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

Picture of How to Repair a Broken Guitar Neck (headstock)


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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.

Picture of 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

Picture of 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!

Picture of 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!

Picture of 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.

Comments

sarahabi99 (author)2017-09-02

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?

MikeJ184 (author)2017-06-01

Finished product, barely able to be felt

fishpotpete (author)MikeJ1842017-06-01

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

MikeJ184 (author)2017-05-31

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

MikeJ184 (author)2017-05-31

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.

fishpotpete (author)MikeJ1842017-05-31

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!

MikeJ184 (author)fishpotpete2017-05-31

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

James BimbyB (author)2017-05-10

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?

fishpotpete (author)James BimbyB2017-05-10

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!

dweee (author)2017-03-01

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

fishpotpete (author)dweee2017-03-01

You don't HAVE to take the strings off. But they need to be totally loose and out of the way. I'd recommend taking them off and putting a new set on afterwards. What do you mean when you say the neck is not all the way off? If you could post a few photos, that would helpful in figuring out the best way to fix it. Thanks!

FlackJ (author)2017-02-24

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

dweee (author)FlackJ2017-03-01

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

fishpotpete (author)FlackJ2017-02-25

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!

guitar novice (author)2016-11-19

i just got my acoustic guitar (brand rouge) last sunday and it fell and it cracked from the nut to the bottom two tuners in a v/u shape and i had to loosen the strings to prevent it from cracking anymore what do i do i am scared this is my first guitar please help

Man, what a sad start with your new guitar :-(

Can you post a couple of pictures so I can get a better idea about the damage?

drjoop made it! (author)2016-07-31

This is my Parkwood 360M that had a heavy glass mirror fall on top of it. This was a very bad break, going through one of the tuning instruments. Its not pretty, but now I can continue to play my guitar. Thanks. J

fishpotpete (author)drjoop2016-08-01

Congratulations on the fix! Hopefully this will be the only time you'll ever need to do this :-)

jayw4boys (author)2016-07-25

I broke the headstock off my seagull 12 string. Would the same process apply for a 12 string? I am concerned about the amount of tension on the headstock with a 12 string.

fishpotpete (author)jayw4boys2016-07-25

Yes, the same rules apply for 12 string guitars. As with any of these repairs, just give that glue plenty of time to cure before you start adding strings/tension. I have three Seagulls (including a 12 string), how did yours break? Post some pics when you get done! We love to see success stories here!!!

StuweeE (author)2016-03-31

I am so stoked I found this how to, I recently broke the headstock on my pre Gibson Kramer pacer custom ll and got really bummed out. So I thought I would post this with pics so here they are.
With it being double trussrod neck is the repair the same and would it destroy the intonation.
Thank you
Stu in Ga

fishpotpete (author)StuweeE2016-03-31

That should be an "easy" one. I think the break is so far away from your truss rod(s?) area you shouldn't have any problems with that at all. Just take your time on the glue job and you should be fine. Post some pics when you get done!

StuweeE (author)fishpotpete2016-03-31

Would gorilla glue for wood be fine to use

TheCabinetmaster (author)StuweeE2016-07-18

Well there's a little difference in the wood glues. In Cabinets and millwork I use Titebond III or Elners Exterior Wood Glue (Gel/No Run formula). For Luthier work.....add Smith's All Woid Epoxy in the mix. The difference in the Smiths is gonna be better Sound resonance and transference with instruments; which is something you dont have to take into consideration with Cabinets and Furniture. Titebond and Elmer's are naturally going to take stain and finish better as far as cosmetic aspects are concerned, but you can cosmetically adjust once expoxy is used also.

Titebond also makes a "Hide" Glue that I would recommend for use in Luthier work.

Hide glue may not be good for these types of repairs. Do a search on specific uses of hot vs cold hide glues - they are differences. Traditional violin makers used hot hide glues because it can be taken apart for repairs if needed. But it depends on the forces the joint is being exposed to. For the neck repairs we are talking about in this Instructable, I recommend sticking with PVA (white, green, wood) glues or epoxy (maybe).

TheCabinetmaster (author)StuweeE2016-07-18

By the way, be very careful with gorilla glue, it has it's uses, but when you use it correctly by applying dampness to parts being repaired it will use either the moisture you pretreat with or in the atmospere and expand like a son of gun, whick will literally break the piece you are trying to repair worse than it was.

fishpotpete (author)StuweeE2016-04-01

Yes, I think Gorilla glue is fine. I've used it on a few projects in the past - but I personally prefer the Elmer's wood glue products just because of how it behaves for me. In reality, I don't think there's really much difference between the various wood glues. All of the modern wood glues are stronger than the wood, so it's a mute point as far as strength goes. Don't use hide glue though, it's not meant for that kind of joint. Good luck!

jayw4boys (author)2016-07-25

I broke the headstock off my seagull 12 string. Would the same process apply for a 12 string? I am concerned about the amount of tension on the headstock with a 12 string.

leastcmplicated (author)2016-07-18

I have an acoustic thats broken at the headstock. I have two questions;

1) Is the wood glue better than an epoxy? Is there a reason I shouldn't use epoxy?

2) I can fit it back together, however it looks like I'm missing a piece of the wood on the back of the neck, so when I fit it together there is a piece missing. Would a wood filler work here? Or would that be too weak? I'm more concerned with getting the guitar to work (stay in tune, not rebreak, keep intonation) than looks, so I just want what will make it strongest here. I've attached a photo of the missing part

Thanks for your Instructable and help!

