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The Prototype Makes a Return (but becomes the Phantom)

By Andrew Large

The Hamer Prototype : Part One

In The Beginning

The Hamer Prototype is an important guitar for Hamer enthusiasts. It represents the first completely original design Hamer to be put into full production. Earlier guitars had their origins in Gibson guitars of the fifties, albeit extensively redesigned by Hamer. The Standard was based on the Explorer but came with a bound flame-top to give the guitar a more opulent appearance. Both the Sunburst and Special were based on the double-cut Les Paul Junior, although again the design was heavily modified and has very little in common with the Gibson model other than the body shape. All these models came fitted with two DiMarzio PAF humbuckers, in keeping with the Gibson influence. Even the Eight-string bass of the late seventies shared the double cut body shape of the Sunburst and Special, with this instrument's design being somewhat influenced by the Hagstrom eight-string bass of the sixties.

According to Jol Dantzig (in Hamer Tone Vol.1, no.3 (1993)), the Prototype was launched at Madison Square Gardens late in 1980, although it was more likely early 1981 as records indicate that the first prototype Prototype was in fact built very early in 1981. There were several guitars built that could claim prototypes for the production Prototype, as Hamer refined the design and pickup specifications. The first was a red Special shaped guitar built for Andy Summers of The Police in 1980 (see left and below), but with the Triple Coil pickup configuration and a small scratchplate to hide the neck joint. Several of these guitars were eventually built. Also in the picture below Sting is holding his Eight-string fretless Standard bass.

The earliest true Prototype (serial number 1 2554, therefore built in early 1981 and called a three-coil in the records, as are many of these early Prototypes) had a labelled scratchplate (using a script font rather than block letters), a flat-top body, natural finish and had a Standard style hockey stick headtsock, features not seen on the production instruments. This instrument can still be seen at the Hamer factory today.

For developement purposes, Hamer also built a test-bed instrument (serial number 1 2580) - this was the same shape as the production Prototype and fitted with the experimental Triple Coil. However, it had no scratchplate: the neck/body joint was obscured by an extended rosewood fingerboard with 24 rather than the production 22 frets (see upper left). It carries a regular serial number with the legend 'PROTOTYPE' also on the rear of the headstock (see lower left). Another early instrument in red comes nearer the final design (1 2657), much like 1 2554 in being flat-topped, script logoed scratchplate, but the neck from a contemporary Special with the legend prototype on the rear of the headstock.

The materials for the guitar were unremarkable, good quality Honduras mahogany for body and glued neck. The production headstock shape was identical to the Sunburst and Special but the body shape was new, contoured back and front with unequal cutaways, although hardly radical. The Sunburst's sustain-block bridge with through-body stringing was the bridge option chosen (occasionally in black chrome, a new concept in 1980). A two-ply scratchplate (inscribed with the word PROTOTYPE in block capitals) hides the neck joint, no neck pickup being fitted as on Hamer's other guitars.

It is hard to believe now but the Prototype was genuinely radical in 1981, including a humbucker and single-coil pickup on the same guitar. Musicians had customised their guitars to include both types of pickup and Fender had played with the idea on a few Telecasters but Hamer were the first company to design a guitar specifically to be a hybrid. Contemporary advertising for the Prototype made much of the new design triple coil pickup (sometimes wrongly nicknamed the Motherbucker) but this was in fact nothing more than a DiMarzio PAF (nearest the bridge) in the same mounting ring as a single-coil, again by DiMarzio. The three way switch gave you the Humbucker, both pickups or the single coil, although curiously the switch worked in opposite orientation to the pickup positions. A master volume and master tone control completed the electronics. The sounds available were described by Paul Hamer in an interview from 1982:-

It looks very simple with one pickup, one volume and tone control and a single toggle switch, but the sounds you can get are really quite incredible. The secret lies in the pickup which incorporates a single coil and a double coil, Humbucking type, so it's possible to get anthing from a sharp Stratocaster tone to a richer Les Paul sound with a good midrange Hamer sound in between. And it's only half the price of a new Strat.

Andy Summers of the Police was an early Hamer endorsee, and he was credited with design input by Paul Hamer in the same interview.

Early on in the history of the Prototype an unusual variant, or at least a related design appeared. The Two-coil was produced for the German market, distributed via Prosound of Koblenz. The Two-coil shared the shape of the Prototype and the sustain block bridge but had a flat maple top. The scratchplate was loaded with two high output single coils by Dimarzio (FS1) at offset angles that allow the string to pass exactly over the poles: the aim was to produce a Hamer with Strat tones, but the mahogany construction, fixed neck and Gibson scale length meant the guitar retained a very un-strat like tone.

These guitars were only produced for a very short time in early 1981, numbering twenty at most. Shown right are two examples, the one on the right has an bound body. Most are in Cherry Sunburst.

1981 Prototype Card - Front
1981 Prototype Card - Back
This card was given out with the Prototype in 1981/1982 and was also the basis for advertising in Britain. The example on this card has a script logo on the scratchplate, whereas most production guitars have a simple block design. The reverse of the card describes the tones available from this new type of guitar.
It should be noted that comtemporary guitars (1981) just didn't mix both kinds of pickup so the above description by Hamer should be read with that in mind.

The Prototype went into full production in 1981 and very soon became one of Hamer's most popular models. Hamer were selling the Prototype at a very competitive price (well below that of a Fender USA Stratocaster) for an original guitar designed and built in America. The guitar was particularly good value in Britain and many crossed the Atlantic. In 1982 the Prototype continued to be produced in numbers, and in a variety of finishes both opaque and transparent; a limited number of 12-string versions were also built (see the next page). But 1982 also saw the introduction of a yet more radical Hamer design that would, to some extent, supercede the Prototype. This guitar was the Phantom A5.

The Prototype was soon available in virtually every finish, with various colour scratchplates. The three shown left are all from 1982 - an opaque red finish with matching red/white scratchplate (top), cherry transparent with white/black scratchplate (middle) and natural with black/white scratchplate (bottom).(Click for full size images).

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