UPDATE: My Current Love: Hamer Guitars

Okay, so I mentioned it in the previous post: my current Guitar Love/Lust (I’ve used both words…and they both apply) is Hamer.

Hamer was perhaps the first “boutique” guitar company.  Now there are several, with the most famous being Paul Reed Smith.  Hamer Guitars was formed because the founders felt that the 70s Fenders and Gibsons were pretty much crap, and imports were pretty much crap, and the only decent guitars were vintage Fenders and Gibsons that were way too expensive.  They felt they could make guitars just as good for less price, and everyone would be happy.

That’s pretty much how it worked, as it turns out.

Fast forward to a month ago.  I’m away from home at the military school for Captains.  I go out looking for cheap guitars at pawn shops.  I checked all of ’em out that I could find with Google Maps, and don’t see anything that really jumps out at me.  Then I kind of get lost, end up in a pretty bad part of town, and see a pawn shop.  I stop, and go in.  The manager asks me what I’m looking for, and I say, “Guitars.”  He says that he never has anyone come into his store looking for guitars, so he’s got some he really wants to get rid of.

The one that really jumps out at me is one that looks like this:

Hamer Stellar 1

Hamer Stellar 1

It’s an absolutely gorgeous guitar.  It is what they call Cherry Burst (yellow-orange in the middle, slowly shading to cherry red on the edges), and has a beautifully figured surface.  It looks similar to what they call “quilted maple”, but not exactly (I find out later it is silky oak).  I love the contoured top, which reminds me of the higher-end Paul Reed Smith and Carvin guitars.

I ask to play it, and it has a good sound.  The action is decent, and smooth, and it has 24 frets and a tune-o-matic bridge.  But Hamer? At the time I was thinking it was basically one of those 3rd-tier companies that sometimes puts out a few lines of instruments that appear to be good quality, but still use cheap materials or lack in workmanship.  I admitted this one didn’t seem that bad, but it never pays to jump too quickly on a pawn shop guitar whose worth you aren’t sure of.  I’ve made that mistake a few too many times.

The price tag on it was $350.  I start to walk out, and he asks me how much I want to pay.  I tell him: probably less than you are willing to take.  He says $250.  I say $180.  He says $200 with tax included. I tell him I  will think about it, but he still won’t budge below $200 “out the door”.

So I go home, and I do continue to think about it.  I spend some time researching it on the internet, and find out the companies history.

To be honest, it is difficult to learn that much about a specific guitar on the internet.  There are so many brands, and each brand has so many different lines, and they usually change their lineup every 2-3 years.  Guitar lines merge and split and appear and disappear.  It’s almost like the car industry in that.  I now know that Hamer built its reputation on top-quality USA-made guitars, but they have also expanded to have guitars built in Korea, and even China now.  Just like Paul Reed Smith, by the way.  I’m still not sure where the Stellar was made, but I think it was probably Korea.  In any case, my research leads me to believe that the guitar is well worth $200, so I return and buy it.

I have not regretted it at all.

It is one of the most guitars I’ve ever played.  It has a rich, full, fat sound that is the best of any guitar I’ve ever owned for Santana, Journey, and ZZ Top style songs.  Bending is smooth and fluid.  It has a nice growl down low when distorted, but still sings pure in the upper register for soloes.  The tone cleans up very nicely for blues/jazz, too.

I love it.

So, of course, I have to have more.  I started scouring eBay.  I found and won a Hamer Sunburst Archtop Flame (in Tobacco Burst: dark orange blending into black on the edges) for $180, mainly because I wanted the case it came with.  It has 22 frets, the same pickup configuration, and has an even fuller tone.  It is in what they now call the “XT” line, which is the guitars made in Korea.  Still high quality, but probably slightly less than that of the Hamer USA models, and probably equal to the Stellar.

