The Hamer Standard

by Andrew Large

Introduction

The first Hamer instrument was a short-scale Vee-shaped bass. The first guitar to carry the Hamer name on the headstock was an Explorer shaped guitar made in 1974. The aim of this guitar was to recapture the spirit of the classic Gibson guitars of the fifties. It was fitted with vintage hardware including original Gibson PAF pickups and nickel-plated tune-o-matic bridge. It had a flame maple top which was finished in cherry sunburst, much like the Les Paul Standards of the late fifties. The choice of the Explorer shape was surprising given that Gibson themselves had made so few, most musicians would not have been familiar with the Explorer in 1974. This first Hamer was numbered #0000 and can be seen in Rick Nielson’s book. Notable design features on this first Hamer include angled machine heads and the controls in line with the neck.

There was a favourable response to this guitar and before long several professional guitarists were inquiring about the Hamer guitar. At this stage there were no plans to produce Hamer guitars in any quantity. In 1975 the founders of Hamer started to produce a few Hamer guitars and basses, mostly Explorer style instruments. By the end of 1975, a catalogue was printed announcing the Hamer guitar (later to be called the Standard). The exterior is shown below. The supply of old PAF pickups was running out so Hamer turned to Larry DiMarzio to supply them with suitable pickups, the DiMarzio PAF’s used by Hamer for many years. Early literature included an introduction to Hamer company and to the DiMarzio PAF (see below).

1975 Leaflet

The 1975 Leaflet for the Hamer Guitar. Hamer was based at Greenbay Road, Wilmette IL. at this time.

Description from the 1975 catalogue

The Hamer guitar is entirely handmade. The body is one piece of select British Honduras Mahogany, avilable with or without a twopiece “bookmatched” curly maple top. The neck is carved from the same choice mahogany and is reinforced with a carbon steel trussrod that is fully adjustable. The fingerboard is available in rosewood or ebony, with a variety of fret styles to choose from. 22 frets on a 24.75 inch scale. The electronics consist of two powerful humbucking type pickups, three position toggle switch, two volume, and one master tone controls. The finish is available in several different styles and colors; tobacco or cherry sunburst, natural wood grain, or opaque black or white. Custom colors are available on request.

We believe that by using the finest materials and construction methods we have created an insrument that is special for the serious musician.
It is set apart from mass produced instruments in design as well as construction. It feels right. It balances both visually and physically. The components, neck, and body design give the guitar a sound and a playability that is unapproachable.

The Hamer guitar does not rely upon its name or past triumphs for its appeal. With the instrument comes our pride of workmanship and our attention to detail. These guitars are not built to schedules, nor are they marketing compromises. They are simply the finest instruments we can build.

Paul Hamer

Fall, 1975

Hamer and DiMarzio

In the fall of 1975 the Hamer company was born out of a workshop with a long list of achievements, owned by Paul Hamer. Over the years his shop had handled every repair, restoration, and customizing operation imaginable, and was acquiring a reputation for flawless refinishing that attracted collectors from around the world.
This intimate knowledge of guitar construction coupled with their love of vintage instruments led to the construction of a Flying “V” type bass in 1973. The results were so impressive that a second instrument was commissioned. It was to be a two piece maple top, bookmatched, over a mahogany body and sunbursted exactly like a 1959 Les Paul. This instrument was fitted with hardware identical to the original, including the old pickups. It was to be Hamer’s personal guitar and he put his name on the peghead.

Within months the instrument had caused such an uproar amongst Hamer’s clientele that several noted professionals came to the shop to inquire into the possibility of acquiring such a guitar. These first prototypes were all different and allowed Hamer’s craftsmen to experiment with subtle changes in neck angle, pickup and bridge placement, as well as eliminate potential problems one by one.

By the time the tenth guitar had been christened Hamer’s crew realized that they were in the guitar making business full time.

At this point in 1975 Hamer and his fellow craftsmen became partners to the Hamer company, which was dedicated to making the finest instruments possible.

