Monday, 9 November 2009


I kept this secret for quite a while now.

On the 23rd of October I decided to mail my headless Steinberger to the US of A for a very special modification to add a Sustainiac pickup to it. What do they sound like? This.

It was quite a spur of the moment decision.

I wrapped my gig bag in bubble wrap and made my way to Japan Post. In broken English, the girl said it had to be in a box to transport it. Problem was, I didn't have one, so on the way back to the apartment I looked for places that might have a cardboard box.

The guitar is an unusual shape, so that wasn't easy to find. There was someone selling some clothes out of cardboard boxes from outside a house near my street, so I asked if they had one to spare. It wasn't the right size but I figured I could cut it and tape it up into a custom made box perfect for shipping.

Luckily it was a Friday so I had a little time up my sleeve to do all this. It cost me 6,900 yen ($75 US) weighing about 3.9kg. I love EMS. Japan Post is really efficient. It only took 3 days to get there. (Same to Australia as well).

The Sustainiac is a special pickup made by Maniac Music in Indianapolis, USA. His website is a little basic, but the price wasn't too bad. (If I save a bit of money from him not having a costly website to maintain, I wouldn't care if he did himself in Frontpage).

I was quoted $229 for the actual pickup, $175 for the installation including the additional routing for the electronics and battery cavity, $16 for the battery case and $69.50 for Express shipping back to Tokyo. That's $489.50 US dollars total. Including my shipping from this end that comes to about US$564.50 all up.

In Japan there IS a company that has a Fernandes Sustainer quite similar to this, SO.. why didn't I just get it done here?

Of course that did cross my mind, but there were a few issues involved. I did attempt to go to a few music shops here for an idea of installation costs, and they were all quite hesitant to do a modification on such a small guitar. The Fernandes version is bigger, uses toggle switches, and would require a lot more wood taken out of it.

The cost here is 31,290 yen (US $348) JUST for the pickup. I imagine the cost of routing and installation would've been about the same, but they couldn't give me a firm price on that. The language barrier didn't help either.

The guitar arrived back to me on Monday, 9th of November taking only slightly longer (4 days?) to get back to me. Thankfully, I didn't have to pay any extra fees in relation to duty through customs either way. I told the gf I was "Happy as a pig in ****" to getting my hands on it finally, which confused her quite a bit.

From reports on the internet, the consensus is that the Sustainiac is a better unit (than Fernandes). They had to remove my tone knob for the mode switch toggle, but the on/off works simply as a push/pull pot on the volume control. It doesn't get in the way of the whammy at all.

I wish the rear panel was indented into the body like the original cover (would have increased the cost), but it was a clean job overall.How does it sound?

Pretty darn good. It took a bit of fiddling to find the best mode (Fundamental, Harmonic or Mix) for the most ideal areas of the fretboard, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of it. I'll hopefully make a video of it sometime.

It's a heap of fun playing around with my whammy bar. Flutters are much easier than before, and a bent note goes on and on. The harmonic mode screams like an amp on "11" feedbacking nicely. E-bow sounds are much easier to control with all the hardware built-in to the pickup.I kind of wish the neck pickup had a fatter humbucking sound, but with the versatility of this unit, I guess it's an ok compromise.

One thing that I'm really happy about is that unlike the Fernandes, when you take the battery out, or if it goes dead, the passive pickups CONTINUE to work, so no worries of a dead guitar on stage. Perfect.

Alan Hoover is the guy who's in charge and he's been great to talk to. If you want to do this to one of your guitars I'd highly recommend getting in touch with him.

Look here for an install on a Ibanez Jem. I like to keep my uber-expensive Jem stock considering how much it cost, but on a guitar like this it's a no-brainer. If guitar makers had any sense, they'd make these standard on all guitars. It's the world's best kept secret for sure.

It's definitely going to encourage me to play that Steinberger even more. I wish more people would play these guitars so the strings would be a little cheaper (in Japan they are). You can use standard strings though, with a special string lock up top. The choice of locked bridge or whammy takes away the pain of tuning (including drop D), and string changes are easy and quick. Great transport guitars too.

C'mon people!