As you can appreciate we were packing a lot into our journey, and I could not present the whole story in this report, nor would it always be appropriate. It was a journey that increasingly filled me with gratitude, with many people - who before had simply been a name on an email - not only accommodating my interest in the subject, but generously welcoming us with displays of friendship that - all too often these days - are missing from normal life. It will take some time for me to come down from the high of such an experience, and I feel humbled by the openness of that week in July... it will not be my last encounter with Sweden.
We were hoping to meet Karl-Erik senior during the day, but now we were considering the prospect that it was unlikely due to the condition of his health. As disappointing as this this was, we had nothing but respect for the situation, and of course the man himself. We had other people to meet, and other plans for the coming days as we made our return journey, not least a nearby festival and a visit to Gothenburg the following day (another few hours in the car of course).
We made our way to Amtech, which as some of you may know was originally the electronics division of Hagstrom and is now an electronics and computer company in the original premises. The continued business was launched under the management of Per Ollson after the Hagstrom company ceased to operate.
Sadly Per is no longer with us, and as many have said, he is sorely missed for his phenomenal knowledge and friendly personality. Considered also to have been one of those rare geniuses that turned his attention and skill to a variety of areas of the former business.
The PA systems Hagstrom built were in some ways well ahead of their time, it was many years before Stereo performance PA systems were widely available, unless you had Hagstrom! Even ABBA used Hagstrom PA and mixing systems. It was unfortunate that the presentations were not portable enough to make a mark on in markets outside Scandinavia where Hagstrom sold most of their production. Guitars were easier to ship, easier to market, and not least, once a venue has a PA system they do not change it or have alternatives as readily as a musician may do with guitars. It may have been a different story today with different speeds of delivery, transport and travel...
I own a Hagstrom Jimmy F Hole that is thought to have been made by Per, and looking in the records (later), this does seem to be the case.
In more pioneering terms, Per was an inventor, and examples of his ability are only too evident today. Amtech still make the special range of echo units he invented AGE-ONE and AGE-PRO that are so good that the principles of the electronics has never needed to be improved!
These unique units provide a truly professional analogue sound through quality modern electronics. There are two core models, and you might have seen some details on the amps page of this site already, but it is worth giving a brief view here, and of course, please do follow the links I've provided above to judge for yourself.
Today the business is operated and managed by Bengt Eriksson, not only providing products from all manner of computer and electronics variety, but Amtech is still the best place to have your vintage equipment serviced or repaired. There were examples of items we expected to see, and the odd Hagstrom electric guitar under inspection, but also the latest sound equipment. It was also nice to see some other brand associated items such as this old Binson Echorec unit in for repair. After all, Hagstrom was the agent for these in times past.
There are 'faithful' items of equipment which there is no reason to replace for his work. So there was a rather obvious "why not?" when we pointed out a small Amtech (formerly Hagstrom) PA200 unit sitting under the workbench. This is in regular use as part of the testing process for items Bengt works on. Not a case of nostalgia, just good sense!
Bengt is another 'mine of information', who it has to be said, was very accommodating to a youngster who has less traditional views on electronic effects... "Take a listen to this"... and Bengt obliged him of course!
This amazing travel guitar was the instrument kindly loaned to Chris by Anders Karlsson, our companion on the visit and long time friend. Despite its size the playability is total, and very good quality, add a Korg Pandora ministudio and headphones and you can bypass that speaker soundhole. When a Hagstrom wasn't available or when we were driving, this was all the distraction he needed it seemed. What a great idea - highly recommended instead of a portable DVD or games console! The Korg is an incredible unit - Standard AAA batteries, Long battery life, Built in tuner, Built in rhythm section; Slow down feature to recompile licks, Layout like any pedal, Jamalong input, Extremely crisp clean sounds, Very easily adjusted high gain settings, Output both for earphones or PA. Very graphic knob for cabinet and amp selection (Info from Anders again - thanks)
So, we had already packed a lot into the day, and were considering our next move when we heard that Karl Erik senior was now in his office and thankfully was well enough to meet us. I took a deep breath, and showed my obvious thanks for this opportunity. We returned to the vicinity of his outer-office area, and waited with anticipation.
Respecting his wishes, there are no photo's of Karl-Erik Senior during our visit to his office, or within the office itself, however we were stunned at the generous welcome we received. There was an initial exchange as if to test our qualification, but very soon we were accepted as being worthy of his own enthusiasm for detail and history.
It was clear he wanted to show us many things, so yet again, I had received that magic alchemy despite my obvious restraint due to who he is, I felt totally at ease.
Karl-Erik Hagstrom really 'opened up' becoming warm and enthusiastic about almost everything we said. The smallest comment was heard, and responded through reference to an obscure document for our interest.
The plink-plink of Errol Garner emanated from the PC based CD player in the background, yes we felt very 'at home' again.
Only once or twice was a comment not picked up (like when we enquired about the details of the guitar lacquer for repairs) it was simply his wish not to respond, and he just moved on without any rebuff – but he heard everything - a very canny man still. I sometimes wonder if the full lacquer detail is known now, after all, there was only one man who supervised the total process in all the years of production. Maybe Neils took the secret with him... but I'm not about to probe further, or disrespect his wishes no matter however subtle the holding back.
I tentatively showed him a project I've been doing alongside the website, and he laughed “you have some pictures I don’t have”. After a polite attention to my offering he grinned and moved on to another story, and set of documents pulled from one of the many shelves around him (unfortunately for me, much of the text was in Swedish of course). Our companion and guide Anders asked if he could take a ‘group photo’, but Karl-Erik just said “I look like a 100 years”. Of course we didn’t push it.
