Sweden’s Hagstrom began making electric guitars in 1958, at a time when Europe was desperate for the kind of electric guitar variety available to American musicians. The company was there at the right place at the right time to capitalize on the existing visual style from its successful accordion line, with eye-catching features like sparkly and pearloid celluloid finishes. Hagstrom users over the years include Elvis, Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe, Dusty Hill and the Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Pat Smear from Nirvana and Foo Fighters, Dweezil Zappa, Frank Zappa (who created an advertising campaign for the company), David Bowie, and Franz Ferdinand guitarist Nicholas McCarthy.
The Viking bears some similarities to certain Gibson and Guild designs, but Hagstrom’s strong visual style and idiosyncratic design features make this far from a copy guitar. But first the basics: the body is a semi-hollow contoured ply maple. The neck is glued in and is made of Canadian hard maple, and the fretboard is Hagstrom’s Resinator material, a synthetic product which reacts in a similar way to ebony. The neck is fitted with Hagstrom’s proprietary H-Expander truss rod, a very sturdy design which ensures that the thin neck isn’t put under any undue stress by the string tension. Controls consist of a separate volume and tone for each of the two Hagstrom HJ-50 humbucker pickups, and a three-way pickup selector mounted to the treble side cutaway.
The finish on the review model is an elegant and plain white, although various other colours are available, as is a lefty version. The review model has what appears to be a glue spot on the 21st fret and a few spots of pitting on the tailpiece, but otherwise the construction is quite nice.
The HJ-50 humbuckers have a vintage tone and output which reminds me of Seymour Duncan 59s or Seth Lovers – that airy yet smooth, midrangey tone of classic 50s guitars rather than the hotter, thicker sound we associate with modern humbuckers. The bridge pickup has a warm, caramelly kind of character which is great for overdriven open chords or jangly clean rhythms. It never gets harsh, nor does it become muddy. It’s great with higher overdrive levels too, especially if you’re into Larry Carlton fusion.
The neck pickup has that ‘juicy’ vibe you often get from Gibson SGs and the like. It responds very differently when you dig in with the pick compared to if you play softly, and again this seems to bring out those jazz-pop Carlton-esque soloing styles. Playability is great, and the neck is deceptively fast. It’s a real pleasure to play, whether you’re playing indie arpeggios, classic rock pentatonics, Alex Lifeson style prog or even Foo Fighters hard rock.
The Viking Ultra may look and sound traditional, but it plays extraordinarily well like a more modern guitar. Even shredders will feel at home with it. And the pickups sound great. Hagstrom really nails it with this one: a semi-hollow that almost anyone can get something out of.