Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Auto Tuning Guitars and Capo Clips

There are a couple of innovations that are unique to the world of guitar. The first is Gibson's Min-eTune, guitar auto tuner.

This technology started back in 2007 when Gibson Guitars introduced their robot models.

These were self tuning guitars with the controls mounted the front of the guitar where we normally find the volume and tone controls. Only one tone control took care of both pickups.

The other tone push-pull potentiometer controlled the tuning. Wires running through the neck are attached to tiny servo-motors housed in the tuners would turn the pegs until each string was in perfect pitch. The signal was sent by piezo pickups house in the tune-o-matic bridge. It was very expensive technology. 

The original Gibson robot Les Paul guitar was available only in blue silver-burst.

Gibson then took this technology, developed by guitar tech Chris Adams and the R and D team of Gibson, to other models. Included were the Robot Les Paul Studio, Robot SG, Robot Flying V, Robot Explorer, and a Robot Les Paul Junior.

In 2012 Gibson came out with an updated miniaturized version of this feature. This time it is in an enclosed unit mounted on the back of the guitar’s headstock and operated by several buttons. It is powered by a small rechargeable lithium battery that lasts for 80 to 100 tunings.

Not only will it tune your guitar to regular tuning, it is capable of different tunings, such as dropped D, G, DADGAD and others. If you have a tuning that you like it is possible to program it into this. Gibson offers this as an upgrade feature to their guitars.

This feature is pricey and will set you back $330 USD as an additional cost above a guitars purchase price. The unit can be purchased alone and with the help of a few tools it is easily installed.

Currently Gibson offers this add-on that will fit 12 of their popular models.

Another company called Tronical Tuners offers a similar device for Fender and other guitars brands. The price is about the same for this gizmo.

This German company actually produces the auto-tune technology used and developed for the original robot guitar system. Because these units actually tune the guitar, they can be added to even acoustic guitars.

The above units actually tune the strings to the desired pitch, however there is another option that is available and that is the Antares Autotune For Guitar.

Antares is a music software/hardware company.  They have made auto tune the crutch that many vocalists have relied upon. The software pulls the signal to the desired pitch. They have now come up with a retrofit unit for electric guitar.

Unlike the previous self tuners that actually turn the string pegs, Antares Autotune For Guitar comes with a computer board and hardware that is retrofitted in your guitar. When activated, the sound of your guitar is in tune, whether the strings are in tune or not.

The Peavey AT-200 guitar comes with the Antares tuning unit already installed. The guitar can be wildly out of tune, but by pressing the tone knob down and turning the volume the guitar adjusts to perfect tuning.

There are options for additional hardware that Antares has made specifically for the Peavey AT-200. These are pedal mounted and attached to the guitar via an 8-pin cable.

We have had this technology for sometime. It has been applied to Roland Guitar Synthesizers and the Roland equipped Stratocaster.

Variax has built it’s business on guitars with built in synth programs to make the guitar sound like other instruments in other tunings.  Though these examples are not the same as the Antares Autotune For Guitar, the technology started with the first guitar synthesizers.

And now for something completely different…..

This is an innovation is called Capo Clips.  These are metal clips that have “rubber fretters” attached to them in the shape of popular chords. By using your own capo to hold down the Fret Clip the player places it on the strategic part of the guitars neck.

These chord shaped metal frames are designed to work on any guitar. The “fretters” can be popped off to change the shape of the chord.  Think of an E major chord and by not depressing the forth string it becomes an E minor chord.

The manufacturer claims “  Capo Clips put the guitar in different keys and changes the way it resonates without having to physically change tunings like you would with an alternate tuning so you can get that rich alternate tuning sound without having to relearn new chords or riffs, just clamp it on and play using what you already know.” 

The manufacturer claims “A big part of capo clips genius is that less is more and by playing simple 2 and 3 note chords it automatically lets the sound of the capo clip bleed through and color your sound. Making something so easy to play sound rich, complex and cinematic.

Changing the relationship between the notes your fretting and the open strings creating kick ass new sounds! Major 7ths, Sharp 4s,close voiced 9ths, repeated notes, Sounds normally reserved for jazz or fingerstyle master players.”

A full set of 4 different shaped Capo Clips is $44.95 USD.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Steinberger Guitar And Those That Copied It

In 1975 Ned Steinberg graduated from the Maryland Institute of Art with a BFA in sculpture. He immediately went to work for an industrial furniture company designing space age office furniture. At the time he was sharing an apartment with bass luthier Stuart Spector.

