Cracking the Steinberger?

Do any of you code crackers have experience with small-body guitars like Steinberger broomsticks or similar? I’ve been wanting a travel guitar that I can put in an overhead bin when necessary. I’m jonesing for a Steinberger Spirit, but I’m wondering if they’re code-compliant. Specifically, the body is so small that it seems like there’s nowhere to plant your forearm, and I’m wondering if this is likely to throw me off. I’ve read a lot of reviews and found only a few complaints about this issue (and only from bass players). Before CTC I wouldn’t even have thought to ask, but now that I’ve upgraded my mechanics so drastically in the last year, I find myself unsure.

If there was one nearby I could play, I could answer the question myself, but…

Any input is appreciated.


My main guitar is a custom headless guitar built by Rick Canton, shown here.

I have played several other headless guitars, including original Steinberger GLs. I don’t find that the small body impedes my playing in anyway whatsoever. However, I don’t anchor my hand or forearm firmly against the guitar when playing. I touch the strings lightly with my picking hand for damping.

Here’s me doing some crosspicking on that guitar:

Here are some outside Gilberts:

Finally, here is a detailed thread demonstrating my picking forms, all of which work perfectly well on this guitar:

Maybe a small bodied guitar will interfere with your picking technique, but I think it’s unlikely. In any case, you could develop another mode of picking which will work.


Have you ever considered a Strandberg? Unless you are a heavy elbow picker I don’t see why you would have a problem with a Steinberger though.

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Headless…check out the Kiesel line of headless guitars as well. No problems playing on a Steinberger or Strandberg.

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I fly with guitars all the time and very very rarely have any difficulty or receive any pushback from flight staff. Most common carries:

  • Strat in a Mono bag + backpack in the cabin, tiny pedalboard in suitcase checked underneath

  • Strat in an SKB molded case checked underneath, backpack + sizable pedalboard in the cabin

  • check the Strat in the SKB + 2 tiny pedalboards in my luggage, carryon acoustic in a Tric case (+ backpack)

If you board in the first half of groups and you’re not flying some tiny plane, you should have zero difficulty getting your guitar in the overhead. If you have to gate check for a flight on a little CRJ or Embrair, it’s not the end of the world.

Just don’t bring anything irreplaceable and you’re gonna be fine.


They still make Steinbergers? Wow! I never thought they’d be successful enough to last this long because no matter how good the guitars sound (and I don’t know what they sound like to be honest) a large part of electric guitars is their aesthetic appeal. A Stratocaster is a beautiful instrument. A Les Paul is a beautiful instrument. A Flying V has a different type of beauty - a more aggressive type of beauty is how I’d put it. All three of those designs have lasted forever because they look and sound great!

Just out of curiosity, who are some of the most high profile players of Steinberger guitars?

Many high profile guitarists played Steinbergers during the 1980s, including Eddie Van Halen, Mike Rutherford and Mark Knopfler. Allan Holdsworth was a long time user also.

Ned Steinberger sold the company to Gibson, and the brand quickly lost it’s endorsers due to slipping production standards.

Gibson transformed Steinberger into low to mid level brand, selling “travel guitars” that did not feature many of the design features of the original guitars other than the basic headless form. Few innovations were made at all under Gibson, and the few innovations that have come under them have again been due to Ned Steinberger.

Ned Steinberger is a genius, and he solved basically every problem that existed in electric guitar design at the time. The original Steinberger GLs are incredible instruments.

Guitarists, as a group, are traditionalists. Any significant innovation in instrument or equipment design will be ignored, or ridiculed. They will continue to use instruments designed more than 60 years ago, still made to this day with the same design limitations of the originals.

Personally, I want function over form. Honestly, I find it difficult to appreciate the aesthetics of a guitar when I can tell just by looking at it that I won’t find it comfortable to play. For me, a Steinberger GL is a thing of beauty.

