When Fender pulled the plug on beloved electric guitar brand Hamer in 2013, it looked like the long-running American brand had taken a permanent dirt nap.
In a perfect world, it should have been a year of celebration, not the reading of the last rites. Hamer was launched back in 1973: this was a big anniversary year. So much for life begins at 40...
Hamer was founded in Wilmette, Illinois, by four chaps: Paul Hamer, Jol Dantzig, James Walker and John Montgomery.
The firm initially specialised in high-spec eye candy based on Gibson’s Flying V (the Vector) and Explorer (the Standard) models. The first Hamer production model, the Sunburst, landed in 1977 and instruments found their way into the clutches of the likes of KISS, Bad Company, Aerosmith, Def Leppard and numerous others of the rock elite. Its biggest ambassadors, however, were Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, with his checkerboard-finish and multi-necked models, and Billy Idol’s sideman, Steve Stevens.
Long story even longer, Hamer was sold to KMC Music (aka Kaman), the company behind Ovation guitars, in 1988. It introduced a range of budget import Hamer XT and Slammer models before Kaman and its brands were in turn purchased by Fender in 2008. Now estranged from Fender, KMC has resurrected the Hamer brand with six models, each supplied with a padded gigbag, and sourced from Indonesia. End of history lesson...
While all that ‘This Is Your Life’ stuff above might make for perfect bedtime reading, there’s one question we all want answered: is this Hamer reboot worthy of that illustrious headstock logo? Well, kicking off with the new Sunburst, there’s no mistaking those classic good looks. The Sunburst answers a ‘what if...’ We mean, what if Gibson had stuck with the original mahogany/maple Les Paul concept in the early 60s but followed that decade’s double-cut trend like Fender, Gretsch and its own Junior and Special models? Joe Bonamassa would be chasing something very similar to the Hamer Sunburst.
Following that logic, it’s no surprise that the Hamer features a mahogany back with a maple top. This classic combo is super- sized in the aesthetics department with a beautiful flame maple veneer and Cherry Sunburst finish. The mahogany neck comes spec’d with a Gibson-style 629mm (24.75-inch) scale length, a slippery 42mm wide graphite top nut, a flattish 400mm (15.75-inch) radius ebony fingerboard and 22 medium jumbo frets.
As you’ve already worked out, the Sunburst is brandishing a pair of ‘zebra’ bobbin humbuckers that are each wired through a volume knob, a shared master tone and your classic three-way pickup selector toggle switch. The big surprise is the bridge. You were no doubt expecting to find a tune-o-matic job and its stopbar- shaped amigo. No, here we have a six-saddle hardtail arrangement with through-body stringing that aims to replicate the original Hamer Sustain Block bridge.
Feel and Sounds
One of the best necks this writer ever encountered was the fat D profile on an old USA Hamer Sunburst. The new Sunburst model sports more of a medium C shape that reminds us of the PRS SE ‘Wide Fat’ feel. Anyway, we like the new Hamer shape. Combined with the big frets, shredder-friendly fingerboard radius and the low action, this is one of the most comfortable guitars to play you’ll find anywhere. Upper fret access is boss, too; just look how deep those cutaways are.
Plugging in, the Sunburst reveals an impressive level of sustain. We reckon you can attribute a lot of that longevity to the through-body stringing. As you would expect from the mahogany and maple construction, this guitar offers classic rock tones. The bridge unit is bright and punchy, while the neck pickup is warm and jazzy. There are no real surprises here. You get all the sounds you want and expect from this style of guitar. That said, we spent a lot of time in the middle position. The balance of light and dark is perfect for slightly overdriven Stones riffs and slap-happy rockabilly and country licks.
So, were we visited by the ghost of riffage past? Yes, the spirit of the original Hamer classics haunts this new Sunburst and model. You’re getting some tasty tonewood for your money, and the build quality and playability is as good as anything you’ll find for less than 700 sheets. That doesn’t mean this guy will get an
easy ride. The sub-£1,000 sector is hotly contested and the Sunburst will find the likes of the Yamaha Revstar RS620 and Guild S-100 Polara breathing down its neck. Both those guitars street at a similar price to the Hamer. The PRS SE guitars will be gunning for the Sunburst, too. What we will say is, if you’re looking for a twin-humbucker classic-style solidbody, the Sunburst should be on your radar.
The bottom line is it’s great to see Hamer back in business. Yes, we miss the USA-made guitars, but just seeing that name on new instruments doesn’t half warm the old cockles. Let’s hope the life support stays firmly switched on from here on out, and we’ll all be celebrating Hamer’s 50th birthday in 2023.