The spherical head model has been used in magnetoencephalography (MEG) as a simple forward model for calculating the external magnetic fields resulting from neural activity. For more realistic head shapes, the boundary element method (BEM) or similar numerical methods are used, but at greatly increased computational cost. We introduce a sensor-weighted overlapping-sphere (OS) head model for rapid calculation of more realistic head shapes. The volume currents associated with primary neural activity are used to fit spherical head models for each individual MEG sensor such that the head is more realistically modelled as a set of overlapping spheres, rather than a single sphere. To assist in the evaluation of this OS model with BEM and other head models, we also introduce a novel comparison technique that is based on a generalized eigenvalue decomposition and accounts for the presence of noise in the MEG data. With this technique we can examine the worst possible errors for thousands of dipole locations in a realistic brain volume. We test the traditional single-sphere model, three-shell and single-shell BEM, and the new OS model. The results show that the OS model has accuracy similar to the BEM but is orders of magnitude faster to compute.