Witch Hats, Chicken Heads and Cupcakes?

Do these look like a bonnet to you? Thanks to Vintage Correct Parts for the photo.

You won’t learn a whole lot from this post but it might be fun. Guitar players seem to have a soft spot for nicknames for their instruments and for certain guitar parts. When I first heard the term “whammy bar”, I knew what they were talking about. Well, the guitar community never met a knob that it didn’t have a descriptive nickname for. Gibson seems to have the most knob nicknames but Fender and Epiphone have a few as well. Some are descriptive and some maybe not so much.

For example, the simple numbered knob that was found on nearly every Gibson guitar from the mid 50’s until the early 60’s is called a “bonnet” knob. It doesn’t resemble a bonnet to my eye. It looks more like a derby but nobody calls it a “derby” knob. Earlier, there was the “speed” knob which mostly just stays still but I guess the idea was that it was somehow faster at turning. Speed knobs were largely used in the late 40’s and 50’s. More descriptive is the Gibson “top hat” knob. It looks like a top hat. It’s also, for obvious reasons, called a “reflector” knob as it had gold or silver foil on the top with the function printed on the reflector part…either “volume” or “tone”. Continuing the descriptive slant is the ubiquitous “chicken head” knob. With a little imagination, this knob, found mostly on Fender tweed amps and Gibson guitars with a Varitone, looks like a cartoon chicken head. Clever bunch, these guitar players.

Top hats. Or reflectors. They look a little like top hats. There were a few versions of these-short knurl, long knurl, tall, gold and black. They all look like little top hats.

The always popular “chicken head”. So named because it sort of resembles the head of a, you guessed it, chicken.

My favorite is the “cupcake” knob. It looks like a cupcake. OK, more like a cupcake liner than a cupcake but it leaves no doubt what knob it describes. Look at a Fender brownface or white Tolex amp built from 1960 until around 1963. There are white ones and brown ones but they are apparently all the same flavor. Two knobs-one Fender and one Gibson-are very similar. The numbered “skirt” knob is the knob of choice for the Fender blackface and silverface amps. The Gibson version is called a “witch hat” because, uh, it looks like a witches hat. They showed up in late on ES guitars and later on Les Pauls and SG’s.

The very illustrative “cupcake” knob. Comes in vanilla and chocolate and it does, indeed, look like an upside down cupcake. Or a Reese cup.

There are knobs that don’t seem to have been given descriptive names and, frankly, if they were all like that, I wouldn’t be writing this post. The black knobs on a Fender Jazz Bass and Jaguar don’t have a name (that I know of). Strats and Jazzmasters have versions of the “skirt” knob including a “short skirt” found on early Strats (well before short skirts on women became popular in the 60’s). Telecaster knobs are called “knurled” knobs because, well, they are knurled. Not terribly creative. I’ve seen them referred to as “barrel” knobs as well but they don’t look a whole lot like barrels. Epiphone has a real imaginative one that appeared on 50’s Epiphones. It looks kind of like a circus tent and most folks call them “carousel” knobs or “big top” knobs. This from the company that brought us the “bikini logo” Guess what it looks like.

The “carousel” knob looks something like a circus tent. This pair is a little dirty but so are most circus tents.

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