I first picked up the guitar in the Spring of 1984. Only a year earlier Ned Steinberger unveiled his line of guitars at the Chicago NAMM show, so it’s no wonder I’ve always loved them. They were bringing something new and fresh to the scene just as I was entering it, and some of my favorite musicians were starting to perform with these eye-catching guitars and basses as well. Over the years I’ve always wanted a Steinberger guitar both because of it’s compact size and it’s innovative design, but other guitars always seemed to make their way into the collection first. Finally, I decided to check out one of the new Steinberger Synapse models being carried by Musician’s Friend.
Because there is already a great deal of information on the web about the Synapse guitars I’d just like to outline the features I still had questions and concerns about before ordering, and the experiences I’ve had with the guitar so far.
The Steinberger Synapse SS-2F
There are several options and models available in the Synapse line and I chose the SS-2F Custom with a transparent red finish. Despite its appearance, the guitar is surprisingly straight-forward, though there are several departures from the guitar’s earlier designs which may be a concern to longtime Steinberger aficionados. Changes include a new strap hook, a combination headpiece that allows for either the use of double or single ball strings, and a neck and body constructed of wood, instead of graphite/composite materials. My concerns at ordering were mostly related to the all aforementioned changes in design and the fact that I’ve never been a fan of the stock EMG pickups, which now sport a new design that uses “pickup stabilizers” instead of the usual pickup mounting rings.
Unpacking and Setting Up
The guitar came well-packed from Musician’s Friend. Double-boxed, with lots of padding and packed inside a high-quality gig bag, the guitar was well protected on it’s journey. I was a little surprised to find out that the guitar had a satin finish. I was expecting a gloss finish based on the photos. My only gripe is that satin finishes tend to look funky as they age. Finger oils eventually turn them into an uneven gloss. However, the satin finish does look beautiful.
I had read a few reports that quality control has been an issue for the Synapse guitars, but other than being out-of-tune and just slightly higher action than I prefer, the guitar was in excellent condition. After tuning the guitar and playing it for a for a few minutes I read through the included manual which describes the process for setting up the guitar. I did lower the action a bit, to 4/64″ (measured at the 17th fret) and the intonation was ever so slightly off, but the truss rod did not require any further tweaking. The SS2F ships with a set of double ball .010’s but my measurements showed the first string to be slightly a thinner .0095. Odd. (UPDATE: I think something is amiss with my micrometer!)
The Combination Headpiece
This feature was a big selling point for me. I already have to keep track of two kinds of electric strings, acoustic strings, and classical strings and I didn’t want to have to keep a supply of double-ball strings on my shelf as well. The concern is that some folks have reported that unwound strings are not holding when clamped into the headpiece. So far, I’ve only changed my high E string but it has held just fine.
Wood Construction and CybroSonic Technology
Wood, huh? As I remember it, part of the point of the original design is that it wasn’t wood. It was some super-stable composite material that would not react to changes in temperature and humidity. But then again, all of my other guitars are made of wood, and have held up quite well over the years, so why not? I also understand that the fingerboard is phenolic, not wood which helps to give the guitar that lively, Steinberger signature sound, and that there’s a “high-modulus graphite u-channel truss rod system” engineered into the neck of the guitar which is touted as giving a very stable, yet adjustable neck. As state earlier I haven’t needed to adjust the truss rod, but I’ll update if I have any problems with it in the future.
I was really dreading the EMG pickups that come stock with the guitar. As I stated earlier, I’ve never been a fan of the EMG sound and the pickups alone could make or break the decision to keep the guitar especially since the new design looked like might make it difficult to swap them out for Seymour Duncans. Fortunately, I have been very pleasantly surprised by the EMG’s. Not only do the deliver the fat rock tone I expected, but I was able to dial in a fantastic smooth jazz tone, which I’ve never quite been able to achieve even with my Ibanez archtop. The Synapse will definitely be gigging with me now!
The Strap Hook
The new strap hook is meant to position the guitar more naturally and comfortably than some older models, but some have complained that it gets in the way when playing in the guitar’s upper registers. While I can imagine that it might be an issue for some players, I’ve had no problem with it and I tend to be a thumb-over-the-neck kind of guy, especially when I’m bending strings. I do think that this could be an issue for some players but I think this could be solved by a little practicing and retraining.
Another qualm about the strap hook is that it does not accommodate a strap lock. It’s hard to get a good idea of what the strap hook looks like in the photos available online, but the end of the hook it basically shaped like a very large, deep button and I’m confident that unless you’re doing some serious stage acrobatics your strap is not going anywhere. The lower strap buttons could easily be replaced by strap locks, but again, they are larger than the stock buttons included on most guitars and I am quite comfortable using these stock buttons along with the strap hook, despite having strap locks on all of my other instruments.
I ordered the Synapse skeptical that it would live up to my expectations and I was ready to send it back if I was unsatisfied with it in any way. However, it has pleasantly surprised me at every turn. Even a friend who owns an 80’s era Steinberger GL noted that the SS2F was better balanced than his model and was very impressed with the new design.
The only thing I’ve had trouble getting used to the feel of the neck in lower positions. Someone can correct me on this, but it feels like there’s less tension and more “play” in the string than there would be on a traditional guitar. I suspect it’s the fact that strings are not held in place by a nut, combined with a fingerboard radius which is slightly flatter than I’m used to. A little vibrato on the first or second frets sometimes results in the sensation of the string slipping from side-to-side on the zero fret. I’m sure with a few more hours of playing time, I’ll adapt to it.
If you’ve been curious about the Steinberger guitars take advantage of Musician’s Friend’s generous return policy and take home for a test drive. You’ll find that all of the design changes have been well thought-out and executed, and you won’t find a better-designed, better quality instrument at this price. Just be warned that you may not be able to let go.