Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Steinberger Parts Dilemma

Previously on this blog I've talked about my Steinberger basses and the difficulty in finding proper parts for them. Here are a few details on what I've learned in the hopes that it helps someone else.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there are many versions of the famed Steinberger bridge, and they tend to all be slightly incompatible in size and fasteners used to attach them to the bodies.

The older bridges that I've seen -- from the Newburgh-manufactured era -- use somewhat exotic and hard-to-find black "Filister head" screws: #6, 3/4" in length. I had to resort to trial and error, mail-ordering several different types until I found the correct screws to attach the 4-string bridge to an XQ-4 body.

Looking for a correct original replacement bridge? Good luck. You can probably find one for a Synapse, a Nashville-era instrument, or a Spirit, but bridges for Newburgh-made instruments are hard to come by.

I found out the hard way that the clever Steinberger "kick-stand" leg rest is functional, but has a rather critical design flaw: they are fragile. I made the mistake of putting my XP bass down on a bed leaving the "kick stand" unfolded, to attend to something, and turning my back on one of my children for just a moment. The instrument got pulled off the bed and onto the carpeted floor. With maple bodies, composite necks, light weight, and a 5-bolt neck attachment, these instruments aren't all that fragile, and the instrument itself would have suffered no damage at all. But the leg rest is essentially a little lever made out of rather thin aluminum, and it snapped off like a dry twig.

After I beat the child in question severely (KIDDING! I'm KIDDING!) Although I'm ashamed to admit that some angry yelling was involved... OK, I mean "after I calmed down," I thought OK, no big deal -- newer Steinbergers have the same leg rest, so I ought to be able to get a replacement, right? Er, not so much. The originals use "Filister head" machine screws. But not the longer Filister head wood screws like the ones that were used to attach the bridges. They are countersunk differently. The head shape and width is very important because they fit flush, so you don't snag your clothes on them. These screws use a 7/64" drive -- another somewhat rarely-seen dimension.

Left: Filister head machine-threaded screw that was used to attach the leg rest; right: Filister head wood screws that was used to attach the bridge (and which I did successfully find replacement parts for, but it wasn't easy).

By the way, if you ever need some of those Filister head wood screws on the right, to attach a Newburgh-era bridge to the body on something like an XQ-4 bass (and don't ask me exactly what other models they might have been used on), I have a whole bag of them now. Drop me a comment, and I'll mail you some, so you don't have to go through what I had to go through to find them.

Anyway, now that a short story has become hopelessly long, the screws weren't broken, so I thought I'd be able to reuse them, but I picked up a couple of replacement leg rests and the original screws don't fit. Fun, huh? (In other words, the "Licensed By" leg rests aren't quite the same as the originals.

I could go on a quest for machine screws that are the same in all other respects except the head, I suppose, but I know from my previous efforts how hard it can be to find exactly matching screws.

It leaves me wondering if it is possible to remove just the head part of the folding leg rest and swap it with the leg part of a newer one, or drill out the part a bit to accommodate the heads of the screws. It is possible, of course, to play without the leg rest: just put on a strap and stand. But my "use case" is to use this thing mostly in the studio while sitting at the computer. Maybe I will just leave it off and make the XP the bass I always play standing up. (In fact, that's just what I did for "Leaving Ann Arbor").

The situation with bridge parts is worse. I wrote about the damaged bridge on my XQ-4 v1 bass. It got worse, such that the D string tuner no longer works at all. It was almost impossible to get the D string off, but it is now sitting here unplayable.

It needs more attention than I can give it, especially since the last thing I want to do is screw up an original Newburgh-era Steinberger bridge.

I went so far as to buy a replacement bridge, but it doesn't fit. The Nashville-era XQ-4 bridges aren't quite compatible. On the bright side, I suppose, I have a spare Nashville-era XQ-4 bridge that fits the white Steinberger, should that one ever become hopelessly damaged as well.

I asked Peekamoose Guitars in New York if I could send them the bridge to repair. I expected either a "yes" or "no" answer, or maybe a "no" with an explanatory note along the lines of "we only repair complete instruments." Instead I got back a surprisingly ranty note about how they have to test the instrument under playing conditions, saying that there "are some aspects of how components behave which cannot be replicated by substitute means. The only way to prove beyond any doubt the instrument's parts are working correctly for that instrument alone, is to test, measure and play it at the adjustment specs we know are dead on the money..."

Yeah. Erm, thanks for the lecture, but methinks thou dost protest too harshly. you could have just said that it isn't profitable enough for you to work on a part without being able to charge for a setup too. That, I can understand, and I don't really object to it -- luthiers deserve to get paid. But don't tell me a shop that does a whole lot of repair on Steinberger bridges couldn't fix a screwed-up tuning machine without my whole instrument. Luthiers tend to keep scratch bodies and necks around. They make little jigs and test apparatus all the time so they can do things more efficiently and easily without constantly putting the parts back on, or taking them off, the instruments in question. Hell, just attaching the bridge to the end of a two-by-four, with a nail at the other end to hook the string's ball end onto, would serve to establish whether a the tuning machine works smoothly under tension. It probably would take a luthier less time to make that jig than it did to write the e-mail I got in response. And I don't need them to do the setup. I enjoy doing that part myself.