Then I saw a Hamer Centaua and bid $100.  I figure that $100 is worth it for almost any guitar, much less a Hamer.  My guitar looks identical to this. But I have to admit I’m a little confused, because if you look up reviews of the Centaura on Harmony Central, you get that it is made in the US and has a H/S/S configuration. So is the CT212 not a Centaura?  Well, if you look up reviews of the CT21 on Harmony Central, you get that it still has an H/S/S pickup configuration, is also called the Centaurs, but is made in Indonesia.  Finally, this website specifically refers to a Slammer Centaura CT212, and although the picture is wrong (still an H/S/S configuration), the features listed say it is an H/S/H…but this still isn’t my guitar, because it goes on to say there is a coil-tap pull-up volume knob.  Mine does not have that.

In any case, after getting it all tuned up and locked down, I found that it has the best tremolo on any guitar I’ve ever played.  To be honest, I never understood how anyone can use a tremolo, because even the double-locking tremolos I’ve used don’t seem to return to true tuning.  This one does.  The bridge position sound is extremely hot, which makes it perfect for metal, but the 2/4 positions on the 5 way apparently auto-tap the double coils.  The result is a great quack for blues/country, and a great warm tone in the full neck position for jazz and solos.  Again, just another guitar that is great fun to just play.  The action is a little too high, and it needs another spring to allow me to tune it A440 (right now it only balances out at Ab), but that shouldn’t take much money, and I have a great sounding and playing guitar for whammy bar tricks!

I’ll have to email Hamer and ask them where the guitar was made…

And now, just today, I probably bid more than I should, but just won a Hamer Californian.  Remember how I said lines change and merge?  Well, the current Californian looks quite a bit like my Centaura, and appears to be about the same level of quality.  But what I won is this older model:

Hamer Californian

Hamer Californian

Hamer Californian Close-up

Hamer Californian Close-up

Another Californian currently for sale has an imprint on the back of the headstock that says it was made in Korea.  This one doesn’t.  I don’t know if the imprint was a decal that mine has had rubbed off, or if mine was made in the US, like the earlier Californians were.  Here’s reviews of the USA-made model, and reviews of the Korean-made model.  Reading the reviews, I might feel slightly sheepish because I paid $260 + shipping, and you can see several that paid only $200 or just slightly more.  One even paid just $100, but that guitar was in pretty bad condition.  I don’t feel bad about spending so much more because they simply aren’t making these guitars anymore.  It is apparently made for burning/shredding.  It doesn’t even have a tone knob!  That sounds perfect for me, because I always leave them turned fully up, anyway.  The 27 frets is cool, too…I already like the extra range of 24, so 27 could be lots of fun.  In any case, I expect the price of these guitars to continue to rise over the next decade.  It should be quite collectible.

I still have bids in on a few guitars.  We’ll see if I win any of them.  I have low enough bids in that I feel if I win, I’ll feel like I got a steal, but low enough that I’ll likely be outbid and not on the hook for it.

What I’ve learned through all this:

– Hamers are great guitars

– They have 3 levels of quality (parts fixed by the Hamer representative are shown in blue):

1) USA-made.  Starting at more than $ 3.6 k and running up to as much as $4900 (not including options, and excluding 2 special models that cost $10k and $8.5k), they are all beautiful and wonderful. Top quality. The way to tell is that it is usually just called “Hamer USA”, the serial numbers are  stamped into the headstock, and there are usually just  6 digits.   The first digit is the year and the following numbers are the amount of guitars Hamer has produced. Example 855342. This guitar would be a 2008 and it is the 55,342nd guitar built to date. They are hand-made in low volume. 3 pieces a day.

2) XT  Series (current) or Hamer Slammer Series (in the 80s and 90s). Ranging from $390 to about $900, these are made in  Indonesia. The current XT  series are just plain nice guitars with great sound, basically lower-priced versions of the Hamer USA models, just top quality factory-made in  Indonesia rather than hand-made.  The earlier Slammer series seemed to be geared more toward heavy metal guitar heroes.  From everything I’ve seen, they seem to all still be future-vintage quality, despite a substantially less expensive price than the Hamer USA models, and despite the fact that so many of the Harmony Central reviewers keep wanting to change out the pickups.

