The Hamer Stressed Neck
In the late 80s the Hamer Californian was designed to compete with other super Strats of the time. This model would bring many subtle innovations to the marketplace. The MTV generation demanded a Floyd Rose, humbuckers and super high fret access. Many companies raced towards the lowest price possible. It would take seasoned players to recognize the difference between a well-thought out musical instrument and something haphazardly assembled in a basement workshop. While popular, I don’t think this model was as well received as it should have been since most people do not care about innovative designs and the world was being changed by kids on the Sunset Strip with franken guitars cobbled together in basement workshops. I must hand it to the crew at Hamer because in a world of compromise… some don’t. This was a unique chapter in the history of the electric guitar. It is hard to believe that there was a time when the classic Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster were not the coveted and sought-after icons that everyone wants today. In fact, they were in danger of becoming extinct, if you can believe that! Anyway, back to the Hamer Californian and what I think is one of its more salient features, the stressed neck. There are a few pieces of information on the Stressed Neck and considerably more information about multi-laminate necks. Consequently, it is easy to get the two mixed up. For one thing, the whole Stressed Neck moniker is a bit confusing and may even be a bit of a misnomer when it comes to all but one of the construction methods.
Guitar makers with any kind of experience will know that the wood is going to do what the wood is going to do. Those with more experience will allow time for neck blanks to equalize throughout the building process. This is all fine and good if you are building a few guitars at a time but when you are competing for market share you had best be prepared to make lots of instruments. I think that Hamer management was also a victim of its past success. They had built a name for themselves producing some of the highest quality guitars in the industry. That level of quality, not to mention, the expectations demanded at the price point for boutique guitars would not allow Hamer to assemble products with sub-standard raw materials. The use of a multi-laminate neck was an elegant solution to the issues associated with higher production runs and could also be sold to the boutique market. The Stressed Neck was produced from one piece of lumber. All the boards glued together shared the same tree DNA. How’s that for a marketing catch phrase? Balancing the forces of the neck is key to the Hamer design. I believe that Hamer decided to go with a three-piece strategy to take advantage of the more commonly encountered 4/4 flat sawn maple. It would also stand to reason that since this was thinner than 8/4 or 12/4 it would also be the driest, all things being equal. This would mean less time spent letting wood acclimate and more time spent building guitars. 4/4 maple was selected for run out and grain orientation and then cut into three strips that would eventually become the neck. The middle piece would be reversed and the whole enchilada was glued up and made into a guitar neck. The neck material glued together with one section 180 degrees from the normal grain orientation of the other two would, in theory, become more stable than a one-piece blank. Gluing a piece of material with a natural tendency to shift up and to the right to a piece with the same tendency to go down and to the left you would, in theory, produce a more stable neck. Since all three pieces of the neck came from the same board you could be assured, with some level of certainty, that the pieces glued together would work in harmony. It is important to point out that the flat sawn lumber used was also oriented such that after all this gluing, the neck blank would be wide enough to take advantage of, what was now, a vertical oriented grain pattern. Again, providing the most stable neck possible. If you have read this far you must be wondering why the title stressed neck, right? This could have been a selling point, after all it does sound cool. But there is another factor that deals with a pre-load on every Hamer neck and that is the use of a single action truss rod being tensioned slightly before the fretboard radius was put in. This is quite clever since loosening the rod would put force on a system that, otherwise, only works by tightening. The Hamer Californian was not the most popular guitar of the breed but it may have been the best. Musicians the likes of Vernon Reed used them to dazzle us with the over the top playing style we all came to expect from the guitar heroes of the late 80’s. Production of the USA made guitars ceased in 1997 and I’ll bet these guitars are still rocking 20 years later thanks in large part to the innovative design of the stressed neck.