1994 Hamer Special FM

Today I present the Hamer Special FM. The Special FM is no longer made, but it's basically a slab-cut Les Paul. It has the classic Les Paul formula of dual humbuckers, mahogany body and neck, and a maple top. It varies from the formula with a double-cutaway shape and a control configuration of two volumes, a master tone, and a 3-way toggle placed on the lower bout.

US-made Hamers are great instruments with excellent woods, top-shelf parts, and superb fit and finish. The thick maple top on this one is PRS-pretty with an amber finish. In fact, I would posit that US-made Hamers have a more consistently high level of craftsmanship than Gibsons, which can be pretty spotty in my experience. Still, that said, there is a special vibe and sound with a good Les Paul that is pretty unique and hasn't been perfectly duplicated by other guitars, including Hamer.

I bought this guitar 20 years ago and as you can see it's still in fine shape. It has a few surface scratches and the pickup covers have a fair amount of corrosion (one of the drawbacks of nickel-silver). I swapped out the original pickups for Duncan Seth Lovers, which are particularly authentic reproductions of '50s era Gibson PAF pickups. They're low in output and very warm sounding, with just enough bite to be articulate. All of which adds up to a vintage Les Paul type of sound; not exactly a Les Paul mind you but definitely in the same family.

I used this guitar for some of the rhythm tracks on my first CD and they ended up being the songs that had the best guitar sounds on the record. Those tracks have a punchier, meatier sound that's missing from the other tracks. The only real criticism I have for the Special FM is that the short upper horn makes the guitar just a bit neck-heavy when balanced on a strap.

Photogeek talk. I wouldn't call working with white seamless backdrops hard, but there are some things you have to know to get "that look". It all stems from the need to expose the backdrop evenly and well so that it's actually white (or close to it) while at the same time not over-exposing your subject.

First, it's easiest if you have a lot of room. The reason is because you generally want to light the subject separately from the backdrop and you don't want the two lighting setups interfering with each other. In order to maintain that separation, you often need to set up flags to block light from going where you don't want it to go. The smaller your working area, the more likely flagging will be necessary.

To light the background evenly, you usually want to use two lights with full coverage of the background shown in the camera frame and point them at the backdrop from 45 degrees angles and pointed at the opposite side of the backdrop from where they're placed. That gets the best, uniform coverage. For my guitar photos I used a single backlight because I thought I was working with a small enough area that I could get away with it, but you can see in some of the photos that there's a gradient in the white from one side of the photo to the other. That's not necessarily a bad thing, you might want that look. But for even white all the way across, use two lights.

Next, you want the background to be well-lit, but not so much that it reflects too much light - or too big of a light - back on the subject. Otherwise, you get this "glowing" effect that you may not want. In order to do this, the backdrop should be placed at a distance so that it just fills the camera frame, but not much bigger. Then place the subject at a distance so that it is the desired size in the frame. This keeps reflected light from the backdrop from wrapping too much around the subject. Maintaining these distances is one reason you need a lot of room to work with white seamless. If you don't have that much room (and my studio doesn't) then your background lights should fully cover backdrop that is shown in the camera frame, but not too much more (you'll have to spill some light outside the frame in order account for light fall-off but just don't over-do it). Finally, light the background (without the subject) so that it's fully exposed as white but not heavily blown out. The histogram should show all the pixels bunched up on the right, but not everything on the last vertical line. Then light the subject as appropriate.