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Yes, you’re absolutely right about them being traditionalists which is why I never thought the Steinberger would catch on. My prediction was it just looked too different from all the popular electric guitars for them to ever be accepted by large numbers of guitarists. I was wrong about that.

It’s a shame that they were sold to Gibson because even though I don’t know much about Steibergers other than their appearance, I can tell from what you wrote that Gibson didn’t have a clue as to how to utilize Steinbergers to their best potential in terms of function or popularity.

Your prioritization of function over form is very pragmatic and clearly you like these guitars a lot - the original ones. I can be pragmatic about guitars too. I never bought a Flying V because even though I think they look cool, you can’t play them sitting down. I can practice when standing up sometimes, but I like the option of being able to sit down and play.

As pragmatic and logical as your valuing of function over form is, I just didn’t think enough guitarists thought that way for a guitar that looked like a Steinberger to catch on with the them in large enough numbers for them to last for long.

When I was a teenager and liked outrageous designs on guitars, I thought BC Rich guitars were amazing! I loved the look of The Warlock guitar. Fortunately I didn’t let my love of the aesthetics of that guitar influence my judgement of what guitar I would choose to buy and I settled on the Fender Heavy Metal Strat… It certainly didn’t have much in common with the traditional Strat! However, I trusted the Fender name and I liked the feel of the almost flat neck as well as the sound of the guitar. Roughly 30 years after getting my marbled burgundy HM Strat, I still love it. I’m glad I didn’t get the BC Rich Warlock which for all I know may be a good guitar, but I’ve outgrown my love for its appearance.

You’ve piqued my curiosity: What were the problems with existing guitars at the time which Steinberger solved?

Steinberger lost most of their artists due to Gibson hollowing out the brand or artists going back to more traditional designs once everything 80s became taboo to coolness. Paul Masvidal of Cynic/Death fame jumped ship to Strandberg. Allan Holdsworth played Carvin/Kiesel until he died. Vito Bratta of White Lion played Steinberger. Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult still plays his swiss cheese Steinberger.

It sounds like Gibson never should have bought Steinberger. They didn’t seem to know what to do with it.

“*80s became taboo to coolness”? It seems to me the only metal bands capable of filling stadiums today are 80’s bands! As far as I know, Metallica, Iron Maiden and Guns 'n Roses are the top three drawing bands in hard rock/heavy metal.

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Gibson did the same thing to Kramer.

Steinbergers unfortunately got sorted into the column with big hair and pastel guitars.

Headless guitars seem to be making a comeback with the modern prog metal scene. Kiesel, Strandberg, and Ornsby seem to have the market cornered. Gibson missed out badly but not introducing a mid level Steinberger.

I play a Mayones Hydra, which is a headless guitar. It’s very comfortable and well balanced and is easy to play. The tuning is stable and it has an ABM bridge. The neck is also very stable and I haven’t had any problems with it so far.

Random side note - Ned Steinberger now has a company called NS Designs and they make electic Violins, Cellos, Upright Basses etc. I bought a 5 string Wav Cello last week and love it. I have no real frame of reference having never played acoustic cello (or a different electric one) but to me it feels very well made for the money and sounds great (…when I get the bowing right!)

Oh yeah and I had to smile when I realised that one of the tricky parts of playing a Cello is switching strings… just like on that other instrument behind it :slight_smile:

Here’s a post I saw in a Facebook page I’m part of. Troy and this site are tagged in the post.
Steinberger guitar like you mentioned in your post.

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I’ve never seen someone shredding, with a metal guitar tone, with a thumb pick like that before. Very impressive.

I believe that guitar is a Hohner headless guitar. You can see the logo.

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Thanks for all the input, everyone. I appreciate it.

Steinberger recently re-released a Spirit model, the small-bodied ones with either HSS or HSH pickup formats. As mentioned above, these guitars are wooden, and lack the Trans-Trem and other features of the earlier, more expensive Steinbergers. But my interest in them is not driven by the innovations, but by my need for a decent travel guitar. They go for around $400 new, and reports are that they are much better guitars than the Traveler Speedster or other similar models. I’ve tried out many travel guitars in my price range, and they mostly feel like cheap toys. From what I’ve read, the new Steinbergers are a much better value.

