In this article: Hagstrom Select Ultra Swede Guitar construction Electric guitar Performance Conclusion Hagstrom Select Ultra
Introduced in 1970, Hagstrom’s iconic Swede model was a serious alternative to the Les Paul, and this modern variant retains much of
the quirky charm of the original, while remaining distinctly different. by Bob Thom as It is just over 50 years since the first Hagstrom electric guitar rolled off the line
at Hagstrom’s factory in lvdalen, Sweden, in 1958, and 25 years since
production there ceased in 1983. Hagstrom’s guitar manufacturing (and the
company themselves) were killed off by the cheaper Japanese-manufactured
electric guitars that began flooding onto the market in the late 1970s and early
1980s. The collapse of Hagstrom left behind a legacy of 128,583 electric
guitars and basses, which the significant number of Hagstrom enthusiasts out
is no exception to that rule. It looks good, sounds good,
there quickly turned into collector’s items.
Inevitably, Hagstrom were just too big a name to completely disappear, but it
took 22 years, a licensing deal, the Swedish company Tricor AB as distributor,
and a dedicated Chinese factory to bring the old guitars back to life. Although
many original machines (or their exact replicas) are used in the manufacture of
modern Hagstroms and all designs are approved by Karl Erik Hagstromhimself, they aren’t exact clones of past glories. information
Nowadays, woods come from North America, hardware comes from Korea,
and the pickups are manufactured in Korea to K.E. Hagstrom’s exact
specifications. The result is good-quality guitars at attractive price points that
manage to retain many of a Hagstrom’s quirkier features: the six-block stop
tailpiece, the H-Expander truss rod, the stairstep tuner buttons, and the‘Resinator’ composite wood fretboard, which is claimed to perform better as a
fingerboard ‘wood’ than either rosewood or ebony. Select Ultra Swede Guitar construction
Select mahogany bodyw ith figured carved maple
Hagstrom Swedes always were made of quality materials and this modern
version is no exception. The ‘Select’ moniker means that it carries a strikingly
figured, quilted maple top, and the ‘Ultra’ designation means that it eschews
the Swede’s usual ‘two volume, two tone’ arrangement for a ‘single volume,
single tone, plus coil tap’ setup (more of which later). The carved and figured
top — finished, in this case, in a very attractive vintage sunburst — sits on a
45mm-thick, somewhat Les Paul-shaped, single-cutaway mahogany body and
is edged with a flame maple binding. The body also retains the original
Swede’s comfort contour at the back of the waist, so your rib cage gets a bit of
The neck is mahogany, and the Resinator fingerboard — with its pearloid and
real abalone position markers — also features a flame maple binding. The
headstock facing is the usual modern pearloid with a black printed overlay to
make it look as though it has been intricately inlaid, and the machine heads are
The nut is an incongruously thick-looking piece of Graph Tech’s Black Tusq
composite, which isn’t well set up. Hagstrom make much of the fact that their
guitars are built in a dedicated factory, but you need dedicated workers to make
good guitars. On this guitar, someone wasn’t paying attention. The string height
at the nut is excessive and the fret ends are well dressed on the bass side, but badly dressed on the treble side. Add excessive neck
relief (that would just need a slight tweak of the famed H-Expander Hagstrom truss rod to cure), plus a bridge that’s set too high, and
you’ve got a guitar that is destined to stay on a shop wall until it gets a proper setup.
The pickups are Hagstrom’s own Korean-sourced Custom 58 Alnico 5 humbuckers. On the Ultra Swede, the covers are absent, which
should make them a bit brighter and more open-sounding than their covered brethren. Controls are volume, tone, three-way toggle anda coil tap, which works on both pickups simultaneously.
The hardware completes with a Tune-o-matic type bridge (which isn’t a clone of the original, but a more modern Tune-o-matic) and the
uniquely idiosyncratic, metal-covered, six-brass-blocks-on-an-acrylic-plate Hagstrom stop tailpiece, originally developed for the ill-fatedPatch 2000 guitar synthesizer system. Performance
Acoustically, this Select Ultra Swede has plenty of resonance. This, combinedwith the open, lighter sound of the uncovered humbuckers, gives it a veryattractive, distinctive and usable voice. The coil tap, as you’d expect, thins thepickups out and drops their output and gives you a single-coil vibe that sitscloser to a P90 than a Strat. Tone and volume controls are as effective as you’dexpect, and rolling back the volume pot a tad darkens the sound nicely.
I always liked the sound of the old Swedish-made Swedes. Although this
Ultra Swede doesn’t deliver the sound that I remember, and the Super 58humbuckers don’t have the spit and snarl of PAFs, their clarity and definitionmean that this Select Ultra Swede is a very good-sounding guitar and offers a
The Resinator fingerboard has pearloid and real abalone
real alternative to the usual Gibson clones.
Unlike the standard Swede with its 25.5-inch scale length, the Ultra Swede is
shorter at 24.75 inches, and this gives it a familiar feel. Due to the setup issues that I mentioned earlier, I can’t get enthusiastic aboutthis particular guitar’s playability, but as I know just how comfortable a well set up Hagstrom Swede can be, I have no hesitation inrecommending this model’s potential playability with a good setup.
Even set up as it is, the review guitar has loads of sustain as a result of its high acoustic resonance, sounds powerful and distinctive
in humbucking mode, and in single-coil mode it offers very usable alternative voicing options for rhythm and scooped-mid lead tones. Conclusion
All in all, the Select Ultra Swede is a well-built, good-quality guitar that, at its retail price, represents significant value for money. Thisparticular example needs a setup, but with that done it will become an extremely playable guitar with loads of sustain. Incidentally,Hagstrom don’t charge extra for left-handed guitars, which is as it should be, and neither do they charge extra for the blonde finishvariant.
Despite the niggles, I found myself really liking this Select Ultra Swede, and I’ve got absolutely no hesitation in recommending this
model of guitar to you if you’ve got this kind of money burning a hole in your pocket.
As always, you need to get your hands on one, make sure that it has a decent setup and give it a blast. In an age when there are more
Les Paul derivatives than you can shake a stick at, the Hagstrom Select Ultra Swede is a good-looking, good-sounding alternative and
you really ought to give it a good go. Have fun!
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