Don’t Take Your Headstock for Granted

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Gibson Headstock

“Stuck out there on the end of the neck as it is, the headstock presents a clearly visible flat surface so luthiers often use it for the secondary purposes of branding and decoration.” – AcousticMasters.com

When it comes to headstock design on guitars, acoustic or electric, form usually follows function. On the other hand, though an instrument’s shape is closely tied to its intended purpose, that doesn’t mean all headstocks are the same.

You Say Headstock, I Say Peghead

Gibson Headstock
Gibson Headstock

According to oxforddictionaries.com “headstock” can mean “the widened piece at the end of the neck of a guitar, to which the tuning pegs are fixed.”

The reference to tuning pegs in the definition, sometimes called a “capstan,” demonstrates how the headstock might also be called a “peghead.”

But no matter what its name, the headstock controls the tension on every string of the guitar. Typically, you can’t have a guitar without a headstock. That is, unless it’s an Erlewine Lazer which does not have a headstock at all and is tuned from the bridge. But that’s a whole other story.

Many Purposes

The headstock plays a crucial role in maintaining proper sound. On some electric models, including Fender® Stratocasters, a string tree is situated on the headstock which helps keep the axe in tune. The string tree on a Strat is that little metal clasp near the center of the headstock. It holds two specific strings in place.

What’s more, the angle of the headstock on both acoustic and electric boxes is positioned in such a way that promotes the best string vibration. An illustration is the Flying V. According to Gibson.com, “The headstock is carefully angled at 17 degrees, which increases pressure on the strings and helps them stay in the nut slots.”

In addition to providing suitable string resonance, headstock design can also be a way of branding.

Some Favorite Shapes

Though there are countless headstock shapes and sizes, only a few have become time-honored standards.

The profile of a Fender® Stratocaster headstock, sometimes referred to as “dogleg,” has all the tuning knobs lined up on one side and is just as identifiable as its ergonomically curved body. Fender®’s narrower Telecaster design is also easily spotted and a classic.
Gibson® Les Paul’s, SG’s and the less expensive Epiphone® counterparts employ a conventional squared headstock style, with three tuners on each side.

Dean® is another brand with a distinct approach. There’s no mistaking the unique V-shaped Dimebagesque outline at the top of most Dean® guitars.

As far as acoustic six-strings go, slotted headstocks, which have tuning pegs that are fitted across instead of through the wood, frequently point to a higher quality product.

A Cornucopia of Headstocks

If there is such a thing, Ed Roman Guitars, established in 1976, is probably the king of guitar headstocks. The Las Vegas based outfit, which offers the “Abstract” line of guitars, takes headstocks very seriously. Don’t believe it?

The Ed Roman website states, “Abstract Guitars offer numerous headstock designs…The reason there will be a page devoted to headstocks is to drive home the fact that any model may be ordered with any headstock. In most cases it will not affect the price. After all, these are custom made anyway.”

They’re not kidding. Ed Roman Guitars has every imaginable headstock you could want, from harpoons and arrows to demon’s horns and Jack Daniel’s bottles.

It just goes to show, that the next time you’re amped up and wailing away, don’t forget to be nice to your headstock.

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Paul Wolfle

As a vintage and contemporary music enthusiast, guitars dominate Paul’s life. He plays slide in open tunings on a National Steel Tricone resonator and electric blues, in standard tuning, on an assortment of other instruments including his white Fender Stratocaster.

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