Pick of the Month - January 2002
1963 Hagstrom Futurama II

Since we were on the subject of beginners' guitars, I wonder how many of you out there started playing on one of these?

Flooding the UK guitar market during the sixties, these cheap but fully-functional solids came with either 2 or 3 pickups (III), their Strat-shaped bodies coated in red, blue or black. Seven strips of timber glued together made up the body, which had a bevelled edge similar to Gibson's SG range. The skinny 2-piece neck measured just 1"3 at the nut, making it ideal for small hands. Hagstrom must have prided themselves in their necks, equipping them with individual top-quality tuners, and adding a glossy logo to the rear of the headstock that read "Kings Neck with Hagstrom Expander Stretcher - Pat. Pend.", a high-falutin' reference to the adjustable truss-rod.

I've actually done gigs with this guitar and it works just fine. The pickups deliver a nice punch, though it's a shame they had to stick the rear one so close to the bridge – it makes a really gnarly racket. The control plate carries four sliding switches; individual on/offs for the two pickups, plus one labelled "Tone" that in fact reduces the volume for rhythm playing, and another labelled "Mute" that routes all the high frequencies to earth for those mellow jazz moments (can't help feeling these two switches somehow got reversed in the manufacturing process). A simple rotary volume pot controls the output, and the jack socket is moulded into the plastic escutcheon like an inverted Strat arrangement – very tidy! The tail-piece is Hagstrom's well-made (though practically useless for anything other than breaking strings) tremolo unit, which they also supplied to Guild in the U.S. for their Polara, Jet-Star and Thunderbird solids in the sixties (stay tuned).

Hagstrom never put their own name on these guitars; U.K. distributors Selmer marketed them as Futurama, while in the U.S. they were sold with the Kent logo. I found mine at a Swindon auction in 1992, bagging it for £33 (which included a little seventies practice amp into the bargain). You can't put a price on nostalgia…

Former famous players include your very own Andy Partridge, who owned a black 3-pickup variant during his days in Star Park. I've often mused that his scratchy style (evident on such cuts as Neon Shuffle, Meccanik Dancing and I'm Bugged) evolved via his employment of that bridge pickup! He painted his guitar with leopard-skin spots to match the tail that hung from the rear of his Spandex tights (no, I'm not making this up). He can be seen hoisting aloft this baby-blue example on the inside photo of XTC's Upsy Daisy Assortment CD.

Recording debut: Home recordings only
Features on: Nothing I'd want you to hear