For many people, Sweden is the birthplace of thoughtful and elegant design. From vintage Saab cars to flatpack icon IKEA furniture, the signature style of Swedish manufacturing is deliberate minimalism where sleek looks combine with high-level functionality. And this is also true with .strandberg guitars.
Based in the town of Uppsala, near Stockholm, the company is the brainchild of Ola Strandberg, who was kind enough to join us to discuss the guitars he has been building and refining since the early 80s.
Why did you adopt a non-traditional, headless design for .strandberg guitars?
“It started out as a hobby. I built guitars as a teenager and hadn’t looked at a guitar in almost 15 years. I was kind of shocked after those 15 years when I decided to make myself another guitar, and that I went to my favorite music store and, looking around, nothing had happened. It was a bit of a shock… the Tube Screamer was still the pedal of the game. favorite overdrive, which I had used years before.
“So I guess it was like the first seed of ‘let’s do something different’, but then I kind of slipped into it because I was drawn to the headless concept. I had owned a Hohner copy Steinberger at the time, which I had butchered. I built a new body and neck for this, but reused the original hardware. I was drawn to this concept, so when I started planning my own guitar, wanted to make it headless and just realized there was no headless gear to buy anywhere.
“Then I came across this community called Building the Ergonomic Guitar, which was an online community of a few guitar makers. They were trying to do something different and solve a problem, not just build a guitar. I was attracted by that too, so this kind of project became: not only building me a guitar but solving this problem of guitar ergonomics and in such a way that I would like to be a customer [for what I was building].”
“I also had a long experience in the software industry and in product development and management in general. So that got me thinking about this product concept, which I named the Ergonomic Guitar System, which included [tiered] levels of ergonomics.
“First, I would make hardware that would allow you to convert your existing hardware to make it lighter and more ergonomic. The second level of the Ergonomic Guitar System was a replacement neck that you could install to replace your existing guitar neck. Then level three of the ergonomic guitar system was the whole guitar – the guitar body shape I had envisioned.
“I don’t think the decision was necessarily to do something untraditional. Instead, the decision was to “approach this as an industrial design project and come up with a compelling ergonomic offering.” It started there.
Tell us about the neck profile. It’s a really remarkable shape…
“Yes, the original idea was inspired by a luthier called Jerome Little, who designed what he called the Torzal Twist neck, where the neck is actually twisted so that when you extend your arm you can straighten your wrist. It seemed to make a lot of sense, but at the same time, it’s a very complicated construct – it’s very difficult to make.
“Lace Music Products, who make the Lace Sensor pickups, actually had a commercially available guitar with this twist neck. I had the opportunity to visit them in California and talk to them. They showed me this neck and it was obvious that it worked ergonomically.
“At the same time, you would have to adapt your playing technique because you cannot lean upwards. If you bend up you will muffle the strings, so you can only bend down. That would be a huge limit. The other limitation is that if you need to fix your guitar and take it to a guitar tech, I’m pretty sure 100% of guitar techs would just say, “No, I’m not going to touch that… »
“So I wanted to accomplish the same function but with more standard production techniques, something that would be more user-friendly and wouldn’t require you to change your style of play. That was the first goal.
“The second was very early, I worked in collaboration with Rick Toone, who is an American luthier. He had imagined this trapezoidal sleeve shape, with three flat surfaces at the back. I noticed that this kind of neck shape was just more comfortable to play; there was less fatigue in the hand while playing.
“Later I combined these two concepts with the angled surfaces – but I was just twisting the surfaces, so I twisted the back of the neck but not the front of the neck. I found it worked just as well than the original Torzal Twist innovation, as the angles of both surfaces encouraged you to play with a straighter wrist angle.
“By combining this with the three distinct surfaces [on the rear of the neck]rather than the semicircle, also offered these benefits, so it both relaxes the muscles and tendons in your hand and forearm, but also encourages that straighter wrist angle.
How do players handle it, in your experience? It’s quite different from a traditional neck shape.
“Generally what I find about people who try our neck design is that it feels weird for a few minutes, but quickly becomes second nature and doesn’t feel weird anymore.
“I guess there’s also a third aspect, which is the cross-section of the neck, so what you would call the thickness, is actually thicker than a lot of necks. It also comes down to ergonomics: if you wants to grab a very thin object you have to press hard and it creates fatigue in the hand.If you grab something thicker, it’s easier to grab.
“With the way the three surfaces interact and the angles, you don’t necessarily think of it as ‘What a fat neck.’ It kind of tricks your brain into living like a thin neck. It helps sound better because there’s more mass in the neck, but it also has those ergonomic benefits.
“I think generally if people want a comfortable neck on a guitar that plays fast, they think of a super thin Ibanez Wizard type neck. So many people looking for good ergonomics will contact us and say, “How thick is the neck? I like thin necks.
“We say then that we’d rather not talk about dimensions because that dimension won’t mean anything to you – we say instead, ‘Try it out and see if you like it.’ Generally people find it works really well It’s regardless of playing style – even people who wrap their thumb around the top of their neck they still find it works really well.
How do you feel when you see professional musicians switch to your guitars?
“It’s the ultimate reward, I think. To see the instruments used, to hear the music they’ve created, to hear the stories of people who are more inspired by a .strandberg guitar and look at it and want to pick it up. and start playing more whether or not they have ergonomic issues or not.
“Right now, we know that most .strandberg customers haven’t purchased a .strandberg guitar because of ergonomics. They got it because they felt it was a better instrument.
“I also think we are moving more towards a digital environment [as guitarists] and be like a desktop musician using lots of headphones and near-field monitors. In this environment, you hear the difference in a .strandberg guitar much more than you would have heard a few years ago when you walked into a rehearsal space and had a stack of amplifiers behind you.
“So I think the environment in which you make music goes with that. I mean, now only the resolution of the audio chain highlights the flaws of 1950s technology. So I think that it raises the bar for what an instrument should do, and we’ve been able to address that better than a traditional design.