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Reverse Headstocks, Love Them Or Hate Them?


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Over the years, I have noticed that quite a lot of people don't like reverse headstocks, but I love them. They really have a positive advantage over conventional headstocks that many people seem to overlook.

On a six inline conventional headstock, the top "e" is longer than the bottom "E". Longer strings require more tension to tune to pitch, so the top "e" is the highest tension. If you use a reverse headstock, the thinner strings are shorter, so require less tension, therefore making string bending easier, and chords are easier to hold down. Strat style guitars with reverse headstocks are definitely easier to play. I noticed this when I got hold of a Squier (Fender) Showmaster guitar some time ago (no, that isn't me in the video!). It is fitted as standard with a reverse headstock, and it is certainly easier to play than a Strat with the same gauge strings.

Now, let's take a look at shorter scale guitars. A 24 inch scale will obviously have lower string tension than a 25.5 inch scale if the same gauge strings are used. 9-42 on 25.5 is fine, but the same gauge on a 24 inch scale can cause rattles on the thicker strings because of the lower tension, so you would normally fit 10-46 gauge to compensate.

However, fitting a lefty neck means you could stay with 9-42 gauge, as, being longer, the thicker strings will be under higher tension, therefore there is less likelihood of them "flapping".

I can't think of any disadvantages of reverse headstocks, apart from some people not liking the way they look (I actually think they look pretty good) :D

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I love reverse headstocks. 6 inline tuners on top is more awkward I find, its a very un-natural hand position for tuning. Reverse strat variant headstock is more ergonomic I think.

Washburn N series guitars look great with them IMO.

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i used to have a squier supersonic - 24" scale with reverse headstock. that combined with the trem gave a tension i really did not like

on normal strat scale lengths i quite like the reverse headstock, but only when string trees are there

never had a real problem with the reverse headstock on firebirds which leads me to think a lot of what makes them ok for me is the angle behind the nut. also, firebirds are odd to play anyway so maybe i just dont notice the extra oddness of teh string tension :D

to me they definitely look cooler, but i am used to the feel of normal fenders and that may make reverse heads feel odder than they really should

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Dislike.

warning the following is my personal opinion and not based on scientific study

<voodoo>

I do not like the extra string length after the nut on the low E or low B (for 7 strings) as it makes them feel spongy...

</voodo>

Obviously they are fine with a floyd style locking nut and I never tell customers not to use them.

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I am ambivalent about them. They work on some guitars not so much on others.

I am not sure about the string tension thing. The tuned length of the string is between the nut (or where you are fretting)and the bridge. The amount of tension on the string should be the same for either set up providing the gauge and scale length are the same. There may be more elasticity in the reverse headstock though.

I may be being to much of an **** retentive scientist type. :D

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I am ambivalent about them. They work on some guitars not so much on others.

I am not sure about the string tension thing. The tuned length of the string is between the nut (or where you are fretting)and the bridge. The amount of tension on the string should be the same for either set up providing the gauge and scale length are the same. There may be more elasticity in the reverse headstock though.

I may be being to much of an **** retentive scientist type. :D

The tension is over the whole length of the string from the bridge to the tuner. When you fret or bend a string, the string between the nut and the tuner stretches as well as the string between the nut and the bridge. However, if you use a locking nut, then the string between the nut and the tuner doesn't move, so playable tension is the same whichever type of headstock you have.

You can test this by fitting a top "e" string in the normal position and the bass "E" position and tune them both up to pitch. Don't use a locking nut for this test. Now try bending each string by one tone. The shortest string is definitely easier to bend because it doesn't have to bend as far as the long string as the overall tension is lower and you are stretching a shorter length of string.

As a visual confirmation, you can do the test using a tension gauge hooked onto the bridge and the string attached to the gauge. You will see the shorter string is definitely at a lower tension for a given pitch.

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You are confusing tension with what I have heard refered to as "string compliance" The tension required to tune a string is dependent on only the scale length (ie nut to bridge) and the gauge (mass) of the string. In fact all the strings on a guitar are at roughly the same tension when tuned, that's why they are different thicknesses, wound to give greater mass etc.

The reason a string with more length outside of the nut and bridge feels "softer" is because the bits outside of the nut and bridge contribute to the elastic length of the string. The longer the overall length the more compliant the string.

Keith

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You are confusing tension with what I have heard refered to as "string compliance" The tension required to tune a string is dependent on only the scale length (ie nut to bridge) and the gauge (mass) of the string. In fact all the strings on a guitar are at roughly the same tension when tuned, that's why they are different thicknesses, wound to give greater mass etc.

