Hagstrom was a Swedish Instrument manufacturer that started out making accordions, and by 1958 was making guitars too, though production finished in the early 1980s. In this time, they made many fine and innovative instruments, played by the likes of David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Brian Ferry and many more.
The H8 was the first eight string bass, and quickly spawned many multi-stringed bass rivals it was only manufactured for a brief period in the late 1960s. The strings were set in pairs, each tuned an octave apart, so it was played like a four string. It is of course possible to tune in 5ths or any other interval. The pole pieces are wider than those on previous Hagstrom bass pickups, to allow for the additional string. In total 2,249 were made, in seven batches of between 100 and 600 instruments between 1967 and 1969.
Few instruments are as steeped in rock and roll folklore as the Eight string basses used by Jimi Hendrix and Noel Redding of the Hendrix Experience. The story goes that their bass (or possibly basses) was purchased in America in 1967 whilst the band was on tour. Noel used it on the 1967 album 'Axis Bold as Love' on the tracks Spanish Castle Magic, You've got me Floating and Little miss Lover.
Then came Jimi's turn. After quitting a tour with the Monkees the Experience had a few weeks to kill, so Jimi decided to hang out with his old band Curtis Knight and the Squires. Needless to say, they jammed and recorded some great, and some not so great tracks. The better tracks feature Jimi on guitar with some blinding wah-wah fuelled psychedelia, but he also plays 8-string bass on some tracks (along with some very funky 4 string bass played by the bands regular bassist - Ed 'Bugs' Gregory). Jimi's sound is slightly distorted, and in many ways he fills the role of rhythm guitarist rather than bassist - these tracks can be heard on 'The Summer of Love Sessions. Another album to feature the H-8 was the outstanding 1998 compilation of BBC sessions. It can be clearly heard on the tracks taken from the Alexis Korner 'Rhythm and Blues' show, and is in fact mentioned on the program. The outstanding Hoochie Coochie Man (also featuring Alexis Korner on slide guitar) really benefits from the 8 strings heaviness, and can really be heard in the breakdown just after half way through.
Other users include Billy 'bass' Nelson of Funkadelic, Mike Rutherford (Genesis) on I know what I like, Andy Kulberg of the Blues Project, and Danny McCulloch of Eric Burden and the Animals. If you know of more, please leave a comment.
This is one of those instruments with a really distinctive sound. Full and bassy yet somehow trebly at the same time - that's eight strings for you! The sound is so full, that it can substitute for a bass and rhythm guitar simultaneously - a natural choice for a three piece band. Likewise in a larger band, it can be too much, particularly with more than one guitarist.
Clips below are from two different Hagstrom H8 Eight String Basses - the first two clips are from a 1967 bass fitted with round wound strings, and recorded directly into my sound card; ie no amplifier. The final clip is from a 1969 bass and played through a 1964 Ampeg B15 portaflex amplifier.
Instruments could be shipped with Natural, Black, Translucent Cherry, or Mahogany Burst headstocks. Note the exaggerated 'open book' headstock profile, somewhat similar to that of a Gibson. The headstock branding is typically a raised plastic scripted Hagstrom logo, although on occasion a decal seems to have replaced this. Tuning keys look somewhat odd - there are actually two different sets of Van Ghent keys - the larger attach to the main bass strings, the smaller (as used in numerous other Hagstrom six strings of the time) attach to the octave strings. Note the 'Made in Sweden' decal at the top reverse of the headstock.
Towards the end of production, the H8 was not selling well and many instruments from later batches were converted to 4 string basses - by blocking off the holes with black plastic plates on the back, as shown above