Steinberger Guitars History (Pre Gibson)

Steinberger History & Endorsers

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Spector NS 2  Designed By Ned Steinberger

 

Ned Steinberger got his introduction to the guitar design world in 1976 when he met Stuart Spector who, at the time, was his neighbor in a rental co-op in Brooklyn. Stuart was a fledgling luthier who was just getting his company off the ground and Ned was a furniture designer.

At that time Stuart was making electric six-string guitars.  He was having only mild success so he had decided to manufacture bass guitars. At that time  bass players were a lot more progressive than guitar players, and are not afraid to try something new. Guitar players on the other hand were reluctant to check anything out that isn't a long established name brand, which is too bad for them because they missed a lot of very cool things.     (Today that is very much the opposite)  The Guitar players are much more progressive now and most of them don't like the old Fuddy Duddy brands that their grandfather played.

I think it had to do with all the phony rip-off vintage guitars that dominated the market in the 90's.  Many guitarists got tired of being ripped off by all the fake stuff on the market. It's a much safer bet to purchase a new work of art that actually costs less than one of those old  mostly fake vintage guitars on the market.

The Spector NS2

Ned Steinbergers First Musical Instrument Design

Stuart asked Ned to help him design a bass guitar that would appeal to a bass player not just for aesthetic good looks but for it's ergonomic feel, its balance and its tone. Ned came up with the convex/concave body design that was to become synonymous with Spector Basses forever. The NS2.

Ned Steinberger became very interested in the music business. Luckily for us he wasn't a musician, otherwise he might probably have been bound up in tradition and we would have been denied all the incredible innovations that he created. Quite possibly, if Leo Fender had been a guitarist, he might never have come up with the electric bass or any of his other incredibly cool ideas.


Faithful Recreation Of  "Eddie Van Halen's" Steinberger GL2TA
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In 1976, Ned Steinberger,  decided to produce some of his radical new designs. Based on Stuart Spectorís failure in guitars he took the next logical step forward and decided to build basses. Soon he had orders for more instruments than he could build.

Skeptical at first, I became a Steinberger dealer only because a very progressive Jazz bassist customer asked me to order one for him. When it arrived my employees and I gaped at it in wonderment and apprehension. Then I tried it and felt the incredible comfort. The sound amazed me so much that I had to have one. I'm proud to say I have one the very first Steinberger basses to this day.

Impressed as I was with the bass, I still had severe doubts as to the salability of the little mini guitar that Steinberger came out with a couple of years later. "It will never sell, it looks too weird," was just one of reasons why I, at first, resisted buying the instrument. And remember, I consider myself a very progressive, if not downright radical proponent of anything new. Boy, was I ever wrong. I sold 124 of those little guitars in 1989 to a bevy of extremely intelligent musicians. Jeff Carano, the general manager of Steinberger at the time, told me that my store set the all time record for sales.


In the late 1980ís, Henry Juszkiewicz, David Berryman and The Gibson Guitar Company recognized the future and purchased controlling interest in the Steinberger Guitar Company.

In 1989, Henry Juszkiewicz and Jeff Carano hired me as Director of Domestic Marketing and Artist Relations Manager. One of the first things I did was change all the stationary, literature, etc., from Steinberger Sound to Steinberger Guitars. I insisted that all the instruments be marked "Made in USA." I also pushed hard to name the instruments. I believed that the letter designation that Steinberger used as their model designations did not appeal to a the mass market and that most of the ultra hip players already owned a Steinberger and the Guitars needed a romantic name to appeal to the mass market.

During my time as Director of Marketing I did a lot of research on who actually played Steinbergers. As near as I could tell, no player had ever received any money for endorsing Steinberger. I believe a fatal mistake was made when Gibson would not allocate funds to enter into the endorsement wars of the late 80ís and early 90ís. Ibanez and ESP  were clearly winning these wars. With huge amounts of Japanese cash to invest, they bought up most of the players who were on the Kramer artist roster.  Gibson was devoting all its resources to "Slash" who, at the time was successfully bringing Gibson back from the dead. When Gibson originally got involved with Steinberger it was well before their comeback. At the time it must have seemed like the prudent thing to do. The Steinberger had always played second fiddle to the Gibson. When Gibson started to come back from the dead they closed the Steinberger factory in Newburgh N.Y. and production was shoved into a small dark closet somewhere in the back of the Gibson factory.

 

They May Not Endorse 'Em, But They Do Play 'Em

ALL THESE ARTICLES ARE ABOUT THE GUITARS STEINBERGER
MADE
BEFORE GIBSON BOUGHT THEM
Do Not Confuse These articles with The new Music Yo & Gibson Guitars.

