I’ve also torn my own hair out trying to figure out how best to do the hair-do-ing. Turns out that curve guides alone are the best option, but knowing how to use them is not well explained. (I’m going to assume that you’ve already been to the blenderwiki and know all the settings.)
First, when you make a curve guide the most important setting is the first one ‘MinDist.’ That’s not intuitive. It should read ‘Beginning of influence.’ Set the start of your curve guide, the first bezier vertex, right in the middle of the surface of the region you want to affect. Then set your ‘MinDist’ to the area of influence that you want.
Second, when you use a curve guide, it is the guide, not ‘Life’ that controls how long your hair will be. To prove this to yourself, set Life very low. I pulled a long strand of hair out with a setting of 2. Now, you can shape the curve guide any way you want, but the strand is going to only go to the first and last points of your curve guide. Set the value to 100, say, and it’ll look better, because it now has more resolution. That’s what life does when you’re using a curve guide; it gives the hair more resolution.
Third, set not only life very low, but also any other settings. In fact, set everything to zero till you have the shape you want. Then, use only one click for ‘norm’ and, optionally, one click for ‘random.’ Random will really screw up a long strand of hair.
Fourth, don’t worrry about gravity settings and stuff until you have something close to want you want. Toggling ‘Vect’ on the right side of the particles ‘Display’ panel has interesting results. Pay attention to your “patches” when it’s toggled off. You’ll see alot of what I’m talking about when playing with the ‘Life’ setting.
Fifth, break it down and keep it simple until you know what you’re doing. When you start throwing in more than one curve guide, use ‘Additive’ to mix their results. You can also put regions of your scalp and their controlling guides on different layers in order to keep their influences totally seperate.
Hope this helps. Good luck!