guitar magazine

The last thing I needed was another electric guitar.

I was seventeen, just out of school, and paying off the hire purchase on a two-pickup mint green Gretsch Anniversary (the same model I'd seen Brian Jones play on Ready Steady Go) but there it was in the window of Berry's Pianos in Edmonton, North London: a Hagstrom in midnight blue sparkle finish with a white plastic simulated mother of pearl back and neck, what looked like a tarnished gold 'speaker' between the pickups and push button control panel. An unlikely prize, maybe, but I was in love.

Over the years I've moved many times and the Hagstrom is always with me and my only memory of seeing one before was in a publicity shot of top Swedish instrumental combo The Spotnicks all beaming awkwardly into the camera whilst sporting spacesuits and large glass fishbowls on their heads. The image stuck for some reason.

I walked inside and ran my fingers up and down the neck and for a few glorious moments my fumbling hands contained Hubert Sumlin's dark brown fingers as they caressed the bleached maple fretboard of his Stratocaster behind Howlin' Wolf's terrifying wail – an unforgettable performance witnessed a year before at The Cooks Ferry Inn in Edmonton.

I handed over my twenty pounds and walked out of the store glowing with a guilty thrill, knowing I'd have to hide it from my mother who thought I was out looking for work, not spending even more money that I didn't have. It stayed in it's case for a couple of years and, I swear, Mum never got to discover it hidden by the piles of magazines under the bed.

Soon after I took up with thirty-strong performance art/prog rock extravaganza called "Silly Balls" which was directed by and featured David Bowie's mime mentor Lindsey Kemp. I dug the Hagstrom out from its mothballs and, decked out as a brick wall with ivy trimmings, I struck heroic poses centre stage. One day without even telling me, my newly-acquired chum and fellow ‘sillyballster’ Bob Suffolk had the tuning heads changed to Grovers, which, while they were superior to the originals, threw the whole guitar off balance and reduced the value by several hundred pounds. Still, why should I worry, I never even played the thing. It was, quite simply, a bizarre piece of art and an object of mystery to me.

I'd always been fascinated by how this instrument looked the way it did and then I read in this august magazine that founder Albin Hagstrom had been importing accordians through the 30's and 40's and, with the advent of Rock'n'Roll, started using the the same materials for making guitars!

It wasn't until I moved out from my parents' suburban bungalow to a gloomy run-down 'student house' a mere five minute walk away - ("Right. I don't have to take your nagging and all that crap anymore. I'm leaving for good and THAT'S IT! See you on Thursday with all my dirty washing") - that I was able for the first time to tentatively remove my glittery prize from its battered case and hang it on the wall. It created the only focal point in an otherwise depressingly Spartan teenage room: a glimpse of 50's glamour redolent of greasy quiffs, pink-pegged slacks and hooped skirts utterly at odds with the whole ethos of the late 60's world of surly, dope smoking non-communicants with lank hair and loon pants.

It was only when I saw the sleeve to Roxy Music's second album that I realised that others were also hip to the guitar's ultimate purpose. There they all were - Bryan Ferry, Eno and co., made up and blow-dried to within an inch of their lives, all sexily pawing these emerald sparkle Hagstroms. This was no guitar; it was an adornment - the peroxide floozy of the rock world flashing it all up front for all she was worth. Something to be seen with in seamy places but you'd be damned if you’d take it out and play it seriously in public.

In the mid-70's I became lead singer and guitarist with Fabulous Poodles and out she'd come, my 'bottle blonde' posing purely for publicity purposes. Ray Fenwick, former lead guitarist with the "Time Seller" period Spencer Davis Group saw one of these shots and offered me 200 quid on the spot for the guitar but I refused.

Over the years I've moved many times and the Hagstrom is always with me and never will I pick it up to lovingly bend the strings like I do with my ancient Strat and Tele. Its wretched 'chicken-wire scratch' will not be heard emanating from any amplifier of mine. It's even staring at me as I write this piece and we'll probably be stuck together for good now. A marriage made in blue sparkle purgatory.


GUITAR MAGAZINE MARCH 2002
hagstrom