Last Updated on April 28, 2023 by Teemu Suomala
Author: Tyler Connaghan
Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster.
Expertise: music industry, producing, acoustic & electric guitars, songwriting
Bachelor of Science in Music Industry Studies, Music IndustryHide The Rambling▲
Editing & Research: Teemu Suomala
I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.
I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.
I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).Hide The Rambling▲
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 and contribute to its visual appeal.
Today, we’re going to dive in and take a look at the many different types of headstocks and how they differ!
7 Guitar Headstock Types
Straight (Flat) Headstock
In the 1950s, Leo Fender sought to create a headstock that was both sturdy and cost-effective, minimizing wood waste. The result was the straight headstock.
The 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 frequently used due to its sturdiness and affordability. You’ve most likely seen it on the early Fender Stratocasters.
Unlike angled headstocks, the straight head stock boasts a slim profile, requiring only two-inch thick piece of lumber, though it can be thinner depending on the guitar.
The straight headstock’s 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.
So why does this angle matter?
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 tees,” which are tiny metal components inserted into the headstock to exert downward pressure on the strings, creating greater tension and a more acute angle.
- Simplicity of design equates to low cost
- Makes the guitar more resilient to structural integrity demise
- Angle doesn’t push the strings don hard enough in the nut, making tuning less stable
- Not the prettiest
Angled (Tilted-Back) Headstock
The tilted-back headstock, otherwise known as the angled headstock, is the second most popular design. As the name suggests, this headstock is angled. 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 mid to high-end guitars, such as those from Ibanez or Gibson.
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.
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).
- Minimizes the flaws inherent in the straight headstock
- Construction makes it harder for strings to slip out of tune
- Many believe these headstocks sound more expressive and vibrant
- Falls short in terms of structural integrity compared to straight headstocks
- More expensive to produce
The scarf headstock is a unique design that defies categorization. It differs 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.
This technique 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.
- Better string stability than most headstocks
- Provides ample sustain
- Relatively high structural integrity
- Requires more time to produce, making it more expensive
A reversed headstock is just as it sounds — a headstock that has been flipped or inverted. In contrast to your traditional headstock design, where the tuning pegs face upwards in our situated on the top of the head, the tuning pegs on a reverse headstock face downwards and 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 you 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 for the aesthetic appeal. There’s no doubt that they’re eye-catching!
- Unique aesthetic appeal
- Design makes it easier to bend lower strings
- Can make it more difficult to bend higher strings
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 guitas 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.
Plus, if you’re like me and consider aesthetics as one of your top priorities when buying a guitar, it’s worth noting that most headless guitars come with unconventional body designs, making it a bit of a challenge to find one with a classic shape.
- Lighter construction compared to headstock guitars
- Changing strings is faster and easier
- Headless guitars stay in tune for longer periods
- Can’t re-tune mid-performance
- Impossible to hang on the wall at home
- Difficult to find classic shapes
Standard Acoustic Guitar Headstock
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.
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.
- Simple and classic design
- Solid tuning stability
- Not the most visually appealing as some electric guitar headstock designs.
Classical Guitar Headstock
Classical guitar headstocks, otherwise referred to as slotted headstocks, 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.
- Offer plenty of sustain
- Beautiful, classic aesthetic
- More fragile than standard headstocks
- Harder to restring
9 Different Guitar Headstock Shapes
The S-style headstock is employed by Fender, and can be found on the brand’s iconic Stratocaster and Telecaster models. However, what sets the Stratocaster apart is that it comes with two different sized headstocks — small and large. The original smaller headstock was used prior to Fender’s acquisition by CBS in 1965. Afterward, CBS introduced a larger headstock to accommodate the bigger Fender logo.
These headstocks are known for their use of staggered tuners and string trees, which compensate for the shallow break angle of the strings.
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, use these headstocks with a 3+3 tuning peg layout.
Ibanez is well renowned for producing high quality guitars that boast striking and aggressive body shapes with deep cutaways and sharp angles. The headstocks are no exception to the rule, as they feature a unique, offset design that creates a perpendicular angle between the tuners and the nut, similar to what you’d find on PRS or Fender guitars.
Ibanez uses angled one-piece headstocks for their mid and high-end guitar models, while they’re beginner models feature scarf joint headstocks. Additionally, many Ibanez guitars are equipped with volutes, which reinforce the connection between the neck and headstock for better durability.
Jackson guitars are favored among fans of heavier music genres, showcasing striking designs similar to Ibanez. Jackson typically employs scarf joints for its headstocks, which is likely the most practical option given their unique shapes. Their tuner layout can vary, however, with some models featuring 3+3 or 6-in-line layouts. You’ll even find 3+4 tuner layouts on their seven-string axes.
Schecter guitars are renowned for being both high quality and affordable, and are a popular choice for musicians who play heavier styles of music. However, Schecter also offers a wide range of guitars that cater to a variety of musical tastes, and the brand showcases its diversity in its headstock designs.
