselves as having The Fastest Necks In The West. They certainly had the slenderest necks.

Most Hagstroms had a large metallic decal on the back of the headstock advertising this feature. Necks were standard 34" bass necks. The bridge was a piece of wood sitting on a chrome plate that had string slots at the end. Despite looking somewhat cheap, the S-1 was an excellent starter instrument. Although like most Hagstrom basses it was top heavy.

The H2 aka F400 was a step up from the plastic S2. The features, two pickups and similar switches and a single volume control were similar, however the H2 (as it was known in Europe) was made entirely of wood. All the controls were mounted on a single unit but for the input which was on the body ala the Stratocaster. The bridge on this guitar was similar to the S2.

The neck had a rosewood finger board and a natural Fender style headstock with a Hagstrom decal. The maple neck was left natural with a lacquered finish. The H2 body resemble a Gibson EB with it's pointy horns, however the lower bout's horn was lower than the one on the upper bout.

The most unusual Hagstrom bass was the Coronado IV. It's design was more original than the other two models. The pickups were larger humbucking stylye and made by Hagstrom.

The layout was very unique with it's system of push-button accordion style switches. Instead of a potentiometer and knob, there was a volume lever on the lower side of the pick guard. The neck and headstock were painted. The bridge was fancier than the other models.

The Hagstrom bass made famous by Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience was the Hagstrom 8 string bass. Hendrix can be seen playing one in photos.

It was essentially the same bass as the H2 but it sported 8 strings that were tuned in octaves similar to a 12 string guitar. This gave the bass guitarist an incredibly huge sound when played through a large amplifier.

This is the Hagstrom Concord model. It came out in the later 1960's due to the popularity of Gibson EBO basses with their larger bodies and f-holes.

The Concord resembled the Gibson EBO, except it maintained the bolt on Fender style neck with 4 on a side tuners. And it kept the same King Neck as on all Hagstrom models. However the neck was bound.

The much improved bridge was adjustable on this model. Gone were the switches. The Concord sported more traditional controls with a volume and tone switch for each pickup. This bass came in a standard model with dot markers or a deluxe model with block markers.

This was a quality players instrument.

A less familiar bass was the original Hershman import. Designated originally as EL Bass and the 388 Deluxe. It's first year of manufacturer was 1961 and it was sold under the Goya label. The bass was a great example of Italian style design, but it was made in Sweden and made extensive use of celluloid. This hearkened back to the accordion manufacturing techniques. The bodies were covered in red, blue or gold sparkle celluloid and the necks were covered, front and back in a pearloid material.

All controls were mounted on a chromium plate. There were roller volume switches for either pickup and push-button controls for pickup selection and tone. The bridge design was similar to a Les Paul. The body shape also was rather like a Les Paul, except for the rounded lower bout aka Venetian cutaway.

On a somewhat odd note, Hagstrom did have it's own music stores in Sweden and had an agreement with Guild to import their guitars. The body design of this instrument and it's accompanying guitar is very similar to Guild's M-75 Aristocrat.



john said...

i'm looking for a body & pickguard for a 1964 hag 1b ... thanks ...email me at ...jazzvbass(at)gmail.com ... use the @ sign... thanks ... john

Anonymous said...

Hi Marc

I recently spotted a Hagstrom H2 8 string bass in James Music (Adelaide Australia) priced at $3500 (Aus). Until then, I hadn't heard of such a configuration. I assume they're rare.
Cheers, Pete P.

Dan Schwartz said...

You've put together great blog here, page after page of really great info.

The two rare Hasgtroms basses above, the Coronado IV and the 8-string are exactly like the pair I have. There is a yet-more-rare bass, the Coronado VI. I've only seen images of two and bought one of them.

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