Hammer Jammer History and Current Development
The idea for a key-hammering mechanism for six string guitars was conceived by Ken McCaw in 1985. Being a working studio musician on both guitar and keyboard, McCaw envisioned an apparatus that would attach to a guitar allowing players to hammer the strings.
McCaw incorporated the Guitammer (from “guitar hammer”) Company in 1990 to develop the invention. Initial prototypes were clumsy but effective. With help from corporate legal counsel (for incorporation and fund raising), several professionals in the guitar industry (especially Chris Martin of Martin Guitars), professional musicians (Ricky Skaggs in particular was extremely helpful and became a good friend from this) and later with Freed International and the SKB Company, who became the final designer and manufacturer of what became “The Hammer Jammer”.
Product was first released in the early 90’s at NAMM trade shows. Initial response was good with much support from top players such as Chet Atkins, Eddie Van Halen, Vince Gill and many others, who provided encouragement to McCaw.
However, the relationship between Guitammer and Freed International, and later between Freed and SKB soured due to issues between Freed and SKB, unrelated to Hammer Jammer, and the distribution part of the partnership failed. Also, McCaw had invented another product called “The ButtKicker”, a low frequency tactile transducer for musicians, and all of the Guitammer Company’s funding and focus moved to The ButtKicker, which has since then become a staple for musicians, theaters, home theaters, gaming, sports, etc. The Guitammer Company went public in 2011 and McCaw in now semi-retired.
There were about 2000 Hammer Jammers left in stock at SKB. McCaw purchased those and had been storing in Guitammer’s warehouse.
McCaw was the first graduate of the UCLA film scoring program and currently owns a small music production company called Big Walnut Productions, where he writes and records music and sound for movies and trailers. Over the years, McCaw has continued to use the Hammer Jammer for specific projects, one of which was used recently in the trailer for “Stone of Destiny” in Europe. The tune was selected because of the unique sound and speed of the Hammer Jammer on acoustic guitar, which opens the piece of music. From that, McCaw concluded that there may be a resurgence of interest in the invention and put together a Hammer Jammer tune, with orchestration, and posted on YouTube in 2012. Over the next year that video received several thousand views, on its own, without any promotion, and McCaw thought that most likely the only people who would have any interest in seeing a video about a guitar invention would have to be guitarists. Although 4000 views on YouTube is not significant, 4000 guitarists would be. He also put a buy button on Big Walnut Productions web page which resulted in a number of Hammer Jammers being sold around the world throughout 2013.
In November 2013, McCaw put together another YouTube video demonstrating the specific techniques he has developed for the Hammer Jammer. During November and December about 100 units were sold, to several countries. However, the video went viral Jan. 10 and all remaining product was sold within a couple weeks, to players in 60 countries. Related video views are approaching one million.
There is a learning curve with the Hammer Jammer, and McCaw found during the first development of the project that although the top guitarists thought the invention was very cool, they were mostly not inclined to change their playing style to adapt to a new set of patterns and muscles. Some name guitarists were able to pick the invention up and play it immediately. Some were simply too set in their own styles and it didn’t make sense to them to change the basics they knew. When Eddie Van Halen saw the Hammer Jammer he said it was very cool and if McCaw was patient, there would be a young, up-and-comer who would develop it and become famous with it, as he did with the Floyd Rose whammy bar. However, McCaw did not pursue the young players and focused his efforts on the ButtKicker development.
Apparently, the new generation of players is prime for this invention and appears to be why they are picking it up now, based on comments from the customers. McCaw feels that there may be a small army of players now figuring this invention out and could become the force that makes it popular, especially with social media.
After the video went viral in January, it was also learned that a number of disable Vets and players with arthritis were purchasing the Hammer Jammer, including a number of Vet’s spouses. It had never occurred to the inventor that for persons with limited finger mobility, or even without fingers on the right hands, there were techniques available with the Hammer Jammer. And by using open chord tuning, players with limited finger mobility in either hand could continue to make music. For that reason, as part of the Kickstarter program, McCaw has offered to give units to handicapped and disabled Vet players for a $25 donation. This will help provide the re-tooling funds, but also make a legitimate and useful device available to these persons.
McCaw is currently raising funds through a Kickstarter program to make suggestions refinements to the product design (primarily make the base slightly wider to accommodate more guitars, especially classic guitars.) Product will continue to be available through direct sales which should keep the price at around $60.
Thanks for your consideration.
Ken McCaw, Big Walnut Productions, Westerville OH