Spirit by Steinberger

Repair log – 2019 Spirit by Steinberger GT-PRO Deluxe – 2019 Spirit by Steinberger GT-PRO Deluxe in frost blue. Made in China. 

14/02/20 Copyright reserved by Terry Relph-Knight

Weight = 2.5Kg 5.51lbs

Delivered with a lightweight black custom soft gig bag, a vibrato arm, a user manual and a set of non-calibrated Steinberger DoubleBall strings 10 to 46. No tools (hex keys).

Hex keys required – 4mm for the truss rod and 1.5mm for the vibrato arm tension, bridge saddle heights and saddle side lock.

In 1976 Ned Steinberger set out to completely redesign the electric bass. In 1979 he set up bass production in Newburgh, New York working essentially on his own. The original Steinberger basses and the guitars which followed, were a minimalist design, with the bodies reduced to a minimum and a headless neck. The tuners were relocated at the end of the body as part of the bridge design. The Steinberger instruments were manufactured using labour intensive techniques, the body and neck being hand moulded in one piece out of carbon fibre.

Spirit by Steinberger

Spirit by Steinberger

The original Steinberger guitar company went out of business because the business model could not sustain the amount of specialist hand work required to build enough basses and guitars to meet demand. Ned Steinberger sold the business to Gibson in 1987 and this Spirit range is currently manufactured out of wood by a Chinese sub-contractor for Gibson Guitars. 

In the past several other companies, Hofner and Cort for example, have licensed the headless technology to build similar guitars. The original carbon fibre Steinbergers are quite sought after and fetch quite high prices. The current small body Chinese made instruments, still plentifully available and in current production new, depreciate like any general mid priced guitar.

For a while a line of Steinberger headless guitars with larger more conventional bodies was on the market.    

This guitar is the Spirit by ‘Steinberger GT-PRO Deluxe’ model with a Steinberger branded passive humbucker/single size humbucker/humbucker pickup configuration. A budget version of the original, much more expensive, carbon fibre models. At 30.25 inches in total length with a very compact body this is an all wood, highly portable, 7lb (this one weighs 5.5lbs) electric guitar that still retains a 25.5 scale length and a 2 octave 24 fret neck. 

Note 1 – This guitar requires special double ball ended strings manufactured for the Steinberger and other similar designs. There are some headless guitars which have grub screw clamps at the end of the neck that will accept standard guitar strings. This guitar is not one of them. An adapter (Steinberger Single Ball string adapter – STADG06) is available to convert the neck clamp for ordinary strings.

https://www.thomann.de/gb/steinberger_guitars_stadg06_adapter_guitar_bk.htm

OR The J Customs replacement cap, which screws on to the end of the neck, in place of the current cap.

Note 2 – The Steinberger R-Trem bridge on this guitar is a made under license unit. It is die-cast, probably out of some variety of specialised alloy. Considerable pressure is placed on the bridge components by the string tension and balancing spring compression. Over the years there have been many reports of licensed versions of these bridge cast out of soft zinc alloy gradually bending under these stresses, causing problems with the vibrato function and with the guitar staying in tune. I have a cheap headless guitar kit myself that was supplied with a non-licensed copy of the Steinberger R-Trem bridge and that started to bend very quickly. However, providing the various parts of this guitar don’t move and have been adjusted correctly, the design should deliver very stable tuning once the strings have settled. This does seem to be the case, tuning on this guitar is now very stable.

 

Problems – Extreme difficulty trying to get the guitar in tune. The set up from the factory is very poor, as purchased it would have been impossible to tune (because of loose parts), or to play this guitar with any comfort. All the intonation is very sharp and the action is high, with the strings not following the fretboard radius. The saddles are loose because the saddle lock grub screw hasn’t been tightened. The bridge humbucker is tilted down on the treble side. None of the moving parts of the vibrato/tuner bridge have been lubricated. The vibrato tension knob is loose on the tension screw. Some fretwork is required.

Work done – Measured and recorded the set-up of the guitar as delivered. Disassembled the vibrato bridge and applied superglue to the vibrato spring tension knob, which was loose and just spinning up and down the tension screw, to lock it into place on the end of the screw. Applied PTFE grease to all the moving screw parts in the bridge and to the two pivots. Ground down the end of the vibrato tension spring for a better fit in the spring cup in the upper part of the bridge. Reassembled the bridge. Added a felt pad to the end of the leg support. Checked the frets for level with a fret rocker and tapped down four high frets with a brass fret punch. Polished the frets and the fret board. Set the action and intonation.

Body – A small, wedge shaped body of basswood, joined to the neck by a tenon terminating half way under the neck pickup. The finish is a polyurethane clear coat over metallic blue base that covers the body and the back of the neck.  

Neck – The three piece, chunky D profile, glued in neck, is of hard rock maple with a 24 jumbo frets on a 14 inch radius, engineered hardwood fretboard. White plastic dot fret markers are fitted at the 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19 and 21st frets. Matching white side dots. The neck has a zero fret fitted just below the string ball socket/clamp.

