If you have been wondering why do electric guitars have horns, you’re certainly not alone! The most basic answer is that they give players better access to the highest frets. Perhaps you’re buying your first electric guitar but finding it difficult to narrow down your choices.
Read on to learn more about why this guitar design might be precisely what you have been looking for!
You can use the table of contents below to take you to the area that interests you. Click on the little box to open it and then click on the section of the article you want to read, or you can read from start to finish if you want the full “horny” experience!
The Short Answer
Designing a guitar with horns gives it better access to the highest frets and weight relief. It can also give the guitar a cool look compared to the more traditional design of a standard acoustic guitar.
Building a horn or two of the same or different sizes into a guitar can also help balance the instrument in the player’s hands.
So that you know, guitar “horns” are technically called cutaways.
Keep On Reading To Learn More
What Are Guitar Horns?
Guitar horns are simply cutaways on the top of the guitar body.
Various guitar manufacturers make guitars with different horn configurations. A guitar can have two horns of equal size, like a Gibson SG guitar, or different size horns, like a Fender Stratocaster.
Some guitars, like the Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Telecaster, only have a single lower horn.
Advantages Of Guitar Horns
The upper horn can help provide easier access to the highest frets because it allows you to bring your thumb closer to the end of the fretboard.
Some guitar players carry their guitar by its upper horn, although I wouldn’t suggest doing this because it’s easy for the guitar to slip out of your hand, especially if it’s sweaty.
Guitar makers typically use the tip of the upper horn to attach one of the guitar strap buttons because it helps balance the guitar and keeps the strap out of the way of the player’s hands. The Gibson SG has it upper strap button on the back of the guitar, just below the neck.
The upper horn provides a guitar with weight relief.
A guitar body with a single cutaway is always in the lower horn position. This is because it is the most effective of the two positions.
The lower horn provides more access to the highest frets than the upper horn because it allows you to bring your four fingers closer to the end of the neck.
The lower horn is so effective that it is added to many acoustic guitars to make them more playable.
Like the upper horn, the lower horn also creates weight relief for the guitar.
Disadvantages Of Guitar Horns
The main disadvantage of adding horns to a guitar is that you lose some of the wood’s natural (unplugged) sustain by decreasing the instrument’s mass.
It is possible to compensate for this using denser wood for the body, like mahogany.
For example, the Les Paul has a single horn and a thicker body (mahogany with a maple cap) than most guitars. The body thickness and wood density give it quite a bit of natural sustain, while the lower horn gives it better access to the highest frets. The maple cap helps balance out the warm, mellow tone of the mahogany.
Also, adding high-output humbucking pickups to the Les Paul helps improve the sustain in the audio signal leaving the guitar.
You can add additional sustain to any guitar by using a pedal like a compressor, overdrive, or distortion unit. A high-gain amp or an amp with a master volume control will also add sustain to your guitar.
Single Versus Double-Horn Guitars
Here are some things to consider when buying a single or double-horn guitar. Although there are exceptions, these guidelines generally hold true.
|Consideration||Single Horn||Double Horn|
|Upper Fret Access||Worse||Better|
|Overall Appearance||More “Acoustic-Like”||More “Electric-Like”|
|Button Strap Attachment||Never||On Upper Horn|
|Easier To Carry The Guitar||No||By Upper Horn|
Players with large hands are typically more comfortable playing single (lower) horn guitars like a Telecaster or Les Paul than players with smaller hands.
If you have small hands, chances are you prefer a double-horned guitar like an SG, Strat, or PRS double-cut with a thinner neck.
Do Horns Affect A Guitar’s Sound?
Yes, they certainly can! Whenever you modify the shape of a guitar’s body, it has the potential to change its sound.
Single-horn guitars arguably have a richer bass response and a thicker midrange than double-horn guitars, although it’s not always true. Body thickness and tonewood are also essential factors to consider.
Do All Solid-Body Electric Guitars Have Horns?
Guitars without horns are mostly seen on acoustic guitars.
However, not all solid-body electric guitars have horns. The “Flying V” body style is one of the rare exceptions.
Gibson first designed the Flying V guitar in 1958! Can you believe it? Such a rad-looking guitar in the late 50s! It got its name because the body forms an upside-down V shape.
The Flying V is basically an inverted solid-body electric with double cutaways on the bottom. They are not technically considered “horns” since they are not adjacent to the guitar neck and do not improve finger access to the highest frets.
The Flying V was made famous by the blues guitar master Albert King.
