Steinberger Synapse SS-2F Custom Review

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.

Steinberger Synapse SS-2F Custom

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.

EMG Pickups
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.

Final Thoughts
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.

For more information on the Steinberber Synapse line visit:, Musician’s Friend, Steinberger World, or the Steinberger World Forum

15 thoughts to “Steinberger Synapse SS-2F Custom Review”

  1. Are you still in favor of the synapse? When I read your comments I was amazed how well you answered some of my own concerns. I play jazz and standards on a Howard Roberts Fusion with a Roland pickup. I need that jazz tone and it sounds like you can get it on this guitar. Another question, I have very expensive guitars that stay in tune very well. How do you rate this one? Thanks for your thoughts. Jeff

  2. Jeff,

    I still really like the Synapse. I guess a good jazz tone is subjective, but I think it gets a very good sound. Maybe I can record something with it soon. I recently played with a well-known trumpet player in a college workshop and received nothing but positive comments from the other musicians and the rest of the faculty. You could probably experiment with flatwound or similar strings for an even more traditional sound, but I haven’t tried that yet.

    As far as staying in tune, It stays in tune exceptionally well. When I take it out of the gig bag, I usually just have to fine tune a bit and I’m good to go all night.

    I did run into problems with some of the single -ball strings slipping so for now I’ve gone ahead an stocked up on the double-balls. I’ve been using GHS double-ball .010’s and I really like them. I also rec’d a second set of set-screws for the combo-headpiece from Gibson (at no cost) but I haven’t bothered to mess with troubleshooting the issue yet. From what I’ve read, it sounds like if the screw hasn’t been machined just right the strings may slip, so I’m hoping that with the spare set of screws and a little experimentation I can get single ball strings to work if need to use them.

    I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Synapse. If you’re thinking about it, you don’t have much to lose as Musician’s friend has a pretty liberal return policy.

    Let me know if you pick one up. I’d be interested to hear your take on it!

  3. I just bought a synapse and the neck seems a bit “thick” to me. What do you think? I have relatively small hands so maybe someone with large hands would not notice or would acutally prefer it.

  4. I can see where the neck might seem thick to some, especially since there are so many necks with extremely slim profiles nowadays, but I think it feels pretty much like a standard C-shape neck.

  5. Hi John,
    Thanks for you Synapse review. I am looking for a pro guitar to gig with when I play in Europe and I am seriously considering the Synapse SS-2F with 2 humbuckers. Despite all of my attempts to lighten my load, a regular guitar is still too heavy and I swore I would go with a “broom design” guitar in future. Once you add some pedals, batteries, chords etc, it’s brutal to travel with gear. I need a good jazz sound as a basis although my style is all over the map. The reviews I’ve read seem to be very positive generally, even better than the other steinberger guitars. Unless you have something negative to add, I think I’ll go ahead and order one from Musician’s Friend, and return it if I hate it. I’d like to find a used one though (red preferred), as I am a typical starving artist, so I’ll check the net for that first. Thanks again, and if have anything to add, I’d like to hear it.

  6. I have had my synapse guitar for almost 2 weeks now and I have mixed feelings about it. Overall, I like the guitar, don’t like the pickups.
    Starting with the case, the least of the issues, but still a pain. Why do I have to put the neck in first? irg…. It’s like the gigs bags that have the zipper go down from the top, forcing you to turn the guitar upside down on it’s headstock to zip it up. This has a similar problem, you can’t grip it by the neck and and slide the body in first, you have to lay it down, and put the neck in first, then push the body in. What a pain. Simply making the zipper open around the top of the case would have made this a way better design.

    The guitar is heavier than I expected, and not that much lighter than my regular solidbody. So I haven’t gained much, in the area of weight, for traveling. The body shape is going to be easier for traveling though, no doubt.

