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on August 2, 2011
I am extremely happy with my ZT-3 purchase, and did not have the experience of another reviewer who found the mechanics of the guitar difficult and confusing. The guitar has a unique pitch transposing system and a very different string tuning mechanism that both require one to learn how they work, and how to adjust various string and knob settings. The guitar's accompanying manual describes how to set up the guitar in detail, and guitar designer Ned Steinberger has also posted a very helpful setup video at Steinberger.com (go to TECH, then TransTrem Instructional Video). Other useful material pertaining to the ZT-3 is also available at this site (but note that Steinberger is now a subdivision of Gibson Guitars). If you are really overwhelmed by the guitar's mechanics, which I found quite straightforward, then I am sure a good guitar store technician would be able to adjust the guitar for you for a nominal fee so long as she has the appropriate setup information.

The dilemma for the potential ZT-3 buyer is that the guitar is so experimental that there are usually no try-out models available in guitar stores. I could not find a single one to play in the city of Chicago, for example. So you must order one without playing the guitar first, typically from stores with a "no-return if dissatisfied" policy. Such stores adopt such a policy since they think an unsold ZT-3 would be hard to sell to anyone else since it is not a mainstream guitar (a policy I think they should reconsider). After reading about the guitar and seeing it demonstrated in many on-line guitar videos, and after considering the reputation of the many fusion guitarists who play or have played Steinberger guitars (such as Brett Garsed, TJ Helmerich, Allan Holdsworth, Alex Machacek, and others), I decided to take a chance and ordered the ZT-3. I am now extremely glad I did since it proved to be a Ferrari of a guitar. I have owned and played many excellent classic electric guitars, but I think the Steinberger is among the very best I've ever played.

The most unique feature of the ZR-3 is its "trans-trem" pitch transposing system that enables one to immediately change the key of the guitar without using a capo. Using the tremolo (vibrato, whammy) bar you can shift down a whole note to the lowest position so that the guitar shifts from EADGBE to DGCFAD, or you can shift a whole note to the highest position (F#BEAC#F#), and the guitar remains in tune so long as it has been initially properly tuned and adjusted. (Incidentally, a digital guitar tuner is a must when adjusting the pitch-shifting and string-tuning mechanisms.) One can also shift down a half-step to D#G#C#F#A#D# or up a half step to FA#D#G#CF. The tremolo bar acts as a kind of gear shift which you push up or down to the desired key, and you then lock it in place by rotating the tremolo arm into its locked position. The trans-trem will not transpose individual strings, so it will not, for example, be able to shift to an alternate tuning, or immediately drop the low E string down to D. (For this latter move, I recommend a Drop-D capo (Kyser Drop-D Capo, Black), or a Spider capo (Creative Tunings Spider Capo) that can transpose individual strings.) A drawback of the trans-trem shifting mechanism is that once you have locked the tremolo bar into a different key from its usual middle position (usually the standard tuning of EADGBE), the tremolo bar is no longer available to use as a vibrato. However, when the tremolo bar is in its normal unlocked or floating position, then it functions like a superb vibrato bar, capable of bending entire chords in pitch, or of bending notes up one whole note, or down up to three whole notes. (I've found that by adding a small rubber washer--which I frequently replace--between the tremolo arm and the tailpiece, the vibrato arm has an even more subtle response touch.) Surprisingly, the guitar will still stay in tune even after tremendous pitch-bending actions due to the fact that two other innovative features of the ZT-3 are its tuning mechanism and ultra-stable neck and fingerboard.

Most guitars have a heavy headstock with six metal machine heads utilizing a gear ratio of 14:1 or 18:1 for tuning the guitar strings. Ned Steinberger wanted to eliminate this peripheral weight and incorporate it into the central mass of the guitar, giving Steinberger guitars greater natural resonance and balance. To achieve this he utilized tuning knobs with a 40:1 gear ratio that are located at the back of the bridge, and which are designed to work with calibrated guitar strings that have a metal ball at both ends (although the guitar can also use standard, single-ball strings). He then eliminated the headstock entirely (making the guitar `headless'), and replaced it with a groove that holds and anchors the string. One metal ball of the guitar string sits in the headpiece groove, and the other end fits into a tuner jaw at the base of the bridge. Since the length of the string is exactly calibrated, you simply turn the tuning knob near the bridge clockwise to tighten the string. With a metal ball at each end, no cutting of the string is necessary, and the string cannot lose tension or slip at the tuning machine head. This double-ball system makes string changing much simpler and faster, and results in a more accurate and stable guitar tuning overall. If you break a string, for example, the tension of the other strings is not affected, and they retain their pitch. However, it does mean that the guitar works best with the slightly more expensive calibrated double-ball strings that are available in standard, light, and extra-light gauge from many string manufacturers (for example, D'Addario ESXL120 Double Ball End Electric Guitar Strings, Extra Light). The Steinberger brand calibrated string package for the trans-trem comes with an extra high E string (Steinberger TransTrem Calibrated 6-String Guitar - Standard) or (Steinberger TransTrem Calibrated 6-String Guitar - Light).

