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Since the initial introduction of headless bass guitars to the market in the late 70s, followed shortly after by headless 6 string guitars, headless guitars have experienced somewhat of a divisive response.
For every guitarist that sees an advantage in terms of the lack of headstock and ergonomic design, many simply see them as an ugly, radical departure from standard electric guitar design which, at least in the case of the more traditional Strat®, Tele® and Les Paul® has remained unchanged for decades.
While never really rivaling standard electric guitar design they have been (and remain to this day) popular amongst players who favor progressive styles of music, and thanks to innovative manufacturers such as Kiesel Guitars® are enjoying a resurgence.
As a result of their popularity with this section of the guitar-playing community, headless guitar kits have also hit the market, becoming popular with kit guitar builders. But, what advantage do they offer over standard guitars?
Today, we're going to address these and other common questions customers have about headless guitar kits and explain why they might be a guitar kit worth checking out. But first, a quick look at the short history of headless guitars.
It's impossible to discuss headless guitars without first mentioning Ned Steinberger, who just like Leo Fender didn’t play guitar but is acknowledged as inventing the first headless bass guitar in 1979.
In all honesty, it’s a bit of a stretch to say Steinberger invented the headless guitar as several concept guitars were developed prior to 1979 (including a prototype by Fender) not to mention the headless lute, a forerunner to the guitar around the 15th century. However, much like Antonio de Torres Jurado who likewise is often credited with inventing the classical guitar, there’s little doubt Steinberger standardized the idea of the headless guitar and made it the main feature of Steinberger Guitars.
This design was then adopted (and adpated further) by other manufacturers such as Strandberg®, Hohner®, Erlewine Guitars®, and Kiesel® to name just a few.
At various stages, headless guitars have been played by the likes of Mark Knopfler, Sting, Dave Gilmour, blues legend Johnny Winter, and of course, Alan Holdsworth, who played one almost exclusively from 1987. Nowadays, progressive guitarists such as Plini (who has his own Strandberg signature model) continue to carry the flame.
While we all have our favorite guitar designs, many kit guitar builders prefer to experiment with guitars that are a little less common. Hence, double-neck, baritone, and 7 string guitar kits are always popular.
Aside from being innovative, headless guitars do offer some advantages over standard electric guitars, in terms of comfort and playability, tuning stability, and intonation but it must be said, like most things related to music these benefits are entirely subjective.
Headless guitars, due to their compact design and lack of headstock (and tuning mechanism) are lighter than the majority of standard electric guitars.
Typically headless guitars, aren’t just headless. The lack of headstock is usually a feature of a guitar designed with ergonomics in mind and usually feature a smaller than average body, designed for comfortability, and in the case of modern headless guitars also feature fanned frets.
The center of gravity, due to the omission of the headstock is also centered closer to the body of the guitarist, preventing guitar nose-dive, and taking pressure off the neck, back and picking hand shoulder when playing in a standing position.
They are also easier to travel with, being shorter and more compact than standard electric guitars.
Headless guitars are usually also credited for their tuning stability. There are a couple of reasons for this. Perhaps the most obvious is the reduced potential for bumping the headstock into a surrounding wall or similar object. But the real advantage in terms of tuning stability is the zero fret which prevents the strings from dragging on the nut resulting in problems with intonation.
Love them or hate them, in terms of string pull zero-frets reduce the potential for this problem.
While also entirely subjective, the fact that headless guitars use a zero-fret metal nut (the same material used for the fret wires), means open strings and fretted notes tend to sound alike when played.
You may have noticed, especially on acoustic guitar for example the difference in tone between a fretted note and an open string note. Whether this is considered an advantage is subjective, however many owners cite this as a feature.
Guitar Kit World currently offers a headless guitar kit with a body shape influenced by Strandberg® headless guitars, however, at various times has also offered a Steinberger®-influenced design also, so be sure to keep an eye on current stock if interested.
Coming in at under $260 (at time of publishing) these headless guitar kits represent great value considering the majority of headless guitars start at approx. $1000+
These guitars also use regular guitar strings, as the neck features a locking nut, usually seen on guitars with Floyd Rose® Bridges, so you won’t need double ball-end strings as some headless guitars require.
The strings are threaded through the holes at the end of the locking nut and then tightened with the grub screws located on the nut itself.
The bridge uses an ‘overlord of music’ style tremolo system (in case, you are wondering, yes that is the proprietary name). The video below shows how these are adjusted:
In terms of assembly, there’s really no other difference otherwise, between a regular guitar kit and a headless guitar kit, so new builders shouldn’t be put off by the unusual design.
Love them or hate them headless guitars are popular amongst kit guitar builders, and depending on your point of view, offer some advantages over standard electric guitars.
So next time, you’re considering a new build take a second look at a headless guitar kit, sure you might not be able to utilize your guitar wall hanger for storing the guitar once completed :) but it’s hard to go past them if you are looking to put together a guitar that's a little different to the norm.