It was determined that a pickup far superior to anything available would have to be developed to approach the Hamer’s unapproachable construction. The answer came from a new manufacturer in New York whose fantastic pickups were the talk of the industry, L. P. DiMarzio. Working from the requirements set up by Hamer, DiMarzio submitted several types of pickup designs. To find the ultimate sound, each pickup was placed in a separate guitar and tested against each other. The most likely candidates were loaned to professional players for evaluation. The design finally selected was designated “PAF”.

Many thanks to our friends who through their purchase have helped the development of our instruments
Rick Nielsen
Boz Burrell
Mick Ralphs
Martin Turner
Ian Anderson
Martin Barre
Al Kooper

The Standard Goes into Production

In 1975 the Hamer Guitar went into production. The earliest Standards (as they were to become known later) featured vintage hardware (such as original Gibson PAFs, often rewound by Larry DiMarzio), but as the supply ran out vintage hardware was replaced by the modern equivalent. The trademark creme bridge and zebra neck PAF pickups, supplied by DiMarzio, were soon the regular pickup choice for the Hamer Standard. Hamer was one of the first companies to have different specifications for the bridge and neck humbucker. Grover kidney-button machines were fitted although at a normal angle unlike #0000. A strip (about 0.5inch wide) of opposing grain wood was used to reinforce the headstock along the machine-head holes. The narrow and steeply angled headstocks would be far more stable made this way as the neck and headstock were otherwise a single piece of wood. Fretboards were usually rosewood and could bound with crown inlays or unbound with dot inlays. One distinguishing feature of these early Standards was a long oval control cavity, later guitars having a regular triangular cavity. The controls followed the line of the lower horn rather than the neck unlike #0000. Several slightly different logos are seen on these early Hamers.

An early 1977 Standard – Crown Inlays

Only a limited number of Standards were produced up to 1978 (Jol Dantzig estimates about fifty). The Sunburst was introduced in 1977, a more affordable guitar that was designed to be produced in far greater numbers than the Standard; the increased production meant that Hamer moved from the original shop at Wilmette to a factory at Palatine, IL..

The numbering system for the Standard was different to the Sunburst, using a simple four digit number stamped into the wood at the rear of the headstock. This gives the total number of instruments built and numbered this way. But to complicate matters many of the custom instruments were numbered alongside the Standards, as were the Eight- and Twelve-string basses built by Hamer at this time. A very limited number of Standard basses were also built and numbered as Standards. This means that the number of Standards built is hard to estimate as they share a numbering system with these other models. But it is clear that from building just approximately fifteen to twenty a year from 1975 to 1978, the production of the Standard was increased to well over a hundred a year in 1979 and 1980.

The Standard wasn’t only available as described above, but could be ordered several more deluxe features such as headstock binding. More basic Standards were also built without binding and with opaque finishes (as distinct from the later Blitz model). Relatively few changes were made to the Standard model during its first run from 1975 to 1985. As mentioned above, the phenolic oval backplate was replaced by a triangular aluminium cover around 1978. On the very first Standards a rhythm/treble plastic ring was fitted around the pickup selector switch but these were lost in 1978. Grover machine heads were replaced by Schaller minis from late 1979 onwards. Sometime after 1980 the one piece neck became a three-piece neck again in line with, but later than, the Sunburst. Early “Dot” Standards often have larger dots than Sunbursts, and the octave markers are widely spaced (ie.- near the edge of the fingerboard). The small style dots were used 1980 onwards, the octave dots moving closer together, again in line with the Sunburst.

A 1980 Standard – dot inlays. Finished in Cherry Transparent lacquer.

From 1980 onwards the Hamer range saw a rapid expansion in the number of models offered. The Special was introduced in early 1980, the Prototype and Vector in 1981, and several new models in 1982 including the Explorer-shaped Blitz guitar. The Sunburst and Standard must have been produced in smaller numbers as the range increased. The Standard continued to built in small numbers until 1985, but probably fewer than fifty were built after the end of 1982. The Blitz was a cheaper alternative to the Standard and was produced in greater numbers; this model also was offered with locking tremolos, wild finishes and several other modifications to appeal to a growing Heavy Rock oriented market.