The ZT-3 also has a phenolic fingerboard made of ultra-stable composite materials that make it much harder than wood, while also endowing it with the smooth feel of a maple neck, for faster guitar playing. The fretboard also has 24 frets so that you have a full four-octave range (not counting harmonic notes). Most traditional electric guitars have 22 frets.

The open-coil humbucker pickups can be accessed in both series wiring (producing a louder, fatter tone) and parallel wiring (producing a softer, yet brighter sound) depending upon the position of the push-pull knobs. This gives one an array of eight initial sound settings for the two pickups that can then be modulated by the tone control, so that one can get a very wide range of sounds and timbres.

The guitar also has a built-in fold-down leg rest, a recessed output jack in the back, adjustment tools that reside in the built-in tool holder, a limited lifetime warranty, and comes with a nicely padded gig bag (but I recommend that you order the matching hard shell case ] that is molded to fit the guitar exactly). I also recommend getting a strong and comfortable leather guitar strap (such as a Levy's Levy's Leathers MSS1-BLK Veg Tan Leather Guitar Strap,Black) that you never remove from the guitar so that the attachment holes never wear down. I think the ZT-3 is also one of the most aesthetically attractive of the Steinberger guitars, but is clearly not as minimalist as some of his previous models. Its flamed maple top comes in red, blue, and grey.

To hear and see the guitar in action, visit YouTube, where you can see Bryan Aspey's many award-winning guitar performances with his ZT-3, as well as a number of other demonstrations at the site (one guitarist simulates slide guitar using the tremolo to great effect). Allan Holdsworth plays his blue ZT-3 at "Allan Holdsworth w. Gary Husband - Apeldoorn, 2009."

The electric guitar industry is, in many ways, surprisingly conservative, promoting about a dozen excellent electric guitar models that have been around since the 1950s, and only recently offering innovative guitars that utilize the latest digital and robotic technologies. Ned Steinberger is to be congratulated for his innovative guitar that successfully breaks new ground and grants guitarists new playing possibilities. Future digital or robotic guitars may replace the trans-trem system with digital transposing software, or rapid and accurate robotic tuning machines. But I think the strength of this guitar lies in its compact yet balanced size, strong natural resonance, superb tuning accuracy and stability, the range of its many sounds, its flexible yet accurate vibrato system, its basic working mechanics, and the fact that is costs much less than many more popular guitars that lack many of the ZT-3's innovations.
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on March 24, 2012
I've always been a closet Steinberger fan since the '80's and eventually owned a GL2T/a in the early 90's. I liked the Gl2t a lot but it was the most bland sounding guitar I owned at that time. Maybe it was the EMG's and a growing interest in old Wood, vintage guitars, and PAF's but it was sold for a healthy price several years later. Just some background for a frame of reference and my experience with instruments. Typically I build my own guitars and amps but own several Les Pauls from the 70's to 200X era historic's, a Gibson Explorer, Hamer's, 3 custom shop Strats, Ernie Ball Music Man guitars etc. I always play Marshall Plexi Amps (late '67 and a few Metro amp clones) and have 2 Egnater's for practice. I'm picky about pickups and like Bareknuckle's, Voodoo 59's, Several Duncan's, and have purchased several custom winders pickups. So you know I'm not a punk reviewing his first guitar ;)

The Steinberger XT3 caught my eye about a year ago. Unique looking body shape and an updated Transtrem. Sweet. Price seems to be pretty fair too, cheaper then that past few guitars I've bought and cheaper then the parts I used to build the last few. A few early reviews on the 'net caused some concern regarding quality control. I figured I could take a risk and fix any issues myself. So I was not expecting a while lot more then an average (at best) sounding guitar with a Transtrem. Maple body, will this guitar will be bright? Quasi sucky Gibson built pickups that came in Kramer imports? Hmmmm.......This might be more work then I thought.....made in Korea.....yucky! Some concerns for a self admitted guitar snob.

