Steinberger 5150

Perhaps one of the lesser known guitars that Eddie Van Halen used, the Steinberger is a fascinating, interesting instrument with a great deal of history behind it in relation to the design and construction of it. Steinberger became a big name in the music industry, particularly after Eddie Van Halen used the instrument extensively on “Get Up” and “Summer Nights” on the 5150 album. This ensured that both men would be in the books of history for developing and using an instrument that was unusual, yet useful.

For a short period of time, Eddie Van Halen used his Steinberger 5150, which he loved.

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The Steinberger story began many years before the two men had any association with one another. Ned Steinberger designed furniture as an industrial designer. Apparently Steinberger worked with Stuart Spector, a bass luthier at one point in New York. Spector requested assistance from Steinberger on design for a bass guitar. Ned Steinberger agreed, and the initial result was the Spector NS. This was a new bass guitar design, of which was later adopted and expanded upon by Warwick.

Inspired by this initial move into the music world, Steinberger persisted with a new take on the traditional bass guitar design. He thought extensively about some of the problems that existed with the traditional Fender Precision Bass style design that had very much dominated the market to the day.

Ned Steinberger is one true genius, not in a way dissimilar to Eddie Van Halen.

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Looking at the main part of the design of the bass guitar, Ned Steinberger found that overall, the design was not very ergonomically ideal in approach. He found that the body of the bass guitar was too heavy, large and above all, subject to issues with tuning and portability. He decided to break with his own past and the past of the music industry and do something that many others were afraid at the time (except perhaps for Eddie Van Halen): innovate.

A prototype Steinberger bass was designed and first manufactured in 1979. This did include body based tuners that required a coin or a screwdriver to turn them, and was heavily based on piano style design. This resulted by Ned Steinberger taking the design of the bass guitar one step further and asking himself: “Why don’t I place the tuning heads on the headstock onto the body?”

The prototype Steinberger bass guitar was extensively rejected by all major music corporations upon presentation.

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He did just that. Next, he further redesigned the body of the bass guitar, using fibreglass and graphite (aerospace industry materials), he managed to create a smaller, more compact and lighter body available for the bass guitar player. He further used polyurethane or nitrocellulose to finish the body, along with several other key methods of development and redesign that result in a very unique and radical approach from the traditional bass guitar design.

Getting proper support and attention from major guitar manufacturers for his radical and new design was much more difficult. He took it to numerous major musical manufacturers (including Fender and Gibson) only to be turned down by all, including those who liked the idea, but not the design of the instrument. Eventually Steinberger himself decided to take matters into his own hands and began manufacturing the first line of Steinberger bass guitars, whilst making a few sacrifices financially along the way.

He relocated to the state of New York after building on borrowed money, a brand new factory. Eventually after designing the then hugely popular Steinberger bass guitar, Ned Steinberger rethought his design for the electric guitar. He already had a prototype for this in the early 1980s upon relocating to Brooklyn, yet it was not introduced into the market until 1984, the same year that the TransTrem system for his line of electric guitars was introduced.

The TransTrem system is one innovation that was way ahead of its time.

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The TransTrem will go down in the technical rock books as a piece of underrated genius, which it is. By using a locking system, one could play chord sequences in different keys, thus generally eliminating the need for alternate guitars with different tunings, or even capos. It even allowed playing the guitar after string breakage by shifting the TransTrem to the centre position, thus enabling the ability to complete the song. This surely would have been impossible, even on a Floyd Rose tremolo system.

Eddie began playing some more varied and interesting music on the 5150 album. After endorsers, such as Sting and David Bowie, played Steinberger instruments, Eddie obviously became inspired by the use of this new and ground-breaking line of instruments. He then requested a GL-2T to be painted in graphics not dissimilar to the Kramer 5150.

The result was the Steinberger GL-2T 5150. This guitar, and its counterpart, the Steinberger GL-2T OU812, were used during this era. Apart from the paint job and the pickups, which were EMG pickups, it is very much guessed that the guitar is stock.

The Steinberger 5150 and OU812 were also used extensively onstage, as well as on the 5150 album.

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Steinberger is now owned by Gibson. After Ned Steinberger sold the operation of his company in 1987, Steinberger instruments went through a bad period prior to ownership being acquired by Gibson, due to shifting trends more so than any other reason. Steinberger has not maintained the popularity that it has in previous times, yet is still running today.

Unlike the Frankenstrat or other Eddie Van Halen guitars, there is not much difficulty in recreating this particular guitar. From the Steinberger website below are some stats for one of the models of the Steinberger guitars, the GT-PRO Deluxe:

The Steinberger GT-PRO Deluxe is well worth checking out if you are interested in Steinberger guitars.

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Neck Material: 3-Piece Hard Maple

Neck Joint: Thru-Neck

Fingerboard: Rosewood

Fingerboard Radius: 14”

Frets: 24, Medium-Jumbo

Scale Length: 25.5”

Body Wings: Maple

Body Top: Maple

Pickups: Steinberger Humbucker, Single, Humbucker

External Controls: Master Tone, Master Volume, 5-Way Pickup Selector

Bridge: R-Trem Locking Tremolo with Patented DoubleBall Bridge with 40:1 ratio direct-pull tuners

Saddle Material: Steel

Weight: 7.0lb

Length: 30.25”

Zero Nut Width: 1.625”

12-Fret Width: 2.04”

Bridge Spacing: 0.42”

Note that some specifications on this current model are indeed, different to the original Steinberger GL-2T. Mostly aside from that, it is more or less the same guitar.

It is however, unfortunate that Eddie lost interest in using this guitar after some time. Although very much nowadays seen as a 1980s fad, the Steinberger line of guitars, including the GL-2T that Eddie Van Halen used, are original and interesting guitars indeed. Post 5150 album, the guitar was not really used extensively and eventually was retired by Ed in favour of his Kramer 5150. Still, it is an amazing guitar, and one that can be easily replicated today.

Steinberger are still around and still sell guitars not dissimilar to the 5150 and OU812.

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1.  2015. Eddie Van Halen’s Guitars and Gear.

2. Steinberger World.

3. Winterborne, Alex. Steinberger: Eighties Guitars.

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