Vintage Guitar Scene: The Swedish Surf Guitar

This Hagstrom guitar has the looks and sound for classic sixties surf music – pale blue and white plastic front, blue vinyl-covered body, high output single coil pickups and a tremolo arm. The tremolo is Hagstrom’s own system, which the company also supplied to other guitar manufacturers including Harmony, Goya and Guild. My 1963 Guild Thunderbird (featured in What’s My Scene March 2015) has an identical tremolo system.

The Hagstrom company of Sweden originally made accordions, and starting making electric guitars in 1958. This double cutaway Strat-type model was introduced in 1962, and was apparently sold under the Kent and Futurama brands in the UK and Europe, before being re-badged as the “Hagstrom 1” around 1965.

The Hagstrom 1 appears to have been designed for efficient manufacture, in the era when electric guitars had become high volume sellers and manufacturers were scrambling to meet the booming demand. The acrylic top and vinyl covered back obviated the need for body painting. The electronics are attached to the one piece top, and the two-part body is joined together with six screws around the edge of the top.

The plastic top looks as if it would be fragile and prone to cracking, particularly around the jack socket. However this one has survived with the top intact.

Earlier Hagstrom models featured lots of pearloid and sparkle (echoes of their accordion forebears), but the “bling” on this model was limited to one piece of gold plastic under the strings between the two pickups.

The slim neck of these early Hagstroms was a feature. The patented truss rod (“H expander-stretcher”) prevented warping or twisting of the neck, and allowed the neck to be thinner than normal. With this feature they laid claim to “the world’s fastest neck”. The alloy rod was apparently developed from a Saab aircraft wing extrusion. The ultra-thin neck would appeal to some shredders, but for my playing style a larger radius neck is generally more comfortable.

Hagstrom produced a range of solid and semi-acoustic guitars during their golden era, and players known to have used them include Elvis Presley (1968 comeback TV Special), David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Bryan Ferry, and Pat Smear of the Foo Fighters.

Due to rising competition from Asian imports, Hagstrom ceased production in 1983. However the brand was revived in 2004 with a range of instruments manufactured in Asia and marketed under the tag “The Legend Returns”.

This guitar (serial no. 667915) was probably made around 1966, although the serial numbers do not indicate year of manufacture. I know little of its provenance – I bought it in Perth in the mid-1980s from a player who had spent time in Australia’s North-West (I don’t know whether he was a surfer or a surf guitarist or just bought it in a pub). The tremolo arm and the anodised switchplate have some surface corrosion, probably resulting from time in a tropical environment. A sticker on the case from a repair shop in Black Rock suggests that the guitar has been in the Melbourne region previously, so it’s probably a well-travelled old instrument.

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About Ben Rogers 16 Articles
Ben Rogers has played guitar for a long time, and has accumulated an odd assortment of guitars over the years. He plays around Melbourne with Instrumental Asylum – a surf/spy/guitar-noir group, and also with his gypsy-jazz combo The Ben Rogers Trio.

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