A Little Imagination In Your Ukulele Headstocks Please!

8 Mar 2017

A Little Imagination In Your Ukulele Headstocks Please!

There's a point you may have noticed me raising often in ukulele reviews on this site, and that's a grumble about less than imaginative ukulele headstocks. Recently I had someone message me asking me more about my gripe, so I figured it would make an interesting discussion piece.

My gripe is quite simple really. From what I can see, there is a massive preponderance of ukulele headstocks that simply choose to copy the Martin three pointed crown style. What is the three pointed crown style? Well, you know it. I am sure you know it. You know it because it appears on SO many instruments. You don't? You DO! They look like this...

martin ukulele headstock shape


But then... so does this


And this...


And this.......


I could go on... And on...

Now. I would very much welcome old time ukulele officianados settting me straight on this point, because I keep referring to them as 'Martin three pointed crown shapes'. In doing that I am 'assuming' that Martin had this shape first. Is that actually the case or is it simply that Martin are the most recognisable brand that use that shape, and have done for MANY years? It's not Martin 'full stop' either, as their guitars are traditionally flat topped at the headstock, so perhaps it's just a ukulele thing. Actually, I am not sure it really matters all that much. Martin IS the brand that is most associated with the three pointed crown, and whether that is original or just through osmosis - it is that most people associate with them. STOP PRESS - Thanks to some friends in the ukulele community who pointed out that some of the earliest Hawaiian ukuleles used a three pointed crown shape - arguably earlier than Martin did. This may be the reason that brands like Kamaka still use them. All that said though, I still don't think it changes the point that the shape is intrinsically linked to Martin these days. And the point is less about ownership and who came first, rather a post about brands copying others as it's easy.

In reality, it's actually a very plain design, but it's also very effective. What is more depressing though is the more I see it on other brands, the less it stands out to me as something 'special'. It almost becomes 'normal' or 'expected'. You just end up thinking 'oh, yeah, that's a headstock'.. But is this just my mind playing tricks on me? I thought i'd check.

So at the time of writing this post, I went back through all my reviews. It's March 2017 now and at this point I have reviewed 108 ukuleles in detail. At the date of writing, only one of those was a Martin ukulele, so excluding that one, that's 107 instruments.

Then I started counting...

Of the 107 instruments I have reviewed, a total of 40 of them are clearly nothing more than three pointed crown shapes, and another 17 fall into the 'almost like a three pointed crown, but a bit more swoopy'.

Now, of course none of this really matters, but it just seems to me like a MASSIVE proportion. Either 40, or worse 57 out of 107 instruments I have reviewed all nod back to the headstock made famous by a single brand? Really? Incidentally, I counted these on individual instruments and not brands, as I have noted there is some variance within same brands that would otherwise skew the numbers.

Then I looked at the ukuleles I haven't formally reviewed yet, but are 'coming soon' - guess what? Same sort of percentages, in fact percentages skewed MORE towards the three pointed crown. They are everywhere!

You may say - well, it's recognisable, it's easy, it's understandable... You may also say it's a case of 'doffing your cap' to a well respected brand.. But I have never been one to shy away from the controversial so I would add into that mix of words things like 'un-imagainative' and perhaps 'lazy'. I fully appreciate that there are not an infinite number of headstock shapes out there and there is only so much wood to play with, but when it gets SO repetitive, I have to say.. it starts to  bore me. I would MUCH rather see a builder choose something fresh and a bit different for a headstock than the 'same old, same old..'  Maybe I am over thinking this, but the proportions on my stats don't lie. There is a massive proportion of ukuleles out there with headstocks that all kind of look the same.

And to be fair, it doesn't correlate to poor quality, although you do see three pointed crowns on more cheap ukuleles than serious ones. Actually they appear on much higher end instruments I regard highly. I just think there was a bit more difference and individuality..

So I say, hats off to the 'different', the KoAloaha's, the Kanile'a's, the Tinguitars and the Koralas, the Flukes, the Fleas and the Riptides... just to name a few.

Just give me different!



4 comments :

  1. I've seen a very early 1880s-1890s Hawaiian Ukulele by Jose do Espirito Santo, one of the first three ukulele luthiers with the crown headstock. Maybe it was something to do with the Hawaiian Royal family and their love of the ukulele? But that's just speculation on my part. Great article. Thank you.

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  2. Nice ob's... Something the guitar world has struggled with for years too. RISA & Steinberger have the answer!

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  3. I'll take a Martin copy over a Fender 4-in-a-row any day of the week, but I know what you mean. Actually, my Kala has the Martin style headstock. My other two ukes have 2 points, but look a little boring. Funny that my dream uke - KoAloha - has an awesome headstock, but I initially thought it was a bit too fancy - needless to say it's grown on me.

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  4. If I remember correctly the classic Martin uke had a plain flat headstock design.

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