 

       Another project I got involved with while employed by Steinberger was a photo collage of artists who played Steinbergers. This collage included Eddie Van Halen, Joe Perry, Rick Derringer, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Leslie West, Vito Bratta, Warren Cuccurullo, Mike Rutherford, Alan Holdsworth, Buck Dharma, Johnny Winters, Richie Scarlet, Steve Morse, Dave Larue, John Mayall, Paul Stanley, Andy West, Geddy Lee, Sting, Bill Wyman, George Lynch, Brett Garsed, Reeves Gabrels and many others. The pictures were great, and the ad copy read, "They May not Endorse emí But They Do Play emí." If the ad had run, Steinberger would have been sued out of existence in about 3 seconds.

"Rough layout of the ad that never ran"

My job at Steinberger provided a great opportunity for me to meet many of the famous artists mentioned above and I made many valuable connections with a lot of very famous and talented people thanks to Steinberger. But I feel the story would be incomplete without mentioning the names of some of the dedicated people who I had come into contact with during my association with Steinberger.

The first person who comes to mind is Andy Rossi who currently today is one of the top execs at Fender.
Andy was the very creative sales manager who, together with Kent Urbine, came up with the idea of the "Factory Showroom". The retail store that I owned at the time had the privilege of being the first and only one of these showrooms.

The" Factory Showroom" was much more than just a dealership. A dealership carried the line but a "Factory Showroom" became involved in beta testing new models, received special training on repairs and stocked a minimum of 50 different instruments, all models, all colors and any new models and designs. Also, a factory showroom dealt directly with Steinberger endorsees when they needed instruments or service. This last part, of course, was extremely good for business as it afforded the store major bragging rights because at any given time there were rock stars and celebrities at the store for Steinberger related business. The tour busses parked in our parking lot were simply great for business. The program called for four or five showrooms nationally,  Northeast, West Coast, Midwest and Southeast. Sadly the program failed everywhere else due to lack of other dealer's interest and commitment. My opinion is that for the most part music store owners are a dull, bland, uninteresting lot of nay-sayers,  They wouldn't recognize innovation if it blew up in their face.

Brian Moore was, according to my very recent interview with Ned Steinberger, his right hand man, mold maker, painter and Chief Engineer. According to Ned, "Brian Could do anything." Anyone who hasn't been living in a black hole for the past five years knows about the Brian Moore Guitar.  Together with Pat Cummings, Steinbergerís last chief of operations before it closed it's doors in Newburgh, and Kevin Kalagher, who owned a large printing company that printed all of Steinbergers catalogs and brochures, they formed Brian Moore Guitars. BMG does not make its own hardware or pickups, one of the needed components for immortality in the guitar world. Companies that make their own bridges, pickups, tuners, etc., are the ones that end up as the true classics.

Brian Moore Guitars are actually made by several different companies,  Z&G Tool in builds the bodies and Gulab Gidwani makes the necks.  I personally have had several very bad experiences with Mr. Gidwani.  I am currently not selling too many Brian Moore Guitars.

Henry Juszkiewicz, the marketing genius who through modern branding, paying off endorsers & spending a fortune on advertising, hype & promotion was able to bring back from the grave an ailing guitar company with antiquated incorrect old designs and make them as American as apple pie, Also  the principal owner of Steinberger, Tobias, Gibson, Oberheim, Music Yo, Garrison, Baldwin Piano, Epiphone, Dobro, Kramer, CMI, & other corporate guitar companies is an ambitious man who when you meet him seems like a bland quiet person.

Don't be fooled. Henry is an extremely intense person who has managed to turn many of the people in the industry against him. Especially his ex employees,  During my time in his employ,  I was impressed by his intensity & drive. In many ways he is stereotypical of a man in his position. I believe Steinberger was sacrificed so that Gibson, his main cash cow, could survive. Had the market not taken 5 steps backward and gone retro, Henry would have been in position to go forward with Steinberger & Gibson could have been the sacrificial lamb. A simple chess game, and a brilliant business move. At this writing  he is involved in 10 to 15 lawsuits with other Guitar companies. I am not going to comment at this time on the details.

It is my opinion that if he spent 20% of the money that he wastes on lawsuits trying to protect 50 & 60 year old tired lame designs which by all rights should be in the public domain anyway. If he spent that cash on something sensible like research & development. He could have some really groundbreaking products.

Jeff Babicz was the long time plant manager and all around chief cook and bottle washer. In a small company everyone does a little of everything.  From everyone I have interviewed or spoken to, Jeff's name comes up over and over again.  I have gathered he was an integral part of the equation that made the company work. Jeff Babicz & Jeff Carrano. See Babicz Guitars

Debbie Orsland was the extremely capable office manager and is the only one person that I know who is still working at Steinberger. Although she is also wearing a Tobias hat, I think she is probably sales manager, purchasing agent and head of operations.

