Electric guitar

Vintage Hagstrom F-11 Electric Guitar

Growing up in the shadow of the Martin Guitar Factory, I learned a thing or two about tonewoods. Many of my friends got factory jobs right out of high school, and over the years I’ve seen how the timbers are dried, selected, and cared for. The Japanese factories I visited really took this idea to the next level. I saw drying rooms with classical music played on piles of wood. I saw huge warehouses with different woods sorted by age (some well over 100 years old), country of origin and quality of figure. Hell, I’ve even seen logs that were dragged out of the Mississippi swamps, shipped to Japan, and dried.

If you’ve ever had conversations with high-end collectors, you’ve probably heard all kinds of poetic waxing about birds and flames and the like. But how about, good reader, a guitar that features a plywood body wrapped in catering booth vinyl? Oh, and then that same guitar had an acrylic layer screwed on top! How do you think a guitar like that would sound?

Much like Italian guitar factories, Hagstrom took inspiration from accordion design and applied them to electric guitars, ranging way there with enough sparkle and pearls to make you trip

Your first answer may be informed by taste and income level. As for me, I am indifferent. A guitar will sound good or not. After listening to and playing so many guitars, I developed an ear for ‘zing’ or ‘pop’ as I like to call it. And the economy-class Hagstrom F-11 guitar has zing for sure.

The F-11 comes from the mid-60s and was part of a line of guitars to make it to the United States via Sweden, from where it was imported by Merson Musical Products in Westbury, New York. Sometimes these guitars are called HI models in European catalogs, but in the Merson catalog they were billed as the F-11 and cost $129.50 in 1966. The F-11 was available in red, black, white or, as in this case, blue – my favorite guitar color.

Here’s a close up of the In-Motion tremolo and note the labeling on the tone preset switches and volume dial.

Hagstrom’s accordion roots date back to the 1920s. When they started making electric guitars in 1958, the company immediately came up with some of the craziest examples seen in Europe and quickly developed a reputation for guitars and quality bass. Much like Italian guitar factories, Hagstrom took inspiration from accordion design and applied them to electric guitars, ranging way there with enough sparkle and pearls to make you trip!

Even the most affordable Hagstrom electrical appliances came with several effective features. Inside the F-11’s slim neck is the worldwide patented H-shaped reinforcement bar which has been dubbed the “Expander-Stretcher”. It’s a beautiful design, and those old Hagstrom necks have held up over time. The vibrato was also a marvel of design which for a period was widely copied by various Japanese manufacturers. Hagstrom called the unit an “In Motion” tremolo, and the top plate floats over the base plate with proper string tension. The vibrato takes a while to dial in but works pretty well. Although Hagstrom’s “Micro-Matic” bridge has been found on more high-end models, allowing for better string spacing, adjustable intonation, and clean break for the strings, budget models like this F-11 have a Simpler wooden bridge with non-adjustable metal saddles.

The sound of the F-11 is quite Strat-like and gives players a Fender-y experience with a bit more punch. I’ve always been impressed with Hagstrom pickups. I’ve liked almost every example I’ve heard, and the pickups hold up well over time as well.

Measuring around 7k, they are a little warmer than Fender pickups of the same era. The electronics of the F-11 include a nice little control panel, straight out of a spaceship, with a master volume and four mini-switches for high, low, tone and mute functions. They’re basically preset tone switches that most gamers would probably find redundant, but they’re pretty neat. And who could miss that crazy mesh inlay between the pickups. Why? Why not!?

These mid-60s Hagstroms are very nice guitars, and I own three different models that I use quite a bit. Hey, go get one if you can, as long as you don’t mind plywood and acrylic.

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