Hagstrom Guitars Ha gström Gitar

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Hagstrom - WHY GUITARS? - The Background.

Albin Hagstrom the founder of the Hagstrom music empire died at the age of 46. Albin had needed to go the USA from about 1946-47 to try to sort out the mess of the Jamestown operation which had "disappeared" during the WWII years. In those days you needed a smallpox vaccine to go to USA, and on one of these trips he was presented with a problem. The batch of vaccine was out of date, and so it was Albin's choice whether or not to use it. The outcome was that he suffered severe blood poisoning. His heart valves were infected, and were leaking. Penicillin had just become available, so he took shots of penicillin to get rid of the bacteria, but they could not do anything about the leaking heart valves - and he died from that in 1952. Erik Wisen stepped in and ran the company with the existing management team until he too died in 1967, having by that time broadened the retail base to about 48 music stores around Scandinavia and now leaving Karl Erik the head of the company in his early thirties.

The young Karl Erik Hagstrom was at school when his father died, and he still had to do military service and exams. He went to a preparatory school and on to university to do an MBA. He took a course along with some other notable Swedes who went on to do big things in industry. The course was for two years, with a further year punctuated by military service. When he was due to return to university for the final part of his MBA he was told he must go home to Älvdalen to help do something about the accordions because sales were plummeting. They were needing to close factories and Karl Erik must to go to USA to explore the opportunities for new sales to stop the whole operation closing down.

So Karl Erik had been trying to sell accordions in USA - a hard job by this time as things had moved on in the music scene. He travelled to every state except Alaska, Puerto Rico and Hawaii trying to sell accordions, but realised the market was virtually over.. Sleeping in his car at times he went around the country, and finally gave up having sold only two or three! By this time they had started looking at alternatives. At one stage they protected the workforce back home by actually burying finished accordions in concrete (now the site of a local supermarket car park), and work was now underway to start making guitars. They had no idea how to make them really, but having been the distributor for Gibson for many years they took the most popular model the Les Paul, and started to make their own guitar - complete with glitter finish. Why glitter? Well they had so much material in stock for making accordions they had to do something with it all!

Many have pontificated about the finish on these early models - especially when they have suffered the ravages of heat humidity and the passage of time. The laminated finish has a tendency to absorb moisture creating dark patches, and finally cracking or lifting from the wood underneath. There are hundreds of examples around the world, in many phases of deterioration, and a few in absolute pristine condition. Much of this depends on how they have been stored, how much use they have had, or indeed whether or not they have been refinished. Yes, if I had a pound for every time someone had mentioned or discussed how to restore these guitars I could afford to buy many more guitars, and yet the answer is quite simple really. It has nothing to do with layers of lacquer and flake, wet coatings and polish, or even any paint. In the UK there is a long standing children's TV programme called Blue Peter. One of the best known phrases all along the 50 year history of the programme (which also started in 1958) is 'sticky backed plastic'. You guessed it, the finish on these guitars is in fact supplied in big sheets, cut out to shape and simply stuck on to the guitar body before the edge trim is put in place. Indeed the first Hagstrom examples were square edged with a ribbed flat side (also accordion making materials) - see the Hagstrom UK example. When I was privileged to be shown around the barns at Älvdalen in 2005, I saw the last remaining sheets of red glitter sheet. Karl Erik Hagstrom senior quipped we keep it here in case anyone needs to refinish a guitar. I suspect they'd have to be very close to the family to get a chance of using any of that last remaining material! Lets hope it is used wisely and not turned into a fictitious model as unveiled to the world in 2006. No, Hagstrom never did make a twin necked production batch. Anders Barke put together a project from old parts just recently, and a good bit of fun it is too. What Jimmy Page might have made of it is anyone's guess. But then we've never heard whether it actually plays...

Alongside the red glitter sheet there was also a sheet of the nitro cellulose pickguard material used on the early Jimmy prototype models and some Jimmy HN Custom models. This material fumes over time and can even eat away the wood of the guitar itself if not aired well. John Haskin was provided with a 'fresh' piece of this material for his own prototype Jimmy and was stunned when presented with a piece, a workbench and some tools - and encouraged to get on with it - by the old man himself! I witnessed this episode first hand - it was really quite funny!

So there you have it. This brings some more truths from the many urban myths - and I'll probably be sworn at by the next generation Hagstrom family for saying anything - but I don't see it as a problem unless Gibson would like to take the company to court for actions started 50 years ago! Certainly the influence was stronger than that which took PRS to court a few years ago, indeed the old man himself made the connection without even flinching in conversation. Of course the similarity with a Les Paul didn't fully materialise until they went to the later D'Aquisto inspired Swede model in the early seventies, and the best incarnation: the SuperSwede which includes the sharper lower horn. However there is always strong debate about preference - it partially depends on whether you've ever played the alternatives. Of course there was a tremendous amount of pioneering work by Hagstrom collectively and some fascinating stories about development and the highs and the lows along the way.

Anyway guys, deep breath here. You wouldn't believe the amount of flack I've had recently as I've been warned to expect. When I mention something from the past I am increasingly accused of making it up, and questioned why anyone would be interested! Well you are reading this... aren't you? If no-one is reading this then I agree, no-one is interested. Finally there is never an insult to the family or history of Hagstrom. I'm honoured by past help and hospitality, but times may be changing which is why I'm glad I have gathered information before it is lost - as Karl Erik senior advised me to do in 2005. If ever I get something wrong it is with regret - I would love to be put right on it, but it seems those days are fading fast too... so continue to help me out here if you can folks.

The Gibson connection came from a pre-war (WWII) agreement with Albin Hagstrom. Having found that Gibson had no idea how to export goods - to quote: "They didn’t know much about exporting goods, so we had to instruct them how to do it… no packing list, no invoices on time… it was sitting in customs so we sold up the Gibson guitars and we said lets make guitars. We didn’t know anything about making guitars; it was like we were making wood clocks!” He gave a single small laugh. “So we used the old accordion parts to make a guitar. The surplus accordion parts to make everything on the guitar. Plastic glitter…”

If you are interested in more inside information from extensive interviews from various sources over the last few years, please let me know and I'll consider publishing some more. Examples of stories about Gerry Hershman, and the Goya story, his association with Levin, the lawsuit within the Hagstrom family 60-70 years ago (which nearly scuppered the whole company), how Gulf and Western wanted to take them over, how Gibson wanted to take them over, the relationships with the Italians - accordions, echo machines, and 'ripping off' - and finishing off the glitter Goyas; along with more detail on the above, (much of which I assume will be called lies and insults by one person for some unknown reason)... Please vote folks and let us know - we believe in democracy (OK so I'm getting carried away on purpose here now. Phew!) You've got to laugh sometimes. You know the old saying "Why make a drama out of a crisis?" We see no crisis, we see no drama - apart from the feedback from one person...

What I don't want to do is to go into great depth with the reaction to the new prototypes back in Älvdalen in 2006, nor what Anders Barke and Karl Erik S:r amongst others were commenting on. The story is still evolving, and commercial interests are sensitive - so that would not be fair or respectful to anyone.

Was the above of interest or not?
Hit refresh to view (if poll doesn't show below) then please vote folks!

 

Its interesting how a certain Telia service IP address votes "NO" occasionally eh?
78-70-28-5-no58.business.telia.com

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There's nothing like a REAL original Swedish made Hagstrom (and there are loads around), but if it 'floats your boat', or you can't find an original then who are we to say?

Plenty has been said already and
will be said forever forward probably.
Only you know what's right for you!