Headstock Wings | 2008 | Feature Article
Headstock wings refer to strips of wood glued to the outer edges of the headstock. This has been discussed quite a bit on various forums due to the recent adoption of wings by CF Martin in their production guitars.
Why have wings?
One piece necks are carved from solid blocks of wood. The width of the neck apparatus (heel to headstock) is hence limited by the size of the wood block. The headstock is the widest portion of the neck hence, in the past the rough blocks will have to be sized accordingly.
Specifically, rough timber thickness in standard practise is sold in 1/4″ increments. Hence, 4/4 is 1″inch thick, 12/4 is 3″ and so on. The prices increases with the thickness of the lumber because:
- The difficulty in obtaining clear, straight-grained wood in 3″ compared to 2 1/2″ thickness increases exponentially.
- The thicker the wood, the longer it takes to dry.
- The thicker the wood, the higher likelihood of cracks forming as it dries
CF Martin processes one piece and winged necks sideways from the wood boards. Hence, thickness of the board determines the width of the headstock. Using the measurements above, a 2 1/2″ board is adequate for the neck shaft itself, but too narrow for the 3″ CF Martin headstock.
With reducing wood stocks and rising prices, CF Martin decided to use thinner blocks to carve out the neck save the widest portion of the headstock which is created by joining thiner blocks to the main headstock.
Is a headstock with wings as strong as one without?
Glue joints are actually stronger than plain wood alone. Hence a winged headstock is stronger than one without wings.
Does it affect the tone?
Every component of a guitar contributes to the tone, the consensus is that a small alteration like the wings does not affect tone.
So what’s all the fuss about?
Well, some are resistant to change especially when they view a product which is aesthetically inferior to prior models, but priced the same. Personally I feel it is a good way of maximising resources without compromising structure and tone.
Actually one may view wings as a laminate neck. Laminate necks have been widely accepted in today’s market. Many luthiers like John Kinnaird, who build the guitar pictured below, prefer a laminated neck to maximise resources, display their woodworking prowess and increase stiffness of the neck.
Although one piece neck is strong enough, some feel the increased stiffness can affect the tone of the guitar. Personally, I feel the difference is minimal compared to the overall construction of the guitar- bracing, top wood etc.
So the main reason behind resistance to wings is mostly aesthetic. There are ways around this, and Evergreen mountain guitars (pictured at the top of the article) have chosen to make the laminates (okay, wings) a feature of their guitars.
©2008 Terence Tan.
Pictures ©2008 Guitar Gallery and John Kinnaird.