Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

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Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by countertext » Thu Nov 25, 2021 1:53 pm

I’ve wondered for the last 35 years about the shape of the Tele headstock. As a kid, like most, I thought it looked totally stupid… but, like many, the sheer weight of decades of guitar life has forced on me a begrudged acceptance and eventual sense of endearment.

I am familiar with the idea of viol-family scroll headstocks and their influence on Stauffer guitars, and I know all about Paul Bigsby and his instruments. I can see the line through all of that to the Stratocaster headstock, but the Tele just doesn’t fit as comfortably into the family portrait for me.

I even read about tamburas and other stuff with curvy, kinda Stauffer-like shapes, but it’s still different… still not close enough to be a direct connection to me. But maybe it is?

Anybody know a for-real explanation about how that stupid-looking Tele headstock that I now love came to be?

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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by MatthewK » Thu Nov 25, 2021 6:07 pm

My understanding is that it’s a horse’s muzzle, to suit the country players it was designed for. And save a few bucks by using a narrower piece of wood.

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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by countertext » Thu Nov 25, 2021 6:11 pm

Wow, I never heard that one before. Gonna have to look that up!

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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by Veitchy » Thu Nov 25, 2021 7:12 pm

The reason I heard many, many years ago in one guitar publication or another was that it was able to be cut out of a narrower blank of wood. The reason given was post-war wood scarcity. How serious that was on the west coast in '49/'50 I don't know, but that's the way it was explained. The only thing I'm not sure of is why the Tele then didn't just get a Bigsby/Strat style headstock when more wood was available, but then again the JM got it's own distinct headstock shape so maybe further visual distinction was desired at that point.

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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by countertext » Thu Nov 25, 2021 9:11 pm

I get the narrower neck blank idea, and I reckon I would do that too, but why that particular narrow shape? It’s not really enough like a Bigsby scroll shape to make you think of a scroll, right? It seems more like a child sketched it, or it was accidental or something.

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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by PixMix » Thu Nov 25, 2021 10:36 pm

I too read about the tamburitza theory, and I don't know what to think of it. This type of headstock is quite common on a range of Croatian folk instruments. It is not entirely impossible for Leo to have seen it somewhere and "recreated" something that looked a bit more stylish than the totally utilitarian snakehead design.

A few years ago, I tried looking for info on Fender's design process in the '50s and '60s, especially design choices of components that can be considered to have a semi-cosmetic character (pickguards, headstock shapes, etc.), and I was unable to find good, reliable info.

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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by PorkyPrimeCut » Fri Nov 26, 2021 12:07 am

From what I gather, in the late 40s and early 50s a local zoo was piloting a day release program at the ape enclosure.

One rather talented chimp was hired by Leo and left to come up with something "a bit different". What he hadn't reckoned on was the speed at which the idea was realised & sent off to be approved.
The department dealing with trademarking innovative musical instruments was, at the time, headed by a long-sighted baboon.

The rest is history.
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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by PixMix » Fri Nov 26, 2021 6:26 am

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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by Steadyriot. » Fri Nov 26, 2021 7:04 am

Aside from the clear Scroll headstock influence in traditional instruments; I also always relate the Fender headstocks to a French Curve rulers somehow..
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The small Tele headstock story I heard is in line with the others in this thread. It's about as wide as the neck heel, so you can get away with a rather slim piece of wood vs say a Strat. Fender was all about economy (of scale) back in the day. The Tele neck fits neatly into that principle. Why it's gotten it's exact shape I wouldn't dare say.
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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by PixMix » Fri Nov 26, 2021 9:14 am

Steadyriot. wrote:
Fri Nov 26, 2021 7:04 am
Aside from the clear Scroll headstock influence in traditional instruments; I also always relate the Fender headstocks to a French Curve rulers somehow..
The small Tele headstock story I heard is in line with the others in this thread. It's about as wide as the neck heel, so you can get away with a rather slim piece of wood vs say a Strat. Fender was all about economy (of scale) back in the day. The Tele neck fits neatly into that principle. Why it's gotten it's exact shape I wouldn't dare say.
Those are modern French Curve rulers, the mid-century ones looked a bit different. 100% agreed on the practicality and economy of the neck that does not require wider headstock than the heel. This must have been an important factor that restricted the size of the tele headstock.

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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by Caddy65 » Fri Nov 26, 2021 9:22 am

Different strokes, I guess. I like the Tele headstock better than the Strat headstock (the normal small one). I hate the large 70’s Strat headstock. It just looks like someone got the scale wrong on the template.

But then I seem to be one of the few that prefers the Epi headstock over the ‘plain Jane’ Gibson one.

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Re: Where did the Tele headstock shape really come from?

Post by Maggieo » Fri Nov 26, 2021 9:27 am

Guitar world has this:
The single-ply black phenolic pickguard and six-in-line headstock, inspired by 19th-century Stauffer acoustics, gave the guitar a unique look.
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