Hamer Factory Tour

Photos and Content by George F. Callobre

Hamer Guitars opened its doors to the Hamer Fan Club (HFC) for an Open House on October 22, 2004. This event included a tour of the Hamer Factory, the Ovation Guitars Factory, and later that evening, the HFC Jam at a local hall. Hamer limits attendance to this event to approximately 75 fan club members and dealers.

The Hamer Factory is located in picturesque New Hartford, CT on a hillside. This year, the leaves were in full color, so the views on our drive to the factory were spectacular. The building that houses both the Hamer and Ovation factories was built in the late 1800’s, so large bare timbers and large plank wooden floors are visible throughout the structure.

Hamer produces its USA guitars and basses with a staff of only ten employees. Everyone on the staff performs a variety of skilled tasks, so this does not resemble an assembly line as much as a large luthier’s shop. Most of the shop skills take several years to master, so all of the staff has considerable experience in the guitar building industry.

Our tour was conducted by Jol Dantzig, the co-founder of Hamer Guitars. Jol began our tour with a trip to the wood storage area of the building.

The Wood

All great instruments begin with great wood, and Hamer dedicates a large portion of their space to house the wood for future instruments. Hamer only buys the best wood available from its suppliers, and then Hamer examines each piece of wood to decide what will be kept. Only the best of the wood shipments is kept, and the rest is sold to other companies.

Hamer also takes the time to reassign the “grading” of the wood sent by its suppliers to match its own high standards. Some of the maple billets that suppliers call AAA or AAAA flame are considered Hamer’s “Premium” grade, while the most uniquely figured tops are what Hamer designates as their “Ultimate” grade.

Frank Murello runs the wood shop for Hamer and is responsible for buying, grading, and managing the wood supply for Hamer.

Frank stands next to one of several large racks where wood that has already been graded is stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment waiting for use.

   

Hamer also stores the wood for neck construction in this area. No, those aren't inexpensive 2x4’s!

Hamer has many manual processes in its operation to ensure absolute quality. One of Frank’s jobs is to take the maple billets and split them in half in preparation to bookmatch them. This is done on a band saw and requires a very steady hand. During this operation, some wood is rejected due to internal flaws that make the billet unsuitable for use in a guitar or bass top.

Frank also matches the grain and color of the maple and the mahogany that make up a single guitar to complement each other. Frank then cuts out the rough shape of the guitar on a band saw in preparation for later machining.

Carved top guitars start life with a very thick top layer of figured maple that will later be ground and shaved down to the desired contours.

Hamer once produced its guitar bodies and necks using a variety of hand operated machines and guided by various templates. Hamer now uses CNC machines to do the routing and shaping operations. Frank programs the machines to do these tasks based on his instructions. The machine performs several operations in succession: it shapes the body of the instrument, routs cavities for pickups, cuts an edge for body binding, routs out F-holes, and routs a neck pocket.

 

The CNC machine roughs out the neck pocket for a guitar.

 

Frank and Jol look at the final product of the CNC process.

The Workshop

The Hamer workshop is where most of the guitar building process takes place. Jol explained that when Hamer moved its USA factory from Arlington Heights, IL to New Hartford, CT, they actually reduced the number of guitars they produce. This was done so they could focus more on the custom shop approach that had built Hamer in the first place.

Jol looks over the production of guitars in the workshop.

Hamer builds their guitar necks using a stressed neck construction system. They assemble the neck from wood with carefully sorted for grain orientation and color, but the wood is glued together with opposing grain patterns to resist warping.

Jol shows how two necks plus the sides of the headstocks for both necks are cut from one assembled neck blank. (Look for the pencil lines on the board for the neck outline.)

Hamer Tour Part 2