Guitar Headstock Shapes and Types: Everything You Need To Know

Published Categorized as Guitar Information

What headstock do you have? What are the other guitar headstock shapes and types? How many do you have? And what will you do with them all?

All this and more today as we explore the various guitar headstock types in all their glory.

Introduction: Unveiling the World of Guitar Headstocks

Firstly, what is a headstock?

A headstock is part of a guitar or similar stringed instruments such as a lute, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, and others of the lute lineage. The main function of this headstock is to house the tuning pegs or other mechanism that holds the strings at the “head” of the instrument.

At the “tail” of the instrument the strings are usually held by a tailpiece or bridge. Machine heads on the headstock are commonly used to tune the instrument by adjusting the tension of strings and, consequently, the pitch of sound they produce.

When pondering the anatomy of an electric guitar or acoustic guitar, the headstock may not hold as much weight as the pickups or tone wood. However, it’s still a crucial consideration. While the purpose of the headstock might seem pretty straightforward, its impact extends beyond functionality. In fact, it can have a fairly significant influence on the sound of the guitar as well as contribute to its visual appeal.

As a rule, like in any part of an instrument’s manufacturing process, headstock designs pivot heavily on performance functionality. The shape of the headstock has a significant impact on tuning stability and the way the strings slide through the nut grooves.

Guitar Headstock Types

Let’s get started properly dissecting the types of guitar headstocks, shall we?

Straight (Flat) Headstocks

In the 1950s, Leo Fender sought to create a headstock that was both sturdy and cost-effective, minimizing wood waste., the result being the straight headstock.

This straight headstock, otherwise known as the flat headstock, lives up to its name without any noticeable angle, fashioned from a single, flat piece of wood that forms into the neck. This design is widely recognized and still frequently used due to its sturdiness and affordability.

Unlike angled headstocks, the straight headstock boasts a slim profile, requiring only a two-inch thick piece of lumber, though it can be thinner depending on the guitar.

This uncomplicated design presents a singular challenge: the angle between the nuts and the strings furthest from it. On Fender guitars, the longest string is typically the high E, while other models have a different string extending higher up on the headstock.

While it doesn’t impact the guitar’s sound or appearance, it can impact playability. A shallower string angle can lead to slippage if the string is bent too hard, as there isn’t enough pressure on the nut. This can result in every guitarist’s worst enemy, string buzz.

Luckily, numerous solutions have been devised to address this particular challenge. One of the most popular options found on lower-cost guitars is the use of “string trees,” which are tiny metal components inserted into the headstock to exert downward pressure on the strings, creating greater tension and a more acute angle.

Yinfente Unfinished Electric Guitar Neck Replacement 24 Fret 25.5 Inch Maple Wood Fretboard Binding Headstock

Angled (Tilted) Headstocks

The tilted-back headstock, otherwise known as the angled headstock, is the second most popular design. As the name suggests, this headstock is angled, and, unlike the straight headstock, the angled headstock requires more wood to construct due to the sharper angle between itself and the neck.

As a result, the production cost is often higher, and you’ll typically find these on mid to high-end guitars, such as those from Ibanez or Gibson.

Guyker Guitar Roller String Retainers(Set of 2) – String Guide, Strings Trees Replacement Part for Electric Guitars, Chrome

One of the primary benefits of angled headstocks is that they address the inherent issues with flat headstock designs. Thanks to the sharper angle, there’s ample tension on the strings, preventing them from slipping out of the nut grooves. As a result, no complex solutions, such as string trees or staggered tuners, are required to keep everything in check.

Additionally, the increased string tension provides better sustain and intonation. The famous sustain that you get from a Gibson Les Paul, for example, is partially due to the angled headstock.

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro II '50s Neck Electric Guitar Gold Top

However, many guitar enthusiasts argue that angled headstocks, despite their benefits, are structurally weaker than flat headstocks, even though they are both single-piece designs. The larger angle creates more tension on the neck and headstock, making it more susceptible to breaking (in theory), hence the veritable army of Gibson users who have lost their headstocks along the way.

