Calgary author writes biography of instrument designer who influenced era of music

A Calgary musician and author has written the biography of one of the most influential musical instrument designers alive.

Ned Steinberger has been said to have revolutionized the sound of ’80s music. His headless electric bass, the “Steinberger,” has been played by the likes of Sting and the Rolling Stones and was even featured on John Lennon’s Double Fantasy album.

The biography of his journey, Steinberger: A Story of Creativity and Design, was written by Calgarian Jim Reilly.

Reilly told The Homestretch that he connected with Steinberger 15 years ago while doing promotional work in the music industry. 

  • Check out the Steinberger GLT 2 guitar in Eddie Van Halen’s Summer Nights video below!

“The more I got to know him just as a person and his story, the more I just kind of put it in my back pocket that someday I’d like to write that book, to tell that story,” he said.

Around five years ago, that goal led to hours of conversations between Steinberger and his network.

“It’s a fun music story and it’s fun to talk to these big rock stars and such, but I really wanted to dive down kind of behind that,” he said.

“So it’s also kind of exploring that relationship between the builder, the player and then the music.”

Ned Steinberger shows off one of his early guitar prototypes in 1983. (Photo courtesy of Ned Steinberger)

Reilly explains that Steinberger’s background was particularly compelling since he started out as a woodworker, not a musician. 

“This Steinberger bass was his first design.… So he didn’t start out as an instrument maker and kind of had a very interesting, serendipitous way into that world,” he said.

“He approached it from comfort and ergonomics and sort of looking at what really was essential to make an instrument comfortable and playable and engaging with the musician.” 

The instrument became instantly popular, which Reilly says helped define the 1980s video era.

“He comes up with this with this new instrument, this new design that’s immediately eye-catching and visually engaging,” he said.

These are some examples of Steinberger’s early work. On the left are two Spector NS Basses and on the right are two Steinberger L2 bass guitars. (Haruto Ichinose)

“They really became sort of the go-to instruments for the time.” 

Steinberger’s instruments are still in high demand today. He has shifted to making electric bowed instruments, basses and guitars.

“They haven’t reached the kind of iconic status of the Steinberger instruments, but they’re still being played by the top players in the field,” Reilly said.

Reilly’s book, Steinberger: A Story of Creativity and Design, is available online and in stores.


With files from The Homestretch.

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