Headstock

This page was last edited on 31 October 2017, at 18:45.

A headstock or peghead is part of a guitar or similar stringed instrument such as a lute, mandolin, banjo, ukulele and others of the lute lineage. The main function of a headstock is to house the pegs or 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, consequentially, the pitch of sound they produce.

Guitar May 2009-1.jpg
Classical guitar headstock

Construction details

Bass guitar headstock.jpg
Bass guitar headstock

Two traditional layouts of tuners are called "3+3" (3 top tuners and 3 bottom ones) and "6 in line" tuners, though many other combinations are known, especially for bass guitars and non-6-string guitars. When there are no machine heads (i.e. tuners are not needed or located in some other place, for example, on guitar body), the guitar headstock may be missing completely, as in Steinberger guitar or some Chapman stick models.

Guitar headstock angle.png
Schematic section shows both straight and angled headstocks. Note the β angle between the fingerboard surface and headstock surface

The headstock may be carved separately and glued to neck using some sort of joint (such as a scarf joint). There are two major trends in headstock construction, based on how the string will go after passing the nut. The advantages and disadvantages of both trends are very debatable and subjective, so these two variants are used:

  • Straight headstocks form a single plane with a flat surface of neck (and fingerboard). This makes the neck and headstock easier to manufacture; they can be constructed from a single piece of wood. Fender usually uses non-angled, straight headstocks. Because of the low angle of the string over the nut, string trees may be used to avoid the string coming out of the nut while playing.[1]
  • Angled headstocks form some kind of acute angle with a surface of neck. The value of "magic angle" (called headstock pitch) that gives the best tone and stability is also very debatable, but it is usually in a range from 3° to 25°. For example, various manufacturers and particular guitar models use:

Luthiers of both styles frequently cite better sound, longer sustain and strings staying in tune longer as advantages of each style. Fragile construction is cited as a disadvantage of each style too: single-piece necks are more likely to break on occasional hit and are harder to repair, while glued-in necks can break with time.

Apart from its main function, the headstock is an important decorative detail of a guitar. It is the place where overwhelming majority of guitar manufacturers draw their logo. Some guitars without machine heads (for example, ones equipped with Floyd Rose SpeedLoader) have a headstock for purely decorative reasons.

Signature headstock outlines

Ibanez Artcore headstock.jpg
Headstock from an ARTCORE series guitar by Ibanez
IbanezJem555BK-headstock.jpg
Ibanez JEM 555 BK headstock
SeagullHeadstock.JPG
Details of a Seagull Guitar headstock.

Most major guitar brands have signature headstock designs that make their guitars or guitar series easily recognizable. As seen in a section below, even "copied" at the first glance designs retain clear visible changes in dimensions, proportions of elements, etc., so it is almost always possible to tell a major brand of a guitar by looking at headstock.

Fender-like curved 6-in-line headstocks

Fender headstock normal.svg

Fender Stratocaster, regular version, used on modern Mexican and American-built guitars (other than the Highway One (Upgrade) series), as well as the brief-lived Korean-made Fender Stratocaster of the early 1990s.

Fender headstock big.svg

Large Fender first seen on the Jazzmaster, introduced 1958; also seen on the Fender Jaguar, "CBS" version Fender Stratocaster (from 1965 to 1981) and early 1970s Telecaster Deluxe. Currently used on 1970s Stratocaster reissues, Highway One Strats, Squier guitars, and '72 Telecaster Deluxe reissues

Gibson headstock firebird.svg

Gibson Firebird series (also used in reverse)

Washburn headstock n.svg

Washburn N-series (reverse)

Floyd rose headstock.svg

Floyd Rose SpeedLoader Guitars decorative headstock, no machine heads at all

Gibson-like 3+3 headstocks

Gibson-headstock-LP.svg

Gibson, used on most of their acoustic and electric guitars since the 1930s, and many before that.

ESP headstock EC.svg

ESP EC-series

PRS headstock.svg

PRS asymmetric, used on most guitars

Prs headstock santana 3.svg

PRS symmetric, used on Santana 3 model

Gibson headstock flying v.svg

Gibson Flying V, 1958 issue

Slotted Headstock I.jpg
Slotted headstock on an acoustic guitar. Normally these are found on classical (nylon string) guitars.

Pointed headstocks, 6-in-line

ESP-headstock-sharp.svg

ESP "pointed" headstock, used on Horizon NT-II and M-II guitars, as well as many signature models (also used in reverse)

Ibanez headstock pointed.svg

Ibanez "pointed" Ibanez signature headstock, used on most rock-series solid-body electric guitars (also used in reverse)

Jackson headstock pointed.svg

Jackson "pointed" headstock, used on almost all solid-body electric guitar series (also used in reverse)

Washburn headstock pointed.svg

Washburn "pointed" headstock, used on almost all rocker-series electric guitars (also used in reverse)

Matching headstock

PScardinalHeadSample1 20150921 (23831611941).jpg
Matching headstock on an electric guitar

On some electric guitars and basses the finish used on the body is also applied to the face of the headstock. Generally, matched-headstock models carry a price premium over their plain counterparts due to the extra processes involved in the finishing process.

Although Fender no longer offers matched headstocks on production models made in the United States or Mexico, certain models from Fender Japan are available with matched headstocks.

The definition of a "matched headstock" varies between manufacturers and players - for example, the headstocks of Gibson guitars are nearly always black, and it is debatable whether a black-bodied Gibson has a matching headstock. Generally, a guitar is only considered to have a matching headstock if the guitar is usually produced without matching body and headstock finishes.

References

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