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THE TWELVE-STRING BASS

Hamer B12S: Bassist magazine article | Guitarist magazine review | Chaparral 12 / review | Photos | 12stringbass.net

12-string bass?

Somebody asked on a message board whether there actually IS such a thing.

Yes. 12-String basses DO exist! The one person who can rightfully be credited with coming up with the very first notion of the 12-String bass was Tom Petersson from the excellent group Cheap Trick.

Hamer were the first company to ever build a 10 string bass and then later on, 12-string basses to Tom's exacting specifications, although Hagstrom had made 8 string basses in the 1960's. Tom Petersson had one of those to start with, but he apparently disliked playing it intensely. He talked long and hard with Hamer and they made him a one-off 10-string bass. He eventually persuaded Hamer that making a 12-er that wouldn't just explode at the neck was actually possible. The first known result was the Hamer Quad bass (one of which was also owned by John Entwistle of The Who). It has individual pickups for each group of strings - EADG - and volume and tone adjustments to match. The design got simplified greatly along the way afterwards!

Here in the 12-zone, there's a Bassist magazine article from June 1999, written specifically about my own Hamer B12S 12-string bass. It explains why I bought it, what it sounds like, and why it is NOT for sale!!!

There is also a review and photos of the Hamer Chaparral 12-string bass that I recently picked up.



Bassist Magazine, June 1999:

"Oddball gimmickry or sublime innovation?

Ian Edmundson's bass has the power to turn heads and rearrange internal organs...

Bassist magazine article

Most novice players buy copies of their favorite players' instruments. I started off buying a cheapish Avon copy of Jim Lea's souped up Gibson basses, and later on an excellent Aria ZZB, an Explorer-shaped imitation of John Entwistle's mighty Alembic. Both of these still give loyal service after around twenty years, by the way.

As a Cheap Trick fan of many years, I was naturally greatly impressed by Tom Petersson's sound (and also his excellent but rarely mentioned replacement Jon Brant.) I searched high and low for an 8-string of any make (including an abortive trip to Edinburgh to try a slightly derelict Washburn) all to no avail.

Much later I talked to a guy in a local band who owned a Hamer guitar and regarded himself as a bit of a rocket scientist when it came to guitars. He mentioned an 8 or 12-string on sale in Manchester.

I finished work early the next day to go bass hunting. There it was, hanging innocently on the wall, its headstock covered in glittering machine heads. It was new, red, beautiful, and scarily expensive. The shop staff regarded it as an oddball gimmick. No one could get their head round it, as it takes time and effort to adjust your playing style to the different fingering and playing styles it imposes. I tried the Hamer through a rig similar to the one I use on stage - two Trace Elliot 715s wired parallel.

Once I'd decided they could handle its output, I went home to think seriously about parting with such a lot of money. I agonized over the cost with a couple of friends who advised me to grit my teeth and buy it as I would probably spend several years kicking myself. So I went back the next morning and returned significantly poorer but happier.

That night my old band was working (in Rochdale, rock 'n' roll capital of the universe) and I took the bass with me. When I got it out from behind my rig and plugged it in, the reaction was unbelievable - dropped jaws and stares, and it's been the same ever since.

Once I had worked out how to compensate for the extra boom and clang and overtones that it gives off, it became a regular fixture in the menagerie of basses I take on stage (at least four), and I found a couple of songs to feature it on.

The sound of the Hamer is quite unbelievable. The strings are grouped in threes. The thickest being the lower of each three when hitting a down stroke. The thinner strings are tuned an octave higher to give it 'that' sound. The active circuitry makes it louder too. Every harmonic I hit comes loud and very clear and in triplicate.

With such an odd string arrangement, the player has to work harder to hold down all three strings at once. This is not the easiest thing to use for ultra-fast riffs, but it gets easier with practice. I have to use a pick, and slaps and pulls are out of the question!

The Hamer is slightly neck heavy. It's obvious why when you look at the headstock! The machine heads are in stepped order to avoid confusion, and fortunately, they are extremely stable. There are two truss rods to stop those dreaded banana impressions and, despite the tension on the neck, the action is lower than on most quality 4-strings I've bought. The general weight is a bit on the heavy side, but I don't use it all the way through the set, so I can cope!

If the guitarist's signal packs up, I am putting out a good enough wall of sound to fill the gap.

