THIS IS A FAITHFUL REPRODUCTION OF AN ARTICLE, TYPICAL IN IT'S CRITICAL ASSESSMENT, BY A PROFESSIONAL LUTHIER, AND SOMEONE PAID TO PROVIDE AN IN DEPTH REVIEW OF THE MINUTE DETAILS. I THINK YOU WILL AGREE THAT FOR SOMEONE OF HIS TRADE, HE FOUND LITTLE TO DISLIKE AT ALL - IN FACT THE OPPOSITE!
In March 1977, I reviewed the Hagstrom Swede. There were a few points about it which I thought could be improved. I was pleased and surprised to hear that most of these points were considered by the makers, and appropriate changes made within a matter of days. Now there is the Super Swede. I do not know whether it is intended to replace the Swede, but it is in any case likely that both models will be available from UK music shops for some time to come. It would appear that the Super Swede is both a deluxe version and a logical development of the earlier Swede.
Referring to the Swede review, I notice that my sample had the fancy “designed by Jimmy D’Aquisto” machine head buttons, but fitted to machine heads of middling price and quality. I was told ‘this was a temporary measure, and that Hagstrom were waiting for modifications to the design of the buttons so that they could be fitted to Schaller machines. The Super Swede has very similar buttons, now fitted to Schaller machines. (As the previous arrangement was described as a temporary measure, I assume that the new machine heads will be available to existing owners of Swede guitars, as and when replacement becomes necessary.)
I also commented on the Hagstrom screw-on neck system which was used on the Swede. It was not particularly rigid, and Hagstrom responded by gluing and screwing the neck on later Swedes. This is quite a good compromise, and at least one American company has recently advertised exactly the same method as if it was one of their own inventions. How ever, the Super Swede has done away with bolts and screws altogether and uses a conventional glued-in neck. In “production” guitars, the way the neck is fastened may affect the sustaining properties of the instrument. I cannot be certain whether the Super Swede has any particular advantage in this respect over the screwed and glued neck. In both cases, the performance seems to be quite satisfactory and variations in timber are likely to swamp any other small differences. Either method is greatly preferable to a bolted or screwed neck joint, in which the mating surfaces are finished with hard modem lacquers.
The tops of the frets on the Swede which I reviewed were slightly rough. On this sample of the Super Swede, they are polished to something like a mirror surface. The Swede was fitted with selector switches which had sharply knurled knobs. I managed to snag one of my fingernails on the knurling, and I felt that this could present a problem for anyone who uses their fingernails for playing guitar. The switches on the Super Swede have smooth plastic knobs fitted over metal levers. No more torn fingernails!
I am relying on memory here, but it seems to me that the tone of this super Swede is not quite as ‘hi-fi’ as that of last year’s Swede, and a little closer to the characteristic sound of high-output American humbuckers. As these pickups have been fitted with a coil-tap connection, it is possible that there may also have been some other modifications. I notice that there seems to be relatively little magnetic “pull” applied to the strings (or any other iron or steel object placed near the pickups) yet the guitar gives the subjective impression of providing a very high output from the pickups with little effort from the player. I have noticed this combination of effects on certain examples of very old Gibson guitars, and it suggests that “super-hot” high-powered magnets are by no means essential for a guitar to have an impressive electrical performance.
For some years, one characteristic feature of Hagstrom Swedes has been the second “selector” switch which operated a bass-cut or ‘treble-cut circuit. This is absent from the Super Swede, and it has been replaced by a miniature three-way switch near to the volume controls. The central position is neutral, and the left and right positions operate coil-taps on each of the pick-ups. Although the sounds from the two pick-ups are obviously different, in each case the effect of the coil-tap is to make the sound from that pick-up brighter, and a little lower in volume. The effect is popular with some players because it extends the tonal range possible from two humbucking pick-ups in a way which cannot exactly be duplicated by any combination of tone controls. The tap disables one of the pair of coils in each pick-up unit, and the effect is similar to that of a single-coil pick-up as found, for instance, on some Fender and Gibson guitars. With the coil tap in operation on either pick-up, that pick-up ceases to be “humbucking” and there may be an increase in noise and hum superimposed on the guitar signal. It is possible to “trade-off” a less impressive tone-change, against continued, but possibly reduced, hum-cancelling properties. However, this would require a more complex wiring system.
