The King, Dancing Queen, and a Dancing Fool… – Hagstrom Electric Guitars (Part 4)

by Rik Mercaldi on February 17, 2015

As the mid 1960s approached, the popularity of the hollow thinline electric guitar design began picking up steam. The line was first introduced by Gibson in the late 1950s with their ES series. The Beatles were playing Epiphone Casinos, Blues players like B.B and Freddie King played Gibsons, and even brands like Harmony and Guild were seeing their hollow body electrics being played by The Rolling Stones and The Kinks.

In 1965 Hagstrom released their first hollow body electric model called the Viking I. It originally had a 6 on a side tuner configuration, which was later changed to 3 and 3. The Viking I was very similar to the recently issued Fender Coronado series, right down to the Fender trademarked headstock design. Not quite sure how they got away with that! Frank Zappa was often seen using a Viking in the early Mothers of Invention period, and was featured in several Hagstrom advertisements. The Viking Deluxe was introduced in 1967, the name was soon changed to the Viking II and only remained in production until in 1968. The Viking II was a fancier version of the Viking I with the addition of gold hardware, large block inlays, flame maple and spruce, and bound headstock and F-holes. Only 1350 are said to have been made, and it’s most famous user was a guy from Tupelo, Mississippi who didn’t actually own one… yet.

During the filming of the 1968 TV Special ‘Elvis’, which would later be referred to as the “Comeback Special”, the producer asked if anyone had a guitar that looked flashy to use for some of the segments. Guitarist Al Casey, who was playing on the show (Casey was part of the infamous group of session musicians known as “The Wrecking Crew” who played on the recordings of artists such as Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys) looked through his instrument trunk to see if he might have something to fit the bill. He came across a cherry finished 1968 Hagstrom Viking II, and the rest as they say, is history. Elvis can be seen playing the guitar in the opening and closing segments of the show and in a stand up performance in front of a live audience. Elvis later purchased several more Vikings and a shot of him holding one made it’s way onto the cover of his “From Elvis in Memphis” album released in 1969.

As the 1960s approached the 1970s, the music got tougher and louder. The need for more traditional styling, a simpler more user friendly control layout, and a more powerful tone, pushed the company to refine their electric models to compete. The result was the HII (two pickup model) released in 1969. It was later replaced with the HIII/Scandi (three pickup model) in 1976. Both were offset, double cutaway, slab wood bodies. There was no plastic or vinyl on these, except for the pickguard, and they were equipped with more powerful humbucking pickups and a three way selector replacing the clumsy to use sliding switches of their earlier models. The development of the HII and HIIIs led to what became one of Hagstroms most popular models.

Zappa Nifty HagstromThe Swede was introduced in 1970 and sported a single cutaway, dual pickup design that had more than a passing resemblance to the iconic Gibson Les Paul, which was experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Featuring the familiar Les Paul control layout but with a bolt-on neck, the Swede was later upgraded to a glued in neck in 1979 and renamed the Swede De Luxe, also known as the Super Swede. Hagstrom succeeding in fulfilling the need for a fat, chunky guitar sound, a staple of Rock in the 1970s. The Super Swede could be seen in the hands of artists as diverse as Bjorn Ulvaeus of the Swedish band Abba, Frank Zappa, Detroit rocker Bob Seger, and Jazz/Fusion guitarist Larry Coryell. The Swedes were also used to house the electronics in the very first guitar/synthesizer hybrid, the Swede Patch 2000 which was introduced in 1976, and was in production until 1979. The Swede Patch 2000 was used by Bill Nelson from Be Bop Deluxe and…you guessed it, the dancing fool himself, Frank Zappa!

As the 1970s drew to a close Hagstrom was suffering. The brand had been outpriced by competitors, a lot of whom had started to shift their production to Japan in order to cut down on costs. Hagstrom had some prototypes manufactured in Japan as well, but unhappy with the quality, they were never put into production. In 1983 they officially closed up shop, putting an end to Hagstrom guitars made in Sweden. The brand was revived in 2004, but that’s a story for another day.

Do you own, or have owned an original Hagstrom guitar?

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