My old drummer used to whine endlessly about the boom and volume. He asked me not to use the Hamer because the deep bass was on the verge of giving him mental problems. He decided I should put Tippex on the custom knurled knobs so I could see when I stepped the volume down! The very last time I played with him, I used the Hamer for two solid hours - on every song.

My one and only gripe is that the G's don't come out as loud and clear as the others. A guitar tech has suggested to me that it may have guitar pick-ups rather than bass pick-ups. If this were the case, I would be appalled at such a mistake on a bass of this quality and cost. A suggested solution is to replace the EMGs with a pair of Bartolini's, but this would be butchery in my humble opinion.

To sum up, this is a dream of a bass to play. The sound I get from it is like nothing else. Other players just gawp at it. It's brightened up several deadly dull jam nights too! I would love to find the matching 4-string version to accompany this. It is a seriously sexy bass and, sorry, it is definitely not for sale!

If you ever see one of these basses, whether it's a 4, 8 or even 12-string, try it out and persevere with it awhile. There's nothing like them. Thank you, Tom Petersson for starting the ball rolling.


Guitarist magazine
Hamer 12-String Bass : Can a 12-string bass have any practical place in the real world?
Review by Gibson Keddie.

Guitarist magazine article

It's strange the way Chinese whispers start about certain guitars; by the time the umpteenth person has told you about the amazing instrument that they've seen, you begin to be very sceptical about whether anything can be as outrageous as described.

When we were North of the border recently for the Scottish Music Show, before I'd had time to look round myself, people were rushing over to describe a monster the like of which they'd never before seen. It's at times like these that the brain cells slip into surrealist 'wavy picture' mode as you mentally conjure something with a 10 inch wide fretboard and a progression of thick wound strings tensed across it, creating monstrous internal forces and straining various components to breaking point. I mean, 6 string basses are commonplace, 7 - and even 8 stringers are not unknown, but twelve?

A quick trip to Trace Elliot's stand secured the monster for review, and here it is; Hamer's 12-string bass, looking impressive, but certainly not too imposing.......

The main timber used is maple, for both the body and the glued in, three piece neck. The body shape is the well- known Hamer adopted version of the double cutaway Les Paul Special; widely used as a pleasingly symmetrical guitar body shape, it's unusual to find it in the context of a bass.

The cherry finish extends over the entire instrument, with the exception of the black faced headstock, and under the lacquer on both the front and back of the body is some very pretty striping in the maple... Pickups are two close-set EMG humbuckers, and the row of three controls offers straightforward volume for each pickup and a master tone control. Congratulations to Hamer here for commendable restraint.

As you have no doubt gathered, the string arrangement is quite novel, offering a traditional four-course setup, but with each main string allocated a matched pair of drone strings. These extra guitar-gauge strings lie on the topside of each 'bass' string, so using a plectrum lets the instrument operate to maximum effect, since the drones are struck first - as with a 12-string guitar.

The bridge looks somewhat minimalistic, considering the job it has to do. The bridge and tailpiece are actually two separate components, a sort of abbreviated version of Gibson's tune-o-matic system. The bridge has two substantial height adjusting screws, one at either end. A 'U' channel contains what initially look like four separate saddles; in fact these are centrally split, so intonation adjustment is available for each bass string and its accompanying pair of drones.

Four large screws make sure the tailpiece is securely located, and it'll need to be, since all twelve strings anchor in its raiqed tail, so what looks like a decoratively machined brass rod at the back is in fact a dozen ball-ends grouped together!

Helping to minimise the physically imposing aspect of the bass is its short scale of 30.5". The body's symmetrical horns join the neck at the seventeenth fret, leaving the remaining four on the 21 fret neck positioned over the body. The neck uses a rosewood fingerboard, inlaid with plastic dot markers. It's quite wide (48mm at the nut, 57mm at the twelfth fret), but eminently playable. A gentle 'D' profile facilitates comfort and positive note location, aided by a slim and consistent depth of approximately 22mm along the neck's entire length.

Fitting and cutting the nut must have been tricky, but whoever was responsible obviously knew what they were doing. This is a critical feature on such an instrument, as a badly cut nut would wreak havoc on playability. The layout of the machine heads is neat and logical. Whilst you can spend many a happy hour with a regular 12-string guitar plucking one string while turning the wrong key, since they all look identical, this isn't a problem on the Hamer.

The four principal bass strings are tensioned by full sized Schaller machines and , though each pair of accompanying drones are identical in gauge, each is assigned a different sized machine key to let you know exactly which one is being adjusted.

