HJ800 review by Hagstrom

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  • Sound: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 10
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 9
  • Features: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9.6 Superb
  • Users' score: 10 (3 votes)
Hagstrom: HJ800

Price paid: $ 846

Purchased from: The Music Farm

Sound — 9
This guitar has the full archtop sound, that goes beyond others that I've head on YouTube. Some archtops have maple tops and mahogany necks, but the the Traditional ones have spruce tops and maple necks. I prefer the latter. This is not just a jazz guitar! Electric archtops were used with orchestras since the 1930s. Archtops were used with 1950s rock and roll (but with a vibrato), and then there's the Epiphone Casino which was used extensively by John Lennon and Keith Richards. Technically the Casino is an archtop, but the effect is muted considerably by the fixed bridge and thin body. I love that Epiphone sound, but It's not extreme enough for me.

Overall Impression — 10
I wish that this guitar had come with a metal floating bridge, instead of a plain wooden bar. For me, a guitar must be cut away to at least the 21st. Fret, which is why I bought this one. I admit that I don't like that type of bridge, and one of the guitar strap screws was a little loose, but this guitar far exceeded my expectations in playability and tone - so it's 10+ all the way! You cannot get the full range of sounds with only solid bodies and semi-acoustics, so you should consider adding this great-sounding and well-priced archtop to your collection.

Reliability & Durability — 10
All of the details are finely finished, except for the horn button (for the guitar strap). It wasn't tight enough, so I inserted two rock maple shavings into the screw hole, and inserted the screw; that tightened it. The finish on this guitar is plastic varnish, like almost all modern guitars. There connections for the tone and volume controls are all 100%. This type of guitar can be used for controlled feedback to a far greater extent than a semi-acoustic. All that you have to do is adjust the amount of distortion, the volume, and the distance between the guitar and amp.

Action, Fit & Finish — 9
I'm very fussy about string height and intonation, so I replaced the wooden bridge with a Tune-O-Matic style bridge, which rests on the original pedestal, propped up with coins. (The string spacing at the bridge is 52 millimeters. If you use a fixed bridge, too much of the resonation will bypass the spruce top and go into the body. You can buy a metal bridge with a pedestal, but the pedestal may not fit the contour of the arched top as well as the original.) I replaced the 49, 38, 28, 18, 14, 11 strings with 42, 32, 24, 16, 11, 9, and loosened the truss rod.

Features — 10
Made in 2012 in China; 22 frets; Hagcase included. It is said that the archtop is the highest form of the guitar luthiers' art, maybe because a Traditional archtop is like a violin, with a maple body and neck, and a spruce top. This archtop has a carved one-piece spruce top (not laminated five-ply pressed wood) and a flamed maple body. The Gibson L-5, priced at around $9,600 - $13,500 has neither of these features (according to the Gibson website). The most important feature is that it has 22 frets, and is cut away to the 21st. Fret, which makes it possible to transfer your repertoire (or improvisations) from your solid-body guitar to an archtop. Archtops with 21-fret cutaways are scarce. There's only two others that I've found: Gibson Byrdland ($7,400 - $9,800) and Ibanez LGB ($4,500). (I'll exclude the Gibson ES-330 because it has a fixed bridge.) Considering these three features, there is no guitar on the mainstream market that has all three, which is why I think that this is likely the best archtop in the world.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    An Epiphone Casino is a Gibson ES-330. At least back in the 1960's.
    This would be more like a more affordable version of the Gibson Byrdland in my opinion.
    William A Smyth
    In the Hagstrom HJ800 review, I stated that the Casino was not extreme enough; the HJ800 is indeed extreme enough in its archtop tone, which is why for tone it is 10+.
    I want this guitar really bad! Any hints as to what amp to get for home practice ~ also, amps in past have been really good for guitar and running my mic thru them as well. Any advice?
    I have a HJ800 and I play it EVERY day. I just can't leave it on the stand. It looks good, easy to play, and just plain fun. The custom 58 humbuckers are awesome. Then again since I got this one I have become a Hagstrom Fan. To the max!!