A coil tap is one of the features which is supposed to be popular with add-on accessory pick-ups, and I don’t see why it should not be similarly popular when fitted as standard by the guitar makers. Hagstrom have chosen to use one switch to operate the taps on two pick-ups. This has a slight operational limitation, in that one cannot “tap” both pick-ups at the same time. I do not think this would be a serious limitation for most people, and I am generally in favour of anything which reduces the number of unnecessary controls on the front of a guitar.
If my memory is correct, the Swede used (and may possibly still use) a conventional nut made of some white material. The Super Swede has replaced this with a “zero-fret”, combined with an ebony nut to guide the strings and define the spacing between them. The vibrating length of the string stops at the zero-fret, which is minutely higher than the other frets to give some clearance to the open strings. This system is an alternative to the conventional slotted nut: surprisingly, in some countries it is traditionally considered to be superior to the conventional type, while in other countries it is associated with cheaper imported guitars, and has a poor reputation by association. In practice, either approach can be made to work well if enough care is taken in design and adjustment. On my sample of the Super Swede, the open strings vibrate cleanly from the zero-fret, and in spite of the rather indeterminate bearing points of the strings on this fret, the guitar’s intonation at the lower positions seems about right. I would be happier about the long-term performance of this zero- fret if it were more uniformly rounded on top. On my sample it is relatively flat where the top string rests on it. This could cause buzzing and/or a tuning shift, as soon as string pressure and movement causes a little wear.
I am also relying on memory for this but I notice that the bridge on this Super Swede is fairly high above the body, while the string action is quite low. It would appear that the neck is angled back from the plane of the body rather more than on the previously reviewed Swede. Now I find electric guitars in which the neck slopes back from the body rather more comfortable than those where everything is built in a straight line. I have asked other players about this and it seems many of them have not even considered the possibility of neck angles. There is no reason why a good musician should need to know the finer points of instrument geometry. However, if one day you should wonder why two very similar guitars feel distinctly different, try holding them both up sideways and comparing the angles between neck and body.
I noticed that the sustain on last year’s Swede was generally good hut a bit variable, depending on which string and where it was fretted. The sustain on this Super Swede seems about equally as good and rather more even over the whole range. It still seems to me that it is too long on the bass strings, as compared to the treble. Personally, I find I prefer guitars which have longer sustain on the lower notes, but this is a highly subjective matter, and I would not wish to criticise either the Swede or the Super Swede in this respect. The sort of discerning player for whom this sort of thing would be important would also be able to assess such a guitar for himself, and decide whether or not it pleases him. (I do appreciate that female guitarists can be equally knowledgeable and equally discerning. I use the male form throughout my articles to indicate both genders, according to long-standing convention).
This is a well made and very cleanly finished instrument: the ebony finger- board and the frets are excellent. It is obviously similar in general appearance to the Gibson Les Paul guitar (and its many imitators) but like the Swede, it is not a copy, and it has a distinct character of its own. I am a little embarrassed that the Super Swede seems to follow, almost exactly the modifications I suggested for the Swede in March last year. However, this being so, the guitar fits my own tastes and prejudices very closely, and I cannot easily find serious fault with it. In an effort to redress this artificial balance, there are a few things which I do not like. Firstly, the cover over the tailpiece rings on certain notes, and appears to affect the sustain slightly on these notes. Secondly, the front edges of the body and fingerboard are rather sharp in places. Also the pick-up screws look cheap. The intonation settings on the bridge were not set correctly for the strings fitted, and no instructions were provided for care and maintenance. In particular, I should like to see a large pictorial diagram, indicating at least how to unlock the vertical bridge screws before attempting to raise or lower the action. I also feel that the sound from the pick-ups is now halfway between American and Scandinavian tastes, and it might be better placed firmly on one side or the other.
The electrical assembly inside is well screened, and Hagstrom’s guarantees are excellent. This is certainly one of the better solid guitars available in the UK.
Measurements on Hagstrom Super
Swede. Serial No. 53-043001.
Reproduced with permission for
Hagstrom.org.uk April 2003/November 2004 -
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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