Steinberger instruments
May 13, 2011 7:29 PM   Subscribe

The most famous Steinberger design is the L-series instrument... made entirely of the Steinberger Blend, a proprietary graphite and carbon fiber mix in two pieces: the main body and a faceplate. It had no headstock for tuning, tuning instead at a redesigned tailpiece using micrometer-style tuners and special strings with a ball at both ends.
posted by Trurl (43 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Steinberger instruments are strong.
posted by Trurl at 7:30 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

And best played by Mr. Wyman.
posted by punkfloyd at 7:35 PM on May 13, 2011

Never cared for the sound too much, I have to say. Kind of like the Bose speakers of guitar.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:38 PM on May 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

Well I have a cheap late model Steinberger with a detuner lever and I love that bass something fierce. I adore the sound I get with medium-light blue steel strings, and I find it to be the most comfortable guitar to play, sitting or standing. The opposite of what all other bassists I know think about it. Not collectable or particularly valuable, but dear to me. Thanks Trurl.
posted by Redhush at 8:15 PM on May 13, 2011

Martin Tielli of the Rheostatics played a Steinberger guitar all through the 80's and 90's.
We lived on that band for several years in the 90's; saw them probably weekly at one point.
Oddly, I can't find a good representative video him playing one his songs that shows the guitar, but here's King of the Past which has a bit of him.
I think Martin got slagged a bit for playing it, because it wasn't a fuckin rock'n'roll Les Paul or a cool vintage guitar. He could get a bit wanky on it at times, but it was pretty essential to their sound.
Here's his take on it, from the 90's.
posted by chococat at 8:40 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jerry Casale of DEVO plays a Steinberger L-Series bass, strung right handed and played upside-down.
posted by SansPoint at 8:45 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The 80's were fucking rad.
posted by bardic at 9:08 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Brian Beattie of Glass Eye played a 5-string fretless Steinberger for a long time, and got some really unusual sounds out of it.

I played one at a session in about '85 because they were all the rage and the producer wanted it, but I was uncomfortable with it the whole time, and it didn't go well. They have a very dead feeling, next to a Fender, and I just never settled in with the thing. I got tracks that they kept and were happy with, but I should have pushed back, in retrospect. I just didn't like it. Maybe i'm a luddite, but Leo Fender pretty much got the electric bass just right on the first try, or maybe the second.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:12 PM on May 13, 2011

Oh hell yes. I have three Steinberger basses, among them what I believe is the only red XP ever made with a TransTrem. The other two are Q4s - one pre-Gibson (the heavier, more square-looking one) and one post, which the nice folks at Peekamoose modded up to 18 volts for me. I have never gotten a better recorded bass sound than with that particular Q (sorry, flapjax!)... Granted, all of my Steinbergers are of the composite neck/wood body variety, but I love the way they sound and carrying a P-Bass or some such for a whole evening (hi, I'm tiny) would kill me. Ned is totally a hero, and Andy at Steinberger World is pretty rad as well. Yay, double-ball ends. This post rules.
posted by mintcake! at 9:13 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've got a friend with one of these. It's like you're playing a bowling ball.Ii was gonna say, "In a good way," but really it's just in a literal way. I still want one, though.
posted by cmoj at 9:22 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Opposite side of the street from the Ricky.
posted by ovvl at 9:22 PM on May 13, 2011

Yeah, I used to play one back when. They sounded a bit middy by themselves but they stayed in tune well and they worked good in the mix. Serviceable. I don't know if I ever got especially fond of it, but you wouldn't go into the studio and start questioning your intonation all over the place. If I ever went back to it, I imagine I'd go with an old Fender Jazz over the Steinberger.

