Hamer Import vs Hamer USA

The XT is a nice intermediate-level guitar.

It is about as good as you can get in a factory made guitar. (IMHO)

It is made to pretty much the same physical specs as a Hamer USA model.

But it is, of course, cheaper. There are many ways to make a guitar cheaper, and Hamer uses most of the reasonable ones.

1) Factory made, not hand made. This means that the playability (overall quality?) of XTs can vary from one guitar to the next.

2) Lower quality woods. Hey, mahogany is mahogany, maple is maple, alder is alder. But there is a reason Paul Reed Smith used to personally go and pick out the wood he would use. If you really know what you’re doing, there is a difference between top notch and good enough. And you’ll never get a AAAA+ flame on an XT.

3) Cheaper electronics and mechanicals. There isn’t a huge drop-off, really. Duncan Design pickups sound pretty good, for the most part. The trems stay in tune better than most guitars, and the tuning machines stay in tune as good as anything else.

The result is that you have a good guitar that sounds good enough for bedroom practicing, jamming, and maybe even gigging (depending on your personal standards for tone). I can tell that my XT and Korean import Hamers have significantly better sustain than any bolt-on guitar I’ve ever tried out. And the sound and look of my XT SATF, Hamer Slammer Series Californian, and Korean import Stellar 1 are good enough that I bought and sold USAs purely as investment.

Keep in mind, however: I am idiot.

Or at the very least, I’m not that much into tone.

The best Hamers are the USA, by a large margin. But surprisingly good are the Hamer Korean imports (identified as those with just “Hamer” on the headstock). The next best are generally the Hamer Slammer series (Hamer in big letters, “slammer series” in smaller); they are also made in Korea, as I understand it. Then the 3rd best is the Chinese XT series…some individual guitars may be better than the Korean-made, some significantly worse. Then next would be the Indonesian, which would be considered excellent-quality entry models, and lowest would be the Slammer by Hamer guitars…which would be considered good-quality entry models.
For instance, the build quality on my Slammer by Hamer Centaura is quite good, and the trem stays in tune very well…but the pickup tone is just a little bit thin and annoying. And the Slammer by Hamer Special I have feels slinky and has good sustain unplugged…but I have to get in and figure out why it has no sound.

Some people feel, and I think I agree, that you could pick up one of the better XTs or (even better) a Korean import model, switch out the pickups for something better, and end up with a killer sounding and playing guitar. That’s especially true for Echotone, but might be true for the Californian, and maybe the Stellar 1, too.

But if you are the type to get a guitar and start thinking of upgrades to it, you are probably best off saving for a Hamer USA. “Can’t polish a turd” does apply somewhat to the XTs and Korean imports: you can improve the sound/tone immensely with professional-level pickups, but you will always be stuck with tonewoods that can’t compare to a Hamer USA.

So if you truly are on a budget but have time to be patient, take an hour every single day and check every major city in Craigslist, and you might find that rare USA for $350. They are out there, if you can convince them to ship. But when/if you can’t wait any longer, and if you still can’t afford the $500-600 for a slightly-nicked up Hamer USA, then try a few Hamer XTs in person and choose the one you like, or wait for a good Hamer Korean import. For instance, I just picked up a Hamer Korean import Cali Deluxe (with Boomers!) for $252 (shipping included) off of eBay. Unless it is significantly worse than described, I feel like I got a deal.

The XT or Korean import is kind of like buying a Camry instead of a Lexus ES350*. You get a less powerful motor, less luxurious appointments, less care in the making, and perhaps less beauty in the styling…but they are clearly closely related, and a Camry doesn’t suck.

*(if you don’t like Toyota/Lexus, substitute Ford/Lincoln, Nissan/Infiniti, VW/Audi, Honda/Acura, or Chevy/Caddy as you see fit)

To further cement my status as an idiot, I’ll explain that I *have* A/B/C/D’d a ’96 Artist Custom, a ’95 Studio, a ’00 Stellar 1, and a Chinese XT SATF.

Clearly, the Artist Custom is the best, and the Studio 2nd best. The XT SATF is 3rd, and the Stellar 1 last.

The shape, weight, feel of the Studio and SATF are almost identical. I’ve looked at the carved top, and the angles and so forth all seem the same. The neck feels the same. The tuners and pickups and bridge and knobs are in similar enough configuration as to make almost no difference.

Now, we all know the mechanicals and wood aren’t as good on the SATF. And I know the cap is not as thick on the SATF as on the Studio and Artist. But if you put the three of them side-by-side, it would be clear they were related. I would think a non-Hamer expert would think the SATF and the Studio were different year models of the same guitar.

To me, that means you can’t say they are not related at all in design. But I can understand that to a guitar-maker/designer, maybe there are enough differences to make it seem completely different, even if those differences are transparent to the layman.

On a scale of 1 to 100, with 1 being the worst guitar I’ve ever played, and 100 being the best, I’d rate them this way (based on sound, feel, and quality):
Artist: 100
Peavey Vandenberg: 91
Studio: 90
Carvin Bolt: 82
XT SATF: 80
import Cali: 79
Stellar 1: 75
Fernandes Revolver Pro: 73
JB Player guitars: 65
Fernandes X models (various): 60
Harmony Flying V: 50
Sebring superstrat: 35
Crappy Pawn Shop no-name guitars: 1

So the Artist and Studio are clearly better than the XT and the XT is better than the Stellar 1. But not three times better, but the price of a Studio or Artist is 3x as high.