The reason I asked about them here was specifically the forearm anchoring issue. I’m a rotation/flextention crosspicker, and I anchor my forearm heavily, so I was curious if any other heavy forearm-planters have played one and could offer any insight.

I have explored floating my forearm, and found that my string tracking suffers, so I was concerned that the small body might be incompatible with my mechanics. I also notice that many of the other small-body travel guitars have some kind of attachment or other structure on the lower body for supporting the forearm, so I’m obviously not the first person to consider this possibility. On the other hand, most guitars force my right arm into a fairly unnatural position anyway, so maybe this will end up being an improvement.

There a a multitude.

I’ve heard some guitar builders describe the Telecaster, Stratocaster, Les Paul and SG as “the big four,” and it’s fair to say that most electric guitar designs are derivatives of these four designs, so I’ll focus on those designs.

First, the ergonomic limitations of these designs are most noticeable while standing. For most people, these guitars do not hang in the optimal playing position when standing (which should be somewhat similar to the seated classical position).

With the exception of the SG, the placement of the strap buttons on the upper bout or upper horn results in the guitar hanging under the right armpit or flat across the chest. No other positions are stable. The SG usually has a strap button placed behind the neck heel, which results in superior position, but the design is inherently neck heavy and prone to neck dive, so the neck has to be supported by the fretting hand while playing to a much greater degree. Changing strap button position on the other three designs improves playing position, but the result is unstable. Some very heavy Les Pauls aren’t prone to this, but the extra weight is detrimental in other ways.

In order to tune to pitch, a guitar with a headstock must have the headstock back-angled. The Gibson designs incorporate the back-angle and the result is that Gibson guitars are comparatively very fragile, and prone to headstock breakage. The Fender designs don’t use the back-angle and use string trees instead, which are detrimental to tuning stability. The three a side headstock design used by Gibson results in strings binding at the nut, which again is detrimental to tuning stability.

Removing the headstock solves all of these problems at once.

Another issue with most traditional designs is access to the upper registers. The Les Paul is the worst offender, but the others have their limitations also. The lower horn on a single cutaway or double cutaway guitar impedes wide stretches in the upper registers, even if the horn is minimised and the cutaways are made as deep as possible. A better solution is a body design with no horns at all. The Flying V is a traditional design without horns, but that design has a host of other issues.

The blocky Fender bolt-on neck joint is similarly obtrusive. A set-neck or neck-through construction allows for less obstruction, but it is a weaker mechanical connection than bolt-on construction, more fragile and more difficult to repair. Even then, there are plenty of set-neck or neck-through guitars with poor access to the upper registers, like the PRS Custom 22.

Steinberger GLs don’t have the nicest neck to body joint, but it’s less obtrusive than traditional designs. I’m sure Ned would have updated the heel if he was still designing guitars.

Moreover, the original Steinberger GLs are made of moulded graphite. They are basically indestructible, and are incredibly resilient to environmental changes.

Steinberger bridge designs are also marvellous. The double-ball system results in fast string changes and rock solid tuning stability. The vibrato systems go even further. The S-trem (hinge mechanism) and R-trem (knife-edge nechanism) are both excellent systems, and the Trans-trems are an engineering wonder, if a little difficult to setup and perform maintenance on.

With Gibson’s current financial trouble, I hope the Steinberger brand gets sold to some other company that’s actually interested in realising some of its potential.


That looks so… familiar!


Hear, hear. I’ve had my eye on the headless … phenomenon for a while, but can’t bear aesthetically to play a tiny rectangular guitar and would feel dirty giving money directly to Gibson either way. The alternatives tend to be pricey (Strandberg or used Steinies), although I’m interested in Kiesel’s most recent (less spiky) creation.

Missed that post here on the site. Video showed up on a FB group page, too, though. :slight_smile: Headless guitars…