July 12, 2010

Karl Erik Hagström, son of Albin Hagström, who founded the Swedish Hagström music enterprise, passed away on July 7, aged 78. Karl Erik Hagström lead the company through its guitar making years from the late 1950s to the early 1980s.

After business trips to the United States in the late 1950s, he suggested the transition from accordion to guitar manufacturing – he had seen the new rock´n´roll music, seen an increased demand for electric guitars and realised the imminent demise of the “squeezebox”.

Under his management, many innovations were made, such as the eight-string bass, as played by Jimi Hendrix, and the Patch guitar synthesizer. Hagström also collaborated with famous luthier James D´Aquisto on the design of a jazz guitar and guitar hardware.

The first Hagström guitars from the late 50s were sold in the US under the brand name Goya – guitars covered in glittery pearloid and “mother-of-toilet-seat” materials. In the UK, Hagström guitars were sold in the early 60s as Futurama. The cheapest beginner´s electrics were often sold in Europe with a “Kent” decal.

The semi-acoustic Viking model was immortalized by Elvis Presley when he used one in his 1968 comeback TV show and on the cover of the “Elvis in Memphis” album. Frank Zappa was another Hagström user – the Swedish guitar brand was actually the only one he ever officially endorsed in ads.

A total of nearly 130,000 guitars were made in the main Hagström factory from 1958 to 1981, when it shut down due to the increasing Asian competition.

Hagström guitars have also been played by artists such as Kurt Cobain and Pat Smear (Nirvana), Denny Laine (Paul McCartney & Wings), Neil Young, George Wadenius (BS&T, SNL studio band), Larry Coryell, and Joe Walsh and Randy Meisner (The Eagles) – and of course members of ABBA and their touring bands.

In 2005, the brand name was relaunched, with Mr Hagström´s permission, on a series of guitars made in China for the American Sound & Music corporation. Many of the new designs were based on the old models such as the Viking and the Super Swede. —Mikael Jansson

Karl Erik Hagström outside the Hagström Museum in the village Älvdalen, Sweden at the launching of the new China-made series of Hagström guitars. (Photo: Anders Barke)

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