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Hamer Guitars Returns

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Fretted
• Created: March 23, 2017

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‘The Original Boutique Electric Guitar Custom Shop’ is Back!

Anyone who grew up listening to – and watching – rock artists of the ‘70s and ‘80s is familiar with Hamer Guitars, whether or not they even know it: The likes of Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and Def Leppard’s Steve Clark burned the image of guitar models such as the Hamer Standard into the brains of an entire generation.

By the late ‘80s, Hamer had gone from what had begun as a small Illinois­-based operation to one that had caught the attention of Kaman Music Corporation (KMC), which bought the brand in 1988. Five years after KMC’s acquisition by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) in 2007, the brand was discontinued and Hamer’s future – if, indeed, there was one – was uncertain, at best.

But, in February of 2015 FMIC sold KMC to JAM Industries and almost from the get-­go there were rumors of an eminent Hamer revival – rumors which proved to be quite true when this January KMC reissued six of Hamer Guitars best­selling Import Series guitars (featuring 50% dealer margins).

We recently got on the horn with Gil Soucy, vice president & general manager of Hamer Guitars, to get a brief refresher course on the brand’s history, the origins of its resurgence, and plans for the future…

Many of our readers are, of course, familiar with the brand’s history, but could you briefly discuss the origins of Hamer back in 1973 and bring us through to the acquisition by Kaman in the late ‘80s?

Hamer Guitars started in Chicago in 1973 when Paul Hamer and a small group of builders set out to create new instruments that would nevertheless have a “vintage soul.” Hamer was always passionate about innovation, pushing the envelope in design, performance, and finish. They may not have known it at the time, but Hamer and his team created the boutique electric guitar category. In the years that followed its inception, Hamer introduced a number of industry firsts. Hamer was the first guitar to come standard with exposed pickup coils and black hardware. It was the first guitar to feature a Floyd Rose tremolo system, and the first guitar to be offered with a reverse headstock. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, the taste for different styles of guitars was constantly on the move. Many of us refer to this time period as the “pointy guitar era.” During this time, Hamer continued to evolve and was on the forefront of giving guitarists what they needed in cutting­-edge designs while still employing exemplary build quality and materials.

Cue to more recent news – essentially two years ago – and KMC was sold to JAM Industries. How soon after that transition did talk of reviving the Hamer brand begin and when did you decide to “pull the trigger,” and why?

Bringing Hamer back to market was part of the plan from the start when JAM acquired KMC. With the product and marketing teams that we already had in place, Hamer became a perfect fit within our portfolio, and the amount of inquires we were getting from both dealers and consumers as soon as the KMC acquisition was completed fueled the decision to fast­-track a substantial investment into the reissue of the line. From there we worked to create a well­-defined lineup of exciting, great playing, great sounding, high quality guitars that is easy for the consumers to understand and easy for the dealers to purchase and support.

The current marketing tagline for Hamer, “The Original Boutique Electric Guitar Custom Shop.” Obviously this draw’s upon the brand’s rich history, but can you talk about how emphasizing that angle is going to be helpful to retailers and end­users?

Through many of the changes in guitar designers and builders that have worked on the Hamer brand as its changed hands over the years, there have been a ton of features and options used on a wide variety of models. While some of these features may have made it into select models that were mass produced at one time or another, many were only on custom shop “one­-offs.” Our goal with all of the models in this reissue was to incorporate the most meaningful features that positively impact tone and playability into all of the models being reissued and in a way that keeps the guitars affordable. We have put an incredible amount of work into our neck feel, wood pairings, pickups, and overall build quality to pull the best of what has been tried and tested into the current lineup. For end users, the results are guitars that look, sound, and play great for professional guitarists that wants boutique performance without laying down thousands of dollars. At the same time, dealers will benefit high margins on guitars that are sought after and easy to sell through. Truly a win­-win for everyone!

At Winter NAMM 2017, you reissued six well­-known, classic Hamer models. What went into choosing these specific guitars as an initial re­entry into the market?

The decision to start with these six guitars stemmed from a combination of dealer and consumer feedback. We also studied the sales history for all of the past Hamer guitars that were once offered, plus what is currently available from a wide range of other manufacturers. The one thing our product and marketing teams unanimously agreed on was keeping the lineup simple for both the dealers and consumers. Rather than adding dozens of models to an already crowded electric guitar marketplace, our research shows that these six models will be the most sought after and will sell through the best. Dealers can be confident when adding all six guitars to their assortment. Additionally, we designed the pickup for all six models to give each guitar its “own voice,” and the initial positive response to their tone has been just incredible.

The six guitars we’ve relaunched include the “Vector” which originally debuted in 1973 and the “Standard” which was originally released in 1974. These two models have become some of the most sought after guitars the brand ever produced. Both feature a solid mahogany body with a solid maple cap and highly figured flamed maple veneer. The amazing sunburst finish on both make the Vector and Standard stand out as a must-­have for any Hamer enthusiast or collector. The pickup pairings for these models include two custom voiced Alnico 5s. The neck pickup delivers that classic tone these guitars were known for, and we’ve stepped up the output of bridge pickups which boast a crisp overdrive that has well­-balanced tone well suited for any genre ranging from classic rock to modern metal.

Next are two versions of the bestselling Arch Top which was originally released in 1977; one with a traditional tune­o­ matic bridge and 24.75” scale length in a trans-­black finish and one featuring a Wilkinson tremolo and 25.5” scale in a dark cherry sunburst finish. Both of these guitars feature a solid maple cap on a mahogany body with a flamed veneer. This maple/mahogany combination paired with a custom set of an Alnico neck pickup/ceramic bridge pickups makes these guitars sound incredibly close to some of the original models but with a more “kick” and wider range of tone. The iconic Monaco flame top boasts a beautiful flame maple top with a solid maple cap on a mahogany body, with two specially designed and voice

The sixth and most affordable model is Special Jr. which was originally released in 1980. It features a flat top double cutaway solid mahogany body with a custom designed P90 style pickup. It’s “retro­-cool,” sounds great, and is a ton of fun to play.

Are there more models on the way and, if so, will there also be reissues of familiar Hamer guitars or will you be pioneering new instruments, or both?

Our plan is to only promote and sell these six for all of 2017. In 2018 we will be releasing a couple of additional iconic models that we are continually being asked for, since releasing the first six. As far as pioneering new models, we’ve discussed that at some point we may and we’ve batted around a few ideas, but that is a long way off. Until then our primary focus is to give the Hamer fans the guitars they are seeking first.

Back in the late ‘70s, one of the factors that really put Hamer on the map was its association with some big-­name artists – I’m thinking Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, in particular, but also Def Leppard, Kiss, and many others. Are you actively pursuing endorsement partnerships with artists at the moment, either former Hamer players or new and upcoming musicians?

The artist program is incredibly important to us and something we will continue to expand and build upon. We are currently in discussions with a number of artists that have reached out to us since hearing about the brand becoming available again. Some of these discussions are with players that were meaningful supporters of the brand in the past, some discussions are with well­-respected players that have become interested after seeing the new models, and we have quite a few young, upcoming artists that we will be featuring as well. While all of this is still in the very early stages, Hamer fans should be on the lookout for announcements as this develops throughout the year!

Any other Hamer-­related news or upcoming events on the horizon that you’d like to share?

We are currently rebuilding the Hamer website which is scheduled to be launched in Q2. We have also expanded our Social Media team, and up to the minute product news, artist news, fun facts, and other updates for Hamer will be posted frequently throughout a number of Hamer media sites.

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