Ergonomics and Headless Guitars

We were recently asked about the benefits of applying headless guitar design to ergonomic guitars and GregP replied with several important factors. Among these are…

  • Improved balance – By reducing the lever effect of a headstock and tuning keys, it becomes easier to achieve good balance and a good neck angle.
  • Reduced weight – A headless design can be lighter overall reducing its impact on the guitarist.
  • Increased design flexibility – By practically eliminating the possibility of a neck heavy instrument, you have greater freedom with the shape of the guitar body.
  • Centralized mass – By shifting weight closer to the body, the remaining weight is more evenly distributed and carried more easily with less impact on the body. (My addition.)

While, it’s not impossible to accomplish good balance and position with a headstock – consider Rick Toone’s Orchid bass for example – eliminating the weight and lever effect can simplify the design equation.

Mitigating Cost

However, cost is a concern. Headless guitar bridge systems are expensive and that has always been a concern of mine.

Fortunately, there are alternatives approaches that use conventional guitar bridges in a headless format. These expand your choices and reduce dependency on the limited supply of headless guitar parts.

Alternative Approaches

Let’s look at a few examples. The first three use Steinberger gearless tuners in combination with a traditional guitar bridge:

These two use conventional guitar tuners:

However, it’s important to note that none of these use a Steinberger type neck and therein lies a major tradeoff. Finding a conventional bridge that matches the string spacing on a Steinberger neck is a challenge. In fact, I suspect such a beast doesn’t exist.

However, it you’re building a neck with your guitar, then anything goes.

Increased Guitar String Choices

The other area where these alternative approaches help is in your choice of guitar strings. A number of headless bridge systems require the use of Steinberger type double ball end strings. And as you might imagine, the number of choices in types and gauges is limited.

By leveraging conventional guitar bridges and tuners, you now have access to the tremendous variety of guitar strings that exist for conventional headstock guitars.

3 Responses to “Ergonomics and Headless Guitars”

  1. Hi, thanks very much, that helps…..
    those all make good sense, in varying degrees. Out of curiosity i wonder what we’re looking at in terms of real weight difference in pounds or ounces… anybody ever A/B ed this?? is it more negligible or more real than we think?

    I think balance and centralized mass is more valid,i.e., where that weight ‘is’ in relation to the weight distribution of the instrument.

    I still cant determine for me if the benefits are of an order commensurate to the cost, but youve given some nice alterantives to explore, so Ill look at those….


    1. I’m glad that was helpful!

      I do agree that there needs to be some A/B of this but as you point out the balance and centralized mass is a definite.

      With the project you’re looking at, a double neck 12/6 string, it sounds like a headless approach would serve especially well.

  2. Stefan!
    Very good point about “balance and centralized mass”.
    You bring up a great topic, which – of course – leads me into the following rant, again. 🙂

    One thing I’ve encountered with headless bass necks, and this is an open question to all skilled luthiers out there, is that:

    1. What about having a neck made, with INCREASED mass , gradually, as it moves towards the body?

    This can probably only be done with graphite necks, where there is a mould construction. But say, Moses necks are hollow and I think that sometimes the density/mass should be graudally going over to complete solid as you go towards the end of the neck. I think there’s a lot of solid mass needed for the screws and anchoring at the neck joint but why not try this for TONE and sustains sake above the twelfth fret. I also think that the neck “wiggling” bit as I have nagged about ad naseum in other threads should be somewhat remedied. The lever effect would be minimized.

    I don’t necessarily think that the bodys and hardware weight should be used ALONE to produce a nice weight balance.

    The reason for this is that I think the lowest notes on my bass with a Moses neck sustain beautifully, but the highest ones, should sustain and have a greater attack, than it is now. This is just above 12th fret. On other wooden instruments, with headstock, I can hear this difference, they’re much better at it. I’ve encountered this on ALL Steinberger bass instruments as well, so it’s not individual. On guitars, I haven’t noticed this at all though.

    On a wooden neck, the heel/end is much thicker/deeper and naturally dense anyway, to accomodate the screws. So there’s always a tiny bit more mass and density anyway.

    The flex, relief, and adjustment with truss rods and such things could very well remain the same. The part I am looking for is to have the highest density/mass – or centralized mass as you called it – at where the neck actually connects with the body. Making that the crucial pivot point of the guitar, regarding balance.

    I don’t know if I am out on thin ice, or out on a limb on this one, that’s why it’s just a question.