Hamer Californian USA : Oliver Hock's user review
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My guitar is a Californian Elite from 1991. Ebony board with boomerang inlays, optional solid two-piece curly maple body, and factory EMG's with push/pull knob for coil split. It also came factory with a tone knob. The previous owner had Dimarzio cliplocks installed, I switched to Schaller straplocks, other than that it is still original. The old USA Hamer are quality craftmanship, they offered lots of custom options then, but with those options, these guitars did cost some dollars back then. Though it is made of maple, and maple is known as a heavy wood, it doesn't weigh more than a regular Strat. Well balanced, not neck heavy at all. The neck feels ultra thin, this is the standard thin neck profile Hamer used from 1990 on, they had a meatier neck profile before. With that deep cutaway it is easy to reach upper frets, but don't expect lots of sustain in the highest fretted notes, these are for short precise notes. Well, I am not a "shredder", so I don't use those high notes a lot, I did record some classical pieces at home and there I could make use of the higher frets. The hardware is Hamer-branded Schaller FR II and M6 mini, the locking nut is drilled from above. Now to the electronics, the Californian comes with single coil in the neck/humbucker in the bridge position. In the 90's Seymour Duncan were standard by Hamer,EMG's were offered as a custom option then, and EMG's are what have been used on my guitar. In the neck position is an EMG SA pickup. Well, it is in the neck position, but compared to a Strat it is actually positioned between the neck and the middle pickup of a Strat, and it is slanted. The EMG is actually not a single coil pickup, but a stacked humbucker. It uses an alnico magnet bar. The sound is clean and clear, not unlike a real single coil, but it sounds different than a true Fender Strat single coil. They don't hum and are noise-free. EMG's have many critics say that they sound sterile with lack of character and while I know what they mean, they still sound good. Give a listen to Steve Lukather's guitar tone in "Talk to ya Later" to hear EMG SA in clean mode and decide for yourself if they sound sterile. The humbucker in bridge position is an EMG 89, which is actually a 81 and a SA in one housing. The 81 is EMG's high output pickup, and so is the 89. In "humbucker" mode with volume on full there is no clean signal, the pickup will definitely distort. It is by far not a vintage sounding humbucker, it is quite fat sounding with strong high mids. This pickup in "H" mode sounds best with gain sounds. I liked it in clean mode combined with a wah pedal (Dunlop GCB95). Of course, with the push/pull pot you're able to "tame" the 89 and switch it to SA mode. In SA mode? But the SA is also a stacked humbucker. Yes, in fact the 89 is 3 coils, so you switch from humbucker mode to stacked humbucker mode. And this is also hum-free, nifty, huh? With it's strong upper midrange the guitar fits well into the band mix. It never sounds too thin. The amps I used it with are a Fender Prosonic combo, a Marshall 6100 (EL34) with JCM900 1960 cab (G12-75), a Marshall 6101 (5881) with Celestion Gold S-303 speaker and a Mesa Boogie Mark V:35 head with 1x12" Thiele cab (Celestion C90).