Headless guitars hit the market four decades ago, but remain an uncommon and bold choice to make for most guitarists. These instruments are typically preferred by highly technical and modern players like the great fusion virtuoso Allan Holdsworth.
Their popularity has increased for progressive genres in substyles of metal and even modern jazz, but headless guitars are still not as popular as they should be.
And why should they be more popular? Well, for starters, they’re specifically designed to sound great, and special emphasis is given to their playability. Also, they have better intonation, are more balanced, smaller, significantly lighter, easier to string, and stay in tune for longer. Keep reading.
Features: HSH Suhr pickups, 24 Jescar stainless steel frets, Multi scale rosewood fretboard
Benefits: Amazing ergonomics, Huge range of tones, Incredible balance
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Features: Color coded ends, Hexagonal core, Round wound
Benefits: Vast tonal options, Subtle aesthetics, Incredible playability
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Features: Stainless steel frets, Alnico humbucking pickups, Hardtail bridge
Benefits: Great tuning stabiliy, Extremely affordable, Attractive ash body
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Our Top 3
The Ibanez Ichika Signature ICHI10 is our top pick. Designed to fit the highly technical style of Japanese shredder Ichika Nito, this guitar features great playability as well as a modern take on the single coil sound.
The Latitude Cardinal Headless is the Best Budget Option. It offers key headless guitar attributes like enhanced playability and comfort while remaining very affordable.
The Strandberg Boden Fusion NX 6 is our Editor’s Choice. This guitar is an updated and enhanced version of one of the most popular headless guitars in history. With superb tone, playability, and overall features, this guitar is for the discerning professional that demands the best there is.
Superior playability and single coil tone with the Japanese virtuoso’s specs.
Ichika Nito is currently one of the most impressive and fast guitar players. Ibanez has created a guitar to the Japanese guitarist's specifications, with the tone, playability, and a fast neck as priorities.
The Ibanez Ichika Signature ICHI10 headless guitar features a resonant nyatoh body as well as a 3-piece roasted maple and Bubinga neck. Nyatoh is known for being a solid durable wood that is also very lightweight.
The Ichika Signature guitar comes with high-powered electronics and a 3 single-coil design that will appeal to Strat users looking for a guitar that is a bit more progressive.
In our tests, the three R-1 single-coil pickups gave us a crisp, clean tone with a nice dose of shimmer. Unlike a regular Strat, this guitar features the dyna-MIX8 switching system and Alter Switch that offers a greater variety of tones.
When we set the Alter Switch to off, we had the standard SSS pickup positions. Here we got all the tones that Strat’s are known for.
We then put our progressive rock chops to the test by turning the Alter Switch on. Here we had access to series-connected single-coil sounds that make this guitar very versatile. Although we got nice cleans and tight crunch throughout, we especially liked position 2 for a killer distorted lead.
As far as playability, this guitar has a comfortable neck that Ibanez calls “Wizard C profile”. We felt equally comfortable on the low range as well as the high range of the neck and loved the birdseye maple fingerboard.
This Ibanez comes with 24 frets and a 25.5″ scale length. It will likely fit the playing style of “shredders” that like to fly around the neck as well as more traditional players that want a guitar with good action and playability.
Verdict: The Ibanez Ichika Signature ICHI10 headless guitar is a great instrument for folks that play progressive music and have a liking for single coils sounds, particularly Strats. Its innovative switching system expands the sound possibilities of this guitar, and its playability is ideal for fast players that want to fly on the neck.
Sound quality and playability for beginners.
This guitar features a humbucker configuration on a natural-looking body for nice sound and visuals. It is a good option for guitarists that want a headless instrument that plays and feels nice, but with an affordable price tag.
The Latitude Cardinal Headless features a roasted Ash body and you can choose between a transparent natural color or transparent black color. Both color options give this guitar an elegant look thanks to the original wood color and grain that blends well with its modern headless appearance.
This headless guitar comes with Alnico V dual humbucker pickups. We first tried it with some distortion and liked how our Tube Screamer sounded on the bridge pickup. Here we got a classic humbucker punch with a touch of modern with the mids pushed up a bit.
For clean sounds, we preferred the neck pickup, and it even responded well to a bit of jazz playing. We added a bit of chorus and reverb and got a nice clean sound that can fit in a variety of situations and contexts.