Although a lot of people credit Ned for the headless neck design and the graphite construction technique, actually Les Paul came up with the original headless neck design and Geoff Gould of Modulus gets the credit for the graphite construction technique. Ned Steinberger, however, did come up with some absolutely incredible inventions.

The 12 string track-tuner:  is my personal favorite of all of Nedís creations. This amazing bridge finally solved the age old 12 string tuning peg balance problem. It worked with one sliding tuning peg that slide-clicked into 12 different positions so that the player could switch between strings to tune them. This slick product took the NAMM award for product of the year in 1989

The Trans-Trem tremolo allows a player to instantly change the tuning of the whole guitar effectively up and down 2 steps. Eddie Van Halen told me he loved it. He used it during the 5150 period exclusively. He uses Steinberger's in the studio all the time. He gets no royalty from Steinberger and to the best of my knowledge he never given any of his 4 Steinberger graphite L Series guitars to any of the Hard Rock Cafe's like he did with the pseudo Kramers and the Music Man models. I have recently been informed that Peavey purchased a Trans-Trem for Eddie's Main Guitar.  (In 2008 Gibson came out with a new trans tremolo which doesn't have the range of the original one. The new model will not fit in the guitar like the original one either.

Pivot Plate:  the rotating whirligig on the back of most Steinberger bass guitars, allows the bassist to balance his instrument extremely effectively & comfortably.

Leg-Rest: A simple but extremely effective device that finally made it possible to use a small bodied guitar, or a Flying Vee, while in a comfortable seated position.

Double Balled Strings, makes changing your strings almost a pleasure. If you've ever changed a string on a traditional guitar you have to love this innovative idea.

Calibrated Strings: Is a technology that Ned and Richard Cocco of Labella Strings came up with. Les Paul may have invented the headless system but he never got it marketed because he couldn't get it to work right without this innovation.

40 to 1 Gearless Tuners: Without a doubt the absolute best guitar tuners ever made, pull is totally straight. Unlike the Sperzel, Schaller, there is absolutely no string winding. The tenacity of the steel in the Calibrated Strings make these tuners a possibility. Nothing else even comes close.

Transposing Tremolo:  Perhaps the most innovative guitar related invention of our time.  This allows the player to effortlessly switch tunings instantly. (Used by Eddie Van Halen on many of his guitars) If you are interested in seeing a more detailed write-up on this product.

The Future
The Ned Steinberger Double Bass

At this writing,  Ned is involved with his new company, NS Designs & his new products, The NS Double Bass.  Viola  & Violins

He is also working with John Bolin of Bolin Guitars as a designer.

Ned was recently telling me all about this & it sounds very cool. Based on Nedís history, I would say this is something to watch closely. This bass is a standard 41.78 in. scale length, 5 string fretless with directional Piezo bridge pickup system, magnetic pick-up and active on-board mixing and EQ. The dimensions are 52 in. long and in. wide and in. thick (Forgive me Ned, but this is the USA and we still don't use the metric system and I don't want to, either).

The construction of this upright bass is brilliantly designed so that the neck body and peg head are curved to match the tapered arch (cone shape) of the fingerboard. The entire back of the instrument is curved inward to follow the curve of the front surface, forming a single continuous structure. The concave shape of the back of the neck creates a broad pocket for the thumb. and keeps the thickness of the neck under one inch. The fingerboard, nut and bridge are all constructed of black phenolic. The self standing tripod stand made from steel and aluminum can be locked into a rigid position or allowed to move with the player. The magnetic system is a proprietary EMG model and the electronics and active EQ circuitry has been developed by Henry Zajac and Ned Steinberger. The tuning pegs are 20 to 1 fully encased worm gear tuners. The truss rod is totally removable. One of the coolest things is the bipolar directional Piezo pick-up system responds directly to either vertical vibration, for the sustained pluck sound of a guitar, or lateral vibration, for dynamic bowing, and a percussive plucked sound.


 

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In 1989, my retail store became the worlds first, last, and only Steinberger factory outlet. We stocked about 75 Steinbergers, every make, model, and color. We served as a separate custom shop, produced some prototypes, double necks and some left-handed guitars that were sold through the existing Steinberger dealer network. We were a beta test site for different woods and electronics that Ned was experimenting with, and served as liaison between the recording artists and the factory. We were responsible for a lot of custom guitars that were made for Steinberger's artist roster. During those years everyone who was anyone had a Steinberger in his arsenal.  And I do mean everyone.

Reprinted from a 1992 Article

ALL THESE ARTICLES ARE ABOUT THE GUITARS STEINBERGER
MADE
BEFORE GIBSON BOUGHT THEM.