A 1984 Standard – dot inlays. The colour of the transparent finish is called Walnut. This guitar, built in May 1984, is numbered 0722.

In total some 750 instruments were built between 1975 and 1985 carrying the four digit numbers. After 1985 this numbering system was abandoned and all Hamers numbered using the Sunburst system (1st digit being the year of manufacture), apart from a very few instruments that carried unique numbers. The best estimate would put the number of original Standards built in the first ten years of Hamer to be well under five hundred, with multi-string basses making up the bulk of the rest of the “four-digit” Hamers. A few Standards may have been built to special order after 1985, but these most likely carried regular serial numbers. One should not confuse a Standard with a Blitz guitar, some of which were built with an optional flame-maple top (see the next page for a full description of how to distinguish the Standard and the Blitz).

The handcrafted Standard was built from top grade materials with an attention to detail not seen on contemporary guitars. Produced in such limited numbers they are sure to be one of the most collectible and desirable guitars of the late 1970’s. These earliest examples will probably be the most sought after. Later Standards however, are also destined to be highly collectible, especially those with particularly fine figured maple tops.

Rick Nielson and the Standard

It would be impossible to mention the Hamer Standard without some reference to Rick Nielson and his array of customised instruments. Nielson has the very first Hamer, #0000, as well other very early Hamers. A checkerboard Standard (without body binding) and matching Vee were built for him in 1978/1979. The “Coffee Table” Standard has an intricate photo-collage finish, as well as unusual black binding. Although not strictly speaking production Standards, mention must be made of the Explorer shape Mandocello (1977) and the three-quarter size Standard (1979) in his collection.

Description form the 1980 and 1982 Catalogues

The Hamer Standard is an exquisite example of patience and traditional craftsmanship. Each Standard is truly unique, requiring over two months to construct.
Both body and neck are carved from the finest straight grain British Honduras mahogany. This insures a resonance unparalleled by laminated instruments.
In its most basic configuration the Standard is fitted with grained ivoroid binding*, a two piece curly maple top, rosewood fingerboard and mother-of-pearl “dot” inlays. Hardware consists of Schaller tuners, two different humbucking pickups, a three way toggle switch and two tone and one volume controls**. The bridge and tailpiece are adjustable for height and individual string intonation. A great number of options in both trim and electronics are available as well as a wide selection of colors and custom finishes. Custom work will be quoted upon request.

*Creme binding, without grain is found on many Standards.
**An error in the description, as it should read two volumes and one tone.

The Standard, the Blitz and the Reissue

As stated on the previous page, Hamer introduced the Blitz guitar and bass in 1982. These were “stripped-down” versions of the Standard guitar and bass. They were much less expensive to produce and could be made in relatively larger numbers. This would have had an impact on the demand for the Standards resulting in far fewer being produced after the introduction of the Blitz models. The Blitz differed in many ways to the Standard, many of the modifications responding to changing tastes in guitars rather than as a result of cost savings. They also used the regular Hamer serial numbering system rather than having four-digit numbers as used on the Standards.

A 1983 Blitz guitar with sustain block trem. and three-a-side headstock. The pearl white finish is called “Ice Pearl”.  Click for full size image

Shown above is a typical 1983 Blitz guitar. The Standard’s “hockey-stick” headstock was replaced by the regular Hamer “snake-head” headstock as used on the Sunburst, Special, Prototype, Vector and contemporary Phantoms. The three-piece neck was made of mahogany with a rosewood fretboard and 22-frets. The traditional stop tail-piece and tune-o-matic bridge were lost in favour of either the Sustain Block bridge, again as used on the other contemporaneous models, or by the newly developed Sustain Block Tremolo (non-locking); “Hamerlock” locking machine heads were also commonly fitted. Wild finishes were common for the Blitz, and very few had a maple top. The Blitz would not usually have binding and many had three-piece mahogany bodies under the opaque finish, a compromise unheard of for the Standard. The neck-body joint was not sculpted as with the Standard (see below). The electronics varied little from the Standard although the three-way toggle switch was moved from the lower horn to by the v.

