After 30 years in the business, Hamer has gained a reputation for being one of the best guitar builders in the world, and for good reason.
Hamer’s attention to detail, use of the best woods, pickups and materials, as well as their timeless designs, makes then popular amongst by pros like Rick Nielsen, Keb’ Mo’, Tom Dumont, and Chester Bennington. Offering industry firsts like a workable production hybrid acoustic/electric, 12-string bass, and exposed-coil humbuckers, Hamer had always exuded a willingness to market instruments with a sense of experimentation.
Its Monaco III is exemplary, with its beautiful deep-red translucent finish over a hand-carved spruce top, one-piece Honduras mahogany body with two tone chambers, and ivoroid binding framing its top, neck, and headstock. Its 25.5″ scale, three-piece Mahogany neck is capped with a quartersawn rosewood fretboard (with mother-of-pearl “victory” inlays) set into the body via a dovetail joint.
The Monaco’s neck is constructed using the company’s “stressed neck” system, which mates a straight-grained piece with two opposing-grained pieces of mahogany. Hamer says this creates greater stability over the life of the guitar, and equates to fewer adjustments. Because the dovetail joint is 25 percent larger than the tenon style, the transmission of energy and vibration is theoretically greater, giving a more natural sustain.
In the hardware department, the Monaco features a chrome Bigsby tremolo (with mechanical touchups by Hamer), a Tune-O-Matic-style bridge, Schaller tuners, and Dunlop Dual Design strap lock buttons. Strap buttons are mounted with rubber bushings, to absorb shock and keep them from loosening.
Electronics on the Monaco consist of three Seymour Duncan P-90s controlled with a five-way rotary switch topped with a retro chicken-head knob, a master volume, and master tone. Hamer uses custom-tapered volume pots with a boost at the last 1/10 of their rotation, for solos.
To test the Monaco III, we employed the help of a Peavey Butcher all-tube amp head with a 2×12″ closed-back cabinet, and Crate’s all-tube V5212 tube combo.
From a playability standpoint, the Monaco has Hamer’s typical professional setup, a dead-on straight neck and nicely polished frets. The shape of the neck is reminiscent of Gibson’s rounded ’59 Les Paul reissue or a PRS – not too chunky, but still a handful. Fretwork is top-notch, smooth, polished and level, which makes for effortless playing. We liked the extra tension offered by the 25.5″ scale versus the typical 24.75″ on most semi-hollowbodies. It reacts very well to bends and adds some resistance to the overall feel of the guitar, which most players believe allows for greater expression. The small body is also more comfortable than the typical semi-hollowbody, but offers a surprising amount of resonance and acoustic volume.
Plugged into the Butcher set for clean tones, the Monaco’s sound was well-balanced between all three Duncan P-90s. The bridge pickup is fat and full-sounding, with a hint of twang, probably due to the scale length. The five-position rotary switch gives the standard choices. The sounds are heavily Strat-flavored but markedly fatter, with pronounced midrange bite. Backing off the volume control just a bit gives the guitar a noticeably single-coil tone, pulling back the mids and adding sparkle and bell tone to the top-end. This was pleasantly surprising because, normally, backing down the volume simply washes out the tone and kills the top-end.
With the amp’s gain punched up for a touch of overdrive, the Monaco’s pronounced mids added drive and definition to the sound. The more gain we added, the creamier the sound got. And the only pickup squeal happened when we used the middle unit by itself.
Our results with the Crate were just as impressive – fat, crunchy single-coil tones in the overdrive channel and with the volume on the guitar backed down a little, very Stratocaster-like tones with a lot of sparkle in the clean channel.
As with all Hamer guitars we’ve tried through the years, the craftsmanship, tone, and playability on the Monaco are fantastic. And the triple P-90 setup offers a huge variety of very usable, high-quality tones.
Hamer Monaco III
Features Carved spruce top, dual-chambered Honduras mahogany body, Seymour Duncan P-90 pickups, pre-stressed Mahogany neck, 25.5″ scale, Schaller tuning machines, Bigsby tremolo.
Price $3,500 (retail).
Contact Kaman Music Corporation, PO Box 507, Bloomfield, CT 06002-0507, www.hamerguitars.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.