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



Jackberry Gilard said...


Is there really such an instrument as the Electric Guitars? This article introduces the main factors to consider when attempting to choose the best electric guitar for you to play.

hạt điều rang muối vietnuts said...

haha so cute guitar

Marc said...

There is such an instrument as the electric guitar. The first time I saw one was when I was around 3 or 4 years old. It was a lap steel on a stand being played by someone on a local show called Midwestern Hayride. I've been hooked on them ever since.


Anonymous said...

Kay also made a similar design. It has a set neck and 2 pickups. I can send pictures if you are interested.

Mine has no model or serial number. Maybe a prototype??

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, when Ned Steinberger applied to patent the headless design, he found that Les Paul had filed the patent in the 1950's/'60's.

Paul Evans said...

The 'magic' proprietary two-part graphite and carbon fibre mix that Ned used to make the body of the L Series was, in fact, no secret formula. It was an off the shelf mixture made by Dupont. The previous comment mentions Les Pauls headless guitar.It's amusingly called 'The Dong'. It's on Youtube. It's an aluminium-bodied guitar which funny enough he tried to sell to Gibson(who now own the Steinberger name).I like Ned Steinberger's other innovations. There is a brilliant 12 string tuner design and of course the much loved and very expensive 'TransTrem'(I owned one and it constantly was breaking. I had to keep ordering parts, or asking Adrian Belew for spares) for which the patent has long since run out but no-one is interested in making them. I have used Steinbergers for a long time and I love the wooden bodied 'Spirit' design.I have a couple of early ones including the double cutaway, bolt on neck version. They play beautifully.

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Tom Lorenz said...

I picked up a white Cort headless bass in 1984. It sat derelict in my attic for the last 25 years. I just finished rehabbing it. Can't wait to gig with it in a couple of weeks!

Hea Magea said...

My husband inherited a Washburn Bantum Flat Black Headless Bass. We want to know how much it is worth. We saw one advertised on Reverb but they are asking $22,000