Hagström Viking, my review

Online reviews, especially those solicited by Amazon and their ilk, tend to be pretty useless.  Most people that are compelled to write a review of something seem to do it out of a particular love for that thing, or conversely, because of a particular axe to grind.  You see few 3/5s on Amazon.com, and I recently trawled all the reviews available on Guitarcentre.com and found little that did not represent amazing value.

For all of this, I could find little online in the past year to feed what I freely admit was becoming something of an obsession with the Hagström Viking semi-hollowbody electric guitar.  I think I first read that these instruments were being reissued in late 2008, but you don’t see many in the wild, nor indeed, many reviews.

So, why the obsession?   Well, I tend to be a fan of semi-acoustic guitars in general, although very few ever seem to match original Gibson models.  But just a quick glance at the Viking tells you how much character it has, and if Hagstöm cannot boast the heritage of Gibson, the Viking can at least call upon quite some pedigree of its own.  Secondly, Hagström is a Swedish brand, originally producing all their guitars from Älvdalen in central Sweden until the early 1980s (a casualty, it seems, of the trashy Strat copy business that sprung up at that time).  And lastly, today’s Vikings are really, really cheap.   I  determined that if I got one, I would provide as full a review as I could – what you now see before you.

I took the plunge, then, breaking the golden rule (try before you buy) and ordered a Viking online.  It saddens me to think that local guitar shops will suffer, but I was able to save about €200 doing so, bringing the Viking in at around €600.  If I compare to my other semi-acoustics:

guitar collection

The Epiphone Sorento (on the left) cost €700 in 2002, and the Gibson ES-335 was $2,000 in 2007.  The Hagström Viking is on the right.

the Viking is very competitive.  Looking at the other two models, the Epiphone is Korean made, and retains a very faithful 1950s shape to it.  The Gibson is the “dot” model with only a “satin” finish, making it just one step up from a studio model, but it is made in US.  The Viking, by contrast, is the deluxe model, which was around 100 more than the standard.  The components are mostly manufactured in the US, the guitar is assembled in China (and it is of course, still designed in Sweden).

There is one very important difference between these guitars: the Epiphone is a true hollow-body, while the Gibson and the Hagström are semi-hollow bodies (meaning that the neck is a single piece that continues through the length of the body, making two small sound compartments, rather than one large one).

Appearance

I tend to look at a lot of guitars, and love-at-first-sight with anything that is not a Gibson tends to be rare for me, but I will admit, it was the Viking’s looks that ensnared me.

The Viking immediately gets placed in the ES-335-clone camp because that is essentially its capability (semi-hollowbody, two humbuckers, two cutaways, dual volume and tone controls).  And yes, the 335 is a design classic (and without wishing to give too much away, remains my ultimate guitar).  But the Hagström is daring, has its name splashed over its (daringly shaped) pick-guard and has a tighter body shape.  The body is more squat,  flaring lower down, and the horns are slightly pinched, giving the whole instrument a slightly more “attacking” feel, compared to the ES-335’s more feminine shape:

While the Gibson feels fairly timeless, the Hagström is more of a style piece, having something of a 70s feel -the Guild Starfire (no longer in production since Guild were bought out by Fender), has similar lines to the Viking.  But it is not the body shape that really stands out on the Viking.  It is the sheer quantity of design and accoutrement.

For example, the Viking sports a luxurious tail-piece and bridge:

proudly showing the Hagstrom crest and boasting “Swedish Design”.  The very distinctive bridge anchor is not in fact unique to Hagström – Rickenbacher have similar pieces – but it is an obvious indication that the Viking is its own guitar.

I bought the slightly upmarket Viking Deluxe which has block inlays and is available in a natural finish.  The finish is impressive – thick and even lacquer and showing off two beautifully flamed pieces of maple.  This model also has unusual f-holes (unusual in the sense that they are not a lowercase ‘f’ any more, but more like an “s”).  Compare the Viking’s flame top with that of the (more expensive) Epiphone:

Both the Gibson and the Epiphone have single-piece tops, but the Hagström has by far the better looking wood.  I think the Epiphone’s sunburst is great, (and the Viking is available in a truly horrid amber sunburst) but neither the Epiphone’s wood grain nor finish are anywhere near the Hagström’s standard.