Scarf Headstock

The scarf headstock is a unique design that defies categorization, differing from both the flat and angled headstocks in that it’s made from two pieces of wood, rather than a single piece. To create a scarf joint, a flat piece of lumber is cut at an angle before the two pieces are glued together in one of two ways so that the wood grain on the headstock runs parallel to its face, a technique that can be employed with either laminated or solid wood.

To achieve better tone and string stability, some guitar manufacturers use a scarf joint in hybrid headstock designs, combining the best of both worlds. Unlike the single-piece flat or angled headstocks, the scarf headstock is made of two pieces of wood, resulting in better sustain and a more stable structure.

Of course, as you might expect, the sawing and gluing process requires more time, energy, and labor, making them more expensive to produce them straight headstocks, though cheaper than angled ones.

Reversed Headstock

A reversed headstock is a headstock that has been flipped or inverted. In contrast to your traditional headstock design, where the tuning pegs face upwards and are situated on the top of the head, the tuning pegs on a reverse headstock face downwards and are allocated underneath the head.

This design is often associated with metal-oriented guitar Brands such as Ibanez or Jackson, though can be found in plenty of other boutique guitar brands as well.

While the advantages of using reverse headstocks are up for debate, some people claim that they offer better tuning stability. Additionally, the bass strings are under more tension, while the treble strings are under less, making it easier to bend lower notes, and a bit harder to bend higher notes.

What we know for sure is that one of the main reasons people prefer reverse headstocks is their aesthetic appeal. Just marvel at the Fender Super Sonic, a design allegedly based on an image of Jimi Hendrix playing a Fender Jaguar.

Squier Paranormal Super-Sonic Electric Guitar, Shell Pink, Laurel Fingerboard

Classical Guitar Headstocks

Otherwise referred to as slotted headstocks, these are commonly found on classical or Flamenco-style guitars. The main difference between these and standard headstocks is that each string is threaded through a slot and secured with special ties or knots.

While there are many benefits to the slotted headstock design, one of the most obvious is the added tone and sustain due to the improved angle at which the strings break over the nut.

On the other hand, slotted headstocks are often harder to restring and are notorious for being more fragile than standard acoustic guitar headstocks.

Yamaha C40II Classical Guitar, Full Size, Natural

Acoustic Guitar Headstocks

Standard acoustic guitar headstocks, otherwise known as solid headstocks, are often angled at the same angle as the neck (typically around 14 degrees), allowing for optimal stability and string tension.

You’ll often find a horizontal nut for the strings to pass through, as well as tuners mounted on each side of the headstock in a 3+3 design reminiscent of a Gibson.

Of course, the shape and design of a standard acoustic guitar headstock can vary based on model and brand, and some are very traditional, while others are ornate and decorative.

Fender CC-60S All-Mahogany Concert V2 Pack Acoustic Guitar, Natural, with Gig Bag and Accessories

Headless Guitars

Not all guitars follow the traditional headstock design, and many don’t even have headstocks at all. These “headless” guitars from brands like Kiesel, Strandberg, and Steinberger are becoming increasingly popular. What’s interesting is that they house most of the same parts as traditional guitars but inside the body.

This innovative approach offers several advantages, including lighter construction, which can be beneficial during long performances. Additionally, changing strings is much easier and faster, and your guitar stays in tune for longer periods of time.

Conversely, headless guitars have a few downsides as well. For starters, they typically come with a higher price tag. Secondly, due to the absence of tuning pegs, tuning mid-performance is not an option, limiting your flexibility as a player. Furthermore, the lack of a headstock also means they can’t be hung on a standard guitar hanger.

Volgoa GTWT-01 6-String Headless Electric Guitar with Flame Maple Veneer and Maple Neck, Mahogany Body (Red)

Different Guitar Headstock Shapes & Brands

Now, let’s take a look at these headstock shapes in practice and see how they are represented by some of the biggest guitar brands on the market today.