Then Karl-Erik turned to Chris who was sitting in the office quietly listening to all our enthusiasms. He produced some of the postcard and stamps issued in 2004 by the Swedish Post Office. He made some comment about them being 'stolen pictures' but smiled, so I'm not sure if it was meant as strongly as the words implied.
He then declared an element of satisfaction from the event, recounting how he dealt with the local post offices on the day they were first issued. He explained that the office was actually closed that day, so making a few phone-calls to the authorities, of course convinced The Post Office they must open up, so that local issues could be truly stamped "the first day of issue". Now that's a good little story! Then he offered Chris to choose one card, which was duly signed "To Chris, regards from Karl-Erik Hagstrom". What a nice thought for the youngster who was clearly on the sidelines of this particular part of the visit. We exchanged other gifts generally during the meeting, and all three of us were made to feel very welcome.
We visited the vaults below a building and opening trunks and cases we were able to read the original records of where any guitar from 1958 onwards was sent, what colour etc. He showed all kinds of private correspondence between major companies such as Fender and Gibson, stuff from Sophia Loren… (his “biggest mistake” as he put it, showing us a picture… what mistake? “I was holding an accordion rather than her… Heh Heh”), but they were friends. There was much much more and I really should have taken a recorder with me, but I did not want to intrude, or assume in advance that it would have been welcome.
His mood had clearly changed to a relaxed but enthusiastic smile and he asked ‘how long we had’, “I have so many stories for you”. As you can tell, this far exceeded our expectations. Next he beckoned for his stick, and for us to walk through a door. We were outside. He pointed and kindly ordered us to our car but we didn’t know why, maybe that was ‘it’, and we would still have been very happy.
Then surprisingly, he got into a nearby car and proceeded to drive it, indicating we should follow. We came to some log cabins / warehouses, and inside he showed us racks and racks of unfinished guitar bodies, necks, and all kinds of parts, – in short a guitar collectors 'Santa’s Grotto'. Maybe best visited in winter to get full effect! :-)
Enough raw materials “to build ships” - as he put it – Mahogany Rosewood Maple Birch and Ebony - you name it. “If we used ply we made the ply here”. He asked if we wanted any spares, and we were very restrained as it was clear he wanted to give them, not invoice us – you get like that when someone seems to be almost vulnerably hospitable.
Thankfully access to Karl-Erik senior is well protected these days, as otherwise, less scrupulous parties could cause havoc with the emotions of the man at this stage of life. There were jokes about selling the stock, but in reality, there is little that could be directly converted into new guitars, unless you put a SuperSwede neck on a Viking body etc., there is no dedicated production facility any more.
Now, despite any reader possibly having the appetite for making a profit at this news, you have no right. You'd also be showing scant regard for the respect for history and the wishes of this grand old gentleman. Goodness knows we're all looking for opportunities to do business, many would love to, and could probably do it justice, but it would not be right unless by some miracle it was offered.
There is no real business entity for supplies these days, it would be an upheaval beyond any respect to consider it now. Let Bernie sell you an item despite a box full we might have found there, let Karl Erik Junior, Musitech, other shops and established sources continue to service genuine requirements for a few odd repair spares (if they are still around).
By no means is everything there, there are pockets of surprising items in quantity, but when you look closer many items are different to the bit you'd need, available because they never sold much to begin with, or simply buried under mountains of boxes. This mish-mash of wonderment would cost too much to do business in the volumes that would be demanded, even today. Somehow, apart from that plea from an owner for someone to "please have a look", that's the way it seems it should stay. Often it really isn't worth the time for someone to find what your after, so how much would you pay to make the effort a sensible proposition?
We could easily have taken advantage of his generosity, but all the more reason not to, no matter how much you wanted the parts… Then he looked me in the eyes and said “how long can you stay?” He said almost humbly, “I will not be here long, I will be gone then no-one will know the stories.” I didn’t know what to say. We had been with him for 3.5 hours by now, and had only touched the surface. Chris was with us, being wonderful considering all the talking – not a hint of hassle, and reluctantly I explained to Karl-Erik I could not stay 'today' but would love to return again.
He understood, and repeated “don’t leave it too long, I will not be here long.” (I was near to tears, not just for the sentiment, but for the trust he had shown). Soon after, he bid us well, got into the car again and drove away to his home. Wow! We just stood there for a few moments, took a breath, looked at each other and then I said "I must, somehow, find a way to return soon".
All this nostalgia could be bad for you some might say, but however romantic the history, the future is always imminent. It would be nice to believe the thrust of the new business will benefit from a bit of passion. I'd say it has to go hand in hand with any new marketing, otherwise why do it?
If there was any "let-down" or disappointment at all, it came from a far simpler - and typical - comment by a youngster. Teachers at school say Chris is not focused unless he has a guitar in his hands. He's capable, and thankfully does very well, but drives many people to distraction along the way! So maybe it was inevitable that Chris realised he had left the signed postcard on the table. "Please, please daddy, please can we go back and find it". It was a another emotion to add to the many of the moment realising the youngster really was touched by the visit. Sadly it was all too obvious that we would not be able to recover his treasured gift. Everything by now was closed, locked, lights off. We were imminently returning to the car to continue our journey... "I'm really sorry son" was all I could say...
This was a wonderful day... and yet we had an evening of entertainment to come, more of those American Cars, Music and even more from Stefan! (Hey, he's going to be famous soon surely?)
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