Popular Guitar Headstock Shapes Explained

Have you ever wondered why some guitars have different shapes at the top? That part is called the headstock. It’s where the strings attach to the tuning machines. The shape and angle of the headstock can affect how well the guitar stays in tune and how it sounds.

In this Killer Rig article, we’ll explain the different types of guitar headstock shapes and their functions. We’ll also take a closer look at some popular guitar brands and their specific headstock shapes.

Understanding headstock structure can help you choose the right guitar for your playing style.

What is a Guitar Headstock?

Think about the top part of a guitar neck, the area that extends beyond where your fingers press the strings. That part is called the guitar headstock.

It’s more than just a visual element! It plays a big role in how well the guitar works, how it looks, and the sound it produces.

The headstock is where you’ll find the tuning machines. These are the parts you adjust to get the strings at just the right tension for the sound you want. The nut, another key component, keeps the strings secure as they go over the fingerboard.

Not all guitar headstocks look the same. They come in a range of shapes and designs, often tied to particular guitar brands or models.

These variations are not only about aesthetics, they also affect the guitar break angle and how well it holds the strings.

You might come across a variety of headstock shapes like 3+3, 4+2, and 6 in-line, for example. Others might be V-shaped, scoop, fan-shaped, or even a reverse headstock. Each of these designs plays a part in the style of the guitar it’s attached to.

What Is The Purpose of a Guitar Headstock?

A guitar headstock serves several essential functions. This includes holding the tuning machines. Which, as we know, enables musicians to adjust the pitch of each string.  But also providing string tension, and contributing to the guitar’s tone. 

Maintaining the proper tension on the strings is one of the most important features. This is crucial for the guitar’s playability and intonation. Additionally, the headstock can influence the guitar’s overall tone and sustain. 

Different headstock shapes and angles can affect how vibrations transfer through the strings. Then, proceed through the body of the instrument.

Guitar Headstock Types

Below you will find the more common headstock designs. They are used on some of the more popular brands today!

Straight Headstock

Straight Headstock.

The straight or flat headstock design has a simple yet practical construction. It was created by Leo Fender in the 50s. Its thin profile means that it requires less wood and is easier to produce.

This makes it a cost-effective option for guitar manufacturers. The headstock and guitar neck are typically made from a one solid piece of wood. The results are a strong and solid construction.

The simplicity of the design, however, comes with a potential issue. And it’s one that requires a more complicated solution.

The angle where the strings meet the nut can cause tuning stability issues and affect playability. When the string angle is too shallow, the strings are more likely to slip out of their grooves.

To solve this issue, some guitar manufacturers use techniques like string trees or retainer bars. This creates a sharper angle and more tension on the strings in the nut. Pricey Fender Stratocasters use staggered tuners.

Angled Headstock

Angled Headstock.

An angled or tilted headstock is a common design found on many guitars. But particularly those with a more traditional look.

This headstock design has a slanted angle. It places the tuning machines below the angle of the nut. This helps to create a sharper string break angle.

The sharper angle allows for more tension on the strings. This results in better tuning stability and note sustain. The design also adds an aesthetic element to the guitar, giving it a classic look.

However, one disadvantage of an angled headstock is that it can be more susceptible to breakage. If the guitar falls or is knocked over, the angle creates more leverage on the headstock.

Guitar manufacturers also use different angles for their headstocks. Depending on the type of guitar and the playing style. For example, an angled headstock with a more acute angle is often used for guitars with heavier strings or for drop tunings.

Scarf Headstock

Scarf Joint.

A scarf headstock is a design that features an angled joint between the headstock and the neck. You can see this in the picture above. Pay close attention to the wood grain direction in each of the pieces.

This design is also known as a volute, which looks like a triangular heel. The joint creates a stronger and more stable connection between the headstock and the neck. 

The concept for this design is to reduce the risk of breakage. The scarf joint is typically angled at about 15 degrees. It reinforces the neck in the area where it’s most vulnerable to breaking upon impact.

The design allows for thinner necks without sacrificing strength and stability. The scarf headstock is commonly used on acoustic guitars.