Now, you can make a great argument that price/quality is on a bell curve, rather than linear chart.

But I don’t think I can be shaken from my conviction that: yes, Hamer USA models are clearly superior in every way. If you want the best, save for it. If you want “good enough”, an XT or Korean import Hamer is a more cost effective way of getting “good enough”.

But someone else point out some more significant differences:

– One piece, non-pre-stressed necks (lacks Hamer USAs legendary warp resistance)

– No cavity shielding

– Thinner veneer top

– plastic inlays rather than Mother of Pearl

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9 Comments

Filed under guitar, Me, philosophy

9 responses to “Hamer Import vs Hamer USA

  1. Hey fantastic post.
    About Volkswagen recalls, have you heard of the Volkswagen Phaeton? Did you realize it’s basically a chopped up Bentley Continental GT? Sad, but true.
    The Volkswagen Phaeton was a unimaginable fail in my opinion, the worst thing VW ever made!

    Its In: VW Phaeton is a failure!

  2. skydogblues

    Agreed, I own a few of both the USA and Korean models (“Slammer Series” and “Hamer” logos) and I think the MIK imports are great guitars for not alot of scratch – I have fm standard (explorer), fm vector (flying V), ss daytona (strat) and have previously owned ss sunburst and diablo models. The alder body on the V is fly weight although the standard is still pretty heavy – they all play really well and the Duncan Designed p/ups are surprisingly decent although, for comparison purposes, I upgraded standard to JB 59’s which i like lot better.

    B/t/w, the Slammer Series came first (early-mid 90’s) and then the Hamer (alone) logo. Here is a good history article :http://www.vintageguitar.com/features/brands/details.asp?AID=1083

  3. Very good review, and I pretty much agree with most of what you’ve said. I currently own 6 from the XT line, and 2 USA models. My first Hamer was an XT Quilttop and I converted the pickups from the generic Hamer pickups it came with to a pair of Seymour Duncan 59s which made a significant differenct in the sound. The playability and sustain were great but the pups were a very nice touch. BTW, my quilttop was one of the earlier XTs made in China, but the logo on the headstock simply says Hamer. And the inlays ARE MOP, and the entire guitar is bordered with abalone.

    In addition to the SATQ, my other XT models include:

    Sunburst SATF Cherry Sunburst Flame-top
    Sunburst SATF Natural Flame-top
    Sunburst SATP-90 Honeyburst Flame-top
    Vector VECF Cherry Sunburst Flame-top
    Standard STDF Cherry Sunburst Flame-top

    My USA models include:

    Artist GATASO With a Qulted Maple cap in Aztec Gold
    Monaco Elite MONEL Mahogany top in Tobacco burst.

    I have been very pleased with the playability of all of my XTs, but as you have indicated, there is nothing like a Hamer USA. They ALL feel good, and honestly I would put any one of my XTs up against anything Gibson has turned out in the last decade or so…and I have been a die-hard Gibson player most of my life before I converted to Hamer. There is no question that Hamer XT kills Epiphone.

  4. I have 2 USA Hamers. I traded my Fender Deluxe Stratocaster for this guy’s Monaco Superpro and my Telecaster for his Hamer Studio. Now the purchased worth of my guitars was $2,100.00 total and his was over $5,000.00, but this guy wanted that tone. I made out like a bandit, but the dude was happy. I have tried the Import Hamers. You can slap some powerful pickups in them for $200.00-$300.00 depending whether or not you are doing the job yourself or hiring a Luthier. If you don’t have the cash for a USA, you can’t do badly with an Import. They blow away Epiphone LPs. You can gig with the guitar. And they will sound pretty close to a $2,000.00 Hamer. Any questions E-mail: johncastello65@gmail.com

  5. jon

    checkout my very rare usa (black) mid 90’s Hamer. It has a natural wood finished feel neck, My favorite guitar, same level as my 81 LP custom (cherryburst)

    We’re a band: the KOS (trio) from Portland, Oregon.

    See/hear it @ youtube.com/kosrocknroll

  6. tiffanyl

    i have a korean imported Hamer Slammer series guitar with two double pickups an a floys rose electric for sale if interested contact me at 8126130944 or 8123262869 thank u

  7. ab normal

    My dog has fleas

  8. Blackrg

    This is an excellent article, written in a fun style. I must agree. I have been gassing for a Hamer for years, but living in the UK they are scarce. But what is available for cheap are the Hamer Imports. I now have one of the Hamer Standards made in Korea. All electrics needed replacing, but the nut and fretwork are excellent. It now has a Duncan Custom bridge and an Alnico Pro II neck, but the Duncan Designed pickups are ok as long as all other electrics have been replaced with CTS pots, cloth wiring, Switchcraft jack etc. It plays so much better than a modern Epiphone and also cost less than a second hand one..

  9. xxipxx

    claiming the Slammer series is better than the first Korean Stellar 1’s is the sign of an ignorant guitar owner, I’ve played and owned the stellar 1’s since they came out, too funny
    Slammer is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Hamers

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