Don't get me wrong though, it was a quality axe. (And tough -- survived many a drop)
posted by Trochanter at 9:54 PM on May 13, 2011

I've got one of the upright basses Ned Steinberger went on to design, the CR-5M. The most amazing thing about it is that it arrived in Colorado in tune from a store in Seattle, and after I sent it in (to Maine) for a broken piezo pickup, it came back in tune. It makes the "it was tuned at the factory" instrument joke a bit more funny to me. Great bass. ovvl's comment up above about the Ricky is great, as Geddy Lee switched between the Rickenbacker and Steinberger L2 on tour in '82 and '84.
posted by dr. fresh at 9:54 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jamaladeen Tacuma did some great work with Ornette Coleman using one. Never tried a Steinberger myself but I had a wicked aluminum Kramer for a time; kind of wish I never sold it.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:17 PM on May 13, 2011

Also, what was the thing sold in around the same era that had the silicone strings?
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:21 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

You mean the Chapman stick?
posted by Trochanter at 10:27 PM on May 13, 2011

The Guild Ashbory. I play one of those too! So fun!
posted by mintcake! at 10:27 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does anyone want to play "Big Bottom" or what?
posted by mintcake! at 10:29 PM on May 13, 2011

Yikes! That Guild thing is new to me.
posted by Trochanter at 10:30 PM on May 13, 2011

The Ashbory looks like it would feel cramped. But, people used to say that about the S'berger, too.
posted by Trochanter at 10:45 PM on May 13, 2011

If anybody every wanted to become a rockstar without the possibility of having "a groupie problem," Steinberg makes the instrument for you.
posted by rhizome at 10:51 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, as a phallic symbol, it was inadequate.
posted by Trochanter at 10:54 PM on May 13, 2011

The Ashbory is cramped. Like playing a bass ukulele. But it does work, and has a pretty unique sound it its own right.

I remember the Steinberger just caught on like wildfire, and everyone famous seemed to play one for a while there. Did Steinberger give them away or something? I also remember the general idea seemed to be widely copied, though usually made out of traditional wood and painted black. I think Kramer made an unusual variant with their aluminum neck ( there's a 70s idea that really seemed edgy at the time, and fell from grace along with everything else from the era).

As the years went on, the Steinberger dropped out of fashion like the aluminum necked Kramers had done earlier, as they seemed associated with the era of Members Only jackets and Nagel prints. Demand for more traditionally shaped instruments led to the introduction of wooden construction, and eventually, all wood Steinbergers. Which kind of killed the best feature of the original design, IMO.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:07 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're talking aluminum necks, you're probably talking Travis Bean, except Wikipedia tells me that he and the Kramer dude started out together. What a world.
posted by rhizome at 11:35 PM on May 13, 2011

A Steinberger looking kinda B.A.D., 1986.
posted by xil at 12:57 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a Hohner B2, which was one of the licensed wooden copies of a Steinberger that was floating around. I got it (or rather my parents did) because I was 12 when I started playing bass, and I'm not a huge guy even now. Having something light and well-balanced was a very good idea, and I've grown into it over the years - can't really imagine playing anything else.
posted by ZsigE at 2:27 AM on May 14, 2011

If you're talking aluminum necks, you're probably talking Travis Bean

When Kramer started up in the late 70's, they made aluminum-neck guitars too. The design was a little different in that there is a wooden inlay in the neck, making it more comfortable to handle than a Travis Bean. I own a 350G, and it sounds and feels great, but like a lot of guitars of the era, it's super-heavy.