Back view of Standard and Blitz

The Blitz itself soon began evolving. Kahler and Floyd-Rose locking tremolos were soon being utilised. The “snake-head” headstock gave way to the “hockey-stick” headstock late in 1984 but this was much broader and less elegant when compared to a Standard’s headstock (see below) and the logo usually used was much larger. Bell-shaped truss-rod covers were replaced by a much simpler style cover. Maple became the usual material for the necks rather than mahogany. In 1986 the number of frets was increased to twenty four necessitating the pickups being moved closer together, although otherwise the construction remained unchanged.

The Blitz suffered a decline in popularity and by the beginning of the 1990’s had disappeared from Hamer price lists. Hamer were no longer offering a production Explorer-styled instrument, the first time since the beginning of the company. 1995 was the twentieth anniversary of the start of the Standard’s production and it was an ideal time for Hamer to take the decision to reissue the Standard, again to be made in limited numbers. There were a few minor modifications such as a slightly altered headstock (see above) that was broader

Hamer Headstocks

Examples of Headstocks form several Hamer Explorer-style instruments (from top to bottom) :- 1977 Standard with Grover machineheads and very small logo 1984 Standard with Schaller “mini” machines and small logo towards the end of the headstock 1995 Standard reissue with mid-headstock logo 1987 Blitz fitted with Floyd-Rose locking nut.

A further variation on the Explorer theme, built by Hamer, was the Scepter, with a sharply bevelled body and headstock, Floyd-Rose, boomerang inlays and ebony fretboard. This model was introduced in 1985.

(although not quite the same as a Blitz headstock) with a different logo position. Seymour Duncan pickups are fitted, as with the current Archtop series of guitars. The Standard has returned!

In 1996, a limited edition of less than one hundred Korina Standard was built; these were basically replicas of the original Gibson Explorer of 1958 with a white scratchplate and covered pickups, one even had a “split-vee” headstock such as seen on the rarest of Gibson fifties originals. However, one hundred Korina Standards is a significant number given that the total number of original Standards produced between 1975 and 1985 was less than five hundred! A new basic Standard has just been introduced (1997), the same as the Korina Limited Edition but built entirely from mahogany.

A Reissue Standard (1995) in “59 Burst” – dot inlays.

Hamer comes Full Circle

The Return of the Standard

From Hamer Tone vol.4, no.2 (1996)

Although always available as a custom order, the Standard has now returned to its rightful place among Hamer’s current models. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the latest Hamer catalog, which features vintage Rick Nielson photographs as well as beautiful renditions of the 1995 model.
Truly the first Hamer instrument to gain international acceptance, the Standard was originally built by custom order for a handful of musicians beginning in 1974. The 1995 Standard reflects the same virtues as the original version, being hand-built in limited quantities to an even better level craftsmanship as the first examples! Starting with highest grade Honduran mahogany, the Standard’s body is cut from a single two inch thick slab, which is then overlaid with a bookmatched veneer of ultimate grade figured maple. The entire body is then brought to a thickness of 1.75 inches to provide vibrational mass without being overly heavy.

The neck is carved from more of the same fine mahogany. First, three pieces are selected for grain direction and density then laminated together to form Hamer’s famous “Stressed Neck System”. This process of contrasting the grain direction makes each neck more rigid and resistant to twisting. The interactivity of the parts actually brings a heightened resonance to the neck, which benefits string response and natural sustain.

