Steve Vai’s Hamer JEM prototype is going back up for auction – with a starting bid of just $2,500

Steve Vai's Hamer pre-JEM prototype
(Image credit: Gotta Have Rock and Roll)

A JEM-style Hamer prototype electric guitar built for Steve Vai is going back up for auction after it failed to sell in its April listing.

As we previously reported, the instrument came at an interesting turning point in Vai’s history, representing one of a number of prototypes constructed by brands who hoped to produce the virtuoso’s signature guitar.

While Ibanez eventually came closest to delivering Vai’s specifications, several other firms had their own attempts at making the instrument that we now know as the JEM.

Hamer’s take is thought to have been made around 1985/’86 and is here dubbed ‘the Monkey Grip guitar’. 

It features many of the specs that we would see on the final JEM design, including that distinctive handle, a Floyd Rose vibrato and locking nut, plus the two knobs and five-way pickup selector control setup. 

Steve Vai's Hamer pre-JEM prototype

(Image credit: Gotta Have Rock and Roll)

Unlike the final JEM design, which used an HSH configuration, the Hamer take employs an HSS pickup selection.

The instrument, which comes with a letter of authenticity, was initially listed for sale with Gotta Have Rock and Roll earlier this year, carrying a minimum bid of $20,000. 

It appears to have failed to sell in that auction and has now resurfaced, via Julien’s Auctions, with a more open starting bid of $2,500 and a final estimate of $10,000 - $20,000.

The final JEM would be launched by Ibanez in 1987 and proved hugely popular – also giving birth to the Ibanez RG, in the process.

Last year, around its 35th anniversary, Vai discussed the history of the Ibanez JEM with Guitarist, explaining the origin of the ‘Monkey Grip’ in the process.

“They said, ‘Well, we want to make these for other people, too,’” recalled Vai of his initial conversations with Ibanez. “I thought, ‘There are some interesting aspects of this guitar that will probably be borrowed and that’s fine. That’s how it works. So I have to do something that nobody’s going to have the balls to steal.’ 

“That’s when the Monkey Grip came in. At first, I put it in because we were shooting a video with Dave Roth and I wanted to have something where I could take the guitar and spin it around. But then there was something quirky and very Vai about it. Poor Ibanez, I said, ‘This is the guitar, but I want a Monkey Grip in it. And also dayglow colors!’”

To register to bid on the Hamer Monkey Grip guitar, head to Julien’s Auctions. The auction concludes on November 18, 2023.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar,, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.