The Hamer Special Through the Years

by Andrew Large

The original Hamer Special appeared in early 1980. It was Hamer’s third guitar model, after the Standard and Sunburst. But it was no new design. The shape of the Special (and Sunburst) was loosely based on the double-cut Gibson Les Paul Special of the fifties. The Special was simply a Sunburst without body binding, all other details being exacly the same as the contemporary Sunburst: mahogany body and three-piece neck with a thin maple top, and the same hardware. Prior to the introduction of the Special, Hamer had built at least one ‘Sunburst’ without body-binding still carrying the Sunburst logo.

The Hamer Special would undergo many transformations over the years but retain the same basic flat-top, double cut-away design.

The First Version of the Special (1980 – 1984)

The first Specials had a flat flame maple top (although opaque colours were also available), glued-in 22-fret mahogany neck (24.75 inch scale) with rosewood fingerboard, dot inlays and three-a-side peghead, at this stage with only the Hamer logo present. The thickness (or rather thinness) of the maple-top is clearly visible at just a few millimetres without the binding found on the Sunburst.

A typical 1980 Special in Yellow Transparent, note the absence of the checkerboard logo on the headstock. 

Left, 1980 dots; right, 1982 dots.

Hardware was a Sustain block bridge, Schaller tuners (a few have Grovers) and two calibrated Dimarzio PAFs wired out-of-phase, cream for the bridge, zebra for the neck. Controls were a tree-way switch, two volumes and a master tone. And, just as with the Sunburst, the Sustain block bridge was changed during 1981 (see below). Likewise, the octave marker dots on the side of the fingerboard were changed slightly, those from 1980 and early 1981 being much closer together than those found on later guitars (see left).

Towards the end of 1980 the Special started to receive its own ‘Checkerboard’ logo (see below), whereas the first Specials only carried the Hamer logo.

sustain block bridges

Shown left, the narrower string spacing bridge found on guitars 1981 onwards and, right, the earlier style.

The 1981 Catalogue illustrates the variety if finishes available with the Special. Shown in the centre is one of Hamer’s early innovations, a Special in an unusual black and white graphic finish. There were several versions of the design. Also shown adjacent is a dark sunburst Special, although typically the sunburst can be very light on these guitars. Far right is an opaque red Special. Other colours include transparent cherry, yellow, natural, and green as well as opaque black, blue, green, and white. Early pearl and metallic finishes are also seen.



The production of the Special proceeded throughtout 1982, but 1983 saw a fundamental change in the guitar market. Responding to this fashion, the Special was often fitted with Hamer’s own Sustain-block trem., a few later guitars (c1984) have Kahler flat-mount trems. This change was reflected throughout Hamer’s range. The finishes also moved away from transparent towards modern pearl finishes or unusual graphics. Shown left is a particularly nice example with a Kahler flat mount trem., and a black/yellow zebra graphic. These later guitars often don’t have the ‘checkerboard logo and have black ‘Slammer’ pickups.


The Floyd-Rose Special (1980 – 1984)

A 1982 headstock with the ‘Checkerboard’ logo and, below, a 1985 Floyd-Rose Special headstock with locking nut.

From 1984 onwards guitars in Hamer’s range were increasingly fitted with the Floyd Rose trem system including the Special. This may not be a separate model but some details were different. The body was all mahogany and now the guitar was available with an optional ebony fingerboard with crown inlays, the peghead was very slightly more rounded and with a bigger Hamer logo. In common with all the Hamer range, guitars from 1985 onwards have pearl side dots on the neck rather than plastic (although they reverted to plastic around 1994). The pickups were Hamer Slammer humbuckers (in black) and, of course, a Floyd Rose trem.. In 1985 the neck was changed the more resilient maple to cope with the stresses of the trem system.

After 1985, very few Specials of any type were made as Hamer’s range was ever updated.

This model is often associated with Gary Moore (see left) because he owned at least two, but was not produced as a formal signature model. A Gary Moore Model was conceived based on the Phantom in 1984, but did not make it to production, although Gary owned two himself.
Click to see Gary with the GM prototype.

The Modern Vintage Special (1992-1998)

When Hamer were looking for a fixed neck retro-design that could be produced for a competitive price, they decided on a new version of the Special. Similar to the 1st version but with all mahogany construction, a tune-o-matic type bridge with stop tailpiece and two Seymour Duncan P90 Soapbar pickups (it was also available with humbuckers to special order). Gone was the maple top making for a more functional looking instrument and the in-house sustain block bridge was lost in favour of the easily sourced standard part. Tuners were again standard Schallers, but often the smaller size. A ‘Special’ logo appeared under the Hamer logo, but this time without the checkerboard motif; later this was absent. Shown below is publicity from 1992 for the Special: on the left, the Hamer flyer; and on the right, a magazine ad.

Click for larger images.


Flame Maple Special 1993-1998

Soon after the new basic Special had been introduced in 1992, the Special FM appeared. Similar to the first Special with a tune-o-matic and stop tail-piece, but sporting a thicker maple top (approx. 1cm) and two humbuckers made by Seymour Duncan, a JB bridge in black and a zebra 59 for the neck. This model was renamed the Special Custom from 1997. Many of the guitars have exquisitly figured tops, often of quilted rather than flame maple. Below is a 1993 example with a wildly figured top with small quilts in Aztec Gold.


A 1993 Special Headstock, note the ‘Special’ label and smaller Schaller machineheads.

In this photo of the upper horn of a 93 Special FM (upper) and 82 Special, you can clearly see the thin top on the earlier guitar when compared to the 93 Special FM.

1993 Special FM flyer.


The Special page from the 1997/1998 Catalogue


Click for larger images.


The Final Chapter: The Special Junior?

After Hamer moved in 1997 from Arlington Heights to the Ovation facility in New Hartford, the Special was not produced in significant numbers and soon left the catalogue. Following a number of custom orders a new version of the Special appeared with a single ‘Dogeared’ P90 and scratchplate. These are often made of korina and have a retro-styled wrap-around bridge and tuners (Schaller tulip-buttons usually). It became a production model in 2004. It was initially refered to as the Junior), later the Special Korina Jr..

Whether this is the final version of the Special, who can tell? But as a model the Special has certainly undergone some remarkable transformations, and has proved a durable and versatile design..

Andrew Large
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