Although all Schecter guitars feature angled headstocks with volutes that provide additional strength, they’re tuning peg layouts very greatly. While you’ll find the 6-in-line layout on some Schecter models, others feature a reversed 4+2 tuner layout, which is similar to those found in Music Man guitars. Some even feature the 3+3 tuner layout akin to Paul Reed Smith.
Music Man is a highly regarded and forward-thinking guitar brand, known for its innovative designs. One of the main reasons for its success is the involvement of Leo Fenders instrument design. As a result, Music Man guitars feature flat headstocks, similar to those found on Fender guitars, and a perpendicular string angle leaving the nut.
For this to work, the company uses a 4+2 tuner layout.
PRS Guitars have established themselves as one of the premier American-made guitar brands, in part because they have made significant improvements where other brands have fallen short. The manufacturer employs an angled headstock with a break of 10 to 11 degrees, contributing to its exceptional sustain and stability.
What sets PRS apart from other brands, however, is their use of a uniform headstock design across each model, ensuring consistent tuning stability and playability. Every PRS features a 3+3 tuner layout, like those from Gibson, allowing the string to leave the nut at a perpendicular angle for optimal performance.
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 offers a unique approach to guitar manufacturing, creating instruments customized to the specific needs and preferences of each individual customer. This means that the headstock design options are virtually limitless, and no two guitars are the same.
You can find 6-in-line, 4+2, 2+4, 3+4, and 4+3 tuner layouts, making them highly adaptable and customizable.
The Edgiest & Coolest Guitar Headstock Shapes Ever!
Sundlof Guitars is a company that specializes in building unique, handcrafted electric guitars using the best materials possible. One of the coolest headstocks I’ve seen come out of the company’s lineup is from the Harpoon model, which provides a sticking balance of style and ergonomics.
Ken Parker Olive Branch
Ken Parker, who developed his woodworking skills when he was in his early 20s, established Parker Guitars in the early 90s with Larry Fishman. Though he sold the company almost a decade ago, he has continued to produce custom archtop guitars. The Olive Branch is one of my absolute favorites, which features a specially designed Pernambuco and Koa design with a unusually futuristic headstock.
Hailing from Nagoya, Japan, Michiro Matsuda honed his craft at the Robert Venn School of Lutherie before undertaking an apprenticeship with Ervin Somogyi, a well-renowned master luthier. Matsuda now works out of his California studio, using a unique design approach tied to classical woodworking techniques to create unique acoustic guitars with seamless and organic body types. The Matsuda Parlor No. 106 is a true work of art.
Does Guitar Headstock Shape & Type Matter?
While the shape of a guitar’s head stock may not significantly affect the overall sound, it does play a crucial role in determining other aspects of your guitars performance. For instance, the size and weight of a headstock can affect the angle at which your string break, while also influencing the distribution of dead spots along the fretboard.
In terms of overall tone, I’d recommend focusing more on pickups and tonewoods to shape your sound.
How to Choose The Right Guitar Headstock Type?
- Tuning Stability – If excellent turning stability is one of your main priorities, go for a volute headstock. (Check this article if your guitar won’t stay in tune).
- 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 guitars overall appearance, so you may want to consider the look and whether or not it complements your style.
What’s The Best Guitar Headstock Type?
Because I’ve been somewhat of a Fender loyalist from the day I first picked up guitar, it’s hard for me not to go with the classic S-style headstock. However, I much prefer the smaller design produced pre-CBS era.
What is A Slotted Headstock?
Slotted headstocks are unique to solid headstocks in that they are made with two slots cut into the wood, which contain metal bars on which the strings are wrapped around. Classical guitars usually have slotted headstocks.
What is A Volute Headstock?
A volute headstock is a headstock that uses a volute, or small ridge, on the scarf joint to provide the weaker area with better support and tuning stability.
What’s The Best Angle for Guitar Headstock?
Finding a definitive answer for the ideal guitar headstock angle is difficult, as even while Gibson, which was a trailblazer in this regard, initially used a 17-degree angle, it later reduced it to 14 degrees. Other manufacturers have adopted different angles, ranging from 10 to 13 degrees, making the matter more complicated.
One aspect that experts generally agree on, however, is that headstock angle plays a crucial role in preventing strings from slipping out of their slots in the nut when they’re bent.
What Shape Headstock is Best for Tuning Stability?
While there is no definitive answer to this question, many experts believe that angled volute headstocks provide the best tuning ability, such as those found on Gibson guitars.
Conclusion on Guitar Headstock Shapes & Types
And there you have it, just about everything you need to know about headstocks! Like the truss rod or the nut, the headstock doesn’t often get much love when talking about guitar, though you can clearly see how crucial of a component it is when interacting with everything else.
If you have any questions, just leave a comment down below. Happy playing!
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