What came in the mail the other day EXCEEDED my expectations. I was shocked just how well built and finished the guitars was. It was also a pleasant surprise to feel how resonant the guitar was. Exceptionally lively and snappy. Action and feel of the C shaped neck is superb. Fretwork is also pretty nice. I immediately changed the strings to Steinberger calibrated '009-.046's I ordered earlier in the week and set up the guitar from scratch. This involves setting up the scale lenght intonation, action height, truss rod intonation, and trem balance. From there, it is a simple procedure to setup the transposition function by tuning in the locked F# position and setting the jaw height in the lowest D position. This entire process took about 30 minutes and didn't take an engineering degree. I did watch Ned Steinberger's video earlier in the week to prep for the initial setup.

After the setup was complete, I plugged it into my old Marshall and the Steinberger lit it up. I was expecting that the pickups would be a deal breaker and would be swapped out immediately. They are actually a good match for the guitar. The bridge pickup sounds like a cross between a Duncan JB/Dimarzio super distortion with the midrange of a PAF. These stock pickups are a good match to the guitar. In fact, I had several good pickups put aside to try in the Steinberger but right now, I'm not touching a thing.

Against the odds and working against an indifferent parent company (Gibson), the ZT3 is way better then it deserves to be. I'd love to hear Ned's take on development but this is a fine instrument in its own right especially for the price.
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on September 10, 2014
Ok, we've all heard good and bad about these guitars, so I bought 2, they came and the objective was to try them both out and keep the better of the two, I'm Picky. Ive been playing for 20 yrs and my experience taught me to listen to electric guitars in a quiet room unplugged and feel their resonance, then on the amp. So heres the results. I could tell these axes have made the rounds (bought and returned) but my over all impression is they're OK. The necks were both straight, no buzz at 3rd, 5th 9th, and 12th, the finish is pretty good although the TRB (transparent black) one had a couple of small dings around the Trem area, the trem on the black one also had a little roughness of the bearings at a certain point, Both of them had the issue of the neck pickup cavity being too far forward and the pickup rings were being pressed upon and distorted by the neck causing the plastic to crash into the pickup rolling the pickup back a little (c'mon Gibson) but not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, cut the ring at the front and get on with life. I have some very nice axes and the reason for adding this to the collection was the TransTrem does some very unique things, and I always wanted to be a Steinberger owner. The playability of the guitar is good, nice sustain, the "Kickstand" places the guitar in a position I've never had before and after a while found it very easy to practice scales and just play. On the strap it's balanced, the curved top is easy on the right forearm, not as good as a Suhr or Strat but it,s OK, slight belly cut is nice, position of the neck is pretty much central so rhythm and leads are comfortable, the neck is a "D" profile so if you need a slim neck, don't get this one. Fretboard is phenolic on a hard maple neck making for a bright sounding string set, don't know if my local Luthier will be able to do the fret job when it's time but well see. So My overall impression is that it's Ok, workmanship left a little to be desired but all in all it's a nice guitar, the small stuff can be worked with and the design was pretty well thought out and they're not makin em anymore from what i've been hearing so get em while you can, that's my two cents, rock on guys hope this helps.
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on May 27, 2013
i Will keep it short n to the point. I too was concerned about the possible quality issues the guitar might have being built in Korea. I could not have been more incorrect. the ZT3 blew away my expectations. its very well thought out. beautiful components. the attention they spent on even the littlest of things was just a pleasure to behold. the neck and frets are gorgeous. i believe the frets are made of stainless steel. while it may be difficult to set up yourself...i gave it to my guitar technician and he set it up along with the help of the manual perfectly. and...it doesn't budge. honestly...it stays put. trust me folks...this guitar is not a cheap piece of eastern manufactured junk. its the real deal. I thought the synapse series was great too. but this guitar is a monster. get one strapped on and u will see what i mean. get the correct strings. that will make all the difference. get Steinberger double ball strings. that would be my only tip that i think you need to take me up on. otherwise...your gonna love it.
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on June 29, 2011
My advice if you are thinking about purchasing a Steinberger ZT3 is to either have an engineering degree or your own personal guitar tech. The guitar was not set up correctly when I received it and after several hours of trying to make the trans trem work I gave up. The owners' manual is useless. If I knew then what I know now I would not have purchased it.
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