This page was last
updated 7th March 2005.
Note: We will not be replicating the batch
history listings, as this detracts from the sale of the Hagström Gittarer Blue
Book, donated to Bälgdraget by Hagström in order to finance their activities in
association with former Hagström employees. The link to the site to your order
There was even involvement by famed Luthier James D'Aquisto. Some Company! It's another of those amazing circumstances that for a brand that played such a significant (if relatively minor) in the history of American guitars, almost nothing but rumour is known. Okay, let's take a deep breath and plunge into the story of Hagstrom guitars and basses from Sweden.
Except for the occasional brochure or advertisement, until recently information on Hagstroms has been scarce indeed. Of late however, interest has come, understandably, from a number of Swedes, and today there is a Hagstrom Museum in Alvdalen, a book, and several websites championing these Swedish wonders that thrived from the late '50s into the early '80s.
Alas as is so often the case, discrepancies abound in the various accounts. As fate would have it, just as we were struggling to reconcile various sources, we got a totally unrelated message from Mikael Jansson in Sweden. To make a long story short, Mikael put us in touch with Karl-Erik Hagström, the son of the founder who ran the company from the early '60s on. Subsequently we came in contact with Hagström's son Karl-Erik Jr., and we have corresponded extensively via email to move this project forward. The elder Mr. Hagström has reviewed this story, corrected many errors and added much information previously unknown and likely to please everyone who loves guitars. It's rare we get to be so close to the source on these historical excursions, and we owe the internet, Mikael, and both Mssrs. Hagström a debt of gratitude!
Like everything else, the war years were not conducive to musical pursuits, but Hagstrom continued to thrive. And, indeed, after the war found itself at the right place musically speaking, at the time. The war ended in late '45 and it took time to decommission the mass of G.I.s who'd fought in the European and Asian theaters. It took a little bit more time for some cursory courtship, and another nine months for the first of the baby boom to begin rolling off the line. Technically speaking the baby boom began in '46, but in reality the big spike in births really commenced in 1947 and didn't look back.
Arthur Godfrey and Myron Florin
The enormously popular Arthur Godfrey show, in particular fuelled an auxiliary fad for ukuleles that gave Mario Maccaferri's plastic instruments a big boost, but that's another story. In any case a huge industry emerged around making Hawaiian guitars and amps and marketing them through networks of music teachers. Kids were enrolled for lessons and large Hawaiian lapsteel orchestras were formed, descendents of the old mandolin orchestras and guitar bands. Companies like Oahu, Bronson, Alamo, Magnatone, and many others did well. This was not yet a babyboomer phenomenon .
By the early to mid '50s, as the Boomers began to get into long pants, the Hawaiian craze was supplanted by the accordion craze, the first true Baby boomertrend. Why accordions? Heaven knows, but one factor may have been some sort of old-world nostalgia. The other may have been the new media of television, which exploded bigger than the bomb following the war.
More and more families turned to the tube for entertainment. Debuting in '55 was the ever-popular "Lawrence Welk Champagne Hour," a variety show that featured the ever-smiling Myron Florin showing off pyrotechnics on the squeeze box. The mechanism that propelled the Hawaiian think during the late '40s transferred to accordions and expanded further with a much larger potential audience.
Now it just so happens that most accordions were made either in Germany or Italy, and it was mainly the Italians who seized the day. Italian accordions flooded into the U.S. to meet the demand. One of the most successful importers were the LoDuco Brothers in Milwaukee, who imported LoDuca brand accordions made by EKO factory Recanati, Italy. Indeed, the connection between Hagstrom and EKO is more than just passing.
[You can view a full catalogue from 1952 showing the massive variety of items that Hagstrom already distributed, from Accordions of course, classical stringed instruments, Levin Guitars and other 'unknown' acoustic models, although Bjarton was already supplying some of them for sure.
Moving through, you see the early stages of the prolific nature of Hagstrom's offering, with brass instruments, harmonicas, vibrafones, a gramophone in a suitcase, and through to early amplification equipment! So sad that Albin missed much of this massive development in the story] CLICK HERE
The accordion craze didn't last, and demand evaporated. This huge music business superstructure had been constructed, first for Hawaiian guitars and then for accordions, and the kids didn't want to play. Probably the first signs the boomers were going to cause trouble!
After some floundering and uncertainty, salvation came riding up the canyon. It had six strings and it made two kinds of music that were increasingly popular: one a highly politicized genre which became known as folk, the other a rebel without a cause known as rock and roll. The vast accordion market was replaced by an even vaster one for guitars."
While Italian guitars paced the early '60s imports into America, before the Japanese overtook them mid-decade, in fact it was guitars from Sweden and Finland (including Hagstrom) that were first into the American Market in a serious way, around '58.
Pursuing the folk market were some pretty decent imports sold by Hershman Musical Instrument Company, New York (run by Edward and Jerome Hershman), and David Wexler and company, Chicago, carrying the Goya brand name and made by the Swedish company, Levin.