But you will also find them on some electric guitars. One of the disadvantages of a scarf headstock is that it can be more complex. It adds extra expensive to manufacture. Especially compared to a straight headstock.

Headless Guitars

Headless Guitar.

Headless guitars, as the name implies, are guitars without a headstock. Instead, the tuning machines are located at the bridge or body of the guitar.

This design allows for a more compact and lightweight guitar! But also improved balance and weight distribution. 

The strings are inserted into the bridge and tightened using a locking mechanism. It provides excellent tuning stability and sustain.

Headless guitars are often used in genres like metal. Where fast playing and ease of movement are essential. However, one disadvantage of headless guitars is that they can be more difficult to tune. 

Restringing them is also much different compared to traditional guitars. They can also be more expensive to manufacture due to the complexity of the design.

Headstock Shapes of 6 Popular Guitar Brands

Guitar manufacturers often use their headstock design as a signature feature of their brand. These designs can have an impact on the sound, playability, and aesthetics of the guitar. Here are five popular guitar brands and their headstock shapes:


Fender Headstock.

Fender is a brand that is synonymous with electric guitars. One of their signature features is the straight/flat headstock found on many of their models. The Telecaster and Stratocaster are two examples of guitars that use this design.

The headstock’s flat profile means that less material is required in the construction process. Ultimately making it a cost-effective option for manufacturers.

One aspect of the Stratocaster’s headstock is that it’s available in two sizes. You will find them in small and large sizes, but with the same shape.

Fender guitars feature a 6-in-line tuner configuration. This allows for quick and precise tuning adjustments. The straight/flat headstock design is practical and durable, making it a favorite among many guitarists.


Gibson Headstock.

The Gibson headstock shape is characterized by its iconic open-book or “moustache” design. It features an angular outline and a curved top. This has remained relatively consistent throughout the company’s history.

The headstock is often set at a steeper angle compared to other brands, typically around 17 degrees. This angled headstock design provides increased downward pressure on the strings at the nut. Which in turn increases sustain and improves tuning stability.

This headstock shape has a large impact on the sound and playability of the guitar. It can be largely attributed to the increased string tension created by the angled headstock. The string tension enhances the guitar’s ability to maintain intonation and stay in tune.

Additionally, Gibson guitars typically utilize a 3+3 tuning machine configuration. With three tuning pegs on each side of the headstock. Clearly, it also contributes to the guitar’s appearance.

Models that feature this headstock include the Les Paul, SG, and Flying V. They are renowned for their rich, warm tones, and sustain. Which can be partly attributed to the headstock design.


Ibanez Headstock.

Ibanez guitars have a headstock with a sharp and pointed shape. Compared to certain other guitars, the headstock is angled quite sharply.  This design is often seen in rock, metal, and progressive music styles.

The sound and playability of the Ibanez guitar are slightly influenced by the headstock shape. The sound sustains longer and tuning integrity is much better.

All thanks to the larger break angle. For musicians who employ various tunings or techniques, this is useful.

Six tuning pegs are often located on one side of the headstock of Ibanez guitars. This is done to provide a sleek appearance.


PRS Headstock.

PRS instruments are like the shining stars of the guitar world. And proudly made in the USA! They’ve taken the best of what Gibson and Fender missed and turned them into something magical.

With a headstock angled at just the right tilt of 10 to 11 degrees. PRS guitars sing with the perfect balance of tuning stability and playability.

The headstock’s 3+3 layout for the tuning pegs is like a well-organized dance. Guiding the strings in a straight line as they gracefully leave the nut.

Even the more affordable PRS guitars with scarf joint headstocks stand tall in quality. The PRS headstock shape is the heart and soul of the brand.

Helping their guitars leave a lasting impression. But also making them a favorite choice for musicians everywhere.

Ernie Ball Music Man

Ernie Ball Headstock.

Ernie Ball Music Man guitars boast a headstock shape that stands out from the crowd. It has a pointed design that is truly its own. The headstock features an unconventional 4+2 tuning machine layout. 

With four tuning pegs on one side and only two on the other. This innovative arrangement lends the headstock a striking appearance! While also providing functional benefits to the guitar’s sound and playability.