The neck on this guitar is a 5-piece roasted maple and padauk also with a natural finish. Padauk is not a very common wood for guitars, but it does feature a good density that serves this neck well.
In our tests, we felt comfortable playing on this guitar and enjoyed its Indian Rosewood Fingerboard. The playability is good, and although its designed for fast players, we liked how the neck felt for bluesy material as well.
Other noteworthy features on this guitar include a 25.5″ scale length and 24 stainless steel frets hand polished for extra playing comfort. This guitar ships with a custom padded gig bag. In short, a nice headless guitar for folks that are on a budget.
Verdict: The Latitude Cardinal Headless guitar features a comfortable neck and responsive pickups for a versatile and affordable headless guitar. It comes in two color options that are classy and modern at the same time. This guitar sounds, looks and feels like a more expensive instrument.
The paradigm in headless guitars gets an update.
The original Strandberg Boden model hit the market a decade ago and became the ultimate headless guitar. The Fusion NX 6 builds on the Boden legacy and adds improved hardware with superior electronics. On top of that, it is built with sustainable materials for the discerning player that is willing to pay for quality.
The Strandberg Boden Fusion NX 6 features an ergonomic design with an alder body that is topped with maple. These woods are known for producing focused sounds with fine sustain and resonance, and the Fusion NX 6 is further proof of that.
Players that seek headless guitar typically have playability and a fast neck are top priorities. This guitar delivers in that area with a snappy maple neck that is outfitted with carbon fiber reinforcement rods that ensure fantastic durability and resistance to drastic temperature and humidity changes. The fingerboard features a very smooth rosewood fingerboard.
As nice as the neck is, Strandberg also raised the bar with the electronics by including three high-quality Suhr pickups. In our tests, loved how this guitar sounded on Fender Deluxe Reverb from the first moment. We started by trying out the SSV+ humbucker pickup on the bridge. Here we got that classic PAF-style sound that was very powerful yet balanced.
We then moved on to the middle position to try out the Suhr V60LP single-coil. Here we got a nice tone with a vintage touch that was very clear. The entire frequency range was represented, with nice highs, warm and full mids, and hefty lows. It sounded great both clean and with distortion via our TS9 pedal.
Finally, the Suhr SSV humbucker on the neck gave us tons of clarity and a smooth tone that was great for blues and jazz as well.
The playability on this guitar is nothing short of outstanding. We loved the EndurNeck profile and its unique shape. It features a multi-scale configuration that assigns a unique scale length for each string. The result is better intonation and ultimate playing comfort.
This guitar may be one of the best choices for folks that want to embark on marathon practice sessions, as it is easier to play than most guitars and will likely decrease the risk of injury. In short, a fantastic instrument for discerning professionals.
Verdict: The Strandberg Boden Fusion NX 6 offers stellar sound, playability, and versatility on a headless guitar. It is the latest and best iteration of Strandberg’s popular Boden model and is a great option for players that demand the best.
A good choice for tight spaces and easy transportation.
This guitar allows you to travel and play, without sacrificing the feel of a real guitar for convenience. It is a good option for students and folks that cannot carry a normal-size guitar around.
The Traveler Guitar LTD EC-1, albeit small, features a full 24.75″ scale length on a mahogany body. In other words, you get a normal playing feel with common fret spacing. This is particularly true if you like Les Pauls, as the LTC EC-1 features the same scale length and feel.
And just like a Les Paul, this is a humbucker-equipped guitar. However, it only comes with one pickup on the bridge position. We gave this guitar a try to see how the ESP-designed ALH-2008 Active Humbucker performed.
In true humbucker style, we got a full and warm sound that takes pedals well, especially for rock and blues. It also sounded good clean, with a nice top-end sparkle to it.
As expected, this guitar feels like a Les Paul, all the way to its mahogany Neck and black walnut fingerboard. We particularly liked the fact that we got to play on a full-size neck, and did not have to adjust for smaller fret spacing that some travel guitars feature.
Another great feature of this guitar is its onboard headphone preamplifier. Besides your typical 1/4″ cable output, the LTD EC-1 also comes with an aux input for plugging in a mobile device. This allows you to jam to your favorite tracks. To top it off, this guitar also includes a headphone output so you can practice anywhere at any time.
Besides the volume, you also get a special tone knob that gives you three settings: clean-boost, overdrive, and distortion. In other words, you can plug into your headphones and dial in some distortion to practice, without the need for a pedal or separate device.