I might still send it to them -- they've pretty much got the market on Steinberger repairs cornered at this point -- but that exchange left just a slightly bad taste in my mouth. And I've got to consider cost of shipping -- this is a heavy bass. This doesn't encourage me to ask them if they've got a replacement leg rest I can install on the XP bass. It's the kind of situation where I might hold on to it until the next time I'm actually in the neighborhood, maybe as part of a vacacion trip to the area, and see if I can drop it off in person.

I also attempted some minor superglue finish repair on the XQ-4, and it was a bit of a disaster. The instrument has a few spots of leprosy in addition to the broken bridge, where the repair is worse than the original ding. The superglue I used was not good stuff -- it dried yellowish, looking far worse than the superglue Stewart Macdonald sells for drop fills. It works really well for Dan Erlewine, and he explains and advocates for the technique in his book, but I'm clearly not him. And this isn't even my first attempt. My advice to you: don't try. If I do send it to Peekamoose I'll ask them if they can do anything about the finish. My expectation -- not a lot, but maybe some of the more egregious leprosy can be polished out a little.

There's one more thing -- both my Newburgh Steinberger basses came only with gig bags. I'd like to get hard cases for them. It's hard to find a hard case that will fit the small "Flying V" body of an XP bass. There are, though, companies that will take a tracing and a few measurements and build you a custom case that fits your instrument snugly. I might look into that.

Meanwhile, I'm still keeping an eye out on eBay for a matching Steinberger GP guitar, maybe an R-trem model without the Trans-Trem. These models are quite rare. They either don't come up, or they are extremely expensive, and I don't have a lot of money to put into the guitar collection at the moment. Maybe someday!

UPDATE: I finally got the right replacement leg rest! An eBay seller just happened to post one for sale, and my automatic search caught it for me. See:


Paul R. Potts said...

Hi Paul,

I am going to repost your message underneath here with your e-mail address removed but the short answer is I never did find the _right_ leg rest. I have a couple spares now that will fit Spirits or later Steinbergers but not the Newburgh instruments. However, I am confused because I am not sure there are any "pre-Gibson" Transcales. I am not a serious expert though... what model are you talking about?

Hi Paul.

I have the exact same problem with the leg rest on my (pre-Gibson) Transcale. I haven't been able to find a single replacement ( I even tried Gibson) - can you tell me where you got yours?

Paul Turner [e-mail address redacted]

Rick Lewis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul Potts said...

Hi Rick,

Reposting your comment below; didn't just approve it directly because I wasn't sure you wanted your e-mail address included.

"Fascinating blog. I was led to it while doing a search for 'Steinberger parts', specifically battery compartment screws and bridge screws for a Brooklyn made L2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog.

Rick Lewis"

Thanks for your comment. I am now saving up to send my XQ bass to:

and maybe Jeff Babicz can fix it.

Anonymous said...

Modify the screws, not the leg rest, sounds like you have lots of them to chose from. Wrap the threads in several layers of teflon tape and put the screw in a drill chuck. Run the drill and hold a file on the side of the socket head and keep checking the size until it just fits into the hole in the leg rest. It the head is also too high, draw file the top and shorten the socket head slightly until it is flush or a touch low. Stick them thru a sheet of copier paper and dust them flat black. I can't find any leg rests either and I want ANY KIND at all for an ESP LTD V-350guitar and a Slammer By Hamer flying V and it seems like a lost cause so far. All the best, DJWalsh

Anonymous said...

I would love to know where you were able to purchase the replacement steinberger leg rest??
I would like a few for a Kramer Duke Bass & a Flying V
Thanks So Much!!

Paul Potts said...

Anonymous -- they came entirely from eBay sales. Just set up a regular search for "Steinberger Leg" and that should catch them as they come up now and then.

Crispy said...

Looks like Ed Roman Guitars is a decent source for steinberger parts,and yes they do have those leg rest thingys.But the price is a bit excessive in my book.I have to get some parts for the bridge on my bass,I'll let everyone know how that shakes out.

Paul Potts said...

Crispy, I have bought parts from Ed Roman before -- but from what I can tell very few of them will work with Newburgh instruments. In related news I have a bass bridge I can't use unless my son's Nashville Moses Graphite Steinberger breaks.

Anonymous said...

Go to a machine shop. I've had parts made for around a hundred dollars. Replaced all the ball end hikers on the bridge.

Paul Potts said...

Hi Anonymous,

This post is pretty old so I don't actually need those parts any more. But I will keep it in mind for refurbishing other old instruments.