3) Slammer by Hamer.  Please note, that is different than the Hamer  XT series.  They range in price from $280 to $420 and are made in  Indonesia .  I have never played one, so I cannot attest to their sound or quality.  I am sure they are better than mere “entry level”, but they clearly lack the little marks of extra quality found in the XT series, like: carved tops and Duncan-designed pickups.

(I’m a little bit confused…I have seen several and own a few that were made in Korea, and are clearly great guitars of better-than-average/near professional quality, but the rep doesn’t seem to allow for Korean-made Hamer guitars; maybe that was late 90s, and now they are made in Indonesia?)

Not every Hamer is purely wonderful, though.  Remember the Sunburst Archtop Flame I bought, mostly for the case?  Did you notice I didn’t gush about it like I did the other three?  Well, there’s a reason for that.  Two, actually.  First, the guitar isn’t balanced right for playing while sitting down.  If I put the cutaway on my right leg, the weight wants to drag itself off to the right, raising the neck, which makes it uncomfortable to play.  But if I shift the cutaway to my left leg, the input jack hits the ground or chair (depending on which one I’m sitting on).  Second, the carved top actually has a slight upsweep to the edge/rim, and that edge irritates my right forearm when I play.  The Stellar does not have that.  Still, the sound is awesome, and the finish is near-perfect.  They put several coats of a nice varnish (or other transparent protecting coat) on those guitars, so it still looks flawless after however many years (since it predates the XT designation, but was still made in Korea).  But I will sell it, hopefully, recouping the costs and giving me what amounts to a free hardshell case.

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12 Comments

Filed under guitar

12 responses to “UPDATE: My Current Love: Hamer Guitars

  1. Toadroller

    Hey,

    I came across this tonight (05/01/09):
    http://www.daddys.com/detail.php?itemNumber=HAM04059

    Don’t know if you’re seeking another one, but there it is, the rare and elusive Stellar sitting in Manchester, NH.

    • chiefmuser

      Well, I’m thinking about selling *my* Stellar, so I think buying another one for $250+ would not be a good choice. In any case, someone else grabbed it.

      Still, thanks for thinking about it and letting me know.

  2. Was it really $250?

    I’ve seen a rash of them of late- another one (re-attached neck) was on the eBay last week for $175, and a third somewhere else at the same price…

    Funny how these things pop up now and again.

  3. Antonio

    Hello,

    I really could really use some help on this:

    is the floyd rose on import californian original or licensed?

    Like the Beatles, PLEASE help me!

    Cheers

  4. victor himbaugh

    Would you want another one of these for $200 ?

    • chiefmuser

      In this economy, that’s a little too high.
      And in any case, I’ve got way too many guitars and need to shed a few, not buy any.

      A trade could be arranged, though…

  5. NC Guitarist Guy

    Hey, I just bought my first Hamer at a pawn shop today. It looks identical to the first one you have pictured. I am super impressed with the ooks. I still need to do some work on it – the truss rod needs adjusting as the neck seems completely flat, so it needs some relief. And the tuners don’t seem to be doing the job. It once had a sticker on the back of the head – I assume it said made in Korea. Any idea what this model is called? I am looking forward to working on this one – I think it has great potential. Any info you may have about it would be appreciated. Thanks for sharing your comments about your Hamer experiences.

  6. NC Guitarist Guy

    I just realized you have a caption under the first Hamer that IDs it as a Stellar 1 – sorry I didn’t notice that before my first long comment!

  7. Robert

    hey i was wondering if you would be willing to sell the hamer slammer californian import? i had that exact model that was bestowed to me by my late grandfather, untill it was stolen out of my car while i was at work. ill make a good deal on it!

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