    With the action higher than I liked I had to make some adjustments, including the trussrod, as it was quite bowed when I got it. Having lowered the action, it has some fretting-out in the top frets and quite a bit of fret buzzing. I’m hoping this can be fixed, maybe there are a couple of high frets causing the problem. However, my free setup at the music store I bought it from, Long & McQuade in Toronto, requires that I take the guitar in and leave it there for at least 2 weeks, maybe up to 6 weeks. That seems like quite unworkable for someone who’s trying to make a decision on a guitar. again irg…

    The neck is chunkier than I’m used to be I’m willing to adjust. My biggest beef is with the permanently mounted pickups!! These EMGs sound ok, and have a (barely) nice jazz tone at low volume through my little Roland cube. However, when I plug it into my tube amps it sounds horrible. The output of the pickups is so high that I can’t get my amp past 2 before it starts giving me a headache. I have tried adjusting the “pickup stabilizer” screws but nothing changes except the height of the screws..I don’t get this system (?). In your review you mention that you didn’t find it “muddy” however I found it to be way *too* muddy, and I had to adjust the mid and bass tones to almost nothing to clean it up. If I could rip out these EMGs I would be much happier. Why would they make them permanently attached? I’m thinking I would be better off with a Steinberger GLB. It’s got the Floyd Rose (yuck), it’s more expensive, and comes only in black, but at least you can change the pickups. (I’ve also seen these $300 Lucite headless broom style guitars on ebay. Do you know anything about these?) Doesn’t Steinberg know that there might be a guitar player or 2 out there that might not want that “full on rock sound” but still might appreciate a lightweight, easy to travel with instrument? I intend to use this guitar for all of my touring work and I want it to sound good. Some lower output duncans, or anything else would be better. I don’t mind the 81in the bridge but I rarely use the bridge pickup and I’m not crazy about this high output 85. Any suggestions in this area would be appreciated.
    I saw a video on myspace tv of a guy playing jazz with a Steinberger, and it actually sounded pretty good. I wasn’t sure if it was the Synapse and I wanted to send the guy an email but I can’t seem to find the video again.

    I do like the guitar though, as a guitar. It feels balanced, though quite heavy, and the strap attachment device at the 12th fret doesn’t bother me. I haven’t tried changing strings yet, so no opinion here yet. I have made intonation adjustments though, the strings were quite sharp, and when adjusting with the allen key, I could see that these might strip very easily.
    Based on a few reviews by jazzers, like yourself, who liked the sound of the this guitar, I had high hopes, but I’m not sure if I can live with this, at $1000! I have to have this style of guitar though, for traveling, because it’s just too brutal to travel alone overseas with a regular guitar, and everything else. So maybe I need a GLB instead, if I can find one. I’m hoping that I’ll wake up one morning and magically this guitar will sound fine. 🙂
    Ideas? Marg

  7. Hi John,
    An update: If you’re subscribed to the Steinberger yahoo group then you’ve already seen my post, but after inquiring about changing pickups in this guitar, a guy posted that any humbucking pickup could be installed in the Synapse using the “stabalizer” mounting system. So I feel better now, to have the option. He also suggested trying a DI, specifically a Behringer ULTRA-DI DI20, to pad the output, which should make it more compatible with tube amps and clean up the sound.

  8. It’s interesting reading my initial 2008 review above. I am currently using my Synapse guitar for all gigs, even small jazz gigs where one would assume a traditional looking guitar would be in order. I use it for everything! It sounds great, I now love the pickups. The high output overdriving of amp inputs gives is a nice slightly overdriven sound which I like. My only large complaint is that the high string sounds a bit “sitar-ish” and I can’t set it up to eliminate the buzzing. A drag. I have also had to replace the volume and tone pots already. Crap quality. I also wish the guitar was 2 pounds lighter and that the case opened from the top.
    Another thing, the guitar can be propped up nicely on its own *unless* you have a chord plugged into it, then you can’t stand it up anywhere!! Very annoying. Where do you put it? I tried a right angle jack but due to the design, right angle jacks pull out very easily from the plug which I found out the hard way on the Massey Hall stage. So this is a design flaw. Other than that..(and a few other things) it’s a winner. I love it…and for travelling…excellent.

