Steinberger GR4

Steinberger GR4

Year: 1991

Made In: USA

Specs: Maple body, graphite neck

Electronics: DiMarzio Fred & PAF Pro pickups

Controls: Volume, tone, five-way switch

Steinbergers seldom come up second hand in these parts so, when one did at a price too good to be true, I had to check it out. The poor quality picture hinted at some crude modifications but it was still worth having a look. I couldn’t make out the model, there was nothing I could find with a H-S-H setup and talking to the seller didn’t clear anything up but I decided to have a gander anyway.

It was too good to be true, but it was also turned out to be a Newburgh era GR4. Clearly, it had spent many nights going from warm stages to the back of a cold van. I had never seen such finish checking on a guitar from any era. A number of crude modifications had been done, along with a very bad fret level though the neck was fundamentally sound. The original pickups had been replaced by a pair of DiMarzios and an unknown single-coil, all corroded to various degrees. A rough plastic housing hinted at some butchery underneath but, overall, I felt I could do a job here so a deal was done.

After getting it home and popping the lid, the full extent of the modifications became clear. It’s hard to tell whether a blunt chisel or Cro-Magnon forehead was used to gouge out the wood, but it was a bit of a mess regardless. The single coil turned out to be from a Mexican strat. The electronics had been entirely replaced with cheap parts. The bridge was in a poor state. A lot of work needed to be done.

I replaced the pots, scrapped the single-coil and installed a five-way Schaller Megaswitch to offer a multitude of coil-tapped tonal options. I replaced a couple of parts of the bridge and, after a good clean, it set up really well. The DiMarzios scrubbed up nicely and sound great and it’s a great player, gaping hole aside. I still need to do some fretwork and may do a full refret, but that’s a tricky job on graphite fretboards, so I’m in no rush.

Headless guitars take some getting used to, just the visual impact of no headstock at the end of the neck when you’re playing. These old Steinbergers are really quality instruments though. The necks are very playable and you can get a really low action. They’re very responsive and there’s a lovely crunch out of this one. There are so many smart features on this guitar and it’s amazing to think this one is almost approaching vintage status. Ned Steinberger is a clever fella.

I haven’t decided what to do next with this guitar. I’m thinking of taking 1/4″ off the top and replacing it with a figured top. I quite like it as is though. Despite, or maybe, because of the mutilation, I’ve grown quite attached to it. It was in bad, bad shape, but it’s got a good few years of playing left it it yet, even if it will continue to look worse for wear for the time being. I’m going to continue restoring it back to something approaching its former glory, it deserves it.

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