What is the Headstock on a Guitar?
It is easy to overlook the headstock of a guitar, but the part does play a vital function.
The headstock is located at the top part of the guitar neck. It is shaped in an irregular way and has tuning pegs on each side.
The headstock includes many other parts within it. It houses the nut, tuning pegs, and truss rod. The headstock’s main function is to hold the strings in one place as you are tuning them.
The two most common type of headstocks are straight headstocks and angled headstocks.
Straight headstocks feature a simple design and are inexpensive to manufacture. They are usually seen in the Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars by Fender or Squire
Angled headstocks are exactly what they sound like- they are headstocks positioned at an angle (tilted-back). This angle is beneficial because it allows the strings to be pushed deeper into the nut, which makes tuning easier.
There are also two main headstock designs: 6 in-line design and the 3×3 design. The 6 in-line design has all the tuners in one line, while the 3×3 design has the tuners in two groups of three.
The 3×3 design allows the tuning pegs to be closer to the nut, which results in increased tuning stability.
When it comes to the actual shape of the headstock, it has little to no impact on the guitar’s performance.
However, the size and mass of the headstock do have an influence. Larger headstocks will have more sustain than smaller headstocks.
Brands tend to have their own signature headstock design. We’ll take a close look at the unique headstock design of Gibson and Epiphone guitars.
The Connection Between Gibson & Epiphone
If you have ever bought an Epiphone guitar, you might have noticed that it says “Gibson” on the truss rod cover.
This can be very confusing because it leaves you wondering which one it is. Is it really an Epiphone? Or is it a Gibson? In a way, it is both.
Both guitar companies were established in the late 1800s, making them two of the world’s oldest guitar manufacturers.
Epiphone started as a fiddle manufacturer, and then later began producing mandolins like Gibson. It didn’t take long for Epiphone and Gibson to become fierce competitors.
Epiphone and Gibson were rivals in the 30s and 40s since they both produced archtop guitars. At the time, both companies were seen as two of the best guitar manufacturers in the world.
Unfortunately for Epiphone, its golden years were gone too soon. When Epiphone’s leader died in 1943, the company slowly fell apart.
While Gibson was thriving in the 50s, Epiphone was greatly struggling. However, this all changed when Les Paul came into the picture.
Les Paul was an American guitarist who loved both Epiphone and Gibson guitars. He is the inspiration for the iconic Gibson Les Paul guitar.
Les Paul encouraged the Gibson company to approach Epiphone with an offer. To the surprise of everyone, Epiphone accepted the offer and in 1957, Gibson bought the entire Epiphone company.
Since then, Gibson and Epiphone have been sister companies. Epiphone guitars are now mostly budget-friendly versions of Gibson guitars.
In this way, Gibson was able to keep the Epiphone brand alive.
What’s the Difference Between Gibson & Epiphone?
Although current Gibson and Epiphone guitars look almost identical, they are far from the same.
For one, Gibson and Epiphone guitars are manufactured in different parts of the world. As you may know, all Gibson guitars are produced in America while Epiphone guitars are produced primarily in China.
This largely affects the quality of both products, and which is why Epiphone guitars can cost about $1,500 less than Gibson guitars.
It is no secret that Gibson guitars are of higher quality, but Epiphone guitars are pretty good too. You’ll even find some players who prefer Epiphone guitars over Gibson guitars. It’s really a question of personal taste.
The great thing about Epiphone guitars is that they provide players the opportunity to own a pretty decent guitar that won’t leave them bankrupt. Epiphone guitars are excellent guitars to practice on and develop your skills.
Besides the difference in quality of the materials, Gibson and Epiphone guitars also feature slightly different designs. Below is a brief comparison between Gibson and Epiphone guitars:
Generally, Gibson and Epiphone guitars come in the same body shapes. They both also use Mahogany as their primary tonewood.
Unlike Gibson, Epiphone does not use the original African Mahogany wood. This means Epiphone guitars typically have lower resonance than Gibson guitars.
Epiphone guitars are also created with thin maple tops, while Gibson uses thick slabs for their tops.
One of the most distinct differences between Gibson and Epiphone guitars is their finish. Gibson guitars use an old-school nitrocellulose lacquer finish.
Nitrocellulose gives Gibson guitars a sleek appearance and allows them to age like fine wine. Some players also believe that nitrocellulose gives the guitar a better tone.
Epiphone guitars use a polyester finish, which is most commonly used in modern times. The advantage of a polyester finish is that it is incredibly durable. Epiphone guitars can look like new for many years.
Both Gibson and Epiphone guitars feature a scale length of 24.75” and 22 frets. However, some Epiphone guitars have different fingerboard woods than Gibson guitars.
Most Gibson guitars use rosewood boards for the neck because it helps create a warm tone. Epiphone guitars more commonly use Indian Laurel boards, which is an affordable alternative to rosewood.
The headstock of Gibson and Epiphone guitars are also slightly different shapes, though they both feature a 3×3 design.
The headstock angle on Gibson guitars is usually 17 degrees, while on Epiphone guitars it’s 14 degrees. Epiphone guitars have a slightly smaller headstock overall.
Gibson uses high-quality pickups that are known for their powerful mids and versatility.
Generally, Epiphone pickups don’t sound as clear and vibrant as Gibson pickups. The good thing is that you can easily replace Epiphone pickups with Gibson pickups.
The New Epiphone Headstock
One of the main complaints players have about Epiphone guitars is the headstock. Many people feel that the Epiphone headstock design looks incomplete and lacks the strength of the Gibson headstock.