  9. Hi John,
    Terrific review on the SS-2F. I wanted to drop you a line or two about the Synapse ST-2FPA Transcale, which I bought last month. It’s red too!

    The transcale has a piezo pickup and a bridge that pivots left-right/front-back/up-down via the three screws on top and locks via a single screw on the side. This allows extremely acurate intonation and action setting using a tri-axis rotation to get it just right.

    The double ball transcale strings I got were not well made so I switched to single ball D’Addario flat wound chrome 10’s. The high E and B strings slip from the head screws, so I took an old ball from another string and wound it on the high E and it works like a charm! The B string still slips but I torqued it’s screw in a bit more and it’s held for two weeks.

    Now about the sound: this guitar is made for any tone you wish to extract from it! The flatwound chromes give it a silky smooth feel, and I adjusted the action simply by pivoting the bridge in about ten minutes to perfection. I cannot believe how bar chords become a dream to play. The tone on this guitar is extremely clean and wide in frequency spectrum due to the mix of piezo and EMG active humbucking coupled with the baritone timbres that the neck does a superb job of not damping. The guitar has extremely good sustain and I get clean jazz tones that rival Lee Ritenour’s Gibson L5 CES.

    The neck is similar to the Gibson 50’s profile found on it’s first edition Robot LP, which I have as well. So it’s a bit beefier toward the joint but if the action is adjusted right, it’s very comfortable to play.

    Bending is not a good thing on this guitar because it does not have the lateral stabilizationafforded by a nut, as the strings are held down by a capo that can be rolled from baritone scale length to mandolin-esque length. It maintains timbre but if you bend strings, they will slip under the capo and if feels like the guitar gets wonky when you get a string slip under the capo toward another string. So all in all, excellent tone, timbre, hard rock to jazz tonality, but no bending.

    This guitar will make an Al Di Meola out of players who are willing to adapt their playing to the constraints of the guitar but will drive players with a set way of playing totally crazy.

    I think it has a lesson to teach us – flexibility in a different set of directions than the ones we are used to, on other guitars. But at a price – we have to be willing to adapt to get the reward and benefit of it’s awesome tonal width and timbral range.

    I cannot put it down when I start to play it through my Roland Cube 60 or Epi Blues Custom 30 (but not bends…).

    I hope there will be a future version that has a built in MIDI capability using the Graphtech MIDI hex pickup system. In the meantime, I am tihnking of putting a Roland GK-3 on it near the bridge using the tape mounting method, and send it’s sound via the GR-20 guitar synth to experiment further.

  10. I’d like to know two things about the Synapse neck performance against their all-graphite counterparts, hope you can help me here.

    1) Graphite necks are impervious to enviromental changes. Since the Synapse is half-wood, Does that makes them prone to change their bow due to humidity changes?

    2) A classic perk of the all-graphite neck has always been the fact that you could break a string and the others would stay in tune (if the bridge was fixed, of course). Have you checked this claim in the Synapse? Like, if when changing one string the other five keep their tuning?

    Thaks for your help!

  11. alexanderluthier:

    I no longer own this guitar, but I always assumed the wood neck was inferior to the original graphite design and would act much like any other wood neck, no better or worse. I only had the guitar for about a year, but assumed it was susceptible to changes in humidity, tension, etc.

  12. Hi jazz people, I just wanted to say I recently started playing a Steinberger SS-2F guitar, and can’t stop playing it.I’m using a Henriksen jazz amp with no effect pedals and this amp brings this guitar to life. Like John said I can get a fantastic jazz tone from it and it’s hard to tell whether it’s an arch top or not.I’ve had 335’s in the past but this guitar is unique.

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