How to Repair a Broken Guitar Neck (headstock)

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Introduction: How to Repair a Broken Guitar Neck (headstock)

About: I'm just a compulsive DIYer that plays guitar and tries to fix just about everything around the house and garage. Sometimes I even succeed!


This instructable will show you how to repair a broken guitar neck and, depending on how severe the damage, how to do some minor cosmetic repair.  The guitar in question for this example is an Epiphone Les Paul Studio.  I actually bought this guitar about a year ago for the very purpose of practicing neck repair - as it already had a broken neck.  I fixed the neck about 9 months ago (and you can see the results of that fix in this series).

Fast forward to the arrival of a new puppy... long story short, another broken neck (the old fix held up though!!!) and a chance to create a new instructable.

In the case of the Epiphone, they are great, affordable guitars... And with these broken neck ones (depending on the nature of the break), these can be a great deal for someone with the time and tools to fix them.  And if you happen to bust the top off your Gibson ES335, that can be fixed too!

Step 1: Anatomy of a Broken Neck

Gravity, headstock geometry and thin wood can lead to a frustrating situation!  The pics show how a clean break can occur... 

Step 2: Tools and Supplies

To make the guitar totally playable again, you only need to glue the headstock back on.  For that you will need:

1. Clamps - I like the clamp type shown.  I think screw clamps encourage people to really crank it down and damage the finish.  You don't need it THAT tight.  Several clamps of different sizes works well - I bought an entire set of these cheap clamps at a $5 table at Harbor Freight or Ace or where ever. 
2. Glue - No magic glue.  White glue is stronger than the wood.  I use the "wood" white glue because it seems to not run all over like the regular white type.  Plus the curing time works for my purposes.
3. Water - for cleanup
4. Paper towels - Lot's O Lot's.
5. Little artist paint brush - you could use a large brush if you wanted.  Size doesn't matter much here.
6. Something to hold the neck up - I have a little tripod thing that I won at a recent demonstration thing.  A full roll of paper towels works very well also.

Step 3: Inspection of Damage

To determine if the break is worth fixing to your satisfaction and ability, inspect the nature of the break.  As I said before, this break was about as clean as you can get.  In the pics you can also see the line from my previous fix.

What interesting to note is that the previous fix held up just fine.  The wood failed (again), not the old glue joint.  But what that also tells me is that the wood on this neck is fairly weak and would split just as fast and clean if it gets dropped again.

The split paint and paint/wood interface might present a challenge depending on the guitar.  But it this case, it did just fine with wood glue.


Step 4: Side Note About Wood Strength and Stain Penatration.

When I looked closely at the wood, I noticed that the primary break seemed to occur along a plane that sucked up the stain rather deep.  This MIGHT indicate that the wood was dryer and maybe weaker along this plane that the neighboring planes. 

The wood next to the truss rod opening broke on a slightly different plane.  Perhaps is was stronger?  Assuming that the break happened how I described in step 1, the truss rod area would have split first...  Not so strong after all!  So micro-examining the wood structure is probably not worth worrying about for this.

Step 5: Dry Fitting

Hey, now we can actually start doing this!

This is pretty simple.  Just hold the pieces together and see how they will fit.  This guitar was pretty straight forward - just hold it together and you're there.  On other guitars you might need to insert part at an angle, jiggle it around a little or clean up some nasty spots on the wood.

I just used one clamp to see how the fit was.

Step 6: Glue Application

You don't need gobs and gobs of glue.  The key is to get good even distribution on both pieces.  I like to use a small brush to get the glue in the cracks/crevices and get rid of excess glue.

The goal is to get enough glue that everything inside is coated within the repair - but not so much that it's a total mess to clean up the outside.

Step 7: Assembly and Clamping and Cleanup

This is always the part I hate when I do any kind of wood work - Make sure you have your clamps, water and paper towels ready to go.  This is not a good time to be interrupted - this part must be completed in one operation.

The major parts are:
1. Hand assembly
2. Initial clamping
3. Clean up
4. Additional/final clamping
5. More clean up.