Later, guitar companies like Jackson and Kramer copied the Flying V body style.
What Is The Best Guitar For Upper Fret Access?
The Gibson SG, in my opinion, gives you the best upper fret access. I especially like the 1961 SG model, which has a slim-taper neck carve with a shorter and narrower area on the back of the neck where it’s glued into the guitar body(AKA short-tenon), making it easier to reach and bend the highest notes.
Some players would argue that the Flying V design gives equal upper fret access, but the body does not join the end of the neck as far down as the SG guitar.
Have a look for yourself:
If you like Gibson SG guitars, check out my review article on Gibson SG Electric Guitar Update – Iommi “Monkey” SG Special.
Do Horns Affect A Guitar’s Image?
Yes, they definitely do, especially double-horn guitars! They can increase the “cool factor” of the guitar considerably.
When the Fender Telecaster hit the market, its lower horn immediately set it apart from the look of a standard acoustic guitar.
The first 1954 Stratocaster, with its double horns and body curves, made it ready for the jet age! It looks futuristic, even today!
Do Double Horns Represent The Devil’s Image?
Contrary to popular belief, no guitar manufacturer ever designed a double-horned guitar to specifically represent the Devil’s image.
However, many players have been attracted to the “devilish look” of the double horns, especially on a cherry red SG.
Most notably, Angus Young, the powerhouse behind AC/DC, bought a Gibson SG as his first guitar because it reminded him of the Devil’s horns, and he has used Gibson SG guitars ever since, probably because they play and sound great.
Who wouldn’t want to be able to play like Angus?
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the questions I get asked about guitars with horns.
If your question does not appear here, please put it in the comments, and I will get right back to you with an answer.
What Does SG Stand For In Gibson SG?
The “SG” designation on the Gibson SG guitar stands for “Solid Guitar.”
Is An SG Good For Beginners?
An SG guitar is excellent for beginners because it is lightweight and has excellent upper fret access. Its shorter scale neck gives it lower string tension, making it easier to bend strings. The thin neck and low string action make it easier to play fast with better accuracy.
Is The Les Paul Or SG Easier To Play?
Most players consider the SG an easier guitar to play because it has double horns for better access to the highest frets, while the Les Paul only has one lower horn. The SG is also considerably lighter than the Les Paul, making it more comfortable to play while standing for long periods.
Is A Les Paul Easier To Play Than A Strat?
Opinions vary, but a Les Paul is generally considered easier to play than a Stratocaster. Even though the Stratocaster has better upper fret access, the Les Paul has a shorter scale neck and lower string action. This makes the Les Paul easier to bend strings and play fast.
What Is Better, A Telecaster Or Stratocaster?
They are both excellent guitars. It depends if sound or playability is more important to you.
The Telecaster has a more twangy and trebly sound than the Stratocaster, making it the go-to instrument for Country music. At the same time, the Stratocaster played a more significant role in defining the sound of Rock and Electric Blues.
When Fender released the Stratocaster, it was advertised as their “Flagship” electric, with many innovations over the Telecaster, like the tremolo bridge, a micro-tilt neck adjustment, and three pickups.
The Stratocaster has double horns for better upper fret access and body curves on the front and back for improved playing comfort.
To decide, you have to play both guitars and decide which one is best for you.
I hope you enjoyed this article on why do electric guitars have horns!
Guitars can have single or double horns (also called cutaways). They help improve a guitar’s playability by providing better access to the highest frets. Additionally, they can give the guitar a “cool factor,” which helped make solid-body electric guitars popular in their earliest days.
Horns provide weight relief and balance but can decrease the natural sustain of an instrument. Double-horned guitars are typically easier to play than guitars with one horn.
The Gibson SG guitar has the best upper fret access because of how the guitar’s body joins the neck. The cherry red SG may give the impression of the Devil’s horns because of its double horn symmetry and color.
The Gibson Flying V design is one of the few solid-body electrics that does not have horns, and manufacturers like Jackson and Kramer have duplicated its design.
Horns can give a guitar a distinctive look, and a playing advantage, but ultimately, an electric guitar should primarily be selected for its sound and playability.
Tell Me What You Think
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this article, have any questions about guitars with horns, or want to give your point of view. I will be happy to help you.
- What electric guitar do you like best? Do its horns factor into your choice?
- Which electric guitar do you think is easiest to play? Why?
- After reading this article, will you likely get a new guitar? Which one?
- What else is on your mind?