My Bass is… a 12-string Hamer rarity

Originally published in the UK in Bassist magazine, June 1999

Submitted by Ian Edmundson

"Oddball gimmickry or sublime innovation? Ian's bass has the power to turn heads and rearrange internal organs..."

Most novice players buy copies of their favorite players' instruments. I started off buying a cheapish Avon copy of Jim Lea's souped-up Gibson basses, and later on an excellent Aria ZZB, an Explorer-shaped imitation of John Entwistle's mighty Alembic. Both of these still give loyal service after around twenty years, by the way.

As a Cheap Trick fan of many years, I was naturally greatly impressed by Tom Petersson's sound (and also his excellent but rarely mentioned replacement Jon Brant). I searched high and low for an 8-string of any make (including an abortive trip to Edinburgh to try a slightly derelict Washburn) all to no avail. Much later I talked to a guy in a local band who owned a Hamer guitar and regarded himself as a bit of a rocket scientist when it came to guitars. He mentioned an 8 or 12-string on sale in Manchester. I finished work early the next day to go bass hunting.

There it was, hanging innocently on the wall, its headstock covered in glittering machine heads. It was new, red, beautiful, and scarily expensive. The shop staff regarded it as an oddball gimmick. No one could get their head round it, as it takes time and effort to adjust your playing style to the different fingering and playing styles it imposes. I tried the Hamer through a rig similar to the one I use on stage - two Trace Elliot 715’s wired parallel. Once I'd decided they could handle its output, I went home to think seriously about parting with such a lot of money. I agonized over the cost with a couple of friends who advised me to grit my teeth and buy it as I would probably spend several years kicking myself. So I went back the next morning and returned significantly poorer but happier.

That night my old band was working (in Rochdale, rock 'n' roll capital of the universe) and I took the bass with me. When I got it out from behind my rig and plugged it in, the reaction was unbelievable - dropped jaws and stares, and its been the same ever since. Once I had worked out how to compensate for the extra boom and clang and overtones that it gives off, it became a regular fixture in the menagerie of basses I take on stage (at least four), and I found a couple of songs to feature it on.

The sound of the Hamer is quite unbelievable. The strings are grouped in threes. The thickest being the lower of each three when hitting a down stroke. The thinner strings are tuned an octave higher to it 'that' sound. The active circuitry makes it louder too. Every harmonic I hit comes loud and very clear and in triplicate. With such an odd string arrangement, the player has to work harder to hold down all three strings at once. This is not the easiest thing to use for ultra-fast riffs, but it gets easier with practice. I have to use a pick, and slaps and pulls are out of the question!

The Hamer is slightly neck heavy. It's obvious why when you look at the headstock! The machine heads are in stepped order to avoid confusion, and fortunately, they are extremely stable. There are two truss rods to stop those dreaded banana impressions and, despite the tension on the neck, the action is lower than on most quality 4-strings I've bought. The general weight is a bit on the heavy side, but I don't use it all the way through the set, so I can cope!

If the guitarist's signal packs up, I am putting out a good enough wall of sound to fill the gap. My old drummer used to whine endlessly about the boom and volume. He asked me not to use the Hamer because the deep bass was on the verge of giving him mental problems. He decided I should put Tippex on the custom knurled knobs so I could see when I stepped the volume down! The very last time I played with him, I used the Hamer for two solid hours - on every song!

My one and only gripe is that the Gs don't come out as loud and clear as the others. A guitar tech has suggested to me that it may have guitar pick-ups rather than bass pick-ups. If this were the case, I would be appalled at such a mistake on a bass of this quality and cost. A suggested solution is to replace the EMG's with a pair of Bartolini's, but this would be butchery in my humble opinion.

To sum up, this is a dream of a bass to play. The sound I get from it is like nothing else. Other players just gawp at it. It's brightened up several deadly dull jam nights too! I would love to find the matching 4-string version to accompany this. It is a seriously sexy bass and, sorry, it is definitely not for sale!

If you ever see one of these basses, whether it's a 4, 8 or even 12-string, try it out and persevere with it a while. There's nothing like them. Thank you Tom Petersson for starting the ball rolling.