Headless Guitars: Why are they so popular?

Apart from being great at starting arguments among guitarists, headless guitars have a number of advantages over the standard headstock design. Let’s find out why.

Cian Hodge

Cian Hodge

Headless guitars and basses aren’t a new concept. They’ve existed since the eighties; first conceptualised and brought into existence by innovator Ned Steinberger. If you think they’re still a bit of a weird idea today, just imagine how they were perceived in the 20th century. It’s safe to say no one predicted them to feature so prominently in music around three decades after their swift rise and fall in popularity.

But they’re back. Bigger and better than ever before – like them or not. Just a few of the names pioneering this futuristic shape include Swedish inventors Strandberg, American custom outfit Kiesel and Japanese behemoths Ibanez. Even originators Steinberger are still proudly flying the flag.

Here are a few major benefits of headless guitars:

  • They’re light and well balanced. Less pressure on your back while playing standing up.
  • It ditches the guitar nut. Better intonation and consistent-sounding open notes.
  • Restringing is quicker and simpler.
  • Smaller body = less wood. More environmentally friendly and easy to take travelling.
  • Effortless pitch fine-tuning.

What is a Headless Guitar?

The difference between a headless guitar and what we’d consider a ‘standard’ guitar, is the lack of a headstock. Instead they relocate all tuning hardware to the bass of the bridge. This grants an even weight distribution across the guitar – you won’t find a headless guitar neck diving any time soon. To string a headless guitar, simply slide the string through the bridge up to the stump end of the fretboard, screw into place at both ends and tune up. So easy anyone could do it.

Headless guitars are usually found in the hands of prog rock and metal players in need of optimal playing comfort and a wide array of tones. Current virtuosos Yvette Young, Plini and Aaron Marshall all favour their versatility. But it’s not just a young person’s game. Legendary musicians Mark Knopfler, Allan Holdsworth, Eddie Van Halen and Sting have all dabbled over the years, just to name a few.

standberg headless guitars

Benefits of a Headless Guitar

Let’s address the elephant in the room. It’s true, headless guitars might not suit your stylistic tastes. You might consider them a little hard to love. But if you’re into the latest modern designs and prefer a contemporary playing experience over that of a vintage guitar, then you’ll feel right at home.

Construction

Almost every headless guitar manufacturer adopts a series of ergonomic construction techniques. The common chambering method cuts out unnecessary amounts of body wood to make the instrument lighter. So you’re basically saving the planet when you buy headless. That’s probably a good enough reason as any, but you’re likely after other advantages as well.

Strandberg guitars are known for their unique body shape, which have been meticulously designed to rest well against your body and picking arm. They certainly won’t strain your back muscles like a heavy Les Paul. Both Ibanez basses and Strandberg also make use of fanned frets (another modern Marmite design concept) improving intonation and fretting comfort.

Neck dive is a real problem when playing standing up with some guitars (yes we’re looking at you, SGs). A headless guitar stays exactly where you want it. You only have to focus on what you’re playing, rather than holding the neck up at the same time.

The headless guitar is a lot shorter than your average axe without that pesky headstock. In most circumstances, you’ll get a special fit case to go along with your new instrument. Obviously this is relatively compact and easy to pack in the back of a car or at the airport when you’re out travelling.

headless guitars bridge

Hardware

Do you ever notice how a note sounds different when you play it on a fret compared to an open string? Every type of headless guitar eradicates this problem.

The strings on a standard headstock guitar are tightened across what is usually a bone or plastic nut, as opposed to the rest of the notes heard when you push down next to a nickel or steel fret. Headless guitars use a zero fret metal ‘nut’ just like a normal fret to play open notes, providing a more consistent sound and subsequently eliminating fret buzz across the fretboard.

You won’t need to sacrifice any optional bits of hardware when you pick up a headless guitar. They are fully capable of mounting floating tremolos, any pickup configuration and bear 7 or 8 strings. There really aren’t any tangible downsides in comparison to a standard guitar. Every design detail found on a regular guitar can be inherited by a headless one: neck-through body builds, semi-hollow bodies, single or double cutaways, different scale lengths – pretty much anything. It’s just up to you whether you like the shape…

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Cian Hodge
Cian Hodge
Cian is a writer for the Andertons web team. He shares his birthday with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy and believes he will one day reach the same level of stardom. Cian is a big prog/modern metal fan so naturally loves Bare Knuckle pickups and pointy guitars.

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