Hamer Talladega

Named for the Alabama super-speedway that was the site of Mark Donohue’s record-setting speed run of 221 mph in a Porsche 917/30 in 1973 (the year that the first Hamer guitar was made), the Talladega also plays off the moniker of an equally famous Fender guitar—one whose outline is echoed in the body shape of this new creation from Connecticut-based Hamer.

Designed by Jol Dantzig, the Talladega is a radical rethink of the inspired-by-Tele template that many custom makers adhere to. Sweet though it is to cast your eyes on this stunning example of guitarcraft, the Talladega’s real innovation centers on its humbucker-sized single-coils, which are custom-made Duncan units with distinct characteristics: The neck pickup incorporates a ceramic bar magnet with steel slugs, and the bridge unit uses alnico polepiece magnets, and features a copper-coated steel “reflection” plate that helps it mimic the bright, snappy response of a Tele bridge pickup seated in its stamped metal bridge assembly. Linked to a 4-position selector, the Talladega’s system offers the following combinations:

Position 1: (selector fully forward) neck and bridge pickups in series
Position 2: neck pickup
Position 3: neck and bridge pickups in parallel
Position 4: bridge pickup

With its striped top, thick ivoroid bindings, and sparkling chrome hardware, the Talladega is a strikingly beautiful guitar. The fretboard is adorned with small mother-of-pearl dots and a Hamer “victory” inlay at the 12th fret, and this unbound stretch of quarter-sawn rosewood provides a nice visual contrast between the ivoroid trimmed body and headstock. As with all high-end Hamers, the bindings and finish are rendered with perfection, as are the mirror-polished, crisply trimmed (though not rounded like hot dogs) frets. Even the glass-smooth bone nut is a little work of art that fits so seamlessly you’d think it was carved right out of the neck itself.

The plastic buttoned Kluson-style tuners feel as smooth and precise as you’d expect by their Tone Pros origin, and they sure look sweet on the ebony-faced headstock. At the opposite end, the control cavity is shielded with conductive paint and a black anodized aluminum cover. Most of the audio-signal connections are made with neatly routed cloth-covered wire. Surrounding the output jack is a concave metal retainer that sets into the body, making it easy to plug in when you’re swapping guitars in a hurry.

A low action makes the Talladega incredibly easy to play. The neck’s soft “V” shape feels extremely comfortable, and the intonation is solid and musical sounding in all positions. A minor tweak of the trussrod was the only adjustment we needed to make during the many weeks this guitar was in our hands.

Plugged into a variety of tube combos (including a Carr Vincent, a Mesa/Boogie 5:25, and a Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue) the Talladega made good on its promise of boldly going where no guitar with two single-coils has gone before. Shift the pickup selector between its stops, and the change in sonic personalities is dramatic. In the bridge setting you get a bright, fat, and punchy tone reminiscent of a Tele with a Duncan Quarter Pounder in its tail. Flick to the opposite extreme (neck and bridge pickups in series), and the tones become so round and muscular that you may need to cut the lows on your amp to better reveal the subtle twanginess that halos this setting. Pull the selector back a notch, and you get a whiff of Gibson ES-295 neck-pickup snarl—a hip old-school blues or rock voicing with a cool blend of warmth and bite. Another rearward click on the selector (neck and bridge pickups in parallel), and the tones open up beautifully for clear, ringing rhythm work, or velvety smooth leads. This setting reminds me more of the dual-pickup mode on a Hamer Newport, and between it and the bridge setting, the Talladega reveals its most Tele-like traits—delivering a lead tone that could split a log, with a great dual-pickup sound just a click away.

This latest heirloom-grade offering by Hamer highlights a determination by Jol Dantzig to press beyond the boundaries of standard electric guitars, while creating a design that still evokes his deep appreciation for Fender’s primordial plank. Time will tell how players use some of the sounds delivered by Dantzig’s newest creation, but one thing’s for sure, the Talladega is a way different animal than any Tele-influenced set-neck custom we’ve seen.