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Headstock angle?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Richie Se7en, Dec 14, 2016.


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  1. Richie Se7en

    Richie Se7en Presently distractivated Supporting Member

    Can someone please tell me the standard degree of angle on the headstock of the modern Gibson and/or Epiphone SG/EB models. I'm about to take on my 1st real build from scratch and it would be much appreciated. :thumbsup:
     
  2. Manton Customs

    Manton Customs UK Luthier

    Jan 31, 2014
    Shropshire, UK
    Luthier, Manton Customs
    Gibson have switched back and forth beteeen 14 and 17 degrees over the years, so either would be technically correct.

    It doesn't need to be that steep though if you aren't going for an exact copy.
     
    Richie Se7en likes this.
  3. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    Gibsons have a bad reputation for breaking headstocks off due to the short grain around the truss rod pocket. That seems like a really steep angle. Scarf joint and volute would stiffen that up some. I naively mentioned that on the Gibson Thunderbird thread and got a can of whupass opened on me, but its true, an easily fixable flaw that's been enshrined in Gibson tradition.
     
  4. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Yes, do a volute. Add back on the wood that you scooped out for the big Gibson truss nut.
     
  5. Richie Se7en

    Richie Se7en Presently distractivated Supporting Member

    Thanks for the input, guys and sorry for the delayed resonse. To clarify my intentions a bit better, I'll explain what I'm trying to do.

    I'm going for an SG style build with a few tweaks of my own in there. The main changes will be to the neck and fretboard, which I plan to bolt on - as I prefer a shape/radius similar to the Fender Jazz style (with a Maple fretboard) - along with some variance of the electronic configuration.

    I must admit to a lack of understanding the need of the angled headstock on a flat, solid body guitar, as opposed to the slope at the nut in the Fender style. I assume it relates to split-side, separated tuners, but wouldn't a bar string retainer be adequately functional? If the angle is necessary, could someone please explain the rationale behind it? Also, how significant is matching the exact degree to the build and would a scarf joint be my best course?

    Sorry if these questions are elementary, but it's my first scratch-build. I do have the woodworking skills and tools needed, so I'm not as confused as this post may paint me. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

    Rich
     
  6. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    Fender went with a straight neck with no headstock angle because its economical to produce, the whole neck can be cut out of one relatively thin plank. The downside is the need for a string tree to get enough break angle to keep the strings in the nut. Rickenbacker basses only have a 5-7 degree headstock angle, but the nut and fingerboard are really tall to get break angle with no retainers. Gibson has gone back and forth between 14 and 17 degrees over the years. The 17 degree headstock , with no volute , and made of mahogany, is just a bad design structurally. Any carpenter familiar with the concept of short grain can tell you that. They switched to 14 degrees, which supposedly hurt the sustain, now back to 17, who knows. Read up on scarf joints, its pretty straightforward stuff, and much stronger than cutting the whole thing from one piece of wood. I'm in the home stretch on a Ric 4001 clone build, I used a 5 degree headstock angle, no scarf joint, but I did add a volute to the back of the neck, right under the nut. Google "headstock angle" and you'll get an earful about Gibsons. I cant see why you'd need an angle greater than 10 degrees but maybe a pro will weigh in with a convincing reason for or against.
     
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  7. Richie Se7en

    Richie Se7en Presently distractivated Supporting Member

    Thanks for the reply. I'm a fairly proficient woodworker who's used scarf joints in certain applications, so I understand that a correct glue-up is stronger than the wood in many cases. That's the way I'd go in reproducing a significantly angled headstock, and I'd likely add a volute as well for good measure. For now, I'll tinker with sampling the variations and hopefully form my own theories of the pros and cons of this.

    I agree with your final point here and hopefully this question can be logically answered by one who knows for sure. There must be more to this or one would wonder why an industry staple like Gibson doesn't adequately address it - in spite of the obvious pattern of an existing design flaw.
     
  8. Beej

    Beej

    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    I can't find it now, but Ken Parker (Parker Guitars) researched headstock angles and determined that 4 degrees is all that's really needed to provide the necessary angle to ensure the strings are held securely in place over the nut. There are other arguments about how the tone is affected by different angles, but "tone" comes from a system of parts interacting overall, so it's not easy to make definitive statements about how "xyz" aspect of the instrument affects tone in an "abc" way.

    I prefer the look of an angled headstock, so I use a scarf joint and angle mine, but there is nothing wrong with flat headstocks using string retainers, both get the job done. :)

    Regarding where it came from, I'm sure that history and tradition play a role - headstocks on all sorts of instruments dating back to antiquity are found existing or in literature/art with angled headstocks. Some are more extreme than others - couple of disparate examples, european and chinese:
    hb_89.2.157.
    atlas%20pipa-875x875.
    I'm sure there are engineering reasons for the design, but since a limited angle works for me and is easy, I use it. :)

    Curious to hear the thoughts of other builders...
     
  9. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    It always surprises me to see bad design with demonstrable downsides get "baked in" to certain brands. I spent a lot of time studying Rics prior to trying to build one, and they have similar weak headstock/neck joints because there is no scarf joint, no volute, and a big route for the double trussrods right at the point of maximum stress. I personally witnessed a Ric headstock break off right there, ugly scene. There's no good reason for it, just corporate inertia and conservative buyers who just want to see what they have always seen. In Ric's case, they have actually been "punished" economically for trying to fix well known problems. I'll be curious to hear what Gibson experts think is behind the breaking headstock issues. Looking forward to your build.
     
