I’ve had a Carvin for about 4 years now. It’s just a plain Bolt, assembled from a kit by a private citizen, but under the watchful eye of a Carvin-approved and -paid teacher. It was put together quite well, painted with a fairly-unique semi-transparent green automotive paint, and has a birds-eye maple fretboard (which you can’t get on the kits sold through the website). I’m quite pleased with it, and it made me obsessed with getting a new Carvin at some point. But I guess I’m too cheap, because that obsession died…perhaps with the realization that although the Carvins are gorgeous, they don’t really sound any better than the one I have right now.
I just got into Hamers. My gosh, they are gorgeous, especially if the one you have has a good, strong/clear flame (I haven’t seen a quilted maple version yet). The workmanship on the Hamer is awesome. A used Carvin is usually $500-700, depending on the features, but a used USA-made Hamer goes for no less than $800, and some rare models go for more than $3000! So, yeah: the quality and beauty of a Hamer guitar really does stand out. The nice part about Hamer is you can get an import Hamer for far less. The quality, beauty, materials, etc, are probably about 90% of a USA-made, but can be grabbed for $200-$300 on eBay.
Carvin has dual-truss rod necks (I think), which makes them amazingly stable. You can buy a Carvin on eBay almost without any hesitation. Hamer has pre-stressed necks that are also amazingly stable, and their finish is so durable that you can pretty much buy a Hamer on eBay without any hesitation, too.
I’ve mentioned that my Carvin has a great sound, and I’ve mentioned that my Hamers have a great sound, too. Well, what’s the difference?
I’m a good musician, and a halfway decent guitarist…but I’m also cheap, and have grown up from low-quality, entry-level guitars. So perhaps my opinion is a little bit off.
In my opinion, the Carvin does great distortion for metal and crunch for hard rock with its humbucker in the bridge, and their single-coil pickups are great for twangy blues. I don’t think the humbucker would sound as good in the neck position, and I wouldn’t like this guitar as much if it didn’t have the single coil pickups. Basically, the double coil is great for a generic rock sound, and the single coils are great for basic Stevie Ray Vaughn-style or any other Stratocaster-based blues. Interestingly, I have a coil-splitter for the humbucker, but while it makes a noticeable difference in sound, I couldn’t tell you which is the humbucker and which is the single coil split. I’d describe my Carvin guitar as providing good raw material for your amp and/or effects boxes to work with, but there is little character there that I can identify as “Carvin”, unless it is just the general overall competence of the pickups’ tones themselves. One of the strengths of Carvin is the ability to hear each individual string better than on other guitars.
The Hamer, on the other hand, seems to really shine with its dual double-coils (humbuckers). Which is fortunate, I guess, because its main guitar versions lack single coils. The Hamer humbucker sound really strikes me as a poor man’s (vintage) Paul. “Paul who?”, you ask? Well, the company was founded on the idea of making modern vintage-quality Gibson guitars (because both Gibson and Fender kinda stunk in the 70s), and so I’d agree that the sound on my Hamer guitars is nearly as full and buttery as a Les Paul. But right now, the tone standard is pretty much Paul Reed Smith guitars (which are also known for their beauty), and are the signature guitars for sweet tone experts like Santana. Well, I’d consider even the Korean-made Hamer as a way to get 90% of that sound for 30% of the price. The Hamer has a great growl at all levels of distortion with the bridge pickup, sings purely when distorted in the neck position without overdoing it, yet still cleans up nicely to a great clean jazz sound. The Hamer is great for ZZ Top-style or any other Gibson/humbucker-based blues (like B.B. King and Bo Diddley). I would consider the Hamer as the source of the sound, so that the amp merely needs to make the sound loud enough to hear at a distance. Hamer’s pickups are full of vintage-sounding character.
It is fun to just grab and play a Carvin, because it seems to help you play better. It is just fun to grab and play a Hamer, because anything you do seems to sound good on it.
The Carvin is a top-quality tool that doesn’t limit you, and helps you sound like (and then grow into) a better guitarist and musician. The Hamer is like another musician playing along with you, complementing whatever you do to make it musical.
The Carvin is for technique. The Hamer is for feel.*
*that doesn’t mean you can’t play with great technique on a Hamer, or with great feel on a Carvin, mind you; that’s just how I feel about them