The string tension created by the headstock’s design results in improved tuning stability and sustain. This is particularly beneficial for musicians who employ a variety of playing techniques. 


Rickenbacker Headstock

Rickenbacker is another brand that has an uncommon headstock shape, contributing to its identity in the guitar world.

The Rickenbacker headstock is characterized by its winged shape, often described as resembling a crest or a wave. This design is not only visually striking but also functional.

The headstock typically features a 3+3 tuning machine configuration, similar to Gibson. But, the tuning pegs are staggered in height. This design helps to create a more even string pull across the nut, enhancing tuning stability and reducing string tension.

The Rickenbacker headstock is often made from high-quality maple, contributing to the guitar’s overall resonance and sustain. Models that feature this headstock include the Rickenbacker 330 and 360.

What is a Reverse Headstock?

This is a design feature in which the headstock of the guitar is flipped, or inverted, compared to the traditional orientation.

In a standard headstock, the low E string’s tuning peg is closest to the nut, and the high E string’s tuning peg is furthest away.

However, in a reverse headstock, this arrangement is flipped, meaning the high E string’s tuning peg is closest to the nut, and the low E string’s tuning peg is furthest away.

The reverse headstock design is not just a stylistic choice, but it also has functional implications. The most significant impact is on string tension.

The longer length of the low E string on a reverse headstock increases its tension, which can lead to a tighter, brighter tone.

Conversely, the shorter length of the high E string reduces its tension, potentially making it easier to bend.


The headstock is a critical component of a guitar! Responsible for holding the tuning machines. And also maintaining string tension, and contributing to the instrument’s tone.

Different headstock shapes and angles can impact these functions. While the sideways angle of the strings also plays a role in tone and playability.

The headstock’s design can significantly affect the guitar’s overall look and feel. Making it essential to choose a design that complements your style and preferences.

Ultimately, understanding the importance of headstock shape can help you make informed decisions. So choose wisely!


Why do Gibson headstocks break easily?

Gibson headstocks can break easier because of their design and the type of wood used. The headstock is angled, and this angle puts extra pressure on the strings.

This helps make it more likely to break. The spot where the headstock connects to the neck is also weaker because of this angle.

Another reason is that Gibson guitars often use mahogany wood for the neck. Mahogany is a hardwood, it’s true. But it’s a softer wood compared to something like maple. 

The way the wood grain runs in the neck makes it more likely to break under force. These factors make Gibson’s headstocks more breakable. Especially if the guitar falls or gets bumped too hard. And this is the most common reason they break.

Do headless guitars sound as good?

Yes, headless guitars can sound just as good as instruments with a headstock. The apparent difference between them is the design.

Headless guitars have tuning machines at the bridge, so they don’t need a headstock. This design makes them balanced, but really only changes how the guitar is used. 

The sound quality of a guitar depends on the materials, craftsmanship, and pickups. A well-made headless guitar with good components can produce excellent sound! Just like any conventional guitar with a headstock.

What is a Slotted Headstock?

A slotted headstock, also known as a slot-head, is a design feature found on some guitars. The tuning machines are located on the sides of the headstock, rather than on the face. The strings pass through slots or holes in the headstock, hence the name.

This design is often associated with classical or nylon-string guitars, but it can also be found on some steel-string acoustics and even a few electric models.

Slotted headstocks have a few potential advantages. They can provide a different string break angle over the nut, which can influence the guitar’s tone and sustain.

They also have a distinctive aesthetic that some guitarists prefer. However, they can be a bit more challenging to restring than standard headstocks due to the sideways orientation of the tuning pegs.

Can You Change the Headstock on a Guitar?

Changing the headstock on a guitar is possible, but it’s a complex process that requires significant woodworking skills and tools. It involves removing the original headstock, crafting a new one, and then attaching it to the neck of the guitar.

This process can affect the guitar’s structural integrity, playability, and tone, so it’s not something to be undertaken lightly.

If you’re considering changing the headstock on your guitar, it’s highly recommended to consult with a professional luthier. They can provide advice on whether it’s feasible or advisable based on your specific guitar and desired outcome.

In many cases, it might be more practical to simply purchase a new guitar with the desired headstock shape.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!