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  10. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    I came in here basically looking to post the same thing. Here's where I've read 4(.25) degrees from Ken: Builder Profile: Ken Parker Archtops

    As to Gibson's angle... the angle and short grain combination are pretty obviously a design flaw based on the large number of instruments that suffer headstock breaks. They returned to 17 degrees in around 1982 and from what I recall reading about this topic I believe the overriding reason was the rising popularity of 50s vintage Gibson guitars and wanting to have their instruments align with those designs.

    To answer OP's question, the current EB has a much shallower angle than 17 degrees. Unfortunately I've not seen anything published on that bass or the SG, but the Thunderbird is a 10 degree tilt back and if you look at images of the EB from Gibson's site, it's obviously quite shallow. In Illustrator I measure the angle in the image as about 9.5 degrees, so it may be 10 or close enough that it's what they call it.

    Gibson.com: Gibson EB Bass
     
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  11. Deadmanguitar

    Deadmanguitar Commercial User

    Dec 18, 2016
    Deer isle
    Deadman guitars
    There is no conceivable connection between the headstock angle and the tone of an instrument. There is no correlation. Anyone who says otherwise is having an opinion that is contrary to physics. The angle of four or five degrees is all that is necessary to provide string stability at the nut. The tone being conducted throughout an instrument is based on its weight, density of materials and its material wualities not really its shape although that certainly will play into "tone" or in this case "coloring" the tone.
     
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  12. Deadmanguitar

    Deadmanguitar Commercial User

    Dec 18, 2016
    Deer isle
    Deadman guitars
    I give my instruments 9 degrees just for numerological reasons nothing scientific about it!
     
  13. smithcreek

    smithcreek Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 18, 2015
    Westerly, RI
    Luthier/Owner, Christopher Bass Guitar and Smith Creek Mandolin
    I use 8 degrees and no scarf joint. Steep enough to seat the strings well in the nut, shallow enough that it takes 4-1/2" for the grain to run from the front to the back of the headstock. If you are going to use the 4 degrees figure people are giving make sure you are measuring the actual string path, not just the headstock/neck surface angle. You will probably lose a few degrees to the height the string comes off the tuning post above the headstock.
     
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  14. Deadmanguitar

    Deadmanguitar Commercial User

    Dec 18, 2016
    Deer isle
    Deadman guitars
    Also the lengrh of the headstock becomes more important for a shorter rake. If you use a steep angle then the headstock can be shorter. If u use a shallow angle like 2-4 degrees then the headstock will maybe want to be a little longer.
     
  15. Beej

    Beej

    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    Thanks, that's the one, and yes it was 4.25 as I now recall. :D I'm pretty sure all Gibson basses have used a 10 degree headstock throughout their history, but I'm sure there have also been exceptions... :)
     
  16. Manton Customs

    Manton Customs UK Luthier

    Jan 31, 2014
    Shropshire, UK
    Luthier, Manton Customs
    The 10 degree angle is a more modern Gibson thing....as in not the 60s ones anyway! 70s iirc also.

    1966 Gibson EB0 Bass Guitar

    1964 Gibson EB0 bass Guitar

    From the second link: headstock angle seems to be 17°; this was reduced to 14° sometime before 1966. The neck is still wide (width at nut 43mm) like earlier EB basses, but maybe 10% shallower than the very earliest (like this 1962 example).
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2016
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  17. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    One other note on headstock angle, if we agree that 5 degrees or so is a minimum without string retainers, another factor to consider is what is the maximum angle whereby the guitar sitting flat on its back doesn't have the headstock touching the surface the guitar is on. Its another way to prevent a headstock break from something coming down on the guitar, that turned out to be 5 degrees on a Ric, so I went with that.
     
    Geoff St. Germaine likes this.
  18. Bill Fatty

    Bill Fatty

    Feb 8, 2016
    Al Ain, UAE
    Whupass? Really? Cos I had a Thunderbird for years and it seemed every second week the damn headstock was getting broken off. It had more repairs by more luthiers (good, fair and awful) than I could have ever imagined when I got it. Lately I've been regretting selling it because classic etc., but it really was a pain. If you just looked at it funny the damn headstock went "twang" and there you had a bunch of slack strings and a useless instrument!

    Volute would have helped that bash
     
  19. jeffreylee

    jeffreylee

    Jan 6, 2013
    I have a Gibson Grabber and the headstock is made from a separate piece of timber, thereby eliminating the cross-grain weak point. It's an immensely strong join and I've never seen one broken. It might possibly effect the sound, but I doubt it.
     
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  20. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    People get emotionally attached to a particular brand, and don't like to hear any criticism of it, justified or not. It might have occurred to me that pointing out problems on the T-Bird thread was likely to get me branded as a Troll. D'oh! I'm guilty of partisanship when it comes to Steinbergers, and G&L's. I love Rics, but they are a hot mess structurally, at least the older ones. They have the same weak headstock area because of the big double trussrod pocket and no volute.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2017