The neck is capped with a slab of 1/4 inch rosewood, and then carved to the classic Hamer shape. Dimensions are 1.68 inch at the nut, with a thickness taper of 0.85 inch at the first fret, to approximately 0.9 inch at the 12th fret. Twenty two frets are hand-laid into the fingerboard, which is curved to Hamer’s comfortable and choke-free 14.5 inch radius. Each fret is individually set tight into the fingerboard then polished to provide smooth-bending, accurately intonating the instrument. The fretboard scale is 24.75 inch.

At the end of the strings, great attention is paid to the quality and operational efficiency of the components. At the headstock, the strings are guided across Hamer’s exclusive lubritrak nut, which provides smooth tone, while its natural lubricity assures that the strings will never bind. Tuning is accomplished via Schaller’s finest machines with a ratio of 12:1. A tune-o-matic style bridge and stop tailpiece are anchored to the body, and help create the classic sound of the Standard, as well as add an authentic vintage vibe to the instrument’s appearance.

The neck and body are joined at the 19th fret with an oversize dovetail joint, which allows massive transfer of vibration, and makes the Standard one of the most responsive and “alive” guitars ever. Following the Hamer tradition, this flawless neck-to-body joint has 40% more contact area than the “tenon” type joints used on most other glue-in neck joints. The added area provides stability and sustain compared to mass-produced guitars. The Standard comes with pearl dot inlays or “crown” mother of pearl markers and ivoroid neck binding in the optional Custom version.

A pair of humbucking pickups by Seymour Duncan are used to deliver the big Standard sound to your amplifier’s input. Keeping with the spirit of the first (and all) Hamer guitars, each pickup is tone-selected for its intended location. This practice of using different pickups for neck and bridge positions was first introduced by on the original Hamer Standard and makes the selection of available tones more varied, as well as optimizing each individual pickup sound.

The bridge position pickup is a SH4 (Jeff Beck) model, which drives with a thick mid-range and shimmering, swirling highs. The neck pickup (in trademark black/white coil color) is based upon the original ’59 humbucker design with a meaty tone that works well with clean and distorted settings.

Controls for individual pickup volume are provided, along with the best tone control in the business. Hamer’s eartuned tone control contour gives you an unmistakable palette of tonal shadings and never leaves you with mush. A trusty Switchcraft 3-way selector switch engages the pickups with the familiar tactile action of fine vintage instruments, while the output is a solidly mounted panel jack.

The Standard’s control cavity is meticulously wired and thoroughly shielded with metallic paint and covered with a grounded aluminium cover plate for complete RF shielding.

These fine instruments are offered in ’59 burst. Natural or black finishes, each trimmed with grained ivoroid body binding.

Description from the 1995 and 1996 Catalogue

Standard Custom

Rick Nielson, Cheap Trick’s innovative and influential guitarist, made the Standard famous with his one-of-a- kind checkerboard version. You’ll dig the one piece Honduras mahogany body, bookmatched figured maple top, 3- piece stressed mahogany neck, oversized dovetail joint, mother of pearl crown inlays and ivoroid binding. The tone? It’s exactly what you’d expect from one of the finest guitars in the world : tone right down to the bone. If you can’t settle for anything less than the one, the only, the Hamer Standard; hurry up and order one today. Because we’ll only make a very few of these stunning beauties each year in order to keep in touch with our past – and your future!
The Standard is also available with an unbound fingerboard and dot inlays.

Bibliography

Hamer Tone – vol. 1, no.2 (1992).

Hamer Tone – vol. 4, no.2 (1996).

Vintage Guitar Magazine – Hamer Guitars – A Conversation with Jol Dantzig by Dean Farley parts 1 and 2(Sept. 1996 (vol.9 no.12) and Oct. 1996 (vol.10 no.1))

Hamer catalogues from 1975 to 1995.

Guitars of the Stars Vol.1 – Rick Nielsen by Bill Rich and Rick Nielsen (1993)

Guitar Shop – Recent Relics – Early Hamer Guitars, parts I (Standard) and II (Sunburst) by Baker Rorick (1997) .

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