This might be a little beyond the tools and experience you have... But for that big of a void, I might consider going hard-core and use a router to give you a clean straight opening and then use a filler piece of maple (or whatever). That would be a lot of work and getting it to line up perfectly straight would be a challenge. But it would give you the most solid repair and might look better cosmetically. Plus since you would be filling the void with wood, it would match the physical properties of the neck better than a filler. Plus it gives a better "wow" factor when you show people how you fixed it!

Keep in mind that the void is on the side of the neck that will experiences "pulling" forces and not compression. I think as it stands, you could glue the glue-able sections and maybe get by and have it never break again. But the neck might get noticeably more flexible and have less tuning stability. It could even bend enough (and not break) to alter the intonation. So I'm leaning toward the wood insert the more I type this out.

The thing about all the wood glues is that they are stronger than the wood. So, in general, your glue choice will not be the weak link. The prep work and glue application CAN make a difference. So I would focus on making sure everything lines up tight.

I think TheCabinetmaster brings up some good pointers. My only thought about the Smiths is if it's that solid/hard, then it won't flex like wood due to temperature and humidity issues - so it COULD be a concern and potentially not shrink/expand with the neighboring wood and eventually come loose (and perhaps pull out a little more wood with it?).

BTW - what make of guitar is this?

You can use Titebond III and it would work really well. In your specific application though, I would use Smiths All Wood Epoxy, it is a 2 part system. I suggest Smiths because you are repairing an acoustic and because you have some wood missing. Smiths has a better sound transference than Titebond and Smiths also has better filling properties, which will help in your application on the missing piece. It cures super hard.
Good luck to you on it. You'll do fine.

SaljagringM (author)2016-07-11

This is broken neck of my yamaha. What should I do? Complete the break and repair it or just put glue into the crevice and clamp it... And what glue should I use. Please help.

If you can open it up a little, you can use a syringe designed to use with glue and it should be fine. I wouldn't complete the break if it was mine (not on an instrument, furniture maybe), you need as much natural fibers/grain to remain in tact if possible.

As far as glue, Titebond III (it is water resistant and a great wood glue). Or Smith's All Wood Epoxy, which is a 2 part catalyst type. Both you can use in a syringe to apply inside your defect.

Hope that helps you a little.

StuweeE (author)2016-04-29

Well now its fixed and if it wasn't for this page I would have never done it... Thank you so very much for the info.

fishpotpete (author)StuweeE2016-04-29

Hey that turned out nice! Congratulations!

CarlaMV (author)2016-03-17

Hi,
I bought a new guitar yesterday, it got knocked over today and snapped off the headstock. What should/can I do?

fishpotpete (author)CarlaMV2016-03-17

Bummer! Well, since you just bought it yesterday, I would actually suggest you call the store first and see if they will help you somehow. Otherwise, you'll need to go through the repair. What kind of guitar is it? Any photos?

CarlaMV (author)fishpotpete2016-03-17

It's a standard Valencia guitar. It was in the soft case which was supplied.

fishpotpete (author)CarlaMV2016-03-31

I just realized I didn't answer you back after you posted the pics. It's a shame you have to fix your new, pretty guitar, but I think it will turn out fine using the steps in this Instructable.

CarlaMV (author)fishpotpete2016-04-01

Thankyou so much for your advice. I will give it a go fixing it following your instructions. Will update as soon as possible. Cheers.

Anoryyni. (author)2016-03-23

This is my LTD.

Can i fix this by usint this guide?

fishpotpete (author)Anoryyni.2016-03-23

Is that the Paramount series? I had a black one with a Bigsby on it a few years back. Prettiest guitar I ever owned! Wish I still had it... Anyway, yes, this guide will be exactly what you need to do. It's the exact same kind of break as in my example. I normally wouldn't suggest this - but since it's all black lacquer, you could potentially use black automotive touch-up paint to fill in the hairline cracks when your done. I use it routinely on any of my guitars that have teeny-weenie chips in the finish. You just want to fill the void, not "paint" it on. I'd love to see how it turns out.

MickS15 (author)2016-03-16

the neck broke clean off my guitar...sigh..I got dowels ..to fit accordingly..drilled to holes in each side..used carpenters glue..which cleans up with water..left guitar upside down over night so gravity could do its work..next day could barly see the crack..I was so relieved..its a heirloom and now it plays just fine..

fishpotpete (author)MickS152016-03-16

Congratulations! Can you post some pictures?

KrishnaP39 (author)2016-03-14

Please help me
My guitar has a small crack
And it is quite hard to play the guitar now
Cud u please tell me how to repair it??

fishpotpete (author)KrishnaP392016-03-14

It's hard to tell from the picture, does the crack terminate under the fretboard? I'm guessing you don't want to remove the fretboard. In that case, you can try "injecting" glue into the crack as far as you can. Several of the comments below talk about that. But basically squeeze the glue in and clamp the joint. I'd like to hear how successful anyone has been with that. Let me how this turns out!

MichaelR317 (author)2016-03-12

Unfortunately I knocked over my ELP onto hard linoleum and the headstock broke almost identical to yours. I spent $14 getting everything required to fix it and it's drying now. Thanks for the guidance. :)

fishpotpete (author)MichaelR3172016-03-14

Very cool! I'm glad you were able to fix it. The example I used is still holding up fine after several years and it's the exact same as yours.

ChristosP5 (author)2016-02-17

Hello! really awesome guide, I was just wondering, my new dean also has some damage, any way I can fix it since its pretty small

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Bio: 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!
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