Hamer, Gibson and Boss in the States.
Since last February Andy Summers has been playing two distinctive new guitars with The Police, guitars with specially designed body styles and pickups. Summers and Hamer Guitars have been developing the instruments together and, although there have been positive reactions from the start, the first of the two won't be commercially available until early 1983, according to Paul Hamer.
"People keep calling up, asking for the instruments, because they see him play them every night and we just have to keep telling them, 'Hey, they're just an experiment; they're not in production yet'," Hamer said. When the guitars become available, Hamer expects them to do well in England because of the clean sound produced by the new pickup design. "I think that's where most of the English music is moving now - towards a cleaner sound, a richer sound without so much distortion," said the Chicago area rock guitarist turned custom guitar maker who took his instruments on his first trip to England in early 1982.
Hamer has worked with Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Mick Ralphs of Bad Company, and others when developing some of the 11 guitars and basses his company now has in production, which can also be found in the hands of the likes of Keith Richard, Pete Townshend, John Entwhistle and Johnny Ramone. Hamer began working with Andy Summers five years ago and so when he had some new guitar sounds in mind he again came to Paul Hamer to get a guitar that would produce them.
"Everything about the new guitars are his ideas - the longer horn, the deeper cutaway and especially the changes in the pickups," Hamer admitted. "There's a new pickup in the bass position on the neck that's quite striking. It brings up the bass part of the guitar without distorting it at high volume which is quite an accomplishment for a pickup in the position this one is in."
"We also came up with a new way to wind the coil with a new wire and Andy's been critiquing it for us," continued Hamer. "We've been moving towards a cleaner sound. All sorts of variables contribute to that - the type of wire, the number of windings, the magnetic structure." The other significant design changes relate to the body style, he pointed out. "We changed the place where the strap fixes on the body," Hamer said. "It's got a longer horn. It's got a deeper cutaway for greater access to the fret. It fits on your body different than any of our other guitars."
Of the two guitars Andy Summers has been trying out, one is a tremolo or vibrato model and the other a non-tremolo. But it is the non-tremolo model that will be put on the market first. "We have yet to perfect a vibrato model that we're happy with," explained Hamer, who made his first guitar in 1974. "It's still a good unit but we're looking to take it a step further and until we perfect it we're not going to release anything."
Hamer and his partner, bassist Jol Dantzig, built their first instruments for their own use but when those instruments attracted more attention than did the music they were playing on them, and after they got more calls asking for the instruments than they got asking them to play more gigs, they soon were running their own custom guitar house. Initially they operated from the back room of Hamer's musical instrument store. But in 1976 they moved to their first factory building, moved to a larger location in 1979 and then expanded that space in 1981.
When Hamer began from the backroom, his store was the first warranty repair shop authorised by Gibson, a company that continues to introduce new models, models that Hamer still feels are among those that are good for musicians to learn instrumental mastery on before developing specific ideas of the sounds they want and then finding the right custom guitar. Gibson's latest models are the Spirit and Special in its Epiphone USA series.
Both are 22 fret, double cutaway guitars that are available with a choice of one or two high output humbucking pickups. The double pickup versions feature two volume controls and one master tone control as well as a three position pickup selector switch which allows players to choose either the single or humbucking pickup sound or to utilise both pickups at once. The single pickup versions feature individual volume and tone controls. Each guitar also features a 24¾ inch scale length and has pegheads pitched at 17 degrees for increased string down pressure. The Epiphone USA Spirit has a body 16⅛ inches long, 13 inches wide and 1¾ deep while the Special measures 15 39/64 inches by 13 5/32 inches by 1 5/16 inches.
Another well established guitar manufacturer, Ibanez, has introduced two new jazz guitars and two new basses. The semi-acoustic Lee Ritenour features humbucking pickups and a bridge assembly that were designed by Ritenour. It also features an asymmetrical three-piece mahogany and maple neck, a finely grained Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and super hard Jim Dunlop frets. After working with another famous guitarist, Ibanez has produced the Joe Pass JP20 guitar. It features an ivory and black bound spruce top with maple back and sides, a 25½-inch maple neck, solid ebony bridge and tailpiece assemblies, an ebony fingerboard with small size frets, and a single Ibanez Super 58 humbucking pickup positioned for balance and clarity.
Ibanez's new basses are the Musician 924 and the Roadster 721. The lightweight, medium scale Roaster 721 was designed for greater mobility on the stage as well as on the fingerboard and features a 32-inch scale maple neck, a solid ash body, an Ibanez B1 brass bridge and tailpiece assembly and two Ibanez Super P4 pickups.
The Musician 924 offers the extended playability of a 24 fret maple and mahogany neck which runs the entire length of the contoured ash body. Steel tone bars are embedded in the neck to eliminate both dead and hot spots. A boost and cut control is available in three distinct frequency bands to provide numerous sound variations while the new pickup balancer allows blending of the Super P5 and J5 pickups with a turn of a knob.
Other new electric basses have been introduced by Alembic and the Original Musical Instrument Co.
The Alembic Spoiler bass has a double cutaway solid koa body, a three piece maple neck and an ebony fingerboard with oval inlays. There's a mono output with two large impedance pickups and a four-position pickup selector - bass, treble, both and standby - and separate volume and tone controls and two position 'Q' switches. The Alembic Spoiler bass is available with 24 frets or fretless, and left handed by special order. It carries a list price of $1,050.
