When looking for an affordable singlecut guitars, the most obvious brand to go for is Epiphone. Gibson is Epiphone’s parent company, so if you’re looking for a traditional singlecut style guitar, it stands to reason that’s the first place to look. Other usual suspects are the LTD or PRS SE singlecut models. Or guitars by other well-known brands like Ibanez or Schecter. For some reason, Hagstrom guitars don’t often get a mention. But now that I’ve had the opportunity to own one, I think it’s a brand worth checking out. Especially if you’re interested in a budget singlecut electric guitar.
Until relatively recently, I had never owned a singlecut LP-style instrument. Then, over lockdown, I finally decided to go down that rabbit hole. And what started as a hobby bordered into an unhealthy obsession. Eventually, I was able to try out a few singlecuts, and settled on a couple. Very damaging to my bank account, that was. And when lockdown restrictions started easing, and summer started approaching, I wanted a cheaper alternative guitar to carry around.
I’m not sure why I never paid attention to Hagstrom Guitars, because they’re out there. The first time I do remember hearing of the brand was in a clip on YouTube where Bernie Marsden is discussing “the Beast”, his famous ’59 ‘Burst Gibson Les Paul. He talks of how some friends of his prefer their Hagstrom, and he likes the Beast, which many consider ‘The Grail’. But I’m not absolutely certain. Might have imagined the whole thing. Another time the brand crossed my path was when a Hagstrom Viking II used by Elvis Presley was auctioned off.
Based in Sweden, Hagstrom originally started making electric guitars in the late ‘50s, but stopped in the early ’80s. In 2004 the brand was revived and manufacturing was moved to China.
Some cool designs
As I looked through Hagstrom’s catalogue, the guitars are all within the ‘affordable’ range, with some decent specs. And there are some really good-looking designs, check out the Fantomen! I was looking for a guitar with the traditional singlecut recipe of mahogany/maple/rosewood, 24.75” scale-length, the such. Hagstrom doesn’t use rosewood for its fretboards. Instead, it uses, what it calls Resinator wood, a composite material. Other unique features include an “H-Expander” truss rod, which looks like a train-track inside the neck. And the chunky “Sustain Block Tailpiece”.
I really liked the look of the Ultra Swede models. They had the 24.75” scale-length, but basswood bodies and maple necks. The similar-looking Ultra Max had the traditional wood choices, but a 25.50” scale-length instead. Both looked great in black, although the Ultra Max, in its satin finish and neat layout, did appeal a bit more to me. But I chose the the scale-length over the woods, and so settled on the Ultra Swede.
Before placing an order, I wondered if the company is working on a model that combines specs from both these models. It was a long shot, but having never tried a Hagstrom, and about to drop about €500, I figured I didn’t have much to lose and so I emailed them. The guys from Hagstrom wrote back saying that though there were no current plans of making such a model, the Select Ultra Swede from 2007-2010 had all those specs.
Hagstrom Select Ultra Swede
I looked up the usual online avenues and local classifieds, and found someone in my city selling one. The asking price was a steal, even compared to a new one. This was certainly good for my wallet. Also, I could try it out in person. So if I didn’t like it, I could always opt for the more tried and tested models.
The guitar looked really nice. It had a carved top with a quilt maple veneer. The mahogany back looked nice too, and had a belly cut. The inlays, with their pearl/abalone design, also looked great. They’re fancy enough, but not too much. And it had this exposed wooden binding around the body and neck, which is a nice touch. The headstock, on the other hand, has a pearloid binding and, is itself, quite ornate and extravagant. I don’t mind it, but I’m sure it may be too gaudy for some. The tuners look pretty fancy too, and are branded Hagstrom. This particular version was in the Indian Summer finish, a rather bright orange/reddish sunburst.
Hagstrom guitars are meant to have slim, fast necks, and I wasn’t sure if I’d get on with them. Having tried it, I felt it had a PRS SE Wide Thin style profile. Not super thin, like some manufacturers offer. The pickups were a pair of the company’s in-house Hagstrom Custom 58 uncovered humbuckers, with a coil-tap option. They did the job fine, all things considered. The guy had installed a set of 12 gauge strings on the guitar, and said that he didn’t have to adjust the neck due to that rail of a truss-rod. That’s pretty nuts. But all in all, it played well, sounded good, and looked great. So I got it! Worst-case scenario, I could pass it on. And best-case, it would be a nice, cheaper alternative to a decent singlecut, and much less than I was initially willing to pay for one.
I brought it home and switched the strings to my preferred 10 guage, and sure enough, the neck didn’t move. The action was low and it played smooth. Since then it’s followed me out to the park when the weather is nice, since the lockdown eased, and served me well. The neck does not budge! And that’s great for when it’s suddenly out in the sun.
If anyone’s in the market for an affordable Les Paul alternative, I would suggest trying out a Hagstrom if you haven’t already. You can get them at a decent price used, and they have some really cool body shapes and designs. I’ve added links to the ones I was looking at, before I learnt of the Select Ultra Swede. Or, if you have the patience, you could search online venues like eBay or Reverb for a similar Select Ultra Swede model.
More Information on Hagstrom Guitars
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- Wooden binding: Gearnews
- Resinator wood fretboard: Gearnews
- Pearloid binding on headstock: Gearnews
- Hagstrom Select Ultra Swede spec sheet: Hagstrom
- Hagstrom Select Ultra Swede in Indian Summer: Hagstrom
- Top carve: Gearnews
- Sustain Block Tailpiece: Gearnews