The luthier of La Rivière
Jeremy Hamm builds guitars and mandolins in small town Manitoba
If you build it, they will come.
For about 15 years, Jeremy Hamm has been crafting custom built guitars and mandolins, his Hamm-tone brand played by the likes of Del Barber, Nathan’s Keri Latimer and Grant Siemens of Corb Lund and The Hurtin’ Albertans.
Hamm’s handmade guitars haven’t just caught the attention of professional pickers, but also budding guitar builders.
For the last three years, Hamm has operated a guitar building course, Pembina Valley Luthiers, out of his home in La Rivière, Man.
“I started repairing guitars in college in the mid ‘90s and then took a guitar building course in Saskatchewan,” says Hamm, 34, who worked at Quest Musique for eight years before moving to La Rivière.
“I ended up meeting a bunch of other luthiers afterwards and realized there was more than one way to do the whole craft, so I got further into building and repairing.
“Then, about 10 years ago, I had a friend that wanted to build a guitar. Every day after work throughout the course of a winter I’d show him how to build. All of a sudden I started teaching other friends how to build and I realized I had a bit of a knack for it.”
That knack may be inherent.
His grandfather, John Goertzen, was a musician and according to Hamm, the first recorded bluegrass mandolin player in Canada.
Hamm’s father, Nick Hamm, was an engineer for John Deere, where he designed the John Deere Gator all-terrain utility vehicle.
“My dad comes from a long line of master carpenters and mechanical wizards,” Hamm says. “I think I was predestined to be a luthier. I can’t help it.”
Following his fate, Hamm and his wife, musician Jess Reimer, moved from Winnipeg to La Rivière five years ago.
There, Hamm operates a 1,000 square foot shop, where he runs five to six guitar building courses a year. His students not only walk away with a custom built guitar, but they also get in tune with their inner handyman.
“They get a better understanding of what goes into the making of something and the realization that you can actually do things yourself,” Hamm says. “I always tell my students when they’re done to just go out and make stuff. They make Adirondack chairs. They make furniture. They frame up houses. They do all kinds of stuff.”
They may even make more guitars - high-quality ones at that.
Hamm says his Hamm-tone guitars - most worth between $2,000 and $3,000 - are better than those made by the big manufacturers.
Well, first, he bakes the wood, building his guitars at a 15 to 20 per cent lower humidity level than other builders, ensuring that his instruments will survive Manitoba’s cold, dry winters.
Also, he says the big boys overbuild their guitars for maximum durability, which sacrifices sound quality.
And speaking of sound, Hamm’s guitars are ethically sound.
“There are a lot of guitar manufacturers out there with compromising ethical virtues,” Hamm says. “Many offshore companies force their tradespeople to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Also, some manufacturers get backdoor deals on wood that might not be ethically sourced. I try to get my wood from Canadian suppliers and I try to make sure it’s forestry standard certified so my guitars have bit of a cleaner conscience.”
“Even with finishing, I have a more environmental method,” he adds. “Rather than using nitrocellulose, which is actually illegal in Canada now, I start off by French polishing and then I apply a water-based lacquer. I have a guitar that’s not as harmful for the environment or to my lungs.
“I try to make my guitars so they’re built better, feel better, look better, sound better and are better for the environment.”
For more information on Hamm-tone guitars and the Pembina Valley Luthiers, visit www.jeremyhamm.ca
Published in Volume 67, Number 18 of The Uniter (January 30, 2013)