The Dobro Portable Electro-Acoustic Upright Bass from the Original Musical Instrument Co. provides a choice between the rich sounds of an acoustic bass and the punch of an electric bass. The bridge is adjustable for string style and action and the instrument is adaptable for gut, nylon or metal strings. Yet it collapses to fit a case that measures only 44 inches by 22½ inches by 7 inches with the entire package weighing less than 50 pounds.
The electronics include piezoelectric pickup for fast response and full range bass; Bi-FET input preamplifier circuitry for low distortion, fast response and low noise; active controls with Bi-FET circuitry to further lower distortion; medium impedance out (1250 ohms maximum) for no hum; low impedance balanced output; virtually no feedback; and the capability of driving electronic effects.
Meanwhile, Ovation Instruments has added a series of cutaway guitars to its Adamas lines. They utilise the same materials and options as the Adamas and Adamas II models but with cutaway, round-back bodies.
To amplify the new Ibanez, Alembic, Dobro or other basses, Roland has expanded its popular line of Spirit amplifiers with the addition of the compact (16 inches by 17½ inches by 9 inches and only 20 pounds) yet powerful (15 watts RMS through a 12-inch speaker) Spirit Bass 15.
Controls are provided for volume, bass, middle and treble. A built-in parametric equaliser enables the player to modify the instrument's tone and to attain the popular funk-bass sounds without having to change bass guitars. Parametric Eq controls are frequency select, level and 'Q' select, which gives two different equalisation slopes. Other features include dual inputs for hi or low input signals, footswitch jack for parametric eq on/off, pre-amp out and headphones jack for silent practising. The list price for the Spirit Bass 15 amp is $225.
For rock guitarists, Mesa Engineering recently reissued as Son of Boogie (or S.O.B.) its famous original Mark I Boogie design. Son, which is recommended especially for rock, is a 60-watt combo amp that features two cascaded input channels and the Black Shadow 150 watt 12-inch speaker. Refinements have been made in the classic Boogie three volume control overdrive system which, say the folks at Mesa, enables the Son to adjust easily from the guitar for crisp solid rhythm or blistering lead sustain.
New sound devices come from Ibanez and Unicord.
Ibanez's SD9 Sonic Distortion Effect produces a wide range of distortion effects from soft and gentle to hard and driving. The sonic distortion overdrives the signal and then adds fuzz to duplicate a solid state type distortion. Powered by a 9-volt battery or optional AC adaptor, it features active tone control, LED indicator, Q-1 FET noiseless electronic switch and a rugged zinc die-cast case.
Unicord's Vertical Reverberation System VRS 23 is a fully electronic stereo echo/reverb system that goes up to 400 milliseconds. Quick switching from echo to reverb makes it especially well suited to both on-stage and studio work. Echo chorus also is adjustable in intensity and speed.
Unicord's Dynacord Digital Delay Line DDL12 features 0.5 to 500 millisecond delay range (1,000 Ms with expander module with no change in specifications), 96dB dynamic range, balanced and unbalanced inputs and outputs, built-in VCO with three waveforms for flanging and chorusing, Quasi 14 bit AD/DA, 20Hz-12KHz frequency response at all delay settings and virtually noise free operation with inaudible companding.
To help guitarists, keyboardists and other musicians transport and use effects devices Roland has come up with a carrying box, a power supply switching system and a sound control centre.
The Boss BCB-6 carrying box holds six effects pedals or five pedals and the new Boss PSM-5 power supply, and transforms into an effects board simply by removing the lid. It comes complete with five short cords and one long loop cord, and features hidden wiring channels so that when used with the PSM-5 power supply virtually all the connection cords are hidden for a clean, organised, tangle-free system.
The Boss PSM-5 Power Supply/Master Switch is a regulated power supply, capable of powering up to five 9-volt Boss or similarly designed effects. Normal connection to the PSM-5 yields two distinct loops, one running through the effects, and one going from the guitar directly to the amp, bypassing the effects completely. A push of the footswitch selects one of the two loops. The PSM-5 lists for $89.50.
Roland's Boss SCC-700 Sound Control Centre is a computer-controlled effect programmer, designed to program up to seven different effects devices in as many as 32 patch combinations for use by guitarists, keyboardists and other musicians as well as offering many studio uses. Each patch program controls the on/off status, the order of the effects in the chain, the output level, and a sub-output for routing to a separate amp or PA.
The SCC-700, which carries a suggested price of $695, can control any kind of effects from any manufacturer, programming them to turn on and off in any combination. The switches on the centre are simply touched in the order in which the effects are to be played. A computer memorises the patch program and a monitor indicates what has been programmed before that program is engaged. The programmer can be disengaged for manual operation.
Manufacturers and companies mentioned:
Alembic Inc., (Contact Details).
Gibson, (Contact Details).
Hamer Guitars, (Contact Details).
Ibanez, (Contact Details).
Mesa Engineering Inc.. (Contact Details).
Original Musical Instrument Co. Inc., (Contact Details).
Ovation Instruments Inc., (Contact Details).
Roland, (Contact Details).
Unicord, (Contact Details).