Here cease thy tears, suppress thy fruitless mourn
his soul—the immortal part—has upward flown
On wings he soars his rapid way
to you bright regions of eternal day
—Headstone inscription, Massachusetts c. 1800
It's always surprising from where and when inspiration comes. Creativity has its own ebb and flow, without regard to schedules put in place by man. Over the years I've become more attuned to that moment when something I'm working with beckons to be turned or twisted slightly in order to realize a direction to be taken. I've learned that when I'm trying too hard, I'll usually miss it. Such was the case with my headstock design. I'd already created a monogram in a Gothic font motif, but I wasn't sure how I wanted to use it, so I just put it in the drawer for another day.
Separate from that exercise, I'd been thinking about winged skulls and day of the dead imagery. As an old-school motorcycle guy, I've been surrounded by that stuff since I started out working at Frank's Maintenance & Engineering (Forking by Frank) making chopper parts in the late 1960s.
Most of the machinists that I worked with were members of the Devil's Disciples, a Chicago motorcycle club. Their toolboxes were stocked with weapons and their garb was adorned with wings and skull symbols. Not that this is a new idea; it's a visual statement that rock and roll has appropriated over the years, but it seemed like a good jumping off point. I recalled seeing headstones in some New England cemeteries that seemed to morph skulls with angels, and I liked that idea and made some sketches, but nothing really came of it.
Some time later as I was reading In Small Things Forgotten, The Archelogy of Early American Life by James Deetz, a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley, I came across an illustration of how New England gravestones had evolved from winged death's-heads to cherubs.
The imagery had gradually changed from the dark decay of death as a fearsome adversary in the 1700s to the more rewarding view of afterlife offered by the cherub by the 1800s.
I put pencil to paper, and as I sketched, the wings became less literal and more implied as they stretched out from the face. The wings became the headstock top and the face became the monogram "D" from my surname.
Even though I hadn't set out to design my headstock, once the juices began to flow, it only took a short time for everything to fall into place.
After I'd settled upon the idea, it was a matter of laying out the dimensions of the string alignments and the tuner locations. There's only so much latitude because the limiting factor of the tuner key clearances, so it is a balancing act between string angle and key inset. I made a mock up to check all the clearances and positions using a large selection of possible tuner choices.
I couldn't wait to see it on a guitar—it couldn't have been better if I had planned it.