Then the 80's came, along with wooden necks and some key endorsements, and Kramer guitars never looked the same.
posted by swift at 4:50 AM on May 14, 2011

I had a Yamaha BX-1 that I liked pretty well. It got stolen a couple years ago, though I hadn't played it at all since I picked up my Mexi-Jazz in '92.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:48 AM on May 14, 2011

yuk. had a steinberg upright and hated it. a silly instrument. i never liked the electrics either but i had a soft spot for some of the sounds bill laswell and jamaladeen tacuma got out of it. but those were differnt times. the ashbory is silly and again will prevent any groupie issues as well as provoke derision from sound engineers. but it puts out enough bottom end to destroy small buildings.

coincidentally i came across these this week and met the lovely bloke who makes them. (warning - loud autoplaying audio). who needs concrete?
posted by peterkins at 6:22 AM on May 14, 2011

A buddy of mine had one of those aluminum necked gibsons. Somehow it got wacked hard enough to get a little out of alignment, and apparently there was no way to get it back without a bench grinder.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:34 AM on May 14, 2011

my first bass - it looks absurd, but it plays well and does fine for rock, although i really had to do some muting and tweaking to get anything else out of it

i much prefer my squier basses - fretless j bass and 5 string p bass special, both of which came with old flatwounds, which have the sound i like
posted by pyramid termite at 6:46 AM on May 14, 2011

The headless, aluminum neck Kramer was called the Duke and it was shaped similar to the L series.
posted by glycolized at 7:07 AM on May 14, 2011

I've never had the opportunity to play one, though I hope to one day.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:44 AM on May 14, 2011

it puts out enough bottom end to destroy small buildings

Yeah, I've used it and had people ask me what kind of double bass I was playing, but it's also really easy to make it sound like a bunch of rubber bands slapping around. Also - powdering the strings is a pain in the bottom.

Other oddball basses I've quietly sweated over the years: the Kubicki Factor and the Westone Rail. Anyone have practical experience with either of these?
posted by mintcake! at 7:47 AM on May 14, 2011

I nearly bought a Kubiki, and went with the Mexi-jazz instead. It has a nice thin neck, and they do sound great in a modern sort of way, but there were two things -- I wanted the old skool Fender tone (I had 2 fretless Fenders at that point & was needing a fretted bass for a rock cover band) and I play really, really hard, which made the little lever-thingy that holds the E string down rattle. The spring is kinda weak. If you want a drop-D, go with a hipshot tuning key, instead. The Mexi-Jazz was a such a good deal that I was able to slap Seymour Duncan Hot-wounds in it and still come out way ahead cost-wise. You've got to try a bunch of 'em because they're inconsistent, but good ones can be found. I've got a bunch of vintage basses, but my Mexi-Jazz is my beater that I can toss in a gig bag and drag around anywhere without worrying about dinging it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:02 AM on May 14, 2011

Hey, pyramid termite, I saw that same BC Rich bass this morning in a pawn shop, except it was a nasty yellowish color instead of black. Anyway, too pointy for me.
posted by cropshy at 8:32 AM on May 14, 2011

"Kind of like the Bose speakers of guitar."

That says so much, so well.
posted by bz at 9:53 AM on May 14, 2011

I've had a red XP bass (the composite wood/graphite kind–Hi, Mintcake!) for over 20 years, and I still love it. I've been through three other basses (an 70's Ibanez Blazer, a Fender P and a Jazz) and it's still my favorite. I found I could get consistently better sound out of it than the others, and it was a lot less fatiguing over time.
posted by idiotking at 6:35 PM on May 14, 2011

> Steinberger instruments are strong.

Eeurgh. My stomach flipped as I watched that.
posted by ardgedee at 7:39 PM on May 14, 2011

> Never cared for the sound too much, I have to say. Kind of like the Bose speakers of guitar.

For something that was supposed to be manufactured with the utmost precision, across the history of the Steinberger line I've found the comfort level of the basses varied wildly. This isn't something I can articulate well, but there was one XP I could happily noodle on all day, while other XPs I couldn't - even though they all feel more or less exactly the same.

The Steinberger sound I always characterized as a standard fusion jazz bass sound: Clean, clean clean, and crisp; everything is equally audible, which kills much of the the expressive potential you can find in basses that are a little woolier and unbalanced, like classic Fenders. It's not the worst exemplar of the standard fusion jazz bass sound, though.
posted by ardgedee at 8:00 PM on May 14, 2011

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