Steinberger 6-String Guitar
In an exclusive special report, Ned Steinberger takes you through the features of his latest design - the Steinberger guitar
"We've been working on a guitar for two years now, ever since we saw the initial success of our bass. We realised that the guitar was also going to be a great application of the basic system that we developed, and so we began working immediately to develop this guitar. We wanted to make sure we did it right and I have no regrets about taking the time we did to make sure that we really could develop this thing correctly. We've had a reception here at the NAMM show that's nothing short of phenomenal - they're lined up most of the time with those little Rockman amps that are doing such a wonderful job of showing people just how much fun these guitars are to play. They're having a ball and everyone just wants to know when they're going to be able to get them."
In an attempt to discover more about this 'phenomena', we began by discussion the new Steinberger guitar in relation to both conventional guitars and their own bass.
"First of all it has much more in common with our bass than with a conventional guitar. It utilises the double ball end Steinberger tuning system which is something that will be increasingly available in the future and of course it's headless. It has a small body made from a blend of fibre-reinforced epoxy, coated with an impact resistant polyester gel finish. It's wide enough to rest right up against your own body, remain stable and give you support for your right hand. Yet on the other hand, it's as small as possible to still accomplish that, because there's an over-riding belief in everything that I do that the more minimal you can make something, the more highly functional it automatically is. Anything that you add that's extra - that is unnecessary - is going to be counter-productive and the purpose of this guitar is to hone everything down so that there's the minimum baggage to carry around with you."
"It's lighter than the bass but it cannot be lightweight and still perform the way that it performs. Remember the guitar sound is still the most important thing and the sound of this instrument is 'sustained' and 'brilliant' in a way that a conventional wooden instrument simply cannot be. When people are first confronted with this tiny little guitar they tend to react very sceptically and if we had an average sound they'd panic. We can't get away with an average sound, they simply wouldn't accept it because some guy is just ready to say 'well, it's neat but it's not a real guitar'."
"Our trademark is defined by this body shape and we'd like this to be well understood. The fact that an instrument is 'headless' is something which predates our design. On the one hand, we've undoubtedly popularised the headless concept and it's become very much identified with us, but nevertheless, there were precedent in the past. After all, Les Paul actually built the first headless guitar back in 1944 so the headless guitar by itself is not our true trademark. This body shape - this is original, this is our identity and this of course is very important to us."
"The controls are kept as simple as possible, and these are a volume control, three-way pickup selector and a tone control in this case. There are two EMG/Overlend low impedance active pickups which have a tremendously wide frequency response. The front pickup has a low midrange resonance that brings out a really warm sound because that location on the strings is also the area where you get most of the fundamental. In the rear position, hard up against the bridge, is a high resonance pickup that really emphasises the string harmonics and all that high end material. It's a wonderful sound from the rear pickup and very different from the front pickup and that's something that we stress."
"That big difference between the pickups, gives the instrument a wide tonal range and you can combine the pickup sounds or you can have them separate. You can hear that warm front pickup and then you hear them both together and then you get in that back position and it just kills!"
"The overall length of the guitar is just 29½ inches but there's a full scale 25½ inch fingerboard just exactly the same as Leo Fender so correctly made his instruments over thirty years ago. The actual playability of the guitar is very conventional, except we are currently developing a way of grinding the frets that I'm very excited about. I can't go into detail yet but I think that when we have this system resolved, we'll have the lowest possible action both in theory and in fact. The action and the neck are very important and of course on this instrument the neck is highly rigid, as it's unaffected by changes in moisture or temperature."
"There is no truss rod in the guitar neck because the material it is constructed of is so rigid that it's difficult to actually make a truss rod work. I don't need a truss rod because I could put the heaviest gauge strings on here one time and the lightest gauge on the other, and the neck would cope with the change in stress quite easily."
Because of the guitar's unusual styling, we wondered if this would restrict its popularity to the rock player. Ned, however, did not see this as a problem.
"I'm very pleased to say that, while I know that rock'n'roll is the big market for guitars, and that's where we're going to enjoy our greatest success without a doubt, I've still had quite a few jazz players try out the instrument and they've had the warmest things to say about it. Of course they mainly use the front pickup which has a very warm sound to it and that's why I'm interested in that tonal range because I don't want to make an instrument that's designed for one guy or for one kind of music. To me a really fine instrument is capable of a good range and it is able to play in any kind of style."
"The controls themselves are not active, but the pickups are. The pickups have a preamplifier in them, which is powered by a battery that fits neatly into the back of the instrument and this is what gives them the kind of frequency response that they have. You can't get this kind of sound from a conventional high impedance pickup."
One interesting fact came to light in our discussion with Ned Steinberger - namely that he does not actually play guitar! Was this ever a problem?
"No, not really. I feel that those of us who are unable to make music are just naturally the best admirers of those people who have that talent. I think that I have more regard for musicians than they have for themselves and I just admire them more than I could say. It is difficult for me to accept sometimes that I can't play and I often question in my own mind how it is that I design these instruments and yet I don't play them!"
"I get feedback from a lot of people about guitars. That's very important, because you could take the greatest musician in the world and just sit down and design a guitar specially for him. That's no good though, because guitar design goes beyond any one person's idiosyncratic demands, no matter how talented or how great they are."
"Steinberger Inc. is, first and foremost, a development company and my interest in industrial design has a big impact on the kind of things that this company is going to be able to do. We're interested in quite a few new projects at present, and you will be seeing some exciting new products from Steinberger in the future. However, don't be in too big a hurry because we plan to take the time to perfect all of the products that we bring to the market place."
A commendable attitude we believe, and one that manifests itself quite openly in the Steinberger 6-string guitar.