The Viking’s delightful narcissism is properly reflected in the headstock.

The depth of detail and willingness to be different – the wave shape, the sculpted tuning-knobs and the fleur-de-lis all speak of self-confidence.  The Viking is not imitating anything – it almost feels like it is daring other guitars to be so stylish.

Function

There does come a time when you do need to stop just looking at the Viking and play it.

Hagström do the eminently sensible thing of having a technician set up the guitar before they ship it.  So, the guitar that came out of the box was very, very playable.  My only quibble would be a slight buzz on the lower E string which I might get around to adjusting.

The guitar stays in tune very well and the tuning pegs have a nice feeling of even stiffness about them, and my only real concern at the moment is the lead plug which already appears to be coming loose.  It can be tightened, but an electric guitar with poorly-installed electrics is very close to becoming an acoustic guitar.

Most importantly, the Viking’s neck really surprised me.  First, it is both shallow and narrow.  I have quite big hands and like both the depth of a Gibson’s neck and the width of a Fender neck, so I was apprehensive, but as I note, the guitar is very easy to play (easier than, say, the Gibson which does ask more of you).  The neck has no dead-spots and I only registered a very little buzz on one string.   Up the neck, the fret spacing seems as perfect as my ear can tell.

What is really interesting about the neck is (stop yawning) the structure and composition.  There is some discussion of this on the Hagström site but nothing there actually tells you just how good the neck is: I have never played an instrument that offered so much real sustain (I say real sustain as opposed to the artificial, electronic variety or indeed, the overdriven feedback kind).  The guitar really encourages left-hand vibrato and just seems to resonate with the body extremely well.  The Hagström offers more sustain than the Gibson then, and has me working on my technique in anticipation of further rewards.

Build Quality

If the Viking is sounding too good to be true, then read on.  I was actually quite relieved to see the flaws in the build quality (and, surprisingly, component quality), because I wanted to know just where it was that my money was not going.  So happily, it does not take much digging to see the corners which are cut in producing the Viking.  The crest itself actually contains a flaw in the mold (between the upper stanchions of the letter H).

A peek inside the f-holes s-holes shows that the wood has been fairly roughly gouged to fit the wiring in, and there is quite a mess of glue inside.

The bridge-piece had not been terribly well cast:

And the join of the neck to the body showed a little distress:

If these things seem trivial, they are, but it is worth noting that these kinds of details are perfect on a Gibson.

And there is one thing that no blog can convey.  Even at 3 years old, the Gibson still has a soft, sweet smell of maple wood.  The Hagström, by contrast, smells entirely of glue.

Sound

So, let’s say it: the Hagström sounds great.  It has a bright twang, a reasonably soft neck pickup and plenty of bite on the bridge.  I play exclusively with a clean sound, so I have not gone looking for much crunch, but even at the slightest hint of overdrive, the Viking performs well.  It might not have the Gibson’s manageable power (and by the way, I have played a few unmanageable Gibsons too) but it has plenty of body.  It sounds authentically like a semi-acoustic, much more so than the relatively weedy Epiphone Sorento.

And yet, and yet, if we compare with the ES-335, the Hagström, inevitably, comes up short.  Same amplification, same licks:

and the Gibson’s tone is markedly more distinguished: more warmth and sweetness which lend more sympathy and authority to the playing.

Overall

The remarkable thing about the Viking is that I find myself comparing it not to a guitar in a similar price bracket (the Epiphone Sorento), but to an instrument that would cost up to five times as much, the Gibson ES-335, and it certainly looks like an instrument in that range, at least at first blush.

I cannot score the Viking better than the ES-335 because, in the end, it is all about the sound.  And what’s more, the ES-335 is an icon to me, and to many other guitarists.

For all that, anyone considering a semi-acoustic should consider a Hagström Viking.  It really is a lot – a lot – of guitar for your money (for the price of the Gibson you could buy a Viking and a high-end solid body and still have change) and still seemingly a relatively well kept secret.   Hagström are to be commended for this instrument.

