1972 Hagstrom HB 903 Swede Bass

Hagstrom started out as a brand of accordions; they began importing them into Sweden in 1925 and began manufacturing their own in 1932. While the company continued to build them until 1970, they noted in the late 1950s that guitars were rapidly becoming the popular instrument of choice. Hagstrom introduced its first guitars in 1958; like a number of other accordion-turned-guitar manufacturers, their first guitars were covered with the same flashy celluloid used on accordions.

By the mid 1960s, Hagstrom was established as one of Europe’s most important guitar manufacturers. They had shed the celluloid veneers in favor of more conventional wood finishes, but in many respects, the guitars became more idiosyncratic. Despite some models with silhouettes that strongly resembled the Stratocaster, the pickups, switching and hardware were unique to Hagstrom. The components were of sufficiently high quality that Guild imported Hagstrom bridges, pickups and vibrato tailpieces for use on their own guitars and basses in the 1960s and 1970s.

However, as Hagstrom entered the 1970s, it became a bit more conservative. The wilder body shapes were dropped, while more emphasis was put on the body shapes that echoed American designs. The semi-hollow Viking, which visually recalled the Gibson ES-335, was retained, and Hagstrom also introduced a guitar that was clearly derived from the Les Paul. The new model of 1970 was initially called the L. P., but at the suggestion of a Canadian distributor, Hagstrom changed it to the much more appropriate Swede. A year later, a bass version was first catalogued.

Despite the visual similarity to the Les Paul, the Swede is different in a number of ways. The body shape is slightly different, with a more rounded horn. The body is entirely mahogany, unlike the maple-mahogany sandwich of its Gibson counterpart. The pickups, bridge and tailpiece were built in-house by Hagstrom, and the tuners were built by Van Ghent (they were changed to Schallers after a few years). While Gibson’s Les Paul basses of the period contained unconventional wiring married to low-impedance pickups, the Swede bass used two standard humbuckers and a more conventional control layout. The one exception was a 3-way tone switch that added various capacitors into the circuit. Because bass players were not expected to attack their instruments with picks in the way that guitarists do, the Swede bass was not given a pickguard.

The Swede series were Hagstrom’s most popular instruments of the 1970s. The bass retailed for $575 in 1976 (or $665 with a case), less expensive than the Les Paul Triumph bass but offering great sound and playability. A Super Swede guitar was produced, though without a bass counterpart, and the original Swede was used as a basis for Ampeg’s short-lived Patch 2000 synthesizer system late in the decade. By that point, however, Hagstrom was having difficulty competing with low-priced guitars from Japan. The Swede bass was discontinued in 1980; the guitar versions struggled on until 1983, at which point Hagstrom briefly attempted to outsource them to Japan. That venture failed, and Hagstrom closed down altogether in 1984.