Friday, March 6, 2009

I can't put the Hamer down

More than bicycling. More than juggling. More than golf, for heavens sake, I've fallen for playing the guitar.

And more than strats, teles, les pauls, wolfgangs and kramers, I've fallen for a simple, amazing guitar. A Hamer XT Sunburst Archtop gold-top with P90s.


Now, to fall for a particular guitar and have it become your favorite is expected... right after you get it. It's the honeymoon period of newness, it's difference from the others, in lavishing some love through a re-string, neck adjustments, pickup heights, playing and learning how it sounds. Eventually, however, the other guitars get a little jealous and beg you to spend some time with them and your new love begins to slowly move into its slot in your regular rotation. Just ask Woody in Toy Story. The shine can come off the relationship in a matter of weeks.

I have a number of guitars ranging from cheap to expensive; American to Japanese to Korean to Chinese and China, for all its political implications, has arrived on the manufacturing scene. People hear China and think cheap. Recall, though, that thirty years ago, people heard Japanese and thought cheap. Twenty years ago people heard Korean and thought cheap. This particular guitar is - you guessed it- manufactured in China. It made it to my house in time for Christmas last year. $300 included a TKL hard shell case, second day delivery, and the usual case candy- all brand new and unplayed. Hang tags hanging, as they are supposed to, on the peghead.

The story...

It's funny how something you at first find awkward and, even a bit ugly becomes unique and endearing to you as you gain familiarity. I felt that way about the original pocket rocket Rabbit GTI twenty five years ago. Then I bought one as my my first car and have nostalgiac memories of that little BMW wanna be; it drove like a beemer and it had the maintenance needs of one- just the cost of entry was lower. I felt the same about Hamer's paddle-like, oversized and gloss-black headstock shape merely a few months ago. But now it's a mark of distinction to me... a membership in a club where simple nods of appreciation are knowingly exchanged.

I asked Santa for this because I had a yearning for a guitar with a set of P90 pickups in it. I was back and forth between this and a flashier, lower in price Xaviere XV-560 guitar from Gutar Fetish. Flashier in that it's got GFS P90s (which a lot of people will go to as a decent aftermarket P90 at a low price), is a semi-hollow body, and has a "look at me!" maple quilt top. Look at pictures of the two side by side, and you're going to choose Xaviere's candy almost all the time. But as the saying goes, candy's dandy, but liquor's quicker. I did the usual poking about the internet, reading reviews, lurking on discussions of Hamers, and watching youtube videos. I even found a fellow with videos of the Hamer P90 and a Xaviere with the same basic design (Semi hollow with the same P90s) as the particular model I wanted. His opinion was more towards the Xaviere but...

Here I am on Christmas day:

It's got this neck, you know? Ask any guitarist with a little experience about their favorite guitars, and they're bound to say "It's got this neck, you know?" I've got a bunch of guitars. I like them all and have found all their necks to be... fine. No issues, can play, can't dislike them. And then I picked up this one and it was different. And I've stepped into the brotherhood of guitarists who get that far-off, misty look in their eyes and say things like "it's got tone, man," or "It's got this neck, you know?" The neck is thicker than most. The subsequent reading I've done indicates this was the norm on 50s era Gibson Les Pauls. All I know is that my medium sized hands just wrap around it; it fits. I can play quickly, smoothly, precisely on it. It's interesting to go from a shredder's speed guitar like my Peavey EVH Wolfgang or my slappy strat-style Ibanez Roadstar II to this. It's a different beast; easier to play and not as hard on the fingers.

It's lighter yet stronger than any of my other guitars and all day long comfortable. Its weight is a bit of a conundrum to me, as it's a mahogany body with a maple cap and a mahogany neck- it should be heavy as mahogany is generally dense stuff. But this thing is light and comfortable. Strength comes from the thick neck and with it comes a resonance, a wholesome brightness; play this thing unplugged and you can feel its vibe in your hands. This transfers directly to its amplified sound.

My boy Jack loves it.

For the electronics, the P90 pickups are Hamer branded jobbies. I don't have any other P90s around for comparison. They work and have unique character. The volume pots are nice- there's a good boost from 9-10 on the dial, making it easy to play along at 9 and have a quick touch for playing a solo. Said the dunderer who's been able to accomplish almost half of the simplest of solos, e.g. Judas Priest's "Livin After Midnight," but hope springs eternal that some day... this nice feature will be of value to me. The fun thing about the P90s is that they are so much more forceful than typical single coils, yet they have a tight, tight bass. Cleans are full of character. They're fun to do bouncy blues strumming. I'm learning how to overdrive them- they're very sensitive to amp equalization and gain- and since they're so different from regular single coils and humbuckers, I'm still on the learning curve. But if you want something that just starts to breakup the pre-amp into distortion when you push it, these babies are for you. I'm sure I'll get the tweaking bug someday and replace them with a brand name P90- a Seymour Duncan as used in the Hamer USA on which my guitar is based, or some handmade BG pups or the Lollars. I don't know enough now to judge, and I'm not ready to dump $150 into a guitar when I can pick up another guitar for roughly the same price. Time will tell; until then I'm enjoying the sounds and the learning curve.

Real Hamer guitars- "Hamer USA" guitars, are hand crafted to a purists perfection by a small crew in Connecticut. And by hand made, I mean hand made. Start here:

Hamer USA's can be found on places like eBay for under a grand and that, my friends, is a bargain if quality means more to you than the name on the headstock. Though I can't imagine being embarassed with a Hamer in a room full of Fender and Gibson custom shops. Might be true the other way around... I've gone so far as to declare I'm not buying any other guitars but Hamers from here on in, and a Hamer USA at that. This is foolishness and these words I have already eaten, as I just bought a Korean Hamer Stellar 1 on eBay and am looking forward to lavishing it with love and affection. More on that one when it arrives. It's a 25.5" scale, 24 fret PRS interpretation with dual humbuckers from what I know about it. For $150 delivered I couldn't pass it up. Move over Kramer, a Hamer's about to take your place.


  1. I invited that goldtop into our happy home. I hope I don't regret what I've done.

  2. I got a crappy acoustic guitar a while back. I really wanted to learn to play it, but it had warped so the strings were too far from the neck and it was hard to play. I'm hoping to get an electric for my birthday.

  3. yeah you can't go wronger with a hamer. just as rick....