The Windows Browser Choice screen, 2 weeks in

It’s been on of the most hectic months for me in my time at Mozilla in preparing for the browser choice screen.  Johnath provided the details of our submission to Microsoft for the browser choice screen itself (browserchoice.eu), but I wanted to provide an update and a big thanks to everyone who has helped us get off the ground.

Microsoft asked us to provide a product description in 140 characters in 23 languages.  Now, I find it hard to sum up Firefox in a tweet, but we needed to.  A big thanks to both Jenny Boriss and James Hopkins at Critical Research for helping us figure out what we felt we needed to cover.  Being Mozilla, of course, we wanted to provide more than 23 languages – we felt that there are more like 33 languages widely used in the European Economic Area (plus Croatia and Switzerland, where the browser choice screen is also available), but for now, 23 seems to be the limit.

We also wanted to create a specific “learn more” page for people using the browser choice screen – people who might not have installed much software for themselves in the past, and who specifically wanted more details on Firefox.  For this reason, I felt we should have a slimmed down version of the Firefox pages that we have on Mozilla-Europe.org and Mozilla.com today, and give people a chance to really make it specific for their country.  Here is where I was pretty much overwhelmed by the localisation community at Mozilla.  In just a couple of days, we have had 27 localisations of our “learn more” screen.

A huge effort and thanks to all who took part:

  • Basque: Julen Ruiz Aizpuru
  • Bulgarian : Ognyan Kulev, Mihail Chilyashev, Pavel Peev
  • Catalan: Toni Hermoso Pulido,  Eduard Gamonal
  • Croatian: Sasa Tekovic
  • Czech: Pavel Cvrcek
  • Danish: Jesper Kristensen, Søren Munk Skrøder
  • Dutch: Tim Maks van den Broek, Wim Benes, Ton Kessen, Laurens Holst, Mark Heijl, Ben Branders
  • Estonian: Merike Sell, Otto de Voogd, Sander Lepik
  • Finnish: Jussi Bergström
  • French: Cédric Corazza, Goofy, Jean-Bernard Marcon,  Philippe Dessante, Nicosmos,  Alexandre Lissy, Benoit Leseul, Céline Demange, Daniel Schroeter
  • Frisian: Wim Benes (again)
  • Gaelic: Kevin P. Scannell
  • German: Archaeopteryx, Robert Kaiser, Michael ‘Coce’ Köhle, Kadir Topal (now a Mozilla employee – congratulations!)
  • Greek: George Fiotakis, Kostas Papadima
  • Hungarian: Kalman Kemenczy
  • Icelandic: Kristján Bjarni Guðmundsson
  • Italian: Francesco Lodolo, Giuliano Masseroni
  • Latvian: Raivis Dejus
  • Lithuanian: Rimas Kudelis
  • Norwegian: Ronny Vårdal, Håvard Mork and Bjørn Ivar Svindseth for Nynorsk
  • Polish: Leszek Zyczkowski, Hubert Gajewski, Marek Stępień, Staś Małolepszy, Stefan Plewako and Gandalf
  • Portugese: Carlos Simao, Sérgio Parreira
  • Romanian: Alexandru Szasz
  • Russian: Alexander L. Slovesnik
  • Slovak: Vlado Valastiak
  • Slovene: Brian King, Matjaž Horvat,  Vito Smolej
  • Spanish: Ricardo Palomares, Nukeador, Guillermo López
  • Swedish: Markus Amalthea Magnuson, Hasse Wallanger
  • Turkish: Rail Aliev
  • Welsh: Rhoslyn Prys

and I think that Welsh, Galician, Turkish and Basque are all underway too.  I think this is a great illustration of Mozilla’s raison d’etre.  It is not the case that we have to have every language under the sun represented in the browser choice screen, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be the case that software, or the coroporations who produce it, should define which languages are and which are not on the web.  These are important cultural and social artefacts.  While there is a community that demands access for this language, it is our job to try to facilitate it.

So, from the 23 languages that Microsoft allow on browserchoice.eu, we still wish to route users to other locales that they might be using.  I would especially like to call to attention Alex Buchanan for his great efforts in making this a reality.  Right now, if you use Internet Explorer with, for example, Catalan as your prefered language, and you click on “Tell me more” from browserchoice.eu, you will get more information (and access to a Firefox binary) in Catalan.