Step 8: Take Off the Clamps and Minor Clean Up

I give these sorts of joints two solid days to dry and cure before I remove the clamps.  But realistically, you only need to wait 12 hours or so (read the glue directions) if you're in a hurry.

Theoretically, you could string up the guitar and start playing if you wanted!  The joint is solid and will hold the tension.  Everything after this is just cosmetic.

Step 9: Wood Finish Work.

I suggest you keep the wood finish work to a minimum.  This can get extremely frustrating and take you down a long path of work that will just make things looking worse.

For this repair, I just use a little crayon type scratch filler and buff it down.  My goal is to make the repair smooth to the touch... not invisible to the eye.

For a point of reference, I tried to do the finish repair on the previous fix.  That's why there's a band of light finish across the neck.  It took me about a week to do and it ended up being very noticeable.  To be fair, the previous break was missing some edge pieces when I bought it.

Step 10: Headstock Cleainup/finishing

The headstock was similar.. yet different.  We were dealing with paint instead of wood.

1. Clean up the glue.
2. I tried to get it cleaned up and leveled with wet/dry sandpaper.  Started with 320 then 400, 600 and 800.  Keep it wet and avoid the logo.
3. Black Kiwi shoe polish.  I hit the entire headstock with the shoe polish to give it the same gleam.  That was the first time I tried that - seemed to work good here!

Note about flash photography:  For the majority of my pics, I used a flash.  In virtually all of those pictures, the crack looks much worse that it does in real life.  From a distance the fix is just not that noticeable.

Step 11: Restring, Check Set-up and Play!


After such a traumatic injury and repair, I was amazed that the guitar held it's intonation! 
The only adjustment I needed to do was a quarter turn of the truss rod to get the neck curvature where I wanted it!

I restrung with Ernie Ball Regular Slinkies (10-46) to normal tuning.

Step 12: Conclusion - It's Alive!


This is one of those "OMG what'll I do!" accidents for most people.  But if it looks like a clean break and can be pressed back together without to much work, you can probably fix it yourself.

Just don't get to worried about the final wood finish.  Keep it simple and you'll be happier than if you try to make the crack totally invisible.

To let you hear the results, I added two sound clips - both were recorded through a Tech 21 Trademark 10 using the effects send straight into the PC.  So it's basically a Sans Amp direct.

The first is with a "metalica" type configuration on the bridge pickup.  At the end of that one, I let the final open E ring out to give you an idea how well the sustain help up after the fix.  Since it's direct with no-speaker to feedback on, it's probably a fair demonstration.

The second is a basic Fender Blackface sound with the neck p'up.

Feel free to ask any questions or submit suggestions.

4 People Made This Project!

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133 Comments

Hi i accidentally broke my guitar into two parts very close to the neck what should I do

1 reply

If you post a pic, I'd have a better idea of what to suggest. But the short answer is - if it's a similar break as the example in this Instructable, then you can simply follow the same directions. If it's not clear, please let me know and we can work together on getting the answer. Thanks!

would regular whit glue work? As you seem to say it would, but it would be messy

7 replies

wood or white glue is the WRONG glue. period. wood glue is a slight variation on white glue. NEITHER is rated for STRUCTURAL use. Thats something thats hold a load. over time ALL wood glues will move. its. how it is. Instead there are two options. The proper glue is a hide glue. Its what good guitars are glued with when made. The nice thing is that with heat, you can take the joint part. That would of been handy in a dual break situation. The other option is epoxy. While some lutherer types might not like epoxy because its quite permenet, it will hold. In fact it will hold when any oily woods may be involved - dark exotics. My other trade secret to fixing headstocks so they _wont_ break again I'm not saying. hard earned and not for free.

A few comments on this

1- On the guitar in this Instructable, the wood glue demonstrated its strength as seen when the guitar was knocked over a 2nd time and the neck broke in a different place - the original repair held up just fine. The break had nothing to do with the original fix. So I totally disagree that the wood glue doesn't hold up - the proof was demonstrated here.

