Slotted vs solid headstock. Feature Article

Dudenborstel OOO45
Dudenbostel 12fret 00045 … read more about this guitar here


S lotted headstocks are often found on classical and 12 fret guitars and equally often there are myths surrounding the effect of the difference in construction vs. standard solid headstocks. In this article, I look at the differences in tone, restringing and durability.



Tone.

Dick Boak at Martin once mentioned that slotheads exerted more tension on the strings due to a steeper angle from the nut to the tuner shaft. This creates an audible difference according to Boak, particularly on smaller-bodied guitars. In particular the deep bodied OO Martin “Women In Music” model. The story goes that two prototypes of this model were made. One with a solid another with a slotted headstock and the factory workers preferred the audibly different sounding slotted version.

However, most modern luthiers like Al Carruth feel the tonal differences between a slot and solid head guitar are not necessarily solely due to the string break angle. The string break angle can easily be altered on either style of headstock and Carruth’s tests have revealed that the string vibrates in the same way once 15 degrees of break has been achieved on the nut or saddle.

However, other factors such as weight and mass which can play a part as slot heads often have lighter, open geared tuners as opposed to the heavier enclosed solid head tuners. To confuse the matter, this does not appear to be the case in the vintage Martins, where John Arnold has weighted solid vs. slotted headstocks and have found no appreciable difference in weight. He attributes this to the fact that the slotted headstocks were left thicker than solids.

So there is no clear or easy answer as to determine the difference in tone between a slotted and solid headstock guitar.

Rounded, wide slots on a 1931 0018… read more about this guitar here



Restringing.

Certainly restringing a slot headstock differs from a solid. One aspect is the slot size- smaller slots can make the job difficult and there also the risk of scratches and damaged to finish.

Furthermore, coated strings can often slip on slot heads due to the reduced friction. This often occurs if there was too few ‘throws’ over the tuning post and can be remedied by fraying the teflon coating or allowing a few more throws over the tuning post.


Fragility.

I feel that the slotted headstock does suffer one distinct disadvantage over solid headstocks: I have been more headstock cracks and breakage in vintage slot-head Martins than those with solid headstocks. John Greven agrees with me and is reluctant to offer slotted headstocks as a standard option in light of similar experiences.

Of course, if you are careful with your guitar, there is no reason why a slotted headstock will be any less durable than a solid headstock- after all, we don’t go around smashing guitar headstocks against mic stands everyday!


Summary.

It was Al Carruth who stated “For my money, slot or flat is an esthetic decision, and I don’t lose any sleep over the tone one way or the other.” and I couldn’t agree more. I love the look of slotted headstocks and judging from sales volumes, I’m not alone!






Pictures kind courtesy of owners.
© T. Tan

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2 comments

  1. John Riemer says:

    I think that a major influence in the early years of guitar making was economy of design. The slot head design permitted less head stock pitch as well as diminishing the need for splicing in a headstock, and achieved an appropriate amount of pressure at the nut…hence less wood to start with when cutting a neck blank.I don’t think tone is a major issue with either design.

  2. Eddie says:

    The bottom line is that slotted headstocks are way cool looking.

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