Toni called me attention to a deeper problem here, namely that the language packs for many of the lesser-spoken languages in Europe do not modify the user’s IE language preference.  Although we don’t have a single fix for that, I know that Pascal is looking into a few approache.  Watch this space.  Also, we are aware that browserchoice.eu is not very helpful for blind web-users.  We will do what we can to address this, at least in our content downstream.

Alongside all of the people who have contributed localisations for this project (and if I forgot anyone, please give me a hard time in comments), I would also like to thank some of the other people behind the scenes at Mozilla that made this project happen.  Staś Małolepszy is a geniune superstar and his incredible diligence prevented those of us less blessed from making bigger and more permanent mistakes.  Stephen Donner, for helping me understand a pair-wise test case from a hole in the ground, Kev Needham for his ability to spin Firefox builds like turntables, John O’Duinn and Matthew Zeier and their teams for springing into action and Tomcat, well, just for being Tomcat.

And we might all thank Chris Mullaney at Microsoft for coordinating getting content from Mozilla into browserchoice.eu, (and for her gentle way of pointing out obvious typos).  It may be an obvious point, but Windows has been the platform on which the vast majority of people have experienced computing and have experienced the web.  Whatever we might think and say about Microsoft (and there have been some pretty interesting things written this week), Windows is a platform that seen a vast ecosystem of software, both Free and non-Free developed for it, and its legacy of backwards compatibility on an incredible range of hardware is one of the wonders of modern computing.   Let us hope that Microsoft also finds embracing more choice benefits the Windows platform too.

Update 12/3/10: as Laurens commented, there were a number of people who contributed translations to the text on the browserchoice.eu screen.  Although this is only 140 characters, this is a difficult task, interpreting an English text and making it fit.  I have attempted to all all the names of those involved to the list above.  Thanks again.

Copyrights and Patents (if you like that kind of thing)

Watch this space… the MPL has been enormously influential, and I know that Mitchell and others at Mozilla are grappling with what FLOSS means on the web. This won’t be happening under the aegis of an updated MPL, but it is a starting point.

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal « What I Couldn’t Say…
Interesting: Jonathan Schwartz describing how software patents are used at the highest levels of the industry. Pretty dismal.

links for 2010-02-26

links for 2010-02-23

links for 2010-02-19

links for 2009-11-26

  • "Google pushes big snapshots of code to the open source tree only at certain times," Haynie tells The Reg. "It's not like, say, Mozilla. Everything Mozilla does is in the open. It's never a big surprise, like 'Hey. Here's this new piece of code called Android 2.0'" I sometimes wonder what open source means to Google – it is not freedom for the user, nor it seems, building a community: is it primarily about ingesting code?
    (tags: google mozilla)

Borders and contests

On November 9th the Mobile team announced the Mobile Add-On Challenge, and I gather that they are delighted with the interest shown in the contest so far.  They will be awarding prizes of Nokia N900s (nice) to the 10 best entries, and you still have three weeks to submit your add-on.

However, I have received a questions about the rules of eligibility for the contest.  We are really sorry that there are certain regions and countries where the contest is not available.  I wanted to make it absolutely clear with this post that this is a legal restriction imposed on Mozilla that relates to running such contests – not to code, and these laws are no barrier to participation in the rest of the Mozilla project.

For all that we are very sorry that there are members of the Mozilla community who are not able to take part in this Mobile Add-On Challenge.  Like all open source projects, Mozilla is founded on participation and we believe that people should be able to participate wherever they are.