Also serving this market was the España brand of acoustics built primarily in Finland by Landola and imported by Buegeleisen & Jacobson, New York, although Hagstrom had a hand in the España brand as well.
[A-hem... As noted by the "Made in Sweden" label shown here - Bjarton - See an España Catalogue]
Both were promoted in periodicals like Sing Out!, the bible of folkies. These were basically the only high quality acoustic alternatives to the upmarket guitars of Martin, Guild, and Gibson, without dropping to the mid-to-down market guitars of Kay and Harmony. Levin would later be purchased by Martin, along with the Goya name.
In '58, Hagstrom, several years earlier, very much earlier than other accordion manufacturers in north-western and southern Europe, added guitars - primarily electrics - to its repertoire.
Sparkle and Pearloid
Like the other European accordion makers, Hagstrom's first guitars were covered in either sparkle or pearloid celluloid, the same materials used on the squeeze boxes. The first two Hagstroms were the deluxe and Standard, although in several configurations that confuse the chronology a bit. First to debut in '58 was the Deluxe, covered in glittering sparkle plastic the front, and thin, black plastic on the back, back of neck and headstock face.
These are often described as solid bodies, but were indeed hollow with supporting posts under the bridge, a la Gretsch. This was a single-cutaway Les Paul copy with bolt on neck, three and three head, translucent lucite (acrylic) fingerboard with white paint [actually pearloid white celluloid] and position markers underneath, and elevated striped plastic pickguard and a fine tune bridge. The (stainless steel) frets were set into the lucite fingerboard in such a way that they sat well above the board, yielding an almost scalloped effect. The necks were reinforced and guaranteed to never warp, and were reinforced with a metal I-beam (which Hagstrom turned on it's side to call an H-bar!). A metallic finished plastic Hagstrom logo was angled on the upper shoulder. The first hundred De Luxes featured a smaller 12" body that would later appear on the standard.
To clarify a point; the earliest Hagstrom necks had the H-bar, which was called the H Expander-Stretcher. Later this designation was changed to have the King's neck, and some guitars have a sticker to that effect.
[Hagstrom UK note: The very first batch also included a Solid body Deluxe, as with the example shown here - part of the UK collection. Straight-sided and ribbed with a sharp curve into the black back it is the larger size referred to in the main article. All of the subsequent batches in this style were hollow body, and had a rounded body sweeping in a curve round to the back as in more often seen examples. The King's neck label appeared on later models from around '63-4 See a very early UK advertisment!]
The De Luxe body was soon upgraded to a grand concert sized guitar, measuring 13-3/8" across the lower bout, with a 17-3/4" long body, a size it retained 'til the end. Finishes were gold sparkle, and blue sparkle. Other finishes would be offered on subsequent Goya brand guitars. Despite photo's in published accounts with vibratos, these were probably only available as stop tails. [since this publication there is evidence that both variations were produced, one with a short single plate tail, one with a more standard stop bar, as well as the frequently used later tremolo unit version shown in the inset picture here. Colours also included Red and Mauve.]
Acoustic "er" Electrics
Top of the line was the P46 Deluxe pickup assembly, perhaps the first arrangement to feature four single coil pickups. Hagstrom received a patent on the module on June 13, 1958. It had two pairs of single coils clustered at the neck and bridge separated by a gold grill punched with little holes, the predecessor of the proverbial "swimming pool."
Essentially this acted as a twin-humbucker guitar. Pickup pairs had height adjusting screws. Roller wheels for master tone and master volume sat on either edge of the unit above the pickups. Pickup select involved a series of push-buttons, claimed to be the first of their kind (I can't think of any previous push button designs, can you?) Buttons included SOLO, ACC, LH, L, H, O, plus a small safety release. SOLO was a bypass switch that yielded maximum volume output. ACC threw your pickups to another roller switch under the pickups for accompaniment volume control. LH selected all pickups. L (low) selected the two neck pickups for a bass sound. H (high) selected the two bridge pickups. O was a bypass/off switch.
Under the Deluxe were three other units. The P-24 and P-26 both had two single coils, one unit with four pushbuttons, and the P-12 had one neck single coil with two pushbuttons. No other information is available on these units controls, but expect them to be similar.
In '61, Hagstrom made it's first bass guitars, producing some 388 De Luxe
basses. These were essentially the same as the sparkle finished guitars, with
the H-reinforced neck, lucite fingerboard and modular pickup. A little
fingerrest sat below the strings. These were available in white, blue sparkle
and red sparkle. [There were also a small quantity of Goya
Basses made at the same time that were not listed in the batch records]
[There is some revision to batch and total numbers since the original article publication, which can be found in the Hagström Gitarrer booklet published for the benefit of former Hagström employees - See top of this page, or the Hagstrom UK Links page for how to get a copy yourself...]
Next: Hagstrom Echoes, Amps, Goya, Hershman, Merson, B&J and much more!
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