The reason a string with more length outside of the nut and bridge feels "softer" is because the bits outside of the nut and bridge contribute to the elastic length of the string. The longer the overall length the more compliant the string.

Keith

Exactly.

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You are confusing tension with what I have heard refered to as "string compliance" The tension required to tune a string is dependent on only the scale length (ie nut to bridge) and the gauge (mass) of the string. In fact all the strings on a guitar are at roughly the same tension when tuned, that's why they are different thicknesses, wound to give greater mass etc.

The reason a string with more length outside of the nut and bridge feels "softer" is because the bits outside of the nut and bridge contribute to the elastic length of the string. The longer the overall length the more compliant the string.

Keith

Yep that is what I was getting at. You said it better. Glad to know I am not the only nit picker here :D

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One of mine is a reverse headstock. It has a locking nut so I can't say about tension, but I find that tuning up (initially) is a lot more comfortable in regards to ergonomics. It also looks a lot less awkward and obvious, so when you tune up on stage you look that bit cooler :D

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Most stock guitars with a reverse headstock also have a radical body design which includes a radical tremolo (floyd rose, or any other locking nut deal). So when you see a stock guitar with a reverse headstock, its probably for asthetic value more than anything.

I'll stick with my 3x3 though :D

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  • 2 years later...

Some good arguments for and against here. One of the biggest problems I have found with potential vibrating string length beyond the bridge and the nut is unwanted overtones. Shortening these lengths reduces it a degree but not completely to the point of either way being more advantageous than the other....that I have found so far anyway! The sponginess (I hate it when my strings spong) is a problem, yes. I am considering locking tuners to reduce any play on a reverse headstock V I have on the cards. That also has the problem of string length behind a TOM bridge to a V plate. Fun all round. I have decided to keep my 3+4 headstock design as a permanent design option. I love it.

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I am considering locking tuners to reduce any play on a reverse headstock V I have on the cards.

If you use your ordinary tuners you don't need locking tuners for that, or for medium tremolo use either. Having that said, I tend to use locking tuners for all tremolo guitars I build...

To lock the strings without locking tuners you turn the tuners so that the hole is perpendicular to the string path, thread the string (is that what you say???) through the tuner and tighten the string slightly by pulling on the string end, wind the loose end of the string back over the top of the head (the guitar head silly...) and towards the neck, pull it back under the string, make a kink and ... wait, there must be a better way to explain this... hey! found a picture (think 3+3 headstock here, looking at the tuners from the neck end):

how-to-change-guitar-strings.gif

Tada! no more slippage or problems when using the tremolo. Maximum 1/2 turn of free sting on the tuner shaft.

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Thanks Peter. I don't like guitars with tremolos and generally block them off. You're perfectly right about those stringing methods however I have never really needed to use them. I usually string through with one wrap over and two wraps under. It leaves a little movement in the string which needs stretching out but since I don't use trems it has always proved fine. My reasoning for the locking tuners was to eliminate string wraps to compensate as much as feasible for any slack created by a long string length between the nut and the string post. In hindsight I can imagine that it will make no difference at all really. It will probably be a far more pragmatic idea to fit light "normal" tuners to offset the neck dive of a V rather than fitting cast iron locking ship winches.

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I tend to use kahlers on all my builds these day. It caters for both trem and fixed bridge customers as they have a grub screw to lock the trem.

I use a floyd rose lock nut which eliminates all the after nut issues, even if the kahler is to be forever locked as a fixed bridge, so all the after nut science is a non issue.

It's also a cool look on a superstrat which is what I mostly build

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I can't comment on tension or feel since all of my personal guitars have standard headstocks. But for asthetics I usually prefer the reverse head stock, especially on more aggresive shaped guitars. Certain head shapes I don't think lend themselves as well though. A Strat or Tele headstock I think looks odd when reversed. Jackson or ESP I think look awesome reversed. The one I am undecided on though is the Gibson 3x3 headstocks, I don't know if I like them better standard or reversed.

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On a practical note, I am in the process of reviewing and writing up a group test on tuners (Graph Tech Ratio being one). For various reasons the "lefty nature" of reverse headstocks can make them somewhat awkward when selecting hardware. Perhaps this isn't the OPs original intention however the fact of the matter is what it is. This is bat country!

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  • 2 weeks later...

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