In this piece we're going to be discussing slotted headstocks on acoustic guitars - why do they exist, what purpose do they serve, and what are their pros and cons? Let's find out!
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Slotted headstocks, as opposed to a solid headstock, are constructed with two slots cut out of the slab of wood. These slots contain the metal bar over which the strings are wound around. While some argue that the style of headstock influences the tone of the guitar, it is very hard to prove and if it does, it will be rather minimal.
That being said, there are many structural differences between the two that may inform your next choice of instrument. Let's begin with two reasons WHY slotted headstocks are used.
Why #1: Aesthetics
Slotted headstocks are almost exclusively found on 12-fret guitars, meaning that the neck joins the body at the 12th fret. The reason for this is simple: the overall aesthetic of a slotted headstock simply works well with a 12-fret guitar. Why?
Remember that what is aesthetically pleasing to us is ultimately informed by our cultural influences. Before the steel string guitar were invented there were nylon or gut string guitars - classical and flamenco. These guitars for many years had slotted headstocks and were invariably 12-fretters.
Thus, we've been culturally conditioned to find slotted headstocks simply more beautiful on 12-fret guitars. It's as simple as that!
Why #2: String Break Angle
On a slotted headstock guitar, the strings are held over the nut at a steeper angle (called break angle). Many guitarists and luthiers believe that this causes the string exert more pressure onto the nut and as a result drive more energy into the guitar as a whole, ultimately affecting the tone in a positive way.
Whether or not this is actually true is up to debate. I personally find that I enjoy the tone of slotted headstock guitars more, but it's nearly impossible to tell if the differences in tone are caused by the headstock design given so many other variables.
While I'd say the main reason for a slotted headstock is aesthetic, there are some noticeable structural differences that you will have to consider if you plan to get one.
Difference #1: Machine Head Direction
In a slotted headstock guitar, the machine heads are all pointed to the back of the headstock at toward you as the player. To me, this is a great benefit as all six of the tuners can be tuned in the same way, as opposed to a solid headstock where you'll have to reorientate your hand to reach the second set of three tuners.
In addition, I also find it more ergonomic to tune from the back of the headstock rather than the side. It's a minor difference, but something worth considering.
Difference #2: Restringing Process
The second key difference is the restringing process of each headstock design. Many feel that a slotted headstock is more difficult to restring and unfortunately I have to agree with them. It's harder to get the string out when it snaps, harder to feed the string into the hole, and harder to coil it when tuning it up.
That being said, it's not much harder to restring that it'd be a deal-breaker for me. However if you are someone who plays in many alternate tunings, strings breaking on stage will be a common occurrence and a slotted headstock might make it all the more stressful for you.
I think you can guess my personal preference by now - I love slotted headstocks! The historical vibe along with my preference for small bodied 12-fret guitars makes it the perfect match for me. But how about you? Do you prefer a slotted or solid headstock on your guitar? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time, I'll see you again!
By Neil Chan