A Brief History of the Hockey Stick Headstock

In honour of the start of the Olympic hockey tournament at Sochi, here’s a brief history of the “hockey stick” guitar headstock. 

It all started around 1958, when Gibson launched its “futuristic” line of guitars, the Explorer and the Flying V.  These were designed to be radical departures from the traditional guitars Gibson was making, as a way of combatting the success of the sleek, modern guitars Fender was producing.  The Explorer featured the first pointy/droopy headstock, which to my eye works really well with the Explorer body shape.  Overall these guitars were not a success for Gibson, and the hockey stick headstock had to wait about a quarter-century before it really made an impact of the guitar scene.

 

Fast forward to the early 80’s, and companies like Kramer and Jackson/Charvel started producing “Superstrats,” largely due to the success of Eddie Van Halen.  These were more-or-less Strat-shaped guitars, with the then-new Floyd Rose double-locking vibrato. Most featured very un-Strat-like pickup configurations, such as a single humbucker in the bridge position, slanted so the Gibson-spaced polepieces lined up under the Fender-spaced strings near the bridge.  Given the mood for modern performance and looks, the hockey-stick headstock soon found its way onto this type of guitar and this style of guitar design dominated the decade.

 

Some of the earliest hockey stick headstocks looked like the one on the ESP George Lynch model above.  This was the fatter “banana” headstock, and generally was not angled back like a Gibson headstock but rather was straight like a Fender headstock.  It should be noted that with the addition of the locking nut, what happened after the nut really didn’t matter that much – issues such as tuning stability were a non-issue once the strings were clamped down.  So angled or non-angled didn’t really matter, it just had to look cool.  Plenty of headstocks wound up in the reverse configuration seen on this Lynch – for more extreme visual effect.

 

 

The Jackson headstock of this era was a little pointier and sleeker than the banana headstock, and the Soloist model shown may be the most widely recognized Superstrat design of all time.

Well, we all know what happened next.  Grunge hit in the early 90’s and the Superstrat went from cool to not cool seemingly overnight, although it really happened over the course of two or three years.  Pawn shop guitars became the thing to be seen with, and high-output pickups, guaranteed tuning stability, day-glo colours and airbrushed graphics were out.  I never really heard of this type headstock referred to as a hockey stick in the 80’s, it was always called a pointy headstock.  It wasn’t until the grunge era that I heard the term, and it may have been a term of derision.  I heard it from one of my buddies who was still shredding throughout the 90’s in the face of the popular trend (and is still proudly shredding today, I should add), so maybe it was just a statement of fact – after all, these things do look like hockey sticks when you really think about it.

The saga of the hockey stick headstock, like a plot from Shakespeare or a Hollywood movie, is a happy one, in which our protagonist regains his lost glory.  In this case, the metal resurgence of the early 2000’s ushered back an era of heavy guitars for heavy music, and with it the re-emergence of the pointy/droopy/hockey stick headstock to its rightful place at the forefront of the guitar world. 

 

The LTD model shown above is a good example of the 2000-era re-imagining of the pointy-headstock Superstrat.  Active pickups, stained finishes and modern inlays are just a few of the changes we saw, but overall the guitar remains the same.   And since the resurgence, sales for this type of guitar have remained steady, so I really think the rollercoaster ride is over and the pointy headstock has a well-deserved place as a now-classic design that will always endure, even if it’s not for everyone.  The world of guitars just wouldn’t be as fun without this design, and I really like the form-over-function philosophy.

Having said that, we couldn’t resist having a little fun with this design as we cheer on the Canadian Olympic hockey team, so here is our hockey player mascot for February proudly rocking his hockey stick headstock – GO CANADA!!!

 

Brendan Jang- Guitar and Drum Buyer at Tom Lee Music - has over two decades of experience in the musical instrument industry. He likes reverse pointy headstocks better than the regular ones.