2. If you want to use hot hide glue, that's great. But for most people, the accessibility and ease of using wood glue out weighs any benefits of using the hot hide glue. If you have an expensive guitar, then yes, use hot hide glue - and if you don't have experience with hot hide glue, then by all means take it to a luthier and let them use what they feel is best. But keep in mind that hide glues are not permanent - they can fail from heat (example here: http://www.stewmac.com/How-To/Online_Resources/Neck_Building_and_Repair_and_Setup/The_damage_caused_by_storing_a_guitar_in_a_hot_car_or_attic.html)

3. Epoxy is lower on the list as well - yes it's strong. But it doesn't penetrate the wood fibers as well and clean up on a finished guitar neck can be a nightmare. If you're working with an original build and are at the glue/clamp/sanding stage (pre-finish), then it's probably ok.

as to your points :

#1 yes it will hold for a few years. over 20 or 30+ years its another story. if the instrument is subject to a lot of change in humidity, that puts a lot more stress into the joint. the joint may not fail out right, but it will move. In a laminated neck with the mix of grain directions is the most difficult situation because of mixed expansion / contraction rates. I can show you wood that has expanded and moved against the glue. still perfectly stuck on, but now 1/16th out of alignment due to moisture expansion. I have some purple heart that is especially prone to movement, 1/8th over 9" on a peice. its why wood aka PVA glues are not rated for structural applications, the allow the wood to move. For example : https://www.thewoodwhisperer.com/videos/cutting-b... or just read the label on the bottle....


#2 there are cold hide glues such as one sold by Titebond and others : https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0006NNJY0/ref=asc_df_B...

#3 penetration of the surface doesn't matter the way you think. its about establishing a bond on the relative surface which matters. less than 1/100th of an inch, far closer to atoms of thickness. that said, PVA glues can work any where from very well to very poorly depending on the wood. woods with a lot of natural oils may require being wiped with acetone before bonding, or really a different glue should be used.

epoxy OTH will not move and produce a rigid joint. its used to build aircraft. in will transmit vibration better which is generally a good thing in instruments, especially in a neck repair. its water proof. it works with oily woods. it can be thinned and applied with a needle into a crack that doesn't go all all the way thru. in fact, if you are really concerned about surface penetration, a little thinning will increase for that, buts its never really been an issue. given that wood has natural absorbing properties, any penetration past the surface I'd expect to be similar, at least if using a 60 min epoxy. epoxy will produce a "stronger than wood" bond. epoxy also doesn't require clamping pressure for a strong joint. as long as the pieces are in place, you are good. PVA glues require strong clamping for a strong joint, which if you don't get right will cause outright joint failure.

temps are another factor. PVA's don't cure correctly under 55 F and produce a weak joint which will fail. Epoxy will set setup, just slower. if folks with unheated work areas, a factor to consider.

down the road, epoxy can be dissolved with acetone. never tried it, never needed to.

epoxy clean up of any overflow is not a big deal. scrape down, sand smooth with 400, 600, maybe 1200. then polish with 2-3 coarse to fine polishes. this might take 10-15 minutes or so depending on how much initial overflow there is to remove. might as well polish the rest of the guitar up at the same time back to new shine.

Tell you what - Why don't you create and post your own Instructable and show us all how it's done.

maybe, but I don't have any broken headstocks to glue up right now.

OTH I can show you a repair done 30 years ago thats just as good as the day it was done. I'm also not going to give up my personal repair method(s) which goe beyond just a simple glue up. having had to fix other peoples "repairs" the rest of this had me cringing like the filler stick and shoe polish. Getting the headstock top to shine is just a matter of removing the tuners, polishing with proper compounds, putting the tuners back on.

Instead of getting upset at me, perhaps learning more would be better especially if you want to publish content like this. once upon a time I didn't know these things but I spent the time to become educated about them. still learning new things.

