I have to admit that I have had to pause for thought over writing this article as for some our latest Top Guitar is anything but. It could perhaps be described as a Marmite guitar, either you love it or you hate it. But for me the Steinberger range of guitars and in particular the Steinberger GL Series of guitars are truly Top Guitars and worthy of much praise.
My love affair, that is the only way I can describe my infatuation with the Steinberger GL Series, began in the late 80s. At the time I was a spotty faced teenager who didn’t know one end of the guitar from another (some might claim that I still don’t). But I knew I wanted to play the guitar and I needed to get an electric guitar as soon as possible. I would frequent my local guitar shop every lunch hour and I am sure I proved to be a constant pain in the butt for the owner. However, at the time the objects of my desire were two guitars, a Les Paul copy and a Hohner copy of the Steinberger GL Series. I believe it was the Hohner version of the Steinberger GL2T. To me the Steinberger GL series was a bit like the Wayne’s World Strat, a dream guitar which was just out of my sweaty reach. However, what really cemented the Steinberger GL Series guitar in my mind as the guitar I had to have, even if it was in the shape of a Hohner copy, was watching the video of Van Halen live in New Haven. On the video Eddie Van Halen uses a Steinberger GL2T on songs such as Get Up and Summer Nights. That was it I was sold if the Steinberger GL Series was good enough for Eddie Van Halen then they were good enough for the likes of me. I had to get one, but sadly I could not afford the price tag and so I have never had a Steinberger GL Series Guitar. But the love has never died so yes in the words of Wayne “one day it will be mine”.
The Steinberger story starts in the 1970s with Ned Steinberger, an industrial designer, sharing a workspace with Bass player Stuart Spector. Spector was looking for a Bass which was a little bit different from what was being manufactured by all the big name guitar companies. Spector applied himself to the problem and eventually designed the Spector NS Bass which has become a classic in bass guitar design, which was later adopted and enhanced by the German Bass guitar company Warwick.
During the process of designing the NS, Steinberger re-invented the way that he looked at bass guitar design. He decided that you could strip it back to a basic design that would most ergonomically meet all the playing requirements of a bass player. He decided that the essential requirement of the bass guitar was to be an instrument that supported string vibration. What followed afterwards, things such as acoustics, amplification and player ergonomics were all important but secondary considerations. By looking at instrument design in this way Steinberger was able to totally re-invent the traditional layout of the bass guitar. In doing so he stripped the body down to the bare essentials and removed the headstock by placing a tuning assembly behind the bridge.
The Steinberger L Series bass guitar was introduced in 1980 and was hailed as the first real innovation in bass instrument design since Leo Fender’s electric bass in 1951. Never one to sit back and rest on his laurels Steinberger introduced the six string version in 1983. Initially released as a fixed bridge guitar the Steinberger GL series was extended by the introduction of a version with a floating tremolo shortly afterwards. With its 56:1 tuning ratio and double ball end system the tuning proved particularly stable and gave the guitarist unprecedented pitch bending possibilities with excellent tuning stability. Finally in 1984 the Steinberger GL Series was launched with the innovative Trans Trem system which allowed the guitarist to pitch bend whole chords in correct tuning. The Trans Trem could also be used to quickly re-tune the guitar to five other keys B, C, D, F# and G. The whammy bar antics that were achievable with the Trans Trem system is perhaps what attracted Eddie Van Halen to the Steinberger GL series. He certainly uses the Trans Trem to good effect on the 5150 album.
The other interesting thing about the Steinberger GL Series of guitars is the materials that Steinberger used for construction. Whilst researching the materials of construction for his L series bass he investigated the impact of non wood materials on the sound of the instrument. This led to the use of various materials such as graphite fibre glass and polyester resin in the construction of the guitar. Steinberger found that by varying the placement and alignment of the different materials he got a better audio response and so a new construction method was invented. It is worth noting that in the 1990s Steinberger introduced the Steinberger Spirits range of guitars which were made entirely from wood but retained, or so it was claimed, all the sound qualities of the guitars made from composite materials.
The Steinberger minimalist guitar design is not for everyone but the Steinberger GL series certainly challenged the boundaries of what is possible in guitar design. Now part of the Gibson Guitar Company the Steinberger name continues to this day with guitarists still enjoying the sound and technical qualities of this truly innovative guitar.
To find out more about Steinberger guitars and the Steinberger GL series in particular we recommend Steinberger World a really great site for all things Steinberger.
What do you think, love it or hate it let us know what you think of the Steinberger GL Series guitars.