The truss rod adjustment (4mm hex) is at the top of the neck, accessed through a hole in that clamp.

The ‘engineered’ fretboard is probably a softwood such as New Zealand pine (Pinus Radiata) that has been injected with resin, compressed and baked. Commercially known as Blackwood Tek.

Hardware – The double ball end strings are attached to the end of the neck with a black Steinberger headless string ball socket/clamp. The clamp has an integral rubber band to help keep the neck end of the string in place in the clamp while the other end is guided into the string claw at the bridge. 

The three pickups are two Steinberger branded black humbuckers type HB-1 in the bridge and HB-2 in the neck mounted in black pickup rings, with a single coil size Steinberger SC-1 humbucker pickup, body mounted in between them. 

The bridge is a Black Steinberger System R-Trem vibrato bridge with built in 40:1 ratio linear screw tuners. The R-Trem is unusual in that it has a socket for the vibrato arm on either side. Although a right handed arm can be fitted to the top socket instead of the bottom, the bridge will suit a left handed guitar just as well as a right handed, in which case a left handed arm would be used. 

The 500K log rotary controls for Volume and Treble are fitted with knurled black knobs. Pickups are selected via a five way lever switch. The output is through a side mounted barrel jack. A black fold out leg support is fitted to the bottom edge of the body. There are three black strap locks, one under the neck heel and one on each corner of the body. 

Analysis – The screw that tensions the single vibrato spring has a large knurled aluminium knob on the end which is supposed to be fixed firmly to the screw. This knob is loose and instead of turning the screw it just spins up and down the lenght of the screw.

The vibrato tension spring is wound of rectangular high carbon steel wire – 15mm in diameter and 51mm long. The screw itself is a standard off-the-shelf machine screw. The knob is a separate piece of turned aluminium with a central thread that threads onto the screw. The knob should be threaded onto the screw all the way until it locks against the head of the screw (there is a rather ineffective spring washer under the head of the screw). Tightening against the screw head (loaded by the washer) is supposed to hold the knob in place. On this guitar the knob isn’t locked tightly against the screw head, so the vibrato spring tension cannot be adjusted. Apart from the remote possibility of needing to replace the screw if it were to become damaged, there is no need to ever remove the knob. So it can be more firmly attached with a few drops of superglue on the thread.

Reassembly of the vibrato bridge proved difficult. The compression spring diameter is too large to fit into the cup in the lever that extends down from the upper section of the bridge.

The guitar hasn’t been properly set up, just the bare minimum has been done for it to play at all. The rough saddle heights are very typical of Gibson with the strings set high over the bass saddles, gradually reducing in height towards the high E. 

The intonation is all chronically sharp. All the saddles need to slide back by several millimetres.

The low E appeared to be line up on the centre of the locking grub screw with  the other five saddles roughly staggered in a slope in front of the low E saddle. The high E is lined up with the front edge of the saddle tray.  

Once the strings were removed it turned out that the side lock grub screw wasn’t tightened at all, so all the saddles were only held in place by string tension and were actually free to slide around. With the saddles loose tuning could never be stable.

All six saddles are identical (not graduated for height or string diameter) and interchangeable die cast rectangular blocks with, according to the specifications, central round steel grooved inserts to support the strings. Either these are non-magnetic stainless steel or they may actually be nickel plated brass. Grub screws threaded into diagonally opposed corners of the blocks allow for height setting.

None of the moving threaded parts of the bridge appear to have been lubricated.

The fold down leg rest has two indentations on the inside end for very small, self adhesive, rubber bumpers to stop it making a loud clacking noise when it is folded back to the body. However these bumpers are so small that there isn’t enough surface area for the adhesive to hold them and they have fallen off.

The wiring is a little sloppy with some possibility of the pickup wires on the back of the switch shorting out. The control pots are the larger 23mm diameter type made in Korea by Jin Sung.

The HB-1, SC-1 and HB-2 Steinberger branded pickups are black epoxy sealed into black plastic cases with no visible pole pieces. Magnetic viewing film reveals that all three pickups use bar magnets and blade poles and that, inside the the plastic case, the magnet and coil structure of the bridge pickup is actually slanted towards the bridge on the treble side. These pickups are likely to be very low cost ceramic magnet designs, however they really don’t sound that bad.

There are self adhesive labels for BHC on the base of the pickups. BHC (China) and BHK (Korea) appears to be a brand name for a company that sells very low cost pickups, often sold on EBAY re-branded as Belcat or Kmise, for as little as £10 per pickup.

A fret rocker test reveals four high frets – 2 a little high in the middle, 8 high on middle and treble, 11 high on middle and 20 high on the bass.

Intonation as delivered

Distance from back of saddle to inside edge of tray after adjustment in mm.