A large truss rod cover above the nut hides a very substantial dual truss rod system; two rods lie parallel along the neck, keeping the whole assembly firmly in shape.

IN USE

The real joy of an instrument like this is in playing it. With something so idiosyncratic, there are things it can’t do at all well, and others it can perform superbly. It’s all a matter of experimentation – something a unique setup like this positively encourages, since it sounds like no other bass. The double drones add an additional treble ring, which cuts through the thicker, enveloping sound of the main bass strings. The overall sound benefits from the use of active circuitry, all of which is contained, along with the battery in the roomy rear control compartment.

Describing the Hamer’s sound is not easy, but if you imagine a normal bass being played through an octaver then you’re getting warm. As mentioned, a plectrum extracts the most from the system; fingerstyle playing with its up-stroke action, tends to negate the effect of the drones, although this can be advantageous when a more traditional sound is required. You cannot wimp out on your playing style, though; the strings must be played with commitment and a reasonable degree of attack across each grouping, otherwise you hit a bass string for one note then one of the drones for the rest and so on.

Ultimately the Hamer 12-string bass is great fun. But it’s also surprisingly practical, especially if you’re searching for different and impressive sounds. If it were mine and I wanted to make serious use of the bass, I’d probably take the E and A drones off, as one could argue that they don’t do enough on top of the heavier bass strings, which might be better used for playing ‘proper’ bass lines. This would leave the bassist free to add little chordal colourings on the G and D. You could also use them for striking solo intro riffs, something they excel at, while adding a touch of stereo chorus
provides an even sweeter sound.

Being short scale in a sort of Gibson EB3 sort of way, the Hamer is quite comfortable to wear. But, as was mentioned in David Mead’s recent review of the latest Hamer guitars, access to the upper frets for chordal doodlings is not great, because of the fairly restrictive cutaway arrangement, and that really hinders some of the bass’s potential.

Lastly, everyone I’ve spoken to on the subject would shorten the length of the bass by cutting off the V-shaped cleft in the headstock, which adds nought to the decorative aspect of the bass.

Verdict? Surprisingly practical yet loads of fun, with a sound which suits a varied range of styles. Plus could it be the ultimate indie bassists revenge? Tell that guitarist to move over with his poncy Ricky 12-string, because you’re taking over yeah!

SPEC CHECK : (correct at publication, January 1993)
PRICE
£1299.00
BODY 2-piece maple
NECK 3-piece maple
FINGERBOARD
Rosewood
PICKUPS 2x EMG humbuckers
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style stop tailpiece system
SCALE LENGTH Short scale 775mm
GENERAL FEEL Quite weighty, good balance, chunky
FINISH Polyester
COLOURS Cherry transparent, black
LEFT HANDERS To order
CASE Yes


The Hamer Chaparral 12-string bass:

The release of a non-USA Hamer 12-er was news to me and as soon as I got the chance to try one out, I did. Nice. I got a very good deal on it, so that one came home with me.

The Chaparral is the more popular of the current USA options, but the $3500 price tag is quite prohibitive and I have to say that the cheaper non-USA bass loses only a little tone-wise, though the pickups are possibly a wee bit weaker than my USA B12S, which is fitted with two EMG's. It could be a wee bit bassier. It is however a passive bass, so you have to allow for that difference in comparison to myt active 12string bass. Again, you get the inevitable neck-dive, but a good strap and holding the bass neck, or just resting your right arm on the bass body while wearing it (which is always a common sense thing to do) sorts that out.

It is also a fair bit harder to play, being long scale. That came as quite a shock to me at the first gig I did with it, the day after I bought it. Despite getting action nice and low, I really had to work very hard to play it. My USA Hamer 12er feels like very hard work to anyone I have ever handed it to (only a few people) and this one felt like hard work to me! Just a case of what I have been used to and I will build up playing strength on it by using it.

I will write more about it and add more photos soon. Mine is not a cheaper Chinese one, as in the review below. I haven't seen a Chinese one yet.

The magazine review...

Hamer Chaparral


    Photos:

12 string bass

Hamer 12 string bass

12 string bass

12 string bass

I do not officially endorse or recommend any particular commercially available guitar / bass / amplification products at the moment. However... if any guitar or bass manufacturer would like to send me something that I would like to use, I'd be quite pleased to say lovely things in exchange for a freebie.

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