Steinberger Protype  
By 1977 Steinberg designs the NS model bass for Stuart Spector. He makes several prototypes of the graphite composite L-2 bass. In 1979 his L-2 bass is displayed at the summer NAMM show.

Steinberger Prototype
He sold the prototypes to John Entwhistle, Tony Levine and Andy West (the Dregs.) In 1980 Steinberg is awarded a patent of his L-2 bass and Steinberg Sound is founded. The following year the L-2 is exhibited at the Frankfurt Musik Messe and is an instant hit.

That same year Steinberg is awarded the coveted Designers Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America. Time Magazine calls it one of the five most amazing designs of the year. The first Steinberger basses, were built in 1979 in Brooklyn, New York by Ned Steinberger.

A company, Steinberger Sound, was duly set up to manufacture the basses and later the guitars on a larger scale at Newburgh, New York, however demand always outstripped supply and the company was eventually sold to Gibson in 1987.
When we think of a Steinberger what comes to mind is a headless bass and guitar that is shaped somewhat like a cricket bat. The more famous Steinberger design was the L-Series bass guitar. Steinberg came up with a proprietary graphite and carbon fiber mix that comprised the main body and a face plate.
The strings were tuned at the bottom of the bottom, eliminating the need of a head stock. The tuning hardware was unique with its 18:1 gear ratio. This gave a slower, but more precise adjustment to the strings and virtually prevented slippage.

Depending on the tailpiece, calibrated or uncalibrated double- ball end strings were used, the former required to use the transposing feature of the TransTrem vibrato unit.

Steinberger GL-2T and GL-2TGR
One other unique feature of a Steinberger was the patented TransTrem. This was not just a vibrato, but a unique transposing unit.

The TransTrem proportionally adjusted the string tensions to enable accurate tuning and detuning by depressing the lever. This provides somewhat of a capo effect.

During the years that Ned Steinberger owned the company, several innovations and designs took place. He created a P-Series guitars and basses which featured a smaller wooden body with a bolt-on composite neck.


The S-Series guitars and basses feature a headstock. An estimated 300 to 350 were built.

The M-Series was designed by bass player, Mike Rutherford and British luthier Roger Giffin. These guitars had a double-cutaway wooden body with a bolt-on graphite neck. The headless neck and tuning system was maintained as was the optional TransTrem unit.

The K-Series Bass and Guitar was designed by Steve Klein. This instrument featured and ergonomic body with the headless graphite bolt-on neck. Klein’s forte was ergonomic guitars.

The Q-Series was made in the 1990’s prior to Gibson’s takeover. It was similar to the M-Series, but the body underwent a revision.

Gibson still retains rights over the "Steinberger" name. Ned Steinberger, can not call any further guitar projects he build Steinbergers.

NS Design Violin
Since selling his company, he has gone into business operating NS Design which he started in 1990.

NS Design Bass Cello
Steinberger now builds electric versions of bowed stringed instruments such as violins, violas, cellos and string basses.

Ironically, due to the complex manufacturing process involved in creating Steinberger guitars and basses and the high prices they commanded, Gibson stopped production and quit selling new Steinbergers in 1990.

This was the same year NS Design started.

Due to ongoing interest in the “broom-like” graphite guitars from around the world Gibson revived production. Only this time, the bass or guitar is not fashioned completely from graphite. It is now part wood and part graphite composite.

The latest versions are manufactured in South Korea and known as the Synapse Line. They include two guitar models and a bass model. And though they look like Steinbergers, the bodies are slightly larger.

One of the models known as the Trans Scale Synapse guitar comes with an interesting feature. Its longer than average neck has a built-in adjustable capo.

By moving the capo closer to the end of the neck, the player can attain notes lower than a standard guitar without having to detune the strings.

Hohner licensed Steinberger
There are several companies around the world that have licensed the headless technology from Steinberger. These include Hohner, which produces an all-wooden version of the L-Series. Hohner calls this The Jack Bass. It uses the same patented locking and tuning system that Steinbergers utilize and requires double ball strings. 

Cort Steinberger Bass
Cort produces headless guitars/basses with different body designs. 

Currently two all-wood instruments are sold under the Spirit by Steinberg brand. 

The Deluxe model features bridge and neck humbucking pickups with a single coil in the middle. 
The Standard features a bridge humbucking pickup with single coils in the neck and middle position.

Washburn Bantam Bass
The Washburn Bantam was an unlicensed 1980s imitation of the Steinberger headless style. The Bantam did not require the double-ball end strings of the Steinberger.