E +7 12.82

A +8 14.03

D +4 15.39

G +20 13.05

B +14 14.26

E +13 15.41

Saddle positions adjusted to as close as 0 error octave at the fretted 12 fret as possible. Adjustment is made by first slackening off the string to be adjusted. The saddle locking grub screw is then loosened and the saddle being adjusted is very carefully slid backward or forward as appropriate to flatten or sharpen the octave. Hopefully the other five saddles are held in position by pressure from the strings and don’t move. With the saddle moved the grub screw should be tightened and the intonation checked. Repeat until all six strings produce an accurate fretted octave at the twelfth fret. 

Action as delivered

Open string heights at the 17th fret – Low E 2.5mm, High E 1.5mm, relief around 10thou.

Action adjusted – Low E 1.5mm, high E 1.25mm.

Tuning method –

Lock the bridge. If the lock does not engage, waggle the bridge up and down until it does.

Adjust the tuning barrels at the bridge to bring each string up to tune. Make sure the lock does not slip off.

Check the tuning of all six strings. If you only want to play with a locked bridge you are done. Otherwise disengage the lock.

Adjust the spring tension knob to bring at least one string back to correct tuning. The G string is often the most sensitive to tension change.

Check the tuning of all the other strings. They should be in tune but if they are out, repeat all of the above.

The bridge should also be locked for intonation and saddle height adjustments. 

Tuning in more detail

In theory, once new strings have settled in, the tuning of this guitar should remain fairly stable – as good as, or better, than a guitar with full string locking (and providing the saddles have been locked in place AND that the alloy used to manufacture the bridge is strong enough not to bend). The R-Trem bridge can be locked and the guitar played as a fixed bridge (any retuning is then done with the tuning barrels on the back of the bridge). Or with the vibrato bridge unlocked, once all the strings have settled they will all tend to drift flat or sharp together and the large vibrato spring knob can be used as a global tuner.

Tuning a headless guitar with a vibrato bridge, from the bridge, is a different experience to tuning a guitar with tuners mounted on a headstock. It takes some getting used to, as a vibrato bridge is designed to move and change the pitch of the strings. However as the tuner barrels are mounted on the back of the bridge it can be difficult to adjust them without moving the bridge and therefore affecting the tuning.

The tuners use a threaded screw principle. The strings are special double ball ended strings manufactured for use with Steinberger guitars. The ball at one end engages with a notch in a metal clamp at the end of the neck and the ball at the other end with a claw on the bridge. The claw is cut into the end of a threaded metal block. Each tuning barrel rotates a screw thread that runs through each claw block. Turning the tuning barrels clockwise tightens the screw through the claw block pulling the claw gradually away from the guitar neck, increasing tension on the string and raising its pitch. Changing strings requires turning each tuner barrel anti clockwise until the string claw extends far enough outside the front edge of the claw cover for the ball end to be lifted out of the claw. 

Note that the tuning barrels are like the vibrato spring tension adjustment screw. The threaded  section is an off-the-shelf screw and the knurled barrels are separately machined parts threaded onto them. So the barrels can become loose.

The first thing to do is to engage the bridge locking lever to STOP the bridge from moving. If the vibrato tension screw is set correctly the locking lever should slip into place easily without changing the tuning. The locking lever is located under the tuner barrel for the A string. With the tension set correctly the bridge should appear to be floating parallel to the body. If that is not the case use the vibrato arm to move the bridge so it is parallel to the body and the locking lever should slip into place. When locked the bridge should be rigid – it should not be possible to move it up and down.

Throughout the tuning process it is necessary to make sure that the locking lever has not slipped out place. With the bridge rigidly locked and parallel to the body each string can be adjusted for tuning by turning the associated barrel. When all the strings are in tune, if the player desires to use the vibrato bridge the locking lever can be disengaged. It is likely that the bridge will then settle to a new position up or down. Adjust the vibrato tension using the large knurled knob under the middle of the bridge until the G string is back to tune. The bridge should then be floating parallel to the body and the lock lever should slip in or out of engagement without any change in tuning.

Pickup measurements 

Neck Capacitance = 215.9pF

LQESR

100Hz 5.173 0.353 9.2

120Hz 5.169 0.421 9.23

1000Hz 5.046 2.23 14.17

Field polarity = South towards neck

Field strength = 236 Gauss

Middle Capacitance = 319.3pF

LQESR

100Hz 3.146 0.339 5.81

120Hz 3.149 0.406 5.84

1000Hz 3.069 2.02 9.52

Field polarity = North towards neck

Field strength = 270 Gauss

Bridge Capacitance = 198.79pF

LQESR

100Hz 5.618 0.381 9.26

120Hz5.6030.4549.3

1000Hz 5.439 2.28 14.94

Field polarity = South towards neck

Field strength = 280 Gauss

The inductance of the two full size humbuckers on this guitar at 5 to 5.5 Henrys is a little on the high side and self capacitance is quite high at around 200pF, so I would expect them to sound full and a little on the dark side. In practice they do provide quite useable warm tones. The middle pickup sounds a little weak, either on its own, or mixed with one of the other pickups.  

Labour – £ 55.00

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