Hey guys, it’s Brian here with World Music Supply again, to bring you another dose of gear and guitar reviews, and today I am pleased to bring you some tasty treats from our good friends over at Hamer. Hamer guitars was founded by three guys in Illinois during the early half of the 1970s, all united by their shared love of vintage instruments.
Back in the early 70’s, guitars weren’t all nice and shiny like they are now, heck nowadays a cheap 80 dollar Korean guitar can actually be a decent guitar, with decent parts, and it’ll probably even sound good, but back then…things were different. Back in the early 70s, after Fender had been sold to CBS and Gibson was bought by a South American Brewing conglomerate the quality of even the highest level of guitars had dropped like a led balloon. This isn’t even factoring in the first waves of cheap Japanese and Chinese copies of these beloved guitars which had just begun to hit American shores. It is generally accepted that the quality of guitars during this period is lower then almost any other point in electric guitar history.
Enter Hamer guitars, a group of three guys who just wanted things to be “made like they used to”, they made their living buying, repairing, and selling vintage guitars from the fifties and sixties, and if lucky, getting them into the hands of bands like Bad Company, Jethro Tull, and of course Cheap Trick. Eventually, Hamer began producing their instruments, which were designed, and built just like the guitars of the decades prior, when craftsmanship, and more importantly, tone, mattered.
Cheap Tricks Rick Nielsen with one of his five neck Hamers
So that’s what led up to today, when Hamers are available, with all of the same craftsmanship, and stunning tone that made them famous, but at a price point that is affordable, even to the working guitarist. Now, I am going to go about reviewing three of their stunning guitars, the SPJ, the Monaco and the Vector. First up to bat, is the SPJ, more specifically the SPJ-NT. The SPJ is based on a classic double cut away Les Paul Junior shape, with a stunningly figured Nato body, a dog eared Hamer P-90 Pickup, and not much else…but really what else do you need?
The Hamer SPJ-NT
I’ve always loved guitars that are just rough, utilitarian work horses, that’s why I love telecasters, that’s why I love dreadnaught acoustics and that’s why I love this guitar. It has all of the things you need, no fluff, no filler, and no tricks up its metaphorical sleeves. Guitars like this are designed to be instruments first and foremost, not pieces of art, not family heirlooms, just a chunk of wood, a pickup, basic controls, and a neck that is so perfectly crafted that it feels like it alone would cost as much as this whole guitar. Nato has a tone that is roughly similar to Mahogany, although it has slightly more mid response, and a slightly brighter attack, this coupled with the lone P-90 on this guitar, results in a tone that is full bodied and full of punch, and power.
Plugged in, the first thing that strikes me is, this guitar isn’t really that bright sounding, my test to see if I like a bridge pickup or not has always been to play some big, chunky first position chords, and hope that it isn’t so bright that it hurts my teeth. This guitar passed with flying colors, it had a nice warm sound, with just a hint of that P-90 snarl, not too bright, not too dark, just a big warm tone. Sure you can roll the tone back a bit to dial in just the right mix of warmth and bite, but over all the tone of this P-90 was far above what I was expecting, this is probably to do with the fact that this guitar has virtually no cavities in it, almost no routing to absorb the resonance, so the only thing resonating are the solid Nato in the body, and the mahogany in the neck, nothing else. This all translated to sparkling clean tones that had all of the shimmer you want, but with a bit of extra bite and swagger, resting somewhere between a Stratocaster, and a bull dog.
Overdriven the SPJ came to life, with a tone that was reminiscent of early Van Halen, or AC/DC. All of that pleasant acoustic resonance and barking P-90 definition translated into chords that, no matter the amount of distortion, never lost their clarity or string to string definition. Playing classic rock riffs on a guitar like this just seems right, all of the greats played a guitar that was this simplistic and straightforward at some point, be it an esquire, a Junior, or just some off brand, they all cut their teeth on a guitar like this with one lone pickup, a volume and a tone, and nothing else but their own talent to guide them. For its ability to feel like a real vintage guitar, but cost about as much as a good iPod, the SPJ gets a cool 8 out of 10. The reason it gets an 8 is because clearly this isn’t a guitar for everyone, it has no paint, no neck pickup, and not much else. What it does have, is spirit, and an amazing tone.
The Hamer Monaco
Next up is the Hamer Monaco, a guitar that while based on a tried and true formula, still manages to bring something new to the table. This something new, is not just the strangely familiar yet completely original body shape, or the horizontal control layout, but it’s also the sound, which has as vibe and a jangle to it all its own. The Monaco I tested out is the MONF-CS, which has a lovely Cherry burst that pictures of just don’t do it justice, the flaming on the top was just three dimensionally deep, and the sculpting on the top is just phenomenal.
Plugged in, the Monaco had a rather pristine sound, its two Duncan designed humbuckers providing all of the girth that you would expect from a guitar like this, but with enough bite, and chime to please anyone. Country riffs loved this guitar, and so did big strummed chords, the latter of which had an almost acoustic flair to them. Distorted this guitar had a big round tone similar to those classic Slash style les paul riffs, the Monaco really does sound, and play like a well played, vintage guitar. It’s for that reason alone that the Monaco gets a well deserved 10 out of 10, because this guitar does it all.
The Hamer Vector
Last up on the block today is the Vector, which is a nice take on the classic Flying V shape. All of the hardware and flair for this guitar is almost the same as the Monaco, but lets face it, the Vector just looks so much more Rock & Roll. A guitar like this feels like its from both the past and the future, which is what made designs like the flying V and the Explorer so well loved, they have such a futuristic shape, but made out of such classic guitar materials. The Vector is a slight exception to this as it mixes up the classic formula of mahogany neck and body, and flamed maple top, by replacing the mahogany body with alder, the mahogany neck with maple, but it keeps the look of that flamed maple top.
These different tone woods give the Vector a much livelier tone then either of the guitars reviewed thus far today, with a much more vocal quality to its sound. Played through a clean channel, the Vector had a twangy, almost surf like tone. This was interesting and unexpected from a guitar like this, but it was appreciated and useful all the same. Chords rung out with a clear definition between strings and single note lines had a warm singing quality to them. Distorted however was a different story, because this guitar is a rock machine! It had all of the booming, biting tone that made the flying V so famous, but this time, it had a little bit extra note definition to help pull it up out of the mix. Clearly this isn’t everyones flying V, as many aficionados will never budge from their tried and true mahogany/ maple formula, but even with its unusual mix of tone woods, the Vector still looks and sounds amazing, and easily deserves a 9 out of 10.