Opening the lockable Hagstrom case reveals a Copperburst solid body electric, with cast metal Hagstrom logos on the body and headstock. The Impala is a 24.75” electric that is unapologetic in its ‘60s grace and style. The guitar features a Black TUSQ teflon nut, two single coil pickups, a volume pot and six switches nestled just below the Hagstrom Vintage Tremar. The pickup switching system is honestly a little intimidating to look at, but is beautifully distinct. The six switches control on/off for neck and bridge pickups, a tone boost, mute and a bass cut, all of which comes in handy when dialling in tones.
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that the first riff I played on the Impala was ‘Misery Business’, and it felt great for simple chords. Straight out of the case, this guitar is perfect for rhythm. However, it does feel a little rigid for lead playing or vibrato, which I think is a sign of the times. This guitar is a throwback to a time and place in history, and the resulting feel seems to be the intention of the manufacturer. The Hagstrom website explicitly states that they won’t compromise tradition, and I think this guitar does just that; it is truly uncompromising. The guitar may be pigeon-holed into a thin, surfy sound, but it does this sound remarkably well through a variety of amps. The Impala offers a lot of options and is vastly more distinct than the other guitars in the Artist Project series, both of which throwback to Gibson’s famed 335 hollow body.
Elsewhere, the Super Viking in Trans Brown is a tribute to Hagstrom’s Viking model. It’s a 25.5” hollow body electric with two Hagstrom humbuckers, a tune-o-matic bridge and F holes. The Hagstrom-branded tuners are a classy addition, and this guitar also features the Black TUSQ teflon nut. Leads come a little easier on this than the Impala; however, I can still feel the tension that the Impala has.
Super Viking in Trans Brown
This guitar is hugely resonant, which isn’t all that common for 335 copies as they usually sound and feel less hollow and more solid. The resonance of this model could easily fill the void of an acoustic guitar, as the rich and full-bodied sound is noticeably unlike any thin, hollow bodied guitar I’ve played before. Amplified, the guitar retains its body and character, but with the addition of clarity and definition from the Hagstrom humbuckers. The Super Viking would be at home in a jazz or rockabilly band as leads feel percussive on the bridge pickup and full bodied but forward on the neck. Rolling off the tone and volume changes the texture drastically, and the guitar could easily sit back in a band or stand forward for solos.
The Viking, the final member of the Artist Series, with its vintage gold top is easily my favourite of the three guitars. Again it features the Black TUSQ teflon nut, has a 24.75” scale length, and two Hagstrom humbuckers with push/pull pots. The guitar retains its resonance without sounding and feeling like an acoustic the way the Super Viking does. Noodling on the Viking is a breeze thanks to the shorter scale length, and I felt at home immediately, despite only having owned one hollow body electric in my life. The guitar is still resonant, but vastly more clear and articulate than the Super Viking. It’s great for solos and chords alike, delivering a harmonically rich chord or a lead that cuts. Amplified, the Gold Top Viking sings and has great sustain, note definition and feel. Vibrato comes easy, tuning is stable, and the push/pull coil splits and bass cut (as seen in the Impala) give it a myriad of other ways to stand out. Add some gain and you can pull a biting, bluesy tone from the Viking. Both the Viking and Super Viking take distortion well. The guitar is comfortable, inspiring, and beautiful to look at. Hagstrom and Justin York really nailed this one.
Viking Gold Top
Overall, Hagstrom has done a great job on its new Artist Project series. The company has retained the look and feel of its traditional designs and history, with modern luxuries to maintain a cutting edge. The Impala is somewhat pigeon-holed, but to be fair it does what it does very well. If this guitar sounds like it’s for you, it would easily beat any competition because of its eye-catching looks, sound and pickup switching options. The larger bodied hollow Viking and Super Viking are in a league of their own, and are vastly different despite paying tribute to the same model. The Super Viking feels and sounds more vintage, handling chords well with a huge acoustic resonance, while the Viking Gold Top is your go-to for leads or intricate playing. From its beginnings in the ‘20s in Sweden, Hagstrom continues to produce instruments of quality sound and aesthetic.