The Stepp guitar

The internet is full of coincidences. Watching the Kate Bush video “Experiment IV” I was already enthusiastic about the Simmons kit when I saw the guitar player’s synth guitar.

I was sure that I have seen this before and I was right! It was the “Stepp Guitar” synthesizer.


taken from Complete Simmons Drum Book

In the “Complete Simmons Drum Book” Bob Henrit writes about the “Stepp Guitar”:

Over the last few years when I’ve been visiting either of the Simmons factories, I’ve frequently been confronted by a very futuristic guitar which has always been whisked out of sight the moment I’ve asked any questions about it. However, this bunch of hi-tech components has finally emerged as the ‘Stepp’ guitar, which now has only tenuous links with Simmons, to the sort of critical acclaim which greeted the original SDS.5 drum set. Being the go-ahead company that they are, Simmons have frequently carried out, via their ‘R and D’ department, feasibility studies on a number of percussion, and non-percussion-linked musical properties. They’ve not only looked into guitars, but also keyboards and the like.
Back in the early days at Abbey Mill, a chap called Steve Randall came along wit a sketch of a guitar on the back of a cigarette packet. This was his dream and he felt that Dave Simmons might well be able to help. They talked about the project and Dave experimented with an ARP 2600 and some pickups and applied what knowledge he had about voicing to get the equipment to produce guitar-like sound. From there he built prototypes, and then ran into so many problems that it became obvious very quickly that he’d either have to devote all of his time to the project, or none at all.
So, even though there were many times that the guitar could have been a total of Simmons venture, the board decided to pass on it in favour of drums. Steve Randall consequently took their joint work to a Cambridge consultant where it has resided ever since. Dave says that the formative ideas where mostly Steve’s, and post-Simmons he’d been searching for some time for very good brains, as well as a large amount of fonance to make the dream a reality. It has not, I understand been easy for him and has necessitated a great deal of stubborn determination to get this revolutionary guitar into the market-place.
The guitar, with its inherent complicated technology, was beset by many problems which were unfortunately not solved overnight. Dave Simmons says that, had his company remained involved, they would not have had sufficient resources left to fight their other drum battles. Obviously it would have been a great coup to have Simmons hi-tech drums and guitars, but the company decided they had a big enough battle on their hands building the market for drums, let alone guitars.
Just like Simmons drums the ‘Stepp’ guitar is unique. It’s not a bastardisation of an acoustic instrument, and they haven’t simply mounted a pickup and endeavoured to pluck control signals from the strings. They’ve taken a sideways look at the whole soncept. In their philosophy they parallel Simmons who always maintained that if you’re going to do something different, then you might just as well go the whole hog.
From bitter experience Dave knows that there are going to be guitarists who critisise the ‘Stepp’ in the same way that drummers originally derided the SDS.5 drums. They’ll probably say why should they pay a great deal of money for an instrument which sounds something like the guitar they already own? the fact is, if they’ve managed to make it sound like a guitar and play like one, then they’ve more or less ‘cracked it’. It is relatively simple then to persuade it to sound like an organ, a trumpet or perhaps even a drum!

While we discussed the guitar, Dave admitted that some of the problems Simmons have had with their products have been of their own making; they were simply too complicated. He feels that they ran perhaps too far ahead of the general public. It’s frustrating for the company, but they can understand the public too. For ‘Stepp’ guitar to be successful the people behind it will have to realise this. The player will want to pick it up, plug it in and scintillate. Because of dummy strings he may have to modify his technique a little, but otherwise one would have thought all the lessons learned from marketing Simmons electronic drums, could be just as succinctly and valuably applied to the ‘Stepp’ guitar.


(Steve Randall performing on his Stepp guitar)

2 Responses to “The Stepp guitar”

  1. Carlos says:

    I remember the Stepp guitar only in brochures on a magazine called
    Electronic Musician back in the 80’s, also I used to buy a yearly
    catalog of musical instruments and the price of that quitar was
    not cheap, $12,000 grand if my memory doesn’t fail, but I also
    remember that the people who distribute Simmons Drums in
    USA also distribute or sell the Stepp guitar, Simmons Group Centre
    in Calabasas, California.

    I hope this is useful.

  2. Mash says:

    Now look at that setup! A Stepp Guitar, a nine-piece-Simmons Set and two Fairlights! I love the 80ies! 🙂

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