Ned Steinberger - The Interview
The new Steinberger Synapse guitar is a perfect representation of its designer, Ned Steinberger. The guitar is overflowing with innovative features, in the same way that Ned is always overflowing with innovative ideas. In an interview just before the introduction of the Synapse line at the summer NAMM trade show in Nashville, Ned talked at length about the Synapse’s unique features.
We started with a question about the Synapse guitar’s body, which is slightly larger than the original L-series Steinbergers, and Ned went down the entire list of new features without any further prompting. We then asked which of the features he felt were the most important, and he went through the entire list again. Then he explained: My goal is to develop headless products as totally as I can, to maximize the benefits of a headless electric guitar. So I’m looking at every angle. I’ve always believed every little detail of a guitar matters because they are cumulative. Each individual thing isn’t necessarily a make-or-break, but when they are combined together, and you really try to optimize every detail, then the results really show. So that’s what we’re doing here.”
So here, in Ned’s words, are the details that combine to make the Synapse the most innovative guitar ever introduced:
The original instrument that Steinberger started out with was the bass. I designed that bass to be as minimal as possible. When I applied that same logic to the guitar and minimized the guitar, I was thinking rock-bottom minimum. I think that the result was a very efficient guitar, one that sonically worked very well, but which became a little bit smaller than people were comfortable with – a lot smaller than a lot of people were comfortable with. I wanted in this case to take the same concept of the instrument, make a compact instrument which nevertheless was little bit bigger and a little more comfortable to the average player. We actually went (from 24) to 22 frets so we could have a longer, larger body and so we could have the pickup in a more conventional location.
The headpiece is pretty much completely redesigned so it will accommodate double ball-end strings or single ball-end strings. Plus, it’s a little heftier than the original so the balance is ideally suited to the construction of this particular instrument as opposed to the original all-graphite construction.
We’ve got a tool holder on there, which is a great way just to have your tools on hand when you need them. For example, when you want to change your strings and you have conventional single-ball strings, there’s your allen wrench. Just click into the body right underneath the tuning knobs. If you want to adjust the saddle intonation, your allen wrench for that as well is carried on the guitar at all times.
The tuning hardware is redesigned with a longer throw than the original tuning hardware so that any variation in string length can be accommodated.
The instrument has pickup stabilizers for adjusting the pickup and keeping the pickup very firm in the body so that it can’t twist or turn or rattle around while you’re playing.
We’ve got new knobs that have tactile as well as visual reference information on them so that no matter what situation you’re in you can very quickly know what your electronics are set to.
It’s got a cutaway so that the instrument leans in a little bit so you get a better view of the fingerboard.
The back cutaway combines with a strap hook, or strap extension, which provides a superior balance for the strap. We still use the original leg rest which gives you a very comfortable balance while seated.
We have two versions of the new guitar – the Standard and the Trans-Scale. The Trans-Scale has a built-in capo mechanism so that one can instantly change the length of the scale of the instrument. It’s unique in that the neck is longer than a conventional neck – 28 5/8 inches. The reason that it’s 28 5/8 inch is because the second fret location is 25 ½ inches. That is exactly the same as a Fender. Typically if you want to capo an instrument you can only shorten the scale. This instrument allows you to extend the scale or shorten the scale, depending on what you are trying to accomplish musically. It really isn’t so much about those extra available notes as it as about being able to choose the length of the strings and therefore the timbre of the instrument. A long string is bright and twangy sounding. Short strings have fat, smooth sounds. Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish musically you now have a choice of voicing that exceeds anything that’s been available before. Another nice feature of the Trans-Scale combination with the headless double-ball system is that it’s very easy to convert the system from a guitar tuning to a baritone tuning.
The structure of this instrument is brand new in that it utilizes a composite graphite neck structure inside the wood. This graphite neck structure is relatively large U-channel shape with a truss rod integrated into it so that it’s an adjustable structure, and it provides a high level of stiffening to the neck and control of the neck with the truss rod. The tone of the instrument is somewhere between a wood instrument and the original Steinberger all-composite instrument, a very nice blend.
The jack is actually mounted on the back of the instrument in an area that has been routed out to accept it so that the cord itself is just out of the way. It’s a very convenient place to get it connected and protected and not really highly visible to the audience.
The height of the saddle is adjustable. The height of the piezo system is adjustable. Also the intonation between the high-E and low-E are adjustable. I don’t how to describe that really, but it turns such that you can set the intonation quite accurately.
The electronics themselves are integrated so that you have a single volume control, you have a pickup selector for the magnetic pickups and then a balance control between the magnetic pickups and the piezo so you can dial in any kind of subtle mix between the magnetic and piezo sound that you desire.
We’re trying to maximize versatility on this guitar. We have our own piezo pickup that’s associated with the Trans-Scale, and that adds a lot of versatility in terms of tonality. My philosophy with a piezo is a bit different, I think, than most of our competitors in that theirs are promoted as being an electric instrument that sounds like an acoustic. In the case of this guitar, the idea is not so much to create an acoustic sound as it is to exploit the potential of an electric guitar to sound all different kinds of ways. We’re more interested in the new sounds here rather than reproducing pre-existing sounds. I feel, for example if you take this piezo and run it through effects, say a distortion effect or whatever, the sound is huge from the piezo. It has much more highs, much more lows, than a magnetic pickup. It’s a very intense, detailed sound that comes from the piezo pickup system. I think people are going to enjoy that.
The piezo saddle arrangement is such that the saddle can be easily removed and replaced with a saddle of different material. The material of the saddle affects the sound considerably. If you have for example an ebony saddle it will mellow out the sound. An aluminum saddle will brighten up the sound. We plan to offer several different kinds of saddles so people can create the sounds that they enjoy the most.
Altogether my philosophy, particularly in making an electric string instrument, is versatility. It’s one of the beautiful aspects of electric instruments that they can be configured – the same instrument can be set up so that it has many different kinds of tones. This instrument has a versatility that’s very unprecedented.
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