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Vintage Vault: 1978 Hamer Sunburst

Vintage Vault: 1978 Hamer Sunburst
This Sunburst model is from Hamer’s second year of production. Lurking behind it is a 1980 Music Man 212HD-150—a potent alternative to the era’s Fender 2x12 combos.

A vintage-inspired design reflecting the best features of classic ’50s and ’60s electrics.

Located in Wilmette, Illinois, Hamer Guitars began in 1972 as a music store called Northern Prairie Music. Paul Hamer’s shop specialized in selling and repairing vintage guitars. Soon Jol Dantzig became a partner, and the two sought business among high-profile musicians playing in the Chicago area. The skill and knowledge they acquired repairing vintage instruments led to building new guitars inspired by the best features of classic ’50s and ’60s electrics. Known as the Standard, the first Hamer 6-string was based on the shape of a ’50s Gibson Explorer. The guitars built prior to 1977 were custom instruments, and only 10 to 15 were made each year.

Known as the Standard, the first Hamer 6-string was based on the shape of a ’50s Gibson Explorer.

In 1977 Hamer and Dantzig decided they needed a more affordable model to appeal to working guitarists. The instrument would be easier to build, allowing more to be made and sold. The design was based on a double-cutaway Les Paul Junior, but with a pair of humbuckers and a flame maple veneer on top. To speed up production time, the guitar was only offered in cherry sunburst, hence the Sunburst model name. (The Sunburst was eventually obtainable in other finishes.)

The Hamer Sunburst boasts a solid mahogany body with a one-piece flame-maple veneer top and two custom
DiMarzio PAF pickups.

The 1978 Hamer Sunburst pictured here has features typical to that year, including a 6-saddle “sustain block” bridge (replacing earlier, thinner Mighty Mite versions) with strings going through the body in a method similar to a hardtail Fender Stratocaster, a one–piece mahogany neck (three-piece by mid-1979) with optional bound rosewood fretboard and crown inlays (dot inlays on an unbound fretboard were standard), a “snakehead” headstock (inspired by early Gibson mandolins), a solid mahogany body with a one-piece flame-maple veneer on top, and two specially wound DiMarzio PAF pickups. The original list price was $699.90 plus a $50 up-charge for crown inlays and fretboard binding. The current value for one in excellent all-original condition is $2,500.

This ’78 Hamer features a string-through-body “sustain block” bridge.

The amp behind the Sunburst is an early ’80s Music Man 212HD-150. Four 6L6 power tubes push 150 watts of power through two 12" speakers. The control panel features bright and deep switches along with reverb, tremolo, and master volume. The 1980 list price was $875. The current value for the amp is $750.

Sources for this article include The Ultimate: An Illustrated History of Hamer Guitars by Steve Matthes and Joe Moffett and Music Man: 1978 to 1982 (and then some)—The Other Side of the Story by Frank W.M. Green.

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