Archive for April, 2010

Guitars on Ice

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 by hamerblog

Hamers sometimes pop up in the most unexpected of venues.  We’ve long had a strong relationship with the world class skaters that make up the Stars on Ice tour.  It all started when Rick Nielsen wrote the score for the tour and became close friends with Olympic Gold Medalist and five-time World Champion Scott Hamilton, who founded Stars on Ice.

When Stars on Ice was recently on tour in Hartford, World Champion and six-time United States Champion Todd Eldredge paid a visit to our New Hartford shop to learn just how the guitars are built. He brought fellow skater Ben Agosto’s Talladega with him for a tune up.  Here’s our own Todd Gencarella with Todd Eldredge in the Hamer set up booth.

Todd plays a Monaco Elite in Indigo Blue. Todd correlates having a Hamer “to starting to learn how to skate, you wouldn’t buy a cheap pair of skates to learn how ot skate like the pros.”  On tour, Todd skates to I Want You To Want Me.  As you can see, he dresses appropriately.

Todd “chose I Want You To Want Me because it not only is a fun, upbeat song to skate to but it is a song that is recognized by pretty much everyone who has ever listened to rock music.”  Todd continues that “music is probably the most important part of my skating in Stars on Ice. The music I select for my routines has to be something I will enjoy skating to throughout the entire tour.  It can really set the mood and tone for a great performance.

2010 Olympic Silver Medalist, two-time World Silver Medalist and five-time United State Champion, Ben Agosto is new to the Stars on Ice tour and has taken guitar to a completely different place. Ben actually plays his Hamer Talladega in Black Transparent while skating his program.  Ben’s long been around guitar:  “My dad plays classical and flamenco guitar, so I always had music in the house. I wasn’t really that interested in learning guitar until I was about 10 and heard a Stevie Ray Vaughn cd.  I was blown away, and said ‘I have to learn how to play this.'”

During his routine, Ben is “playing the Olympic Theme and SRV’s version of Lttle Wing. Both are solo pieces so I can improvise as I like, however when I’m skating it definitely makes improvising a lot harder.”

Ben conitnues that “In skating, musicality is very important. I am always performing to music, so being able to ‘feel’ the music really makes the performance more believable.”

“In skating or playing, practice is the only way to get good. I think the practice skills I have learned training for the Olympics have helped me improve my guitar playing.” Like we said, sometimes Hamers pop up in the most unexpected of venues.


Vector III is Complete (and it’s awesome)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 20, 2010 by hamerblog

After air drying for over two weeks, it’s time for Todd Gencarella to start buffing out this V. In some ways Todd has come full circle working in New Hartford. He originally worked in Guild Guitars’ Westerly, Rhode Island shop. He came highly recommended by Willy Fritscher, the General Manager at Westerly. As you may know, we moved Guild to New Hartford a couple of years ago. It’s a turn of events that Todd never expected when he started working at Hamer in January 2002.

When Guild was moved from Westerly, Todd was offered a relocation package. However, he passed on this opportunity: “I like New England because of the weather – I love the changes in the seasons.” Living in Westerly, Todd “grew up on the beach.” Hamer is located about 1 1/2 hours from Todd’s old stomping grounds, so it’s worked out well for him.

Previously we posted photos of the inlay work when the Vector III was still in the woodshop and just being sprayed. Once buffed out, with the contrasting sunbursted figured maple peghead overlay, the mother of pearl inlaid logo takes on an even more lustrous quality.

Todd continues that the “biggest thing about Hamer is the challenge of the instruments that we make – to build the best that that guitar can be. Each one is like your child.”

Like children can sometimes be, the wiring on this guitar is a real challenge. Also like children, the electronics for this guitar are pretty amazing.

The 1st potentiometer is a volume control for the neck and middle pickup. The middle pot is a volume control for the bridge. The final pot is a master tone control.  It’s also fit with three mini toggle switches, one for each pickup. When the switch is in the up postion, the pickup is off, in the middle position it’s full humbucking and in the down position it acts as a coil tap.

Like all Hamers, this Vector III goes through an extensive set up and play test before it’s shipped. This attention to playability is one of the reasons that Hamers play so well right out of the shipping box. As a guitarist, final set up is another fun part of Todd’s job: “I like to write and record music. I have three CDs out; they’re all instrumental. One CD is all mellow while two are rock oriented.”

Check out the flamed maple, mirror-like finish and three four conducter Seymour Duncan ’59 pickups. A picture really is worth 1,000 words. We’ll let you feast your eyes.