links for 2009-10-28

  • "Also, is the interface supposed to be so appalling? Perhaps it’s me, but the orphaned extra toolbar off to the right-hand side doesn’t make much sense. And then there’s the two Tools menus: one in the aforementioned toolbar and another in the Menu Bar toolbar (which is, admittedly, optional), both of which have different things in them. Have I missed something? Since when do applications have two menus with the same name that have different items in them? " I wondered about this too. The IE user interface appears to have been designed by a committee with several agendas. Two menus with the same name and different contents exposed in the chrome of the application? That's just weird.
    (tags: ie8)
  • "What the hell is going on over at Microsoft? The marketing team is desperate to look cool and win cred with the social media crowd, but such desperation just keeps making the company look like a pathetic hipster doofus. " Well, my take is that MSFT are just trying to do something – anything – not to live up to the "I'm a PC" stereotype. Whatever the impact on Apple's brand, the position is crafted for MSFT was so powerful that I think it has left some MSFT people confused and frustrated.
    (tags: microsoft)
  • I don't get this. Why would Oracle's (largely failed) investment in Unbreakable Linux mean they are prepared to walk away from OpenSolaris? OpenSolaris has a real community behind it now, and Solaris has certifications that Unbreakable Linux lacked so badly…
    (tags: opensolaris)

links for 2009-10-27

Be geek; Be prepared to talk to anyone about anything

I’m just about recovered from Mozilla Camp Europe.  Compliments to William and Irina for putting together such a well-run and enjoyable event.  I felt that this year’s event was even better than last year’s, which is no reflection on the fine city of Barcelona.

Highlights there were many.  Meeting Glyn Moody was pretty damn cool.  He’s such a gentleman he did not wish to disclose his favourite book for fear of appearing pretentious – that’s class.  He also opened my, and a few other’s, eyes to things that Mozilla could and should be doing.  With great responsibility comes great power, after all.

From the Advocacy track I was delighted by the level of contribution from people.  I did not speak much myself, as I felt I had little to offer compared to the war stories and practical advice from our speakers.  But I will mention a few memories:

Bogo Shopov kicked us off on Saturday in fine style.  To learn more about Bogo and his adventures in freedom fighting, you can read his page, Who the f**k is Bogo -few “About” pages start so promisingly.  Bogo kicked us off by explaining that his mother told him not to talk to strangers, and consequently we all had to introduce ourselves.  And then…a pantomime, “The non-linear behaviour of a business mind”.  For about 15 minutes, Bogo silently performed his working day.  I think this was to make us consider decision making cycles in businesses.  But it might have just been a laugh.  Mission accomplished on both counts, and a wonderful and imaginative way to kick off the track.

Bogo Shopov

For the rest of Saturday afternoon we brainstormed on Project Drumbeat and then on remixing the Mozilla Manifesto.  We will be hearing a lot more about these  in the coming months.

On Sunday, I met a few people for the first time, and can say without exaggeration I felt truly inspired by some of our speakers.

I had heard many great things about Mozilla Italia, but hearing from them in the flesh was amazing.  Iacopo Benesperi presented on advocating at non-technical events.  All through this session I was nodding in agreement, but it was not because these were things I knew, but rather, that I had felt. Iacopo brought them to life.  One slide in particular captured my imagination (the picture is not very good because of my rubbish camera dreadful photography skills):

Mozilla Italia have quite some experience attending events and advocating for Mozilla and the lessons rang so true.  I especially liked the bullets on this slide, “Be prepared to talk to anyone about anything”, and on his closing slide, “Be geek” (i.e. let people get as technical as they want to).  What does not come across from my underexposed snap is the respect and affection for this target that all the Mozilla Italians showed.  It’s that spirit that made me want to join the project in the first place.  I enjoyed Iacopo’s (who I should point out is from Florence) presentation so much that it temporarily dulled the pain of Liverpool’s 2-0 humiliation at the hands of Fiorentina 5 days earlier.  There’s always the return fixture.

Later in the day, I got to meet Gorjan Jovanovski, who was talking about the achievements of the Macedonian community.

underexposed is the word

Gorjan is extremely impressive – and I do not want to give away just how young he is, but when he described his achievements and then mentioned his age as a potential barrier in business meetings…well, I think everyone’s jaw dropped.  Gorjan is a remarkable chap with a very exciting future ahead of him.

I felt we made some great connections and I look forward to even more participation next year.  I am very grateful to all our speakers, (and not just the ones I mention here), and remember, per Iacopo’s advice:

  • Be Geek
  • Be prepared to talk to anyone about anything
  • Give help (not only on Mozilla subjects)