In short, a good option for traveling and for students. Naturally, there are some limitations to this guitar, as it only features one pickup.
Verdict: The Traveler Guitar LTD EC-1 is a convenient choice for traveling and easy to store. Despite its small size, it comes with a full 24.75″ scale length for a normal playing feel, similar to a Les Paul.
Stunning looks at an affordable price.
A light and beautiful guitar with playability that allows for fast playing as well as nuanced jazz lines. This instrument is a nice choice for folks looking for good playability on a headless guitar at an attractive price.
The EART Headless guitar features a roasted padauk body with burled maple veneer. It comes in four different colors, all featuring a striking and modern look that sets this guitar apart.
This guitar comes with two humbuckers, a volume knob, a tone knob, and three-way switch to select either the neck or bridge pickups, as well as a combination of both.
We started our tests with distortion from our Tube Screamer and got a punchy and forward tone from the neck pickup. We particularly liked how it sounded with the tone knob about halfway. This gave us a penetrating sound that works well in rock and progressive contexts, for both soloing and power chords.
For clean tones, we preferred the neck pickup. Although we also liked the distortion here, the clean sound with the tone knob all the way up was warm and balanced.
The EART Headless guitar plays well, and in our tests, we got consistent tuning and intonation throughout. The 5-piece roasted maple and padauk neck felt good and stable and was responsive to our playing. The neck features a U to C compound profile and a 9.5” to 14” compound fingerboard radius.
Another nice feature of this headless guitar is nickel silver frets with a hand-polished treatment. Not only are they durable, but also provide a smoother playing experience and allow for easier and bigger bends.
This is a good guitar for beginners and folks looking into buying their first headless. More seasoned players may wish for more responsive pickups, or consider an upgrade and replacement.
Verdict: The EART Headless guitar features a very fast neck that lets you fly on it. This lightweight guitar is a good option for traveling and for musicians looking to start getting into progressive music.
A fantastic choice for technical players.
This guitar offers a level of playability that modern and very technically proficient players are going to love. The combination of unique neck construction with focused yet aggressive humbuckers make it a great choice for progressive styles.
The Ibanez QX52 features a nyatoh body and a 25.5 scale length. This guitar was made for technical shredders, and this became apparent on the design choices made for the neck.
Ibanez went the distance to give this guitar superior playability. It features a Parallel Wizard neck profile that favors technical playing styles. This 3-piece neck is made of maple and Bubinga, and holds a thickness of 0.75″ throughout its entire length. This offers the players great stability and fantastic playability.
Additionally, this guitar features Jescar EVO gold frets that are slanted at an 8-degree angle that favors techniques such as tapping, slapping, and fingerstyle.
In our tests, we loved how comfortable this guitar is to play. We particularly liked it for playing chord solo arrangements of jazz standards. Uncomfortable extended chord voicings became quite manageable on this neck.
This guitar also allowed us to perform repeated large bends that would leave our hands hurting for days if attempted on a regular guitar. However, as comfortable as it is, more traditional players may feel a bit out of place and would likely prefer a more standard neck.
This Ibanez features Q58 humbuckers with great definition. In our tests, both the neck and bridge humbuckers gave us a natural tonal balance and were very responsive. We particularly like the bridge pickup when played through an EHX Fuzz, as it gave us tons of punch with a focused sound and negligible self-noise.
The QX52 also features dyna-MIX10 switching. You get 10 different pickup combinations via an Alter Switch and 5-way lever switch, to make this guitar very versatile.
This is a great guitar for anyone that uses a highly technical playing style. With this headless Ibanez, you will likely play cleaner and faster, thanks to its amazing and modern playability. Although a good instrument, at 12 pounds, this guitar is quite heavy, especially for a headless guitar.
Verdict: The Ibanez QX52 was specifically made for technical guitarists that need superior playability, a fast neck, and a very responsive instrument.
A headless that provides familiarity on its construction.
This guitar is from a relatively unknown brand and features a unique design with common woods on its design. Its humbuckers give you that punchy and balanced sound and its neck is great for players looking to buy their first headless guitar.
The Asmuse Leaf guitar features a mahogany body and a size that is significantly smaller than a regular solid body. However, it offers the guitarist a full-scale playing experience thanks to its 24-fret neck and 25.5″ scale length.
