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.

hipshot_headless

So finally I came across Hipshot headless system which fit all my criteria for a perfect system:

  • Simple, elegant design. Looks almost like a hard-tail “ashtray” Telecaster bridge with Strat-style saddles and with a set of tiny tuners attached to it. Doesn’t draw attention from the guitar.
  • Doesn’t require any routing in the body, apart from the cutout for the tuners behind the bridge, but that’s standard for all headless systems.
  • Made of high quality materials – aluminum base, steel saddles and brass headpiece.
  • Doesn’t require using exotic double ball strings, so you can use your favorite strings.
  • High quality, made in upstate NY, USA.
  • Relatively reasonably priced, can be found for around $250 from online distributors.
  • 7-string and 8-string versions are available, so it’s easy to scale up.
  • There are no sharp edges sticking out, so it’s comfortable for the right hand.
  • 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.

    Tech Specs
  • 52.8mm E-to-E spacing at the bridge.
  • 33.4mm E-to-E spacing at the nut.
  • 7.5mm minimum string height at the bridge measured from the body.
  • 12mm maximum string height at the bridge measured from the body.
  • 9mm range for intonation screws.
  • Bridge weighs 165 grams (simple hard-tail Strat bridge weighs about 140 grams).
  • Headpiece weighs 94 grams (about half of the weight of a set of 6 standard tuners!).
  • Drawings (from hipshotproducts.com)

    headpiece_thumb

    Click here to download headpiece drawing.

    bridge_thumb

    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.

  • As shown on the drawing below, tuners sit slightly lower than the base of the bridge, so you need to make sure that body cutout is at least deep enough to clear all tuners and washers between tuners and the bridge. You don’t want to have anything below the tuners or the bridge won’t be able to sit flush with the body. I designed the cutout deep enough to have 1mm of the bridge sticking out of the body, making sure that tuner washer won’t touch the body, as shown on the second drawing.
  • side_view

    Side view of the bridge

    bridge_position

    Cutout depth relative to the bridge position

  • When determining depth of the neck pocket and neck angle we should take minimum and maximum string height at the bridge into account. If the neck sits straight from the body (as it does on Strat, Tele and similar guitars), the 7.5mm to 12mm range at the bridge will work well with the neck sticking out around 6mm-1/4″ above the body. If we add another millimeter for the height of average frets, that means that string height can be adjusted from very, very low to around 5mm at the last fret. That should be good enough for everyone.
  • String spacing at the headpiece is pretty close to the standard Telecaster 1 5/8″ nut width. If you are building a guitar with a similar nut width, strings will go pretty much straight from the nut to the headpiece. However, if you’re building a guitar with a much wider neck (say, like Ibanez), mounting the headpiece right behind the nut could be problematic because notches on the nut won’t align with the string slots on the headpiece. Placing the headpiece a bit further from the nut should work fine because it leaves enough room for strings to fan out from the headpiece to the nut, as shown below.
  • wider_nut

    Example with 45mm wide nut

  • Even regardless of the nut width, I’d move the headpiece further from the nut and make a tiny “headstock” just so it doesn’t feel like my hand is going to fall out from the neck 🙂 . I hate that about most production headless guitars. Visit my Kotzen Travelcaster page to see how I did it.
  • Strings sit pretty deep in the headpiece. Unless the headpiece is mounted right next to the nut, there’s a chance that strings will touch the wood behind the nut on their way down to the headpiece. One way to deal with this is to make a slot behind the nut for each string, the other way is to mount the headpiece slightly higher. Each approach has its pros and cons, for my build I decided to install the headpiece slightly higher from the surface of the headstock, as shown on the drawing below. If I was to mount the headpiece flush with the headstock it would look nicer, but the strings would hit the wood and having such a steep string angle behind the nut would increase string tension at the nut.
  • My Thoughts

    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.

    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.

    Photos

    For the end, below are a couple of photos of the finished guitar I built around Hipshot Headless System.

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      The idea behind this site is to share my experience with Do It Yourself approach to guitars, amplifiers and pedals. Whether you want to save a couple of bucks by performing a mod or upgrade yourself instead of paying a tech, or want to build your own piece of gear from scratch, I'm sure you will find something interesting here. Also, this is the home of DIY Layout Creator, a free piece of software for drawing circuit layouts and schematics, written with DIY enthusiasts in mind.