I believe u should use wood glue because it will hold better and I see people say that all the time I hope this was helpful

I assume you're talking about the bottom of the line, old school white glue like you used for grade school art projects. It is advertised as being strong as the wood... but I would probably recommend getting small bottle of a glue formulated specifically for wood (I use the Elmer's products... and there are many others out there). A small bottle will cost under $5 (US) and is a good investment for this kind of fix.

Having said that, if it's a clean, even with the grain, large surface area break (like the example in my article) and the pieces match up together and it's not on a highly stressed neck (like a 12 string acoustic) and all I had was the bottom of the line white glue, then I MIGHT give it a shot. If it was a nasty break perpendicular to the neck/across the grain or across a small area of stressed wood (like the tuning key slots on a classical guitar), then I probably wouldn't want to risk it.

As far as being messy, you only need to cover the surface of the wood and you don't need very much to get good coverage - remember you're squeezing/clamping the parts together after that. So all the extra glue that oozes out was too much glue. There should be SOME oozing and the thing to look for is consistent oozing along the entire seam so you know there's even coverage across the gluing surface. If you go back to the article, you'll see I use a small brush to smooth out the glue and get it deep into the grooves of the wood.

I try to get the major blobs off after I hand-tighten then joint - you can use paper towels or even a small piece of paper (the heavier stock the better) to scrape off the big stuff. The after I get the clamps in place, I'll do the final "wet" clean up with moist paper towels. The more wet cleanup you do, the less you'll have to deal with dried glue later on.

I'm still going to recommend you get an actual "wood" glue for your guitar. The cheapest of the cheap might work just fine and I've used it on many wood projects in my youth and it held up fine when/if I applied the glue properly. I just wouldn't want to see someone go through the trouble of the fix and the glue not hold up... You would probably find out before you even got all the strings up to pitch.

Good luck and let us know what you end up doing!

I accidentally broke the headstock of my ukelele, yet it is still barely intact. I just want advice on how to approach this because the screws/pins (my ukelele vocabulary is trash) are visible and Im scared if I put glue there I wouldnt be able to tighten the strings properly. SO should I just take them out then glue and put them back or is it safe to leave them there?

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Very cool! I'd probably give that a week before I would tune it up and start playing again. Excellent job!

Here is the before, I ended up tightening the strings to increase tension which gave me a little more room

53313.jpeg

How easy is it to remove the fret board so that the neck can be 're glued? Just bought my first guitar and didn't know what to look for sand the neck is split where they glued the head onto the neck, but the fret board is holding it together for the moment.

2 replies

I suggest leaving the fretboard attached and trying to "inject" glue into the split. There are several other's that have done this with success.

Basically, just follow my directions. If the split can be opened enough, you could spread the glue in the split with something like a cheap, small artist brush. Good luck with that! And be sure to post some pics after you're done!

Will do, i had no real way of knowing how much glue I injected but I used floss to try and get it spread out in there. It's clamped now will unclaimed in the morning and see how she looks.
Thank you for your assistance and awesome tutorial

Hi. I tried to fix my own guitar. I used a glue like a shoe glue. It works well. But the problem is it seems my guitar was always out of tune or intonation. Maybe i dodnt put it back well.. How can i remove it so that i can glue it well? Or does other factor affect my guitar thats why it is always out of tune?

1 reply

I'm not familiar with shoe glue. But shoes are not wood, so I'm not sure how that's going to work long term. Might last forever - if it does then you're OK :-)

If you could post some decent/in-focus pics, then that would help. Here's some questions in the meantime:
1. What kind of guitar is it? Electric, acoustic, 6 vs 12 string?
2. What kind of break was it? with the grain, across the grain, a complete break (the head totally came off the neck), etc...
3. Where did the break occur on the neck? Near the headstock, in the headstock, in the middle of the neck, etc...
3. Were you able to tune the guitar properly before the break occurred?
4. What is the specific brand name/model of the glue you used?

If you can get back to me on these questions and try to post some pics, then I can probably give you some kind of an answer.

Good luck! And thanks for asking!

hi do u have to take the strings off the guitar before gluing it back on??? and also would the steps of fixing it be the same if the neck of it is not all the way of please get back to me soon I need to fix it

thanks