This guitar comes loaded with two humbuckers built with aluminum nickel and cobalt for a PAF-type sound. In our tests, the Lightning LH-N pickup on the bridge position provided a powerful crunch when paired with a Tube Screamer, and forward cleans with bite when we bypassed the distortion pedal.
On the other hand, the Lightning LH-B pickup at the neck position gave us a round tone that can work in a variety of settings, from a darker overdriven lead to warm cleans for some jazz chords.
This guitar features a rosewood fingerboard that will provide some familiarity to folks transitioning from a regular guitar to a headless. The neck will also provide some familiarity as it is made of maple, one of the most common choices for solid bodies’ necks.
We felt very comfortable playing this guitar. Although the neck and fingerboard are not specifically designed to be super fast, they do feel very comfortable and offer nice playability.
Another notable feature of this guitar is the KD strap buckles to safeguard against accidents, particularly when playing standing. This guitar comes in four color options: green, blue, black, and surf green. Although a nice sounding instrument with good playability, it weighs 8.13 pounds, making it a heavy guitar, especially a headless one.
Verdict: The Asmuse Leaf guitar features common and quality woods on its body, as well as neck and fingerboard. Its size is much smaller than a solid body, yet the neck is the size of a regular guitar and offers a comfortable playing experience.
How To Choose The Right Guitar For You
Although fretless guitars are seen by some as immensely different from regular solid bodies, the parameters you should consider before buying one are not that different. Here we give you a few things to look for.
Just like in any guitar, you’ll find that humbuckers and single coils are the two main types of pickups available. Just like in “normal” guitars, you can also opt for a combination.
As to which one is better, that’s a subject of heated debate. In general, humbuckers remove hum and sound warmer and punchier. On the other hand, single coils tend to sound snappier and brighter.
Both types of pickups can be either passive or active. Active pickups rely on a preamp to reduce hum and give you more output, but the flip side is that you lose the dynamics provided by passive pickups.
Fretboard and frets
This is an area where headless guitars can differ widely. You can opt to get headless with a traditional type of neck and fretboard or you can choose a very modern design as well.
Many headless guitar players prefer to truly take advantage of the instrument by choosing a compound radius. A compound radius neck is smaller and rounder at the nut, but larger and flatter at the body joint. This greatly aids playability and is particularly helpful for string bending.
Headless guitars can also come with multi-scale necks. These types of necks have different scale lengths at different areas of the neck, achieved by fanning the frets.
This allows for ultimate efficiency when playing and comfort. Keep in mind that although it ultimately helps your playing, it will take a bit of time to get used to this type of neck. Naturally, not all players appreciate a multi scale neck, especially traditional ones.
Headless guitar makers also pay special attention to the frets. They are sometimes hand dressed and as smooth as they can possibly be, so the player can fly on the fretboard.
As we mentioned, headless guitars appeal to technical players in progressive styles. These types of players also tend to like guitars with 7 or even 8 strings.
Althought there certainly is a nice variety of 6-string models for headless guitars, you may want to think about looking at an extended range model, especially if you play heavier styles.
Headless guitars are very ergonomic and effective instruments, and a 7 or even 8-string guitar may do wonders for the type of music you play. The key here is to try it out and see how it feels in your hands.
Budget is an important consideration for just about anything you want to buy, and that is especially true for guitars and gear in general. Headless guitars are no different, and they certainly abide by the principle that you get what you pay for.
That said, you can get a nice headless guitar for about a grand, and expect to have all the benefits that these instruments bring to the table. Go above that price range and you can have an extremely well-built instrument, with killer tones and excellent playability, not to mention nicer hardware and wood choices.
Headless guitars have considerable advantages over regular solid body guitars. They stay in tune better, are lighter, easier to transport, and with faster frets. Those are just a few of the features that make these instruments excel.
Naturally, they look different and that seems to turn off a lot of folks. Nevertheless, they are a serious option if sound and playability are your top priorities.
To recap our top choices, the Ibanez Ichika Signature ICHI10 is our top pick designed to fit the highly technical style of Japanese guitarist Ichika Nito. The Latitude Cardinal Headless is Best Budget Option as it offers the advantages of a headless guitar but remains affordable. The Strandberg Boden Fusion NX 6 is our Editor’s Choice, a superior update on the most popular headless guitars, for guitarists that seek the very best tone and playability.