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Cutting Guitar Headstocks

You’ll notice that the headstock supplied with your guitar hasn’t been cut, it is what is known as a 'blank'. There’s nothing to stop you from leaving it how it is, but I’m sure you could improve it by customising the shape of it!

I suggest coming up with a design of your own or alternatively creating similar to another guitar headstock style – the choice is yours. Be creative!

Firstly you should come up with a template made from card which you can draw round onto the headstock surface.


Headstock Template


Draw round it in pencil only. When you’re marking wood you should always use pencil because a pen’s ink will run into the timber and stain it!


Drawing Headstock Shape


Make sure you allow enough room from the backs and fronts of the machine heads as well as the machine head holes with your design.

I used a selection of saws to do the work, bear in mind that Maple is a very hard wood I would advise using a good sharp saw and in particular one with smaller teeth. One with smaller teeth will cut slower and cleaner. I used a Tenon saw and a Coping saw.



Keep an eye on your work as you go and make sure you don’t cross you pencil line. In fact, I left extra room (about 1mm) for stray saw marks and I then filed and sanded down to closer to the pencil line.


cutting guitar headstock


I advise clamping your headstock to something solid with 2 clamps – one on the headstock and one elsewhere on the neck. My clamps are covered with felt of a soft material so I don’t harm the surface or the fretwork.


Neck Clamping


Saw any straight lines you have with the Tenon saw and the curved lines with the Coping saw.

Watch out! I found that when I was working with the Coping saw it tended to go off course, I ended up cutting through the wood not at 90° due to the flexible blade. The blade will get hot and be prone to breaking round tight bends – so take extra caution.

Although its tougher on your arms I recommend trying to saw with the handle pointing vertically to make sure you stay 90° to the face of the wood - don’t worry about how naff it looks we’re going to sand and file it down in the next step.


Rough Headstock Shape


I now use a selection of files and sanding tools, some I’ve made myself a Rasp, a few files and few different shaped sanding tools. They’re just pieces of wood with very coarse paper (80 grit) attached to them. I found the curtain rail/dowel sanding tool perfect for getting into the corners of my shape.


Headstock Fileing Tools


Start off first by taking of the areas with the most overhang with your coarsest file – mine was the fast working Rasp. Make sure you work WITH THE GRAIN where you can. It’s possible to tear through the grain especially when using coarse tools like this.


Shaping Headstock


Work slowly and carefully at all times. Don’t forget you can always carve away wood but you can’t un-carve it.

I followed my template lines mostly but left a lot of mine to eye and feel.

The neck to headstock join is harder to get right I found. You need to make sure you leave enough material there so it’s still sturdy. I suggest colouring that area in with your pencil so that you can see clearly where you’ve carved/sanded.


Headstock Neck Join


You can deal with knicks and chips you may have accidentally made with the coarse file but you have to fix them sooner rather than later! Hopefully you’ll have spotted the splinter or chip forming so all you have to do is superglue underneath it and press it down. Wait for it to dry and carry on – easy!


clamp head


glue headstock chip


Now to finish up.

Swap to 180 grit paper now and make sure you remove all previous scratches and file marks. If you want an even smoother touch you can sand all the way to 220 grit. Remember – any scratches you leave now will be magnified by the finish later on!

Make sure you fully happy with the feel of the headstock before you get to the next stage which is finishing it.


finished headstock


finished headstock 2


finished headstock front