Hipshot Headless System
Headless guitars form a relatively small niche in the market and it can be tough to find good quality parts at a reasonable price. Most of the good systems are made by smaller companies in small batches, so they can cost up to and over 500 US dollars. When I decided to build my first headless guitar I searched far and wide for a perfect system that won’t cost an arm and leg. I ruled out those cheapo Chinese “Overlord of Music” systems that can be found on eBay and Steinberger tremolo systems that are too bulky and complicated. I seriously considered Korean-made JCustom FX bridge that is reasonably priced, but still pretty bulky and heavy, lacks online documentation, and also limited to matte black finish.
So finally I came across Hipshot headless system which fit all my criteria for a perfect system:
My previous experience with Hipshot products has always been exceptional, so I made a decision to give this system a try and design my travel guitar around it.
Drawings (from hipshotproducts.com)
Click here to download headpiece drawing.
Click here to download bridge drawing.
Important Design Details
Like with any other headless system, there are a few important design details to consider when designing a guitar around it. For more information on the guitar I built click here.
Side view of the bridge
Cutout depth relative to the bridge position
Example with 45mm wide nut
Quality: the system is beautifully made with high precision and smart choice of materials. Bridge baseplate is machined from a block of aluminum, so it’s light. Saddles are solid steel for toughness and better tone transfer and headpiece is solid brass. Aluminum would probably be too soft and strings would eat their way in when pressed by the locking screws.
Ease of Use: headless system can never be as easy to use as a conventional guitar, but Hipshot system is as painless as it gets. I cannot think of anything that could be done to the system to make it easier to use. Changing strings is not too hard. Although it’s not as easy as on regular guitars, it’s easier than changing strings on Floyd systems. After the ball end is placed in the tuner claw, you just need to clamp the string at the headpiece using allen wrench, cut the excess string and tune to pitch. Intonation is adjusted like on any Strat-like bridge by tightening or loosening the string that goes into the back of the saddle.
Tuning: unlike conventional guitars where tuner post is perpendicular to the string, with most headless systems, the tuner operates in the same axis as the string, so there’s less room for any part to wiggle around and cause tuning instabilities. String tension and tight part tolerances keep all parts nice and tight. By turning the tuner peg you are effectively screwing or unscrewing the piece of metal that holds the string ball end causing it to tighten or loosen the string. I found that tuning ratio of these tuners is about the same as conventional guitar tuners. On thinner strings you need to turn the peg more to get the same pitch change compared to the thicker strings. Also, on thicker strings you need to go easy as small turns cause noticeable change in pitch.
Comfort: the bridge feels similarly to Telecaster “ashtray” bridge but with Strat-style saddles. There are no sharp edges or long screws sticking out that could cause discomfort for the right hand. Tuner pegs are small barrels with rough surface for better grip. Although they are not as comfortable or easy to use as conventional tuners, with such a limited space I cannot thing of a better way to do it. One thing that I believe could be better is the shape of the “ashtray” edge at the bridge. I prefer the feel of Strat bridges where right hand can rest directly on the saddles and not the “ashtray” edge. Looks like Hipshot people think the same because the latest official drawing from Hipshot shows slightly different bridge that has tapered sides that expose the saddles. This will be a good improvement once they implement it.
Balance: one of the challenges I faced before when building travel guitars is the lack of balance caused by smaller bodies. Even with smaller headstock, the mass would be almost the same as on conventional guitar because of the weight of the tuners and that would make the guitar headstock heavy. Headless travel guitar built around the Hisphot system balances perfectly when placed on the knee, even without holding it with my hands.
For the end, below are a couple of photos of the finished guitar I built around Hipshot Headless System.