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Reader Guitar of the Month: The Headless Minimalist

A Steinberger fan builds guitars out of unlikely materials, including nylon fishing line wrapped around the neck for frets.


Name: Per Lehmann

Hometown: Copenhagen, Denmark
Guitar: Minimalist headless custom build

I remember back in the late 1970s, when I saw the first Steinberger headless guitars, I thought: “What a clever design, soon everybody will want to play one of those.” I was wrong; they never really caught on. But I still think it’s a good design, and I have built a few for myself. This one is the newest.

It has a 64 cm scale length. A little less than a Fender, but a nice round number when you calculate pickup and bridge placement. The neck is made of ash laminated with a 3 mm thick piece of stainless steel to prevent warp and wood creep. The neck is bolted on with real bolts—not wood screws like most bolt-on necks.

The body is made of African mahogany. Even though it looks squarish, it’s ergonomic and comfortable to play either standing up or sitting down with it on your knee, cowboy style, or between your legs like a classical guitar player. The straight bottom makes it very sturdy when you stand it on the floor leaning against a wall. All hardware is made from parts you can buy in most hardware stores, in good materials like brass, aluminum, and stainless steel. The bridge is made from ipe, one of the heaviest and hardest woods known to man.

A special feature is the frets, made of nylon fishing line wrapped around the neck. I wanted to try this after I saw a picture of “The Mother of Minimalist Guitars,” the Avraham Bar Rashi guitar in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. I was surprised how well it worked. It’s very easy to put on and sounds only slightly mellower than metal frets. Nylon fishing line is tough. It’s used to catch tuna fish. I’ve had guitars with nylon frets on for more than five years and have yet to see any fret wear. Should it happen, it’s faster to change all your frets than to put on a new set of strings.

The pickup is a hardwired Wilkinson humbucker. I do equalization in my amp modeler. A humbucker in the neck position doesn’t need a lot of equalization anyway. I don’t gig anymore, but use this guitar to record short instrumentals for my YouTube channel.

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