I think I finally found the (my?) cure to GAS*.
A few months ago, I heard that Jon Kammerer Guitars** was having a big clearance sale. In the process of doing some unpaid promotional work for Jon Kammerer Guitars back in 2004, I got the chance to play on a Jon Kammerer solid body guitar for about 3 months.
It was a great guitar. But I was still a cheapskate. I still believed that the Pawn Shop Find of the Century was out there somewhere for $200. I still believed that there were some professional-quality guitars available for $300 or under. I still believed there <i>had</i> to be some guitar company doing great work that hadn’t been discovered yet.
So at the end of the 3 months, I didn’t continue the relationship. There was no way I was going to spend $1k or more on a guitar, no matter <i>how</i> good.
Well, in some ways, guitars are much like cars, or any other item that can range from utilitarian to luxury: you <i>can</i> find the basics for cheap, but the quality/price curve is quite steep. At some point, you end up having to pay twice as much for something only 10% better. The ratio can get even worse. For instance, your average family sports sedan that you can get for under $20k now outperforms most so-called “supercars” that cost several hundred thousand dollars back in the early ’80s. And a loaded BMW 3 series costs 3 times as much as Mazda3…yet it can’t go 3 times as fast; it isn’t 3 times as luxurious, it can’t turn corners 3 times as tight. Most likely, despite being 300% of the cost of a Mazda3, a BMW 3-series is probably just 20-50% better in any attribute.
So, yeah: some of the guitars I found were 70% as good as a professional. I had a JB Player Professional w/ EMG Select pickups that was both beautiful and sounded great. But fret wear started to catch up and I started to have fret-outs and buzzes. And the Wilkinson Tremolo wouldn’t really stay in tune, even with a Tremsetter device installed. I bought a couple of Carvin Bolts for $300 each. They were very good, but not “great”. And the newer Carvins, anything with an upgraded appearance got to be $1300 or more very quickly. Too rich for my blood.
I heard that the Matsumoku-made Westones were great…they <i>did</i> have great necks, great action…but sometimes the tone was too harsh, and the tremolos didn’t stay in tune well.
I stumbled across Fernandes Guitars…they had some very good guitars for very cheap, used, on eBay. But although they had very good sound, I found myself slightly frustrated with the fit and finish: the fret edges were always rough, and the back of the necks seemed to be raw wood. Over the course of a very short time, I had a Revolver X, a Vertigo X, a Monterey X, a Dragonfly X lavaburst, and a Dragonfly Pro (w/ sustainer). But (with the exception of the Revolver) the Xs were all “photoflame” (a paper-thin veneer literally printed with a pattern meant to mimic quilted maple), the Dragonfly Pro got badly damaged in shipping, and the Revolver both had a slightly whiny sound (excellent vintage Les Paul sound, btw…just happened to be a tone I hate) and was purchased cheap enough that I wanted to sell it for a big profit to buy other guitars (I made about $200 off of buying/selling it).
That was when I discovered Hamer, through a Korean-import Hamer Stellar 1.
Fast foward a few years, and I currently own 7 USA Hamers: a Ted Nugent-signed Californian w/ rare maple fretboard, a set-neck Chaparral, a blueburst Centaura Deluxe, a tobacco burst Centaura w/ maple fretboard, a Diablo, a speckle/granite Centaura, and a 12-string set-neck Chaparral. And that’s after selling another speckle/granite Centaura, another Diablo, a transparent green Californian, a flame maple-topped Special, a Studio, and an Artist.
But I have now found another company that is making me feel like dropping my entire Hamer USA collection…or, at worst, only keeping the autographed Californian and 12-string Chaparral due to rarity.
That company is Jon Kammerer Guitars.
But that’s the next post.
*GAS: Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. Basically, a nearly-uncontrollable urge to buy a guitar you have been lusting after
** Yes, there’s a long story behind this. I’ll talk about it someday.