Naturally we had to engrave the customer’s initials in the matching truss rod cover.

What Todd would “personally like to see with Hamer is see both worlds where we mix the ’80s with the current models.” There’s a little bit of that in this Vector.

From this photo it’s clear that we really did match the backplate from the same piece of wood as the body. You can actually see the grain and coloration running from the back of the body through the mahogany backplate itself.

We sequentially serialize all of our guitars, with the first number indicating the year it was built. Years ago we had a separate serial numbering system for custom guitars. So much of what we do now is custom that even if we wanted to continue with that serial numbering system, it just wouldn’t make sense.

Tiger Eye: The Lefty Takes On Some Color

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 14, 2010 by hamerblog

This guitar calls for a Tiger Eye finish. Tiger Eye is a stained finish and is applied in much the same way as black transparent is. We previously described the process so check out that post if you haven’t yet. We have only been offering stained finishes since 2003. Prior to then we sprayed all of our colors. The addition of stains has opened a new world of color to Hamer.

Tiger Eye is composed from a number of stains that we mix in house.

Gary Pirro has applied much of the first of the three step staining process. Gary joined the Hamer team in May 2002. He’s probably the highest skilled painter that we’ve ever had at Hamer Guitars.

Prior to coming to New Hartford, Gary worked in the technical services department of PPG Industrial where he was responsible for servicing industrial accounts such Harley Davidson and Titleist, companies that really care about their finish quality.  Gary serviced five different qualities of paint: UV technologies, electrodeposition, powder coatings, pre-treatment and liquidpiece.  We actually got to know Gary through PPG and he was instrumental in setting up Hamer’s custom color matching system.

While Gary’s been painting since he was 16 years old, he’s found a special spot in his heart with guitars.  Gary especially enjoys finishing the Talladega:  “I like the style of the guitar. I love doing the burst on the figured maple. Working with flamed or quilt maple, I feel that I can control the way that that guitar is going to look.  I try to enhance the piece of wood to make it look its best.  For me that’s the real challenge.”

Gary has also had fun with some of our more outlandish finishes.  One of his favorite projects was Rick Nielsen’s “Pick Guitar” which had black and white checks all around guitar, including the neck, the headstock, sides, back, everywhere.  In every checkerboard square Gary used paint transfers to place Rick’s caricatures, just like the picks that Nielsen nightly throws out to the audience.

The Glenn Tipton model was another fun challenge: “I liked the colors.  It was beige with beige pearl, a little darker than the actual color, on the bevels of the face of the guitar.”

It’s clear that Gary can masterfully create any number of finishes, from sunbursts to custom graphics to the Tiger Eye on this lefty. They’re very different finishes but are all special in their own way. It’s kind of like the guitars themselves; we’ve built a wide variety of instruments but they all seem to be a part of the tapestry that is Hamer Guitars.

After staining, Gary sprays the first clear coats.

Once the clear coats have been sprayed the guitar will dry and then be ready for the first sanding. We refer to this as leveling because we are sanding the finish flat. Hamers are leveled three times prior to buffing, insuring the flatest of finishes.

Mark Rivera Pays a Visit

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 by hamerblog

Last week our long time friend and endorsing artist Mark Rivera called asking if he could bring by some of his guitars (including his T-51,  Newport, Newport 12-String Bird’s-eye and Monaco III) for a tune up. This would be Mark’s first visit to New Hartford, so we were especially pleased that he was making the pilgrimage. In addition to being an accomplished professional musician, Mark has an infectious upbeat personality whose manner has a way of bringing out the best in those with whom he interacts. Maybe that’s part of what makes him such an incredible musical director.

We know Mark as a result of his guitar playing though he’s best known for his saxophone work; he’s probably one of the top two rock sax players in the country. While he’s played with Billy Joel for the last 26 years, he’s also played with everyone from Hall and Oates to Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Foreigner, Simon & Garfunkel and Peter Gabriel. Just last month, Mark played a New York show with two other long time Hamer musicians, Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades. 

As Musical Director for Ringo Starr, this year Mark put together an All Star Band comprised of Rick Derringer, Wally Palmer, Edgar Winter, Richard Page and Greg Bisonette.  

Here’s Mark playing with a couple of our own All Stars, Kim Keller (Hamer Customer Service Manager) and Andy MacDonald (Assembly and Set Up). How do you like that laser pearl Cruisebass that Kim’s playing? Any guesses when it was built? For his part, Andy picked up a Talladega, his Hamer of choice.

