Hammer Jammer brings a percussive twist to playing guitar
By Paul Ridden
July 4, 2014
With what's got to be one of the shortest campaign pitches on Kickstarter, Ken McCaw is putting second production run hopes for his Hammer Jammer percussive guitar attachment in the hands of players. Described as essentially turning the guitar into a new instrument, the fretting hand is still used to form chord shapes or single-note runs. But players tap, stroke or bash the big raised "buttons" at the picking end, causing soft or hard hammers to sound the strings.
The idea for a key-hammering mechanism for guitar first came to McCaw in 1985. He formed the Guitammer company to further develop his idea in 1990, helped along with input from folks like Chris Martin (Martin Guitars) and Ricky Skaggs. The first product debuted in the early 90s, but problems with manufacturing partners (not related to the product) and a change of focus (the development and release of the ButtKicker) led to the hammering project being shelved.
McCaw bought the remaining units from the manufacturer and has since sold them all to players in 60 countries around the globe. The video used for the Kickstarter campaign pitch was originally posted on YouTube back in January of this year and attracted over 400,000 views, encouraging McCaw to try for the mainstream market.
"Young, up-and-comers who are looking for a new way to enter the music world," McCaw told us when asked who he thought would appreciate the Hammer Jammer most. "And handicapped (including older players with arthritis) and disabled Vets, because it does enable them to still play guitar, with the chord hammering techniques at least."
Before getting to taste what's possible using the Hammer Jammer, a mounting bracket is installed at the body end of the neck, either bolted to the neck itself (with protective buffers between the hex screws and the wood) or stuck to the body for a more permanent seating.
The hammer unit slides onto the bracket, with the hammers themselves facing back toward the bridge. For electric guitars, it may be more comfortable to mount the bracket behind the bridge and have the hammers point toward the head, though will require a bit more thought on precise positioning.
The hammer arms will likely need some gentle adjustments before getting settled in and providing a clean strike. There are two hammer pads to choose from, one hard and one softer. Players can snap in all the same type, or experiment with a mixture of both. Hammer pads are designed to last a very long time. McCaw says that he's been using the same set for 5 years, over hundreds of hours, and there's no sign of wear. Replacement packs will be made available from Big Walnut in the future though.
Once everything's set up to the player's liking, it's a case of seeing what kind of sounds can be produced when the raised buttons are smacked. The length of a hammered note is determined by the fretting hand. The system's inventor told us that "you could press the hammer down and choke the string, but it doesn't sound good."
"There is a learning curve," he continued. "It does take time. For many, it's not an instant device. Requires new techniques, but that's why it produces new techniques and styles."
Following suggestions from existing players, the new Hammer Jammer will differ slightly from the original. "We just plan to make the base slightly wider to accommodate more guitars, especially classical/nylon string guitars which generally have wider necks," said McCaw. "We had a long list of people, especially in Spain, who wanted to use the Hammer Jammer, but it wouldn't fit."
A Kickstarter pledge of US$65 will put you in line for one of the first Hammer Jammer's off the production line. Generous types can opt for the $25 level and have a Hammer Jammer donated to a disabled or Vet player.
"We sold a number of units to Veterans and Vets' spouses, some of them telling us how sad their husbands were because they had fingers missing from combat, or whatever, but now they had the possibility of hammering the strings with their arms or disabled hands," McCaw explained. "And by using open tuning with the left hand, it would be possible for some without any fingers to at least bang out respectable sounding chords. It's a small market, granted, but it is real and getting people to donate for that specific purpose helps us re-tool and gets the vets a unit to try."
The campaign ends on July 20 and, if all goes to plan, delivery is estimated to start in October. The system's inventor told us that he'll seek funding elsewhere if the Kickstarter campaign fails to reach its goal. "Nobody is charged if the Kickstarter program doesn't fund," he said. "We will contact all of those who pledged and provide another means to purchase once we cover tool costs through investors."
You can have a look at the video that kicked it all off below.