It seems like Gibson took note of these complaints since they launched Epiphone guitars with new headstocks. The change in the Epiphone headstock design occurred in 2020.
2020 was a big year for Epiphone. The alterations made to their guitar models dramatically improved the quality of Epiphone guitars.
For starters, the new headstock design takes Epiphone back to its roots. The “new” design is actually the Kalamazoo headstock, which Epiphone regularly used in their early years.
When you compare the old Epiphone headstock with the new headstock, the change is quite simple but the difference it makes is huge.
The new headstock design features the iconic “open book” shape, which means it has the two wings on either side. Additionally, the new headstocks are a bit larger than the old ones, especially in the Les Paul and SG models.
The new Epiphone Kalamazoo headstocks are part of the Inspired By Gibson Collection. This new collection brings forth some of the most high-quality Epiphone guitars to date.
These new Epiphone guitars feature improved electronics and better finishes. With all these upgrades to Epiphone guitars, many people wonder what the fate of Epiphone will be.
Is Epiphone reaching the same level of Gibson? Although we can’t say for sure, Epiphone guitars are surely getting better and better.
Perhaps these improvements to Epiphone will encourage Gibson to step up more. We shall see in the years to come.
Epiphone Les Paul vs Gibson Les Paul
The Les Paul guitar is one of the most iconic guitars in the Gibson and Epiphone catalog.
Although the Gibson Les Paul and the Epiphone Les Paul appear identical, when you look at the massive price gap it’s clear they are not.
The average price for a Gibson Les Paul is around $2,500 while for an Epiphone Les paul it’s $550. That’s a huge difference. So, what is the difference between the two?
There are countless different models of Les Paul guitars in the Gibson and Epiphone collections. The most popular Les Paul guitar in both brands is the Les Paul Standard.
For ease of comparison, we’ll specifically be looking at the Gibson Les Paul Standard ‘60s model vs the Epiphone Les Paul Standard ‘60s.
Both the Gibson LP and the Epiphone LP use Mahogany as the main material for the body. However, the Gibson LP uses AA Flame Maple for the top of the body, while Epiphone uses AA Figured Maple.
As discussed before, the finishes of the guitars are also different. Gibson uses their signature nitrocellulose finish, which is thin and has little impact on the vibrations of the guitar.
Epiphone uses a standard gloss finish, which is extremely durable. The only disadvantage is that it must be applied in a thick layer, which reduces the guitar’s ability to vibrate.
Both guitars feature 22 medium jumbo frets and a 12” fingerboard radius. However, the Gibson’s fingerboard is constructed of rosewood while the Epiphone’s fingerboard is constructed of Indian Laurel.
Additionally, the inlays on the Gibson LP are acrylic trapezoids while the inlays on the Epiphone LP are pearloid trapezoids.
The Gibson LP and the Epiphone LP differ greatly in their pickups. The Gibson LP uses a Burstbucker pickup, which is responsible for the warm vintage sound.
The Epiphone uses a Probucker pickup, which is an adaptation of the Burstbucker pickup. What makes the Probucker pickup special is the use of four simple input connections.
This makes it easier for beginners to work on the pickup, but it does reduce the overall quality of the sound.
Both guitars feature the standard 2-tone, 2-volume controls, but the Gibson LP includes the addition of Orange Drop capacitors.These capacitors allow for professional quality recording with minimal static.
The Gibson LP and the Epiphone LP use completely different hardware. Most notably however is the difference in the bridge.
The Gibson uses an ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge, while the Epiphone uses a Locktone ABR Tune-O-Matic bridge.
The ABR-1 bridge provides a firm seating for the strings and allows players to fine tune intonation quickly.
The Locktone ABR bridge automatically locks the stopbar and the Tune-O-Matic in their positions, which provides added security and sustain.
How to Convert an Epiphone Headstock to a Gibson Headstock
It is possible to change the headstock of a guitar. However, the process is not simple.
Reshaping the headstock of a guitar requires considerable woodworking skills and advanced tools. If you put your mind to it though, you can surely get it done.
Some people argue that it’s a better investment to buy a new neck instead. If this is not possible and you’re a crafty person, then reshaping your headstock might be the way to go.
Fortunately, converting an Epiphone headstock to a Gibson headstock isn’t the most complicated conversion since you’re simply adding wings to your Epiphone headstock.
There are many ways to go about doing this, so we encourage you to explore all the different methods accessible to you. Below is a brief overview of the general steps:
Step 1: Get tools and guitar ready
You’ll need any tool that is capable of cutting wood like a jigsaw, table saw, hacksaw, etc.
You’ll also need masking tape, sandpaper, Mahogany, wood glue, high-build primer, wood filler, and paint.
Before you begin, remove the tuning pegs from the headstock.
Step 2: Mark out the new Headstock shape
Apply masking tape to the headstock and draw out the Gibson headstock shape. This will be your guideline.
Step 3: Cut off the corners
Use your wood cutting tool of choice and cut off the corners of the Epiphone headstock.
You want this to be as straight of a cut as possible.
Step 4: Glue pieces of wood and carve out shape
Glue thick pieces of Mahogany wood onto the straight corners. Then use a wood cutting tool to gradually carve the desired shape.
Be patient with this and take it slow. You don’t want to cut off too much wood.
Step 5: Retouch, retouch, retouch
Lastly, you’ll need to paint the new pieces of wood so they match the rest of the headstock. This will take a lot of paint blending.
You’ll also need to repeatedly sand the headstock until everything looks smooth. Also, use wood filler to fill in any imperfections. You should also add a finish of your choice at the end.
Do as much retouching you need to get the headstock perfect.