Andy is an accomplished musician, though he sticks to the blues. As such, the set started with Storming Monday (in G), followed by a slow version of Crossroads, and finally Goin’ Down (in G). While we knew that Mark could blow a sax, play guitar and is a percussionist, what we didn’t realize was how awesome of a vocalist he is. His voice rang out strong and warm throughout the room. 

Many of us were surprised with the great acoustics in our “multi-purpose room”. It’s a big empty room with wooden floors and nothing else except for pallets of wood that is stabilizing.

After the blues session Mark wanted to play some more up-tempo music and, naturally given his background, asked if anyone knew any Beatles songs. Chris Jarvis, who also works in set up, said that he did and they broke into A Hard Day’s Night, with Mark singing vocals. Kim can handle bass for most songs and continued to sit in. That was followed by You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away. They finished up with We Can Work It Out.

After the show, Dave Brown from our Woodshop and Todd Gencarella (fresh from giving Mark’s guitars major tune ups) were talking with Mark about local musicians. Dave mentioned that the Bouchard Brothers lived nearby. Mark responded that he played sax on Monster, from Blue Oyster Cult’s 1980 album Cultő Saurus Erectus! The following day Todd brought in the album and sure enough, Mark had credits on the song.

All in all, it was a great time with great music. Gatherings like this are one way that we can help our people remain connected to the music which they make possible. We’ve never had a sax player/vocalist perform in the shop before. It was a real treat. Mark suggested that we set up a drum kit for future performances. We might have to call our friends at Gretsch USA Drums.

Lefty’s Movin’ On

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 1, 2010 by hamerblog

We’ve made real progress on the left-handed Artist Custom since we showed you the quilt maple billet that we selected. It’s turning out to be quite a special guitar.

For many years Hamer offered guitars with “Crown” mother of pearl inlays as a standard configuration. Some years ago we developed the Victory inlay, a play on the crown shape but unique to Hamer. Occasionally a customer will order a guitar with the original crowns. We’re happy to oblige. This lefty is one of those guitars. The customer also requested a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard that is “dark and rich and showcases the grain”. I think that we achieved that with this board.

Note how the crowns slightly protrude from the face of the fingerboard. This is because we bond a flat fingerboard onto the neck, allow the neck and fingerboard to stabilize and then later radius the board. In this manner the rosewood fingerboard and mahogany neck unite together and any possible bow is eliminated. When sanding our 14 inch radius into the board we only want to kiss the center of the fingerboard, leaving as thick of a board as possible. By leaving the mother of pearl just under .010″ above the face of the board we ensure that we sand the pearl first, not the rosewood. Our extra thick pearl inlays (they’re about .065″ thick) allow us to do this without thinning out the pearl so much as to make them translucent.

We first bind the scroll of the peghead and then the sides. Here’s a right-handed shot of a lefty peghead.

This piece of quilt really is magnificent. We’ve heard many stories about our customers being amazed by the beauty of our tops. In the beginning, we used rotary cut veneers on our guitars. The original Standards and Sunbursts were built like this. When we introduced the Sunburst Archtop, later renamed the Studio and the precursor of the Artist, we began using 8/4 figured big leaf – or western – maple for our tops. The term 8/4 refers to the thickness of the billet; it’s 8/4 of an inch thick. Perhaps more easily understood, it’s two inches thick. We then resaw the wood, rendering two bookmatched pieces of maple, each one inch thick. Because the top is bookmatched, each side of the top is a reflection of the other.

We have now completed the undercarve on the top. We carve the underside of the f-hole so that the thickness of the top is uniform under the entire f-hole. You’ll need a mirror to get inside of this guitar and wonder at the quilt on its underside. Next, the f-hole will be bound.

Of course we need to mate that top to something. Here we’re band sawing out the one piece body from genuine Honduran mahogany.

The entire body is lifted out of the blank – an amazing inside perspective.

Speaking of inside, here’s a close up of the sound chamber, branded with the Hamer USA Handcrafted Excellence logo.

We go over each fret slot by hand to insure that they are clean and free of dust so that we can best seat the frets.

We hand file the celluloid binding flush with the Brazilian rosewood fingerboard.

Each fret is hand pressed for a tight mechanical fit. After we fret the neck we’ll bind the sides of the fingerboard.

The body and neck make a wonderful match.

Here’s a nice trick: Adhesive backed sandpaper is place on a mahogany stick so that we can sand down the edge of the celluloid body binding.

Our oversized neck tenon supports the length of the fingerboard.  Look closely at how tight our hand fit neck joint is.

We individually set the neck pitch on every guitar. This lefty is ready to move to the spraybooth and take on some color.