Back in the early seventies Paul Hamer was a guitar dealer long before he ever became a manufacturer. His stock in trade was to materialise/blag his way backstage when all the major acts hit town and offer them goodies from his sackful of toys. Well actually it was really a bunch of guitars but the effect was the same. Paul would tempt the stars with his goods which were always of the highest quality and he soon got to know all the faces. Paul Hamer had for some time been experimenting, building his own instruments in very small numbers and rather than sell them to the stars he would ask them to try out his guitars on the road and report back to him with information regarding what was right, what was wrong and what could be put right with these said guitars. This proved to be a very sensible move since at that time the larger American guitar manufacturers had begun to believe in their own publicity, and for reasons known only to themselves, felt unassailable. Over in Japan they were only beginning to get their PR act together with the major guitar players. In effect the market place was wide open for a guy who really knew, studied and loved the instrument, to come in to the business and establish himself and his company, as people who were ultimately sympathetic to the needs of the musician. This he did with great success and I'm sure most of you by now have heard of Hamer guitars.
The latest offering from the Hamer laboratory is the Hamer Prototype. Continuing his theme of listening to the people who have to play his inventions, the guitar has been road tested for some two years now by leading rock players, amongst them the multi-talented (he used to sell guitars for a living too) James Honeyman Scott.
Visually speaking the Prototype follows the Hamer pattern by borrowing heavily from Gibson designs. Paul Hamer would probably deny it, but in my mind his instruments are mostly based on the more well loved Gibsons. The shape of this instrument is very similar to the old Gibson Les Paul Juniors and Specials that had the double cutaway, the main difference being the contours and rounded edges that have been grafted on to the basic design. Most one-pickup guitars feel like they were built to kill and this single pickup wonder is one of them. It is a very comfortable guitar to hold with none of the stiffness that I've come to associate with Hamer guitars. There is certainly a case of deja-vu when I'm holding this guitar and suddenly I feel like I've known the instrument intimately for years. It's certainly not a heavy guitar and probably weighs about the same as a Les Paul Junior. Funny thing here — the lower strap button has been moved about 5 inches closer to the player but has no adverse effect on the balance of the guitar which I find to be absolutely perfect. Incidentally the Hamer Prototype comes in a number of finishes including sunburst, white and red. Both body and neck are made of mahogany, a very useful substance when it comes to the pursuit of rock and roll which this instrument is undoubtedly intended for. Neck is a three piece job and the body is one piece.
A nice touch is the jack socket which is circular and knurled at the edges. Nothing special about that you may say, but it does look as though some thought went into it. Most of them look like they were designed 25 years ago as a last minute addition — they were, not so the Hamer. Another part of this guitar which impressed me was the very compact bridge. Adjustment screws are there to alter each string height and length on an individual basis, finish is a very trendy black satin look. All in it's small but solid.
Acoustically the guitar resonates plenty which you would expect from one good solid piece of mahogany. Machine heads are the medium priced chromed Schallers and every other piece of hardware on my test model is finished in black. This includes tone and volume controls which are styled like the old Gibson knobs, pickup selector switch, pickup surround and the bridge, of course. Scratchplate on my guitar is also black, with a fine white line around the edge but I believe the Prototype also comes with the choice of a white scratchplate. My only criticism here is that perhaps the scratchplate is a little on the thin side and given time, may be prone to warping — we shall find out.
The neck of the Prototype is a joy to hold and feels like it was hand cut on a lathe though I very much doubt it. Neck join is perfect with plenty of access to the top fret. Camber is medium and the neck has 22 frets — fat frets. Though the guitar is called the Prototype it is, of course, a normal production line instrument and on this score the people at the Hamer factory have made a decent job of the fretting. Inlays are mother of pearl dots, but could possibly be abalone. The nut appears to be white plastic and the fingerboard which is very responsive is made from rosewood. I did notice some lacquer chipping at the top edge of the fretboard on my sample model and I hope this is not standard.
So far the instrument is holding perfect tune and I've had no reason to make any adjustments to the bridge, as the intonation, action and playability of the guitar were perfect from the moment I pulled it out of its case.
Homage is paid to Gibson in a serial number which is laid out just like the old ones, it's also yellow, again just like the old ones. The strings fitted to the guitar are called Hamer Ultimate and they start at 009 and finish on 042, how interesting! The guitar is strung through the rear of the instrument and for this reason there are six circular metal string wells fitted to the back of the. Prototype.
A very nice touch that has been added to this guitar by the Hamer people is a recessed metal plate covering the electronics section — also at the back of the instrument. This plate is undoubtedly more suited to the job of screening the electronics than the more usual plastic plate. Again the finish is a matt black satin affair. So far this is the most exciting Hamer guitar it's been my privilege to play.
And so to the pickup which is the most unique part of this guitar. It is the biggest humbucker I've ever clapped eyes on and instead of the usual twin coil here we have a triple coil. It is open topped (for extra belt) and comes in either cream or cream/black for the fashion conscious amongst you. The pickup is activated by the three way selector switch which offers the following options: single coil, double coil, or triple coil. This third position is referred to in the handout as 'sound combinations not found on any other instrument'.
Whilst this is easily the finest Hamer I've ever played, the pickup represents a major disappointment and prompts me to wonder if James Honeyman Scott's model has been doctored to suit his needs.
At low volume the pickup appears to offer a distinct lack of character. To my knowledge all the best guitars have a recognisable quality/character whether they be played at high volume, low volume or no volume whatsoever, and with this Hamer Prototype this is not evident. The first of these pickup selections (single coil) is not particularly thin, trebly or pokey, the second selection (twin coil) humbucker neither sounds hard, nor raunchy and in truth just sounds slightly more powerful than the single coil. All three coils together sound dirty and again slightly more powerful than the double coil. The tone control offers very little in the way of control and swinging it wildly from left to right I could ascertain very little difference to the sound I was getting. In short clarity, warmth and bite, all of them distinctive qualities in themselves, have all been sacrificed for that old demon, power. Hamer have to be admired for using a triple coil pickup but I believe the pickup needs to be rethought to achieve the most from the instrument. Promise is most definitely already there as the instrument plays like a good 'un and resonates very nicely before the addition of electricity.
And now the price. For £375 including VAT Hamer do give you a free case as well as the guitar. As single pickup guitars go, this one is not too cheap but for that money I would be perfectly happy to get just one original sound from one of its pickups. That aside, this is still Hamer's finest offering, and they are improving all the time. All in all a plucky product from a company that still cares.
You can try out the Hamer Prototype for yourself at Guitar Grapevine, (Contact Details).
Review by Ed Park
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