I originally wrote this review for Mixdown magazine in 2006, and a little discussion with Lewis from the Me And Mace: Japan Guitar Journeys blog on Twitter today reminded me of how cool this guitar is, so I’ve decided to post the review here.
I reviewed the F-200p, a funky little guitar that comes across as a marriage of all the fun bits of a Gibson Les Paul Jr, SG, Fender Strat and even ESP Viper. The body shape is vaguely SG or Viper-like, with similarly pointy horns and classy bevelling on the front and back of the body. The mahogany body’s thickness and weight are more like a Les Paul Jr, as is the twin soapbar pickup configuration. The pickups, Hagstrom’s own Alnico 5 magnet H-90 soapbars, have an aged cream colour which complements the crisp crème of the body and the back of the set nato neck, and is matched by similarly aged volume and tone pots. The oversized tortoise shell pickguard is immaculately cut, and the rear cavity cover features clever triangle cut-outs to give access to the trem spring screws without having to remove the plate. The headstock features the classic Hagstrom shape (something like an industrial Gumby), set off with classy but understated pearloid binding, logo and decorative inlay. It actually looks like the whole headstock face is covered in a two ply overlay of pearloid material then painted over with some kind of stencil to mark out the pearloid features, which is more than likely at this price point, as full inlay work would jack up the price. The headstock features Hagstrom-branded tuners with extremely cool art deco style buttons which look similar to those found on some versions of megabuck D’Angelico New Yorker jazz boxes.
But the coolest feature as far as I’m concerned is the Full Contact trem system. A simple push-in bar with a Strat-style white plastic tip is tension adjustable, and the bridge is anchored to the body via four screws which, like all vintage-style trems, can be adjusted to provide more play, or screwed down tight to get closer to a fixed bridge vibe if whammy isn’t your thing. The bridge saddles are a design I’ve never seen before, with the strings sitting on a screw-in section which rises about 5mm higher than the top of the saddle bases, keeping the strings at a Les Paul-like break angle for better sustain and tonal transfer while providing the playability of a Strat. In operation, the bridge stood up to some pretty wild whammy bar abuse and just wouldn’t go out of tune no matter what I dished out, from divebombs to EVH-style dips and scoops to race car and piggy noises. Yet due to the subtle float of the review model’s bridge and the snugness of the bar in the socket, I was also able to get dead-accurate shimmery Bigsby sounds, which blossomed to full life with a few carefully chosen open strings and the added influence of those soapbars.
I’ve always found soapbar-style pickups to be extra sensitive to changes in picking dynamics, and these were no exception. The bridge pickup is set pretty much as far back as it could possibly go, emphasising the snappiness characteristic of the bridge position to gloriously grungy effect. The larger than average distance between the bridge and neck pickups makes the contrast between the two tones even more pronounced, and the middle setting jangles like a hardcore Telecaster. Within ten minutes of plugging the F-200p in, I’d already written two new riffs, inspired by the glassy shimmer of the soapbars. I’m a firm believer that every guitar has a new song or two lurking within it, and to find them within the first ten minutes is pretty inspiring. Delving deeper though, I was able to conjure up great Stonesy tones, some pretty awesome slide guitar sounds, and, when rolling off the tone knob and switching to the neck pickup through high gain, a dangerously close approximation of Randy Bachman’s “American Woman” tone. Huge variations in tone were possible by varying pick attack or switching from pick to fingers, and particularly country chicken pickin’ licks sounded great.
The Hagstrom F-200p would be a great studio guitar due to its sheer versatility, and its cool retro styling make it a great indie axe. It’s more suited to jangly chords and ringing single note lines rather than fleet-fingered shred-fests, but with those sweet sounding soapbar pickups you wouldn’t want to get too noodly anyway because you’d miss all the tonal nuances. But if, for some bizarre reason, soapbars aren’t your thing, other versions feature humbuckers, single coils, or combinations of the two.