Wondering how do headless guitars work? Are headless guitars good? Are they worth your money?
Headless guitars offer a unique change up to the traditional look and feel of guitars.
Headless guitars remove the headstock off the guitar completely.
This changes the entire weight and balance of the guitar, and many say it makes for a more ergonomic design.
But this begs the question “WHY?”. Are headless guitars better than those with traditional headstocks?
What are the advantages or disadvantages to playing a headless guitar?
What is the point of a headless guitar?
The headless guitar makes for a shorter, smaller profile guitar.
This means that a lot of guitars designed for travel or at least to be portable in a small footprint, often opt to use a headless guitar design.
Ergonomics also plays a role in why headless guitars are so popular.
Without a headstock, it means a lot of the weight is shifted from the end of the neck, to the base of the guitar body.
This means you’re less likely to fight with the guitar to keep the fretboard in an elevated position, since there is less weighing it down.
Without the headstock there is a reduction in weight, however, not as much as you might think.
The tuning hardware is still on the guitar, but now it is located at the bridge.
Further, these tuning bridges are usually heavier than non-tuning bridges because they have more components.
The locking style nut at the end of the neck is also going to weigh more than a traditional nut.
So yes, you are reducing the weight, but not by much, you’re mostly shifting the weight onto the center of mass on the guitar.
This makes for a little balance on the guitar, but if you’re used to a traditional headstock, it might take some getting used to.
Who invented the headless guitar?
Ned Steinberger invented the headless guitar in the 1970s.
His creation quickly rose to fame in the 80s and is still around with common place sightings in most guitar and music shops.
Headless guitar fanned fret
Many headless guitars are also designed with fanned frets.
While there is no real complimentary reason to combine fanned frets and headless guitars, they are quite common to see together.
One notable thing about both styles is that they utilize an unconventional bridge or saddle.
Fanned frets need an angled bridge, where headless guitars usually require tuning at the bridge as well.
This means that there is A LOT going on in one area of the guitar.
I have seen headless guitars that install sneaky hidden tuners at the end of the neck, however, these seem to defeat the purpose.
They should probably be called “reduced head guitars” rather than true headless.
I’d be a little nervous with a fanned fretted headless guitar, as we know that the more complex and unconventional a bridge is, more can go wrong with it.
You’d need an angled bridge that can be tuned. While this isn’t impossible, it does add a level of complexity that I’d prefer to avoid when I can.
I have nothing against fanned frets, or headless guitars.
If you like both styles then you can get two birds with one stone getting a fanned fret headless guitar.
However, I’d recommend going with one or the other, and not combine two different niche styles of guitar build.
Convert guitar neck to headless
Converting a guitar to a headless neck isn’t as simple as you might think. You need to ensure the scale remains suitable for the guitar you have, but you will also need to replace the bridge.
To replace both the neck AND bridge on a guitar is a big undertaking and may alter the intended design of the guitar and negatively impact its performance.
Further, even if you’re able to replace the neck and the bridge, and get the guitar into good working order, you’ll have a large bill to pay.
A new neck isn’t cheap, and a new bridge isn’t cheap.
Setting up both a bridge and neck on a guitar not designed for the niche aftermarket parts you want is also not going to be cheap or easy.
This is the long way of saying, you’re probably better off buying a headless guitar, rather than converting a guitar you already have.
How do you tune a headless guitar?
Headless guitars have the tuning mechanisms located at the bridge.
This actually makes tuning easier, more ergonomic and faster. This is because you won’t need to move your hand from picking the string all the way to the headstock to adjust the tuner.
You only need to pick the string, and move your hand a few inches to adjust the tuner at the bridge.
I’ve tuned a few headless guitars, and it’s quite a odd feeling at first, but honestly is a big advantage when it comes to tuning.
That being said, I don’t look at ease of tuning when looking for my next guitar purchase.
Do headless guitars stay in tune better?
No, headless guitars do not stay in tune better than traditional guitars.
While some brands or models may be better at staying in tune, this largely comes down to the quality and craftsmanship of the guitar, not the fact that it is headless.
That is to say, a nice headless guitar may stay in tune better than a comparable guitar with a headstock, but it isn’t BECAUSE it’s headless.
Headless guitar disadvantages
One big disadvantage of headless guitars, and the petty reason I probably won’t own one, is that it doesn’t have a headstock.
Isn’t that the whole point? Well yes, but I want to hang my guitars on my guitar wall and call it a day.
I already have to modify my guitar hangers to accommodate the skinny headstock on my Telecaster, but I can’t hang a guitar without a headstock.
That means I’d have to put my guitar on a stand on the floor. Nothing wrong with that, but it is not for me.
Other than that, and that is a petty reason, I must be honest, headless guitars don’t have too many other disadvantages.
Any others could likely be attributed to personal preference.
Are headless guitars good?
If you’re looking for a more unique and compact guitar, that is lighter and more ergonomic, yes headless guitars are good.
Otherwise, headless guitar pose no more advantages over traditional guitars.
This isn’t to say they should be overlooked, but that they are a niche category of guitar, and should be respected as such.
It’s personal preference whether or not you want to go with a headless guitar vs headstock guitar.
Now you know what to look for in a headless guitar, the choice is entirely up to you!