I recently updated an article about Duke Kramer, the man with ties to both Gretsch and Baldwin. 

Kramer Duke Bass
It turns out Kramer Guitars manufactured a headless Steinberger clone called
the Kramer Duke. Although this looked similar to a Steinberger, the Kramer Duke came with an aluminum/wooden neck and a wooden body. Standard guitar or bass tuners were located at the end of the instruments body.
Kramer Guitars were also a Gibson acquisition. The Kramer name and the Spirit by Steinberg showed up on Gibson’s online budget site Yo-Music website which offered guitars and amplifiers at deeply discounted prices.
These are all Steinberger Basses and Guitars


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Versoul Guitars

I first ran across Versoul Guitars when a friend posted a recent picture of Ron Wood on Facebook. He was playing a most unusual and unique guitar. I had to find out more about it. I learned that it was a Versoul Guitar and was manufactured in Finland.  

Versoul Shamn Raya
My last installment was about Aristides Guitars from the Netherlands. It seems I'm on a Northern European theme. Allow me to share what I have learned about Versoul Guitars and their creator, Mr. Kari Nieminen.

In 1994, Finnish luthier Kari Nieminen began Versoul Guitars.  Mr. Nieminen holds an MFA degree from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, Finland

In fact he was awarded the Industrial Designer of The Year from the Association of Finnish Industrial Designers in 1998.
Kari has been building guitars for over thirty years. He is utilizing his design experience as well as skills in luthiery to create marvelous guitars that not only are well made, but sound fantastic. His mission statement is to compliment the centuries of traditional guitar making with modern techniques.

One of his models, a steel string flat top guitar called Zoel was featured in one of Finland’s special stamp editions showcasing six products of new Finnish design in 1999.

The initial offerings in 1995 were two acoustic model guitars. Since then the product range blossomed to 19 models in 2008. Versoul Guitars are available internationally through dealers in the US, Europe and Japan.

Versoul Guitars pride themselves on using local, ecological wood such as aspen, European alder and maple instead of species are endangered wood.

Buxom Baritone

The philosophy of Versoul Guitars is to continually improve, beginning with music and the musician; finding ways to refine and improve the sound for the benefit of both.

Such refinements and experimentation have led to design innovations, such as the Buxom Baritone 12 and the Reso Sun resonator guitar.

Versoul designs its guitars as professional tools in terms of ergonomics and playability, in hopes each instrument will sound special and be aesthetically pleasing.

Versoul Guitars makes several electric models. 

The Raya 6 features a two piece alder body and an aspen or maple bolt on neck. A rosewood fingerboard with Dunlop frets is on the neck with green abalone dot markers. The radius is 12”. The saddle and the nut are made of ‘moose shin bone’.  

The bridge is a Tone Pro or a Pigtail wrap-around chrome plated unit.  The tailpiece is made by Gotoh as are the tuners which are Gotoh mini tuners.  The pickups are custom made by Versoul as single coil or humbucker. The pickguard is tortoise shell plastic (which I think should be called Mother of Tortoise.)  

The guitar can be ordered in Black, Cool Blue, Dark Purple or Terracotta.  The finish on the body is nitrocellulose lacquer.

This also comes as the 12 string Raya 12 with similar accouterments

The Henry
The top-of-the-line model is called The Henry. This is a traditional electric solid body guitar built of Finnish Alder, sporting a laminated neck made of aspen and maple for added strength. The scale is 25.4”. An optional feature is adding a 23 Carat LeafGold Top. It is a beautiful instrument.

The Touca
Versoul also offers a Classical style guitar called the Touca. The unique feature is the heelless Versoul Neck Joint which makes for comfortable playing on the full length of the fret board. The headstock and tuners are unique and functional; designed for quick string changes.  It is recommended for Flamenco-style players.

Versoul even crafts their own amplifiers.

Versoul Guitars are even endorsed by the “Reverend” Billy Gibbons. He ordered a pair that are covered in 23 Carat Gold Leaf.

Here is my favorite Versoul guitar. I’ll never own it, but I can dream.
Kari Nieminem of Versoul offers The Caspian. This is an acoustic version of the electric sitar, only it is a 12 string instrument, complete with 13 sympathetic strings. The shape is reminiscent of a mandolin. The scale is long; 26.75”. It comes with a leg support. It can be ordered with an optional scalloped fingerboard, for playing those notes-between-the-notes.

Though it is not mentioned on the Versoul web page, I know the make some electric resonator guitars. This is called the ResoSun 6 string baritone. Check out the interesting fret markers.
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