Do not confuse these articles with the new Music Yo & Gibson made Steinberger brand guitars.

When the Steinberger headless bass was introduced, it caused a sensation worldwide with it's unprecedented combination of form and function... a complex engineering feat which produced a super simple, road tough instrument with amazing performance and features.

Later innovations included the headless guitar, fretless bass, trans trem, 12 string track tuner, doubleneck, tripleneck, active EQ circuit, & DB tuner. Steinberger also offered some more traditional shapes, many of which were short lived and some that were deemed classics.

Some of the reasons for Steinberger's "must have" status, was its ability to stay in tune while playing whole chords and depressing the tremolo in unison, and its ability to withstand temperature and humidity changes, dramatically improving balance, active circuitry, excellent sustain, ease of playability, full fret access, double octave neck, and its ability to withstand severe shocks.

Ned Steinberger, a true genius, is credited wrongly for the invention of the headless neck, even though the US Patent number he holds is #RE31722. However, from what I have been able to gather, the original inventor was Les Paul.* The problem Les Paul would have had in the early 1950ís was that the technology did not exist for calibrating the strings to pull from both ends.


GIBSON

Les Paul is considered to be the designer of the Les Paul Guitar. I don't think so. Les Paul was a visionary and an innovator. A proponent of neck through body design & other radical ideas for his day. It is hard for me to believe that he would design an electric guitar that adopted all the old Gibson style jazz box designs. From the bulky, neck joint to the archtop body and the traditional Italian Florentine cutaway, it's all just a little too reminiscent of guitars that Gibson had been putting out for 20 years before the Les Paul model appeared.

 I submit that Les Paul had little to do with designing the guitar. After all, it's an exact copy of the old Gibson archtop acoustic design that was just made smaller and solid. Personally I don't like the sound of a Les Paul unless it's in the hands of a master like Zack Wylde or Slash.  I can't believe they are playing Gibson made instruments, I would bet money they are using custom made guitars.

Yes, it sounds great, if you like muddy chords and a fat thick lead tone. But, if you want it to sound like a guitar, it simply doesn't cut it. The fact that the Les Paul sounds great is a function of our culture. Because we have been hearing them for so many years we have become conditioned to the thick fat throaty tone that they emanate.

Not necessarily a bad thing.  Just as long as it's a realized thing. Remember, the Les Paul was dropped from the Gibson Line from 1960 through 1968 because it wasn't selling. Those were the glory days of Rickenbacker's and Stratocasters. Gibson replaced it with the SG which, in part, was designed by Les Paul except that Gibson refused to make it to his design specs.

Les Paul became upset with Gibson and severed his relationship with them for a number of years. Les Paul had designed a guitar called "The Log," a neck through body guitar. The original SG was supposed to be a neck through body design with wings attached to the sides of the neck. Gibson's bean counters thought that would be too expensive so they opted to build it like their traditional, cheaper set neck design.

Even though it could have been better as a neck through design, My opinion is that the Gibson SG is probably the best designed guitar that Gibson ever built. The other good one, in my opinion, is the Explorer. Just play an Explorer standing up with a strap and you will see what I mean. The balance is excellent.

The only real problem with the Gibson SG is they are perhaps the hardest guitars to keep in tune because they have an extremely long neck. The fact that the neck joint is not very stable, plays a negative part in the tuning.

When Les Paul designed the SG guitar he actually intended for it have a neck thru body. Gibson opted for the cheaper easier to do set neck out and created a poorly designed guitar.   Click here for the Abstract JD


Here I am showing off one of my first guitar designs.  The year was 1991 and I was working for Gibson in the Steinberger division. I was required to use EMG pickups and personally I thought the Seymour Duncans worked better in this particular design.

There is a rare in body Trans Trem on this guitar exactly like the ones I supplied Peavey with for Eddie's studio Wolfgang guitar's. Eddie really liked the Steinbergers but he did not want to deal with Gibson in any way. By 1991 Gibson was in control of Steinberger and by 1993 they had effectively destroyed the company!! It was near impossible to sell one.

I designed this model for Steinberger during my employment. They never officially adopted it but there were approximately 10 made. Everyone at the factory seemed to like the design. Surprisingly Ned himself liked it quite a bit.

This model was called the MegaAxe and it is still available today from LSR Guitars exactly the way I built it at the Steinberger Custom Shop in 1991.

It is also available in a much improved neck through body model from Abstract Guitars. I named it the Caligula Model,  I named it after the Roman Lord Caligula who was known for his perverted madness. After all it was originally designed for the Death Metal Heads who always appreciate names like Warlock, Mutilator,  Lobotomizer, & other angry violent names like "Ball Crusher" !!!!


NEW!! Headless Guitar Wall Hangers

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