Fixing Steinberger Guitars

An open letter to my favorite guitar company... who I hate the most for allowing so many of you to go, "What's a Steinberger?"

Dear Steinberger,

The most frustrating thing is to see a gifted child neglected by parents who don't want their ward to blossom.  That's what's been happening for years to Steinberger guitars, a company that produces the most amazing instruments, only they are reluctant to raise their visibility in the marketplace, to maximize their potential, and to just plain show the world what their instruments can do.

Some suggestions on routes Steinberger could take in addressing the problems that continue to hold possibly the world's most amazing instruments on the sidelines:

Feature the Features
Demystify and uncomplicate them.  Steinbergers are unfortunately associated with troublesome requirements such as their hard-to-find double-ball strings.  For the last decade or more string adapters have been available and in some cases they're built into the guitars themselves.  Why not every guitar?  Why make it seem as though these instruments are more trouble than they're worth?  Why make them stand apart not for their qualities and capabilities but for their perceived inconveniences?  The instruments can easily be configured at the factory to be unencumbered with the limitations absent in conventional instruments (i.e., the competition).

Enough with the graphite already!  The company seems hung up on the fact their necks are made from graphite.  This is old news, and a number of other instrument-makers have followed into this by-now well-established territory.  Focus instead on what's unique and good about Steinberger guitars.  Namely...

Promote the unparalleled abilities of the tremolo.  No one knows the capabilities of a standard Steinberger trem.  I'm not even talking about the Transtrem.  The stock R-Trem demolishes the competition.  Yet no official ad or web content addresses what the hardware can do, and so public discourse continues to weigh on the advantages and disadvantages of a Floyd Rose, an argument that should have ended sometime in the early '80s.  Steinberger should be an acknowledged contender.  Directly challenge the Floyd Rose.  Explain what a locking trem actually is (Most read this to mean the annoying and archaic string locks and/or requisite locking nut that typify Floyds).  Show what the trem can do by depicting players in video and print dive-bombing and returning to original pitch without having to retune.

Make it Personal
Who plays them?  This is rarely emphasized, and as a result, the brand seems like a fringe player on the musical landscape.  Whereas Fender, Gibson (who owns Steinberger, in fact), Gretsch, Ibanez, and every other company proudly advertise players who use their instruments, Steinberger has long ignored their highest profile customers, both past and present... and maybe even the future.  Turn that around.  Start a new-player spotlight, a video series showing potential breakthrough artists playing (i.e., demonstrating!) Steinbergers and what they (the guitars and the players) do best.

Signature models.  A corollary of the above.  A seldom-acknowledged but widely recognized truth is that guitars are sold through guitarists.  People want to play a 6120 because Brian Setzer does (He saved the company, in fact by renewing interest in guitars that were no longer in production at that time).  Most people associate the Stratocaster with Clapton.  Vai and Satriani are synonymous with Ibanez.  And yet the entire Steinberger line looks like it's sitting around waiting to be discovered by a mainstream artist.  A close call with EVH fifteen years ago doesn't count.*  Actively approach working musicians for a real relationship that will put these instruments into the hands thousands are paying to see.  Make models to the artists' specifications and market/sell them as such.
(*Editor's note: For those who don't recall, Eddie Van Halen played a Steinberger GL with a transtrem on the 5150 album and subsequent tour (most noticeably on "Summer Nights"; you can see some of this on the "Without a Net" concert video).  Though he was courted by the company, Eddie ultimately decided not to go with them for reasons owing to personal taste.  One factor specifically relating to that decision is discussed below.)

Move in New Directions

When it comes to offering new options, Steinberger has been nearly as inflexible as their graphite necks.

Maple necks.  Many players prefer maple necks.  You lost Eddie Van Halen on this front alone.  It would not be difficult to introduce maple fretboards as an option on the Spirit models where rosewood is the norm.  This would test the market.  When I am proven right, move into the same with the graphite models.

Update the logo.  The long-time and still-current logo is characterized by its sheer lack of character.  While it immediately evokes the exactness and minimalism inherent in the design of the first wave of Steinberger instruments from the '80s, it also places the company apart from rock, jazz, and any other style of music.  The key word being STYLE.  A logo should convey something of that.

Drop "The Demon."  Maybe the sales figures will say I'm wrong about taste, but this model is a complete mistake.  It looks like a too-obvious heavy metal guitar, but it doesn't have a trem?  And it has a piezo and EQ?  How did this least-metal guitar get into the production line without anyone pointing out how ill-conceived an instrument you have here?

Combine the piezo and tremolo.  I assumed the non-trem, piezo-equipped Synapse models were a stepping-stone toward an integration that included the best of both worlds, but two years later (as of this writing) tells me I was wrong to expect a progression.  And yet Ibanez has flirted with piezos in Floyd Roses in their high-end models, while Parker, Godin, and Brian Moore guitars have incorporated them in their trems for more than decade now.  Why do Steinberger players have to make a choice between instruments with the best tremolos on the market and (unnecessarily) fixed-bridge guitars?

Make parts available.  In the waning years of, even the most ardent supporters of Steinberger grew distrustful of the company.  Whereas parts were at one time freely available through the website, the most direct source dried up without offering any alternatives to existing users.  Spirit guitars were still sold, but trem bars for them were unavailable for literally two years.  (I know this because I sought one for my back-up Spirit during this period.)  String adapters and control knobs were similarly out-of-stock during this time.  Individuals who held onto these components were able to sell them on eBay for two and three times their cost directly from the company.  Small parts such as these ought to be easily available through the site.  As I mentioned above, many guitarists are unaware of the existence of such options.

Bottom Line
Steinberger has led the way with innovations but been sidelined by bad decisions and limited vision that doesn't seem to go much past the fretboard.  Fix it.

Copyright Alexplorer.