Are Headless Guitars Worth It? (Answered and Explained)

The Answer To Whether Headless Guitars Are Worth It

Headless guitars have grown in popularity due to their economic and tonal advantages making them an increasingly popular style of guitar. If you would like a well-balanced light guitar, that you can restring quickly and tune easily then a headless guitar would be worth it for you.

There are a variety of benefits built into the headless guitar design and they continue to get better every year as more and more manufactures start producing them. There are a few minor downsides to be aware of which are discussed later in the article.

What Is A Headless Guitar and How Do Headless Guitars Work?

A headless guitar is a guitar where the headstock has been removed from the guitar and the strings are instead inserted at the neck end (where the guitar nut would have been) and fixed in the bridge and tuned at the other end of the guitar. Invented in the 1980’s they have historically been quite rare, but are becoming more commonplace as time goes on due to the benefits of headless guitars we discuss in this article.

It is a very different look for the guitar, but the playability and performance are no different. In fact, some believe the performance of the guitar is enhanced.

Headless Guitar Pros – What is the point of a guitar without a headstock?

There is a range of benefits associated with headless guitars not shared with standard headstock guitars. These will be explored throughout this section.

Ergonomics

The most agreed, and discussed benefit of headless guitars that the improved ergonomics, compared to their headstock counterparts. The head of a guitar is not significant but it is enough to make a significant difference to the ergonomics of holding and playing the guitar. Players are required to constantly be battling this weight and holding the guitar level, to avoid a ‘head dive’.

On a headless guitar, this weight has been removed, and the only weight that extends past the body is the neck itself. Necks are very lightweight making the guitar not only lighter in weight but more balanced, therefore less head diving and less pressure on your back to hold it upright.

In many cases, headless guitars also have smaller bodies which further decreases weight and reduces ergonomic strain.

Easier to Transport

Given the head has been removed, headless guitars are significantly shorter than standard guitars. But in many guitars that are shorter in length, this is achieved by reducing the scale of the guitar (distance between the nut and the bridge), which has an impact on tone quality. Headless guitar manager to reduce the length without sacrificing guitar scale and preserving tone.

Improved Open Tones

The nut on standard guitars has an impact on the way that open notes (no finger pressing down in any fret) ring out and is it not the same as the sound produced when a string is pressed over a metal fret higher up the neck. On the headless guitar, the nut is replaced by a metal nut, which produces the same tonal qualities as when a string is being played anywhere up the neck, so the sound is consistent between open and fretted notes.

Restring Your Headless Guitar With Ease

Restringing a headless guitar is much simpler and quicker than a standard guitar. The strings are inserted at the opposite end (where the head would be and fasted in the bridge in an easier, quicker and more finely tuned way.

Better Pitch Tuning

The bridge tuning that accompanies most headless guitars allows for very easy fine changes to the string tone allowing for much more precise tuning that you can achieve with standard tuning on a headstock guitar.

More Robust Design

The head of a standard guitar is one of its most vulnerable and often damaged components. By reducing the head, this source of vulnerability has been eliminated increasing the durability and resilience of your guitar.

Easy Truss Rod Access

The truss rod of a headless guitar is extremely easy to access from the neck end, whereas on standard guitars you need to remove layers of the casing to find the access point.

Minimised Sympathetic Resonance

Sympathetic resonance refers to accidental vibration caused on other strings as a result of the string you are playing intentionally. Additional unintentional string vibrations can reduce the cleanness of your sound and make it muddier. The head of a guitar provides more opportunity for sympathetic resonance to occur than a headless guitar.

Headless Guitar Cons – What are the downsides of a headless guitar?

There are no significant and notable downsides associated with headless guitars, but there are some characteristics of having one that you should be aware of.

Fewer Options To Choose From

Given the demand for headless guitars is less than that for standard guitars, fewer manufacturers are invested in producing them, and those manufacturers that do make them, have fewer models to choose from. Though there are few specialist headless guitar manufacturers (Strandberg etc) that are dedicated to furthering the progress and adoption of the headless guitar.

They Move Around More

Given they are lighter than standard guitars they can move around a bit more while you are playing because that excess weight isn’t there to counterbalance it. This is just a phenomenon that you need to get used to and you develop a natural way to handle them to minimize this

Headless Guitars Are More Expensive (usually)

They have been a ‘niche’ instrument for quite some time and as a result, fewer manufacturers are mass producing them, and the cost of headless guitars is still a lot than the average cost of a standard guitar. Though cheaper models (under $1000) are starting to come on to the market, they tend to cost multiple thousand dollars and up to from there.

Don’t Detune As Wel As Standard Guitars

Though I don’t play much metal and haven’t experienced this personally, some players have commented that headless guitars do not detune very well, more than an octave. So if you regularly play detuned you may want to test out a headless guitar in that way before you purchase.

Aesthetics (the main complaint!)

But by far and away the biggest resistance you will hear to the ownership of the playing or ownership of a headless guitar is how it looks. You can’t find a legitimate criticism of them as an instrument that is easy to play or regarding the quality of their sound. But many people find the look of headless guitars so different that the look they associate with standard guitars that they just cannot come to use or buy one.

How Are Headless Guitars Tuned?

Rather than twisting tuning pegs at the head end of the guitar, like on a standard guitar, headless guitars are tuned by turning small knobs on the guitar bridge. Players report that it is actually easier to tune a headless guitar in this way, and the nature of the tuning mechanism makes it easier to fine-tune.

Headless Guitar Alternatives

There are no other guitars styles to contrast again a headless guitar as they are so unique in the value they provide. If you are looking for a lighter guitar to minimise weight and improve ergonomics, then you could consider smaller guitars shapes and other travel guitars, but some of these incorporate the headless design to achieve their size.

Who Plays a Headless Guitar?

Headless guitars have been adopted by a variety of recording and touring musicians over the years.

Guitar virtuosos like Yvette Young and Plini Marshell tend to favour headless guitars over standard guitars.

In addition to this, popular musicians including Sting, Eddie Van Halen and Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits also utilised headless guitar on a regular basis.

What Are the Most Popular Headless Guitars?

Though headless guitars are still largely missing from the mainstream music world there is a range of manufactures innovating with amazing headless guitar designs and headless guitar technology in general. All of these brands are worth exploring in more detail if you are interested in these instruments:

  • Steinberger
  • Strandberg
  • Kiesel
  • Mayones
  • Teuffel, and;
  • Traveler

How Much Do Headless Guitars Cost?

Until recently headless guitars were quite expensive and not affordable for the budget-conscious buyer, but over time more manufacturers have started producing them and including entry-level models.

Headless Guitar FAQ’s

Why Do Some Guitars Not Have a Head?

Guitars without a head, known as headless guitars were designed to try and improve the sound and playability of a standard guitar. The headless guitars are popular because they are much lighter, and the metal nut used a the head end of the guitar provides a better tone for notes ringing openly. Other positive features are the ability to fine-tune easily, and increased resilience against breaking that typically accompanies a standard guitar.

Do Headless Guitars Sound Better?

This topic is debated between guitar fanatics. many claim that the standard bridge on a guitar with a head creates a different tonal response that that achieved when the string is resing on a metal fret. Headless guitars use a metal fret as the guitar bridge creating the exact same tone for open as well as pressed notes on the guitar.

Useful Resources

https://gvguitars.com/gv-blog-headless-guitars-but-why/

https://reverb.com/news/headless-guitars-who-makes-them-and-why

https://www.headlessguitarblog.com/advantages-headless-guitars/

https://menga.net/headless