Steinberger Spirit Doubleneck Guitar
In the Steinberger's as-delivered state, the two single coil EMG Select pickups (on the guitar half) are more suited to clean tone gigs; country, jazz and folksy type strumming. They don't have much output and are uninspiring at best due to their lack of sensitivity and limited tone range. They can be made to sound o.k. with some serious processing and boosting of the amp volume but the neck pickup would best be replaced with anything... The middle pickup isn't much better but it does contribute to a nice tone when in-betweened with the bridge pickup (quack, but no QUACK). By itself, it's barely usable. The bridge humbucker is the best of the three pickups; although not very "hot" for a humbucker, it cuts some nice harmonics and gets near dynamic tones when overdriven. It also works well for rhythm chops. It seems fair to blame the extra mass of the body and bass components for sucking the life away from the guitar portion. While playing the guitar you can feel the bass strings vibrating vigorously. Most of the user reviews I've read (at Harmony Central) for the single neck version of the guitar are positive in regards to the EMG pickup configuration. Reviews for the doubleneck ask pretty much the same thing I'm asking: Where are the decibles? The guitar practically begs for an effects processor. As is common among many of the noise-free pickup equipped guitars, a good stomp box is the easiest way to dial in some volume and tone.
How heavy? If you can stand on stage all night playing a Les Paul or older Jazz Bass, you'll be able to handle this beast. The extra heft is offset to a surprising degree by the nice balance, a benefit of the headless design. More distracting than the weight is the required long reach down to the lower neck. It may take some time to find the sweet spot in your strap adjustment. I'm sure there is some good engineering logic in placing the bass neck on top, but I think I would prefer the guitar on top. It's more natural for me to wear the bass down low. Does that option exist?
Fit and finish? Having read some user reviews before actually taking delivery of the Steinberger, I was almost expecting a cheezy, possibly half-assed guitar. Other than the two mildly disappointing single coil pickups, the axe continues to offer pleasant surprises each time I remove it from the bag. The white paint (not my favorite color) is smooth and downright pretty in real life. The necks are straight and true, the Steinberger innovations are valid and the low price (sub $600.00) doesn't necessarily mean low quality. Its level of quality may not approach that of the American made Steinbergers, but in my opinion it is still a bargain. This is one groovy toy, or tool depending on your attitude. We will see if the story changes as this axe gathers some stage mileage.
What about modifications? What about the bass half? We've already added one small but important mod. While the Steinberger String Adapter is in substance a tiny chunk of metal, it is essential in transforming the double ball string system into a practical, easily maintained component of your tool. Don't drop the adapter on the floor, it will be forever lost among your Legos collection. The double ball end string system is a good idea that is losing support from string makers and musical retailers. These strings are seldom available at the corner music store. The string adapter allows you to use normal, single ball end, find 'em anywhere guitar strings; even your favorites. String tension is all that holds the adapter in place against the neck end piece, with two small pegs in slots maintaining alignment of the adapter. Just slip the strings into their respective holes and clamp down with the set screw. Idiot proof. Regardless, read the instructions so you don't do something stupid as the system is different. In all fairness, the double ball system is excellent with no modifications necessary. Don't forget to carry a couple extra sets of strings at all times should you choose not to use the adapter.
With the newly installed adapter and a set of GHS 11's, the immediate increase in volume (slight but welcomed) helped to balance the wide discrepency in output levels between the pickups. In a few minutes time we had made two small improvments that significantly increased the happy factor. Spy the area between the adapter and zero fret and you'll find a string changing assist... a cheezy black rubber band, presumably to prevent the string ends from attacking your face. Use it to shoot spit wads across the stage at the sax player.
After adjusting the R Trem knob to bring the bridge plate back to its correct angle and equalize tuning between bridge locked and unlocked settings, an hour of playing seemed to sufficiently "break in" the axe and stabilize the tuning and feel. Rarely do I need to re tune... not even the often bent strings. I do dig this system, but I wish the entire setup was sturdier by five percent. It seems a little fragile although nothing has yet broken. The heavier gauge strings required adjusting the R Trem knob to its limit. Any gauge heavier than elevens will necessitate the addition of more trem spring tension to enable proper functioning of the locking system.
Other modifications are discussed in the Harmony Central User reviews for this axe, including pickups and rewiring. For me, the neck pickup is the only annoyance at this time and I can live with that for awhile. We may add a string adapter to the bass neck in the future, it's not as critical as on the guitar neck but still a good idea.
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