S-Style Headstock (Fender)

The S-style headstock is employed by Fender and can be found on the brand’s iconic Stratocaster and Telecaster (pictured below) models. These headstocks are known for their use of staggered tuners and string trees, which compensate for the shallow break angle of the strings.

Fender Player Telecaster SS Electric Guitar, Butterscotch Blonde, Maple Fingerboard

LP-Style Headstock (Gibson)

Gibson guitars have become well known for their angled, one-piece LP-style headstocks, which have a distinct “open book” shape.

However, the older versions of these headstocks were infamous for breaking, leading to many tales about fragility. In response, Gibson introduced several improvements over the years to make the headstocks more reliable, including the use of various alloys to prevent strings from sticking due to the sideways angle at which they leave the nut.

Each one of Gibson’s guitars, including the Flying B, SG, and Les Paul (pictured below), uses these headstocks with a 3+3 tuning peg layout.

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro II '50s Neck Electric Guitar Gold Top

Ibanez-Style

Ibanez is a quality brand known for its well-made guitars which feature really unique and aggressive designs featuring a lot of sharp angles and deep cutaways.

The design of their headstocks is no exception. Their sharp-looking headstocks are also offset, which allows for a perpendicular angle between the nut and tuners, as in the case of PRS and Fender. Their mid-range and high-end models have an angled one-piece headstock, while their entry-level guitars may feature scarf joint headstocks. A lot of their guitars also feature volutes to make the neck/headstock connection stronger.

Ibanez 6 String Solid-Body Electric Guitar, Right, Transparent Green Burst (GRX70QATEB)

Jackson

Jackson guitars are popular among players of heavier musical genres and feature aggressive designs, not unlike those of Ibanez.

When it comes to headstocks, they use scarf joints for the most part, which is probably the only possible option, considering the extreme design of their headstocks. In terms of tuner layout, there are Jackson with a 6-in-line tuner layout, as well as those with 3+3, but also 3+4 for their seven-string electric guitars.

Jackson 6 String JS Series Dinky Arch Top JS22 Electric Guitar, Amaranth Fingerboard, Other, Snow White AFB (2910121500)

Schecter

Schecter guitars are known for their quality and affordable price. They are ideal for heavier music genres, although their range is diverse enough that anyone can find a guitar that suits their playing style.

They stick with diversity when it comes to their headstocks as well. Sure, all of their guitars have an angled headstock, and most have volutes for added strength and rigidity, but their tuner layout is all over the place. You can find Schecters with a 6-in-line tuner layout, 2+4, which is basically a reversed 4+2 found on Music Man, as well as 3+3, which mimics the PRS. Most Schecters have a one-piece headstock.

Schecter OMEN-6 6-String Electric Guitar, Black

Music Man

Music Man is among the most coveted and innovative guitar brands on the market, and one of the reasons for that is the fact that Leo Fender himself worked on the design of these instruments.

That explains the flat headstock, which is standard on Fender guitars, as well as the perpendicular angle at which the string leaves the nut. To facilitate this, Music Man guitars use the 4+2 tuner layout for their headstocks.

Sterling by Music Man 6 String Solid-Body Electric Guitar, Right, Trans Gold (AX3FM-TGO-M1)

PRS

Paul Reed Smith Guitars is arguably the USA-made guitars today, and part of the reason why that is because they have opted to improve on pretty much everything that Gibson and Fender didn’t.

PRS uses angled headstocks, with a break angle of 10 to 11 degrees. One of the best things about the PRS is that they use the same headstock for all of their models, which allows for the same tuning stability and playability regardless of the money you have spent on their guitar. Also, the 3+3 layout of the tuners allows for the strings to leave the nut grooves at a perpendicular angle to the nut. PRS uses both one-piece and scarf joint headstocks for their guitars, with their cheaper instruments using the latter.

