Note: This post is not meant to look down on “regular” guitars, that is, guitars with a headstock, but rather to highlight the unique benefits that headless guitars and basses have to offer. These benefits, as it turns out, can be quite significant depending on what you are looking for in your instrument.
Here is what sets headless guitars apart:
The absence of a headstock reduces the overall length by 7 1/2 inches for a Strat and just slightly less than that for a Les Paul. For the traveling guitarist, this makes it much more convenient to travel with. This is especially true when it comes to traveling by plane where there are size limits for the overhead compartments and most guitars are simply not going to fit no matter how slim and compact the case is.
The weight difference between most headless guitars and regular guitars may be surprising. In fact, high-end headless guitars like the Kiesel Zeus (5.5 lbs) and Strandberg Boden (5 lbs) weigh at least 2 to 3 lbs less than a Strat, which are typically around 8 lbs. That’s over 30% in weight savings! For a gigging musician with a guitar strapped around their neck almost every night, that difference in weight can be the difference between suffering from back pain or feeling much more comfortable playing all night.
When the pioneer of headless instruments, Ned Steinberger, had the idea of creating the first headless bass, the Steinberger L2, his idea came about after realizing that the imbalance caused by the headstock make basses (and guitars) especially prone to “neck-dives” (the Gibson SG is especially well known for this). Steinberger then went about getting rid of the headstock and moving the tuners to the other end, and, sure enough, the result was a much better balanced instrument! Thanks to this innovation, the neck will, without fail, always remain in the position that you want it to.
4. Tuning stability:
On guitars with headstocks the strings run from the nut up to the tuning machines at a slight angle, meaning they don’t exit the nut in a straight line. Depending on how a manufacturer designs their headstock, this angle can vary quite a bit. Nevertheless, most guitars with headstocks have their strings exiting the nut at a different angle than how it entered and that leads to more friction between the strings and nut. This extra friction means that the strings don’t move as freely as they could. You may have noticed that this is especially noticeable on some guitars after bending a string and hearing that the string has become slightly flat after releasing.
On headless guitars, however, this problem is greatly reduced because the strings run in a much more straight line from the bridge, through the nut, to the headpiece where they are fastened.
5. String change:
Changing strings on a headless guitar is pretty convenient since you don’t have to wind the string around the tuning post many times in order for the string to stay secure and not slip out of tune. On a headless guitar, the string is simply inserted and pulled through the headpiece where it is clamped down. After that, you simply cut the extra string and start tuning!
The weakest part of an electric guitar or bass is the headstock. For this reason it is usually the first part to break during transportation. Gibsons are sadly well-known for this as they are prone to snap by the nut— hence the joke: “all Les Pauls eventually turn into headless guitars.” When you have a headless guitar, that’s not something you have to worry about anymore, because, well… it’s already headless.
7. Reduced sympathetic resonance:
Sympathetic resonance is a phenomenon in which other parts, such as another string, respond by vibrating as well. If you pluck a string and immediately try to lightly touch the other open strings, you’ll notice that you can feel them vibrate ever so slightly. Some vibrate more than others depending on which string you pluck. What you have just witnessed is sympathetic vibration! Of course, a way to limit this is to mute the other strings you’re not playing with your right palm or left hand, although usually it’s a combination of the two.
The reason that you want to reduce sympathetic resonance as much as possible is that it can affect how clean your tone is. On regular guitars with headstocks, there is quite a lot of string running from the nut up to the tuning machines— this increases the likelihood of sympathetic resonance coming from the headstock. On headless guitars, however, that problem is essentially eliminated because there is very little distance between the nut and the headpiece where the end of the string is fastened. In other words, there is less string to vibrate and create sympathetic resonance compared to on a guitar with a headstock. The result is an even cleaner tone!
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