PRS Guitars 6 String SE CE 24 Electric Guitar, Vintage Sunburst with Gigbag, Right, (112888::VS:)

Rickenbacker

Rickenbacker introduced a new look for its electric guitar headstocks in the 1950s. The new headstock featured a one-of-a-kind shape that put it aside from all the other guitars of its time.

Since then, this brand-defining design has become one of Rickenbacker guitars’ most recognizable characteristics. Rickenbacker guitars with their unique headstock have been used by numerous well-known guitarists, such as John Lennon, Tom Petty, and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck

Kiesel

Kiesel has a very unusual business model that involves them building a guitar specifically for you, you can pretty much get any kind of headstock design, whether it’s flat or angled. It all depends on the components that you choose, hence why you won’t find two Kiesel guitars that are alike.

Their tuner layout is also all over the map since Kiesel guitars can come with 6-in-line, 3+3, 4+2, or 2+4 string tuner layout, and in the case of their 7-string axes, 3+4 or 4+3 string tuner layout. They are true chameleons when it comes to headstock design.

The Influence of Headstock Shape on Guitar Sound and Playability

The shape of the headstock shouldn’t have a huge effect on guitar acoustics other than incredibly subtle differences in tone or sustain. These nuances are commonly attributed to neck mass and material, so the headstock would invariably come into play in some capacity, but this would be difficult to ascertain.

The shape of a headstock will, however, definitely affect tuning. String ‘spread’ from the nut to the tuners, and headstock angle can contribute to tuning stability, especially on guitars with a non-locking tremolo.

While the shape of a guitar’s headstock may not significantly affect the overall sound, it does play a crucial role in determining other aspects of your guitar’s performance. For example, the size and weight of a headstock can affect the angle at which your string breaks, while also influencing the distribution of dead spots along the fretboard.

Choosing the Right Guitar: Considering Headstock Shape

Wondering which headstock is right for you? Use the following criteria to further your personal investigation in selecting a guitar based on the headstock!

  • Tuning Stability – If excellent tuning stability is one of your main priorities, go for a volute headstock.
  • String Changes – If you often find yourself changing strings, a six-in-line or straight headstock is a solid choice.
  • Aesthetics – It’s also important to remember that the headstock is an essential component of your guitar’s overall appearance, so you may want to consider the look and whether or not it complements your style.

Conclusion: The Aesthetic and Functional Art of Headstock Design

Picking the right guitar for yourself is easier said than done because there are so many different factors and parameters that you need to take into account – once you start getting into the nuts and bolts of it all and making the most of what the guitar has to offer, you will soon know what’s right for you.

For now, just make sure you are honoring yourself and your beliefs to the best of your ability.

FAQs Guitar Headstock Types

What are the different types of guitar headstocks?

Straight headstock, tilted back headstocks and scarf neck headstocks are the main varieties of headstocks that you are likely to see for sale on the guitar market.

How many types of headstock are there?

There are two major trends in headstock construction, based on how the string will go after passing the nut (straight or tilted). The advantages and disadvantages of both trends are very debatable and subjective.

How do I identify my guitar by headstock?

All guitars from authentic companies have manufacturer names written somewhere on the guitar. They are distinct such as the names Fender or Gibson written on the headstock or the letter K for Kay guitars.

What type of headstock does Gibson use?

Gibson has used the “Open Book” headstock design since their inception, and while the design did not originate with them, it became synonymous with the brand and was later trademarked as its own.

What is a 3×3 headstock?

A guitar headstock in which each side of the headstock holds three of the tuning keys, giving the headstock a symmetrical appearance. Both acoustic and electric guitars often feature 3+3 headstocks.

What is a slotted headstock?

On a slotted headstock guitar, the strings are held over the nut at a steeper angle (called break angle). Many guitarists and luthiers believe that this causes the string exert more pressure onto the nut and as a result drive more energy into the guitar as a whole, ultimately affecting the tone in a positive way.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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