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How to repair a broken guitar neck (headstock)

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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!
 
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Step 1: Anatomy of a broken neck

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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!

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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!

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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.
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Hilburn424 days ago
Help what do I do?
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rghoff (author)  Hilburn423 days ago

I think you have one of those breaks that you fix in place. Bases on some previous comments, it looks like you might be able to bend the crack open enough to work the glue in without separating the neck from the fret board. But if the fret board starts to crack or separate from the the rest of the neck then it becomes a bigger job. See if you can find a syringe and large gauge needle (18 maybe?). You could potentially inject your glue into the crack using that. Just make sure to get as much coverage as deep as feasable.

Hilburn424 days ago
Help what do I do?
Hilburn424 days ago
Help what do I do
StefanoD21 month ago

Hello mate

really interesting guide, thank you. In my case the neck is broken but not completely detached. Actually is seems a pretty wide area is still attached to the neck and It seems to me a pity to take it apart. I'm trying to upload a picture but the system doesn't seem to work. I'll try later ...

What do you think? I'd like to ask you a couple of things about the material to use.

This is an acoustic guitar, would "titebond original wood glue" work with this? would you recommend using a different glue? Also could you please let me know what is the name/make of those clamps you are using. Can't find anything that look like that on the web. Thank you very much for your help!!

These clamps you can get at home depot. The long one sounds like a band clamp. The other can be in a bag of mixed clamps. They will be in hardware at the end of the isle there's a display. Hand tools are on wall opposite clamps

here is a picture of the crack

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rghoff (author)  StefanoD21 month ago

Sorry to hear about the break. Every time I see one these pictures I cringe! But I think your's should be relatively straight forward to fix. What brand of guitar is this?

The long break along the grain is good. When you glue it, you'll have a lot of surface area for the glue to hold. As far as whether or not to completely take it apart - I wouldn't venture a guess unless I saw it in person. But I will say that it looks like the lacquer finish is what's holding on the last bit. The wood part is an easy glue job (and your Titebond should be fine) - but I think trying to glue a slab of lacquer back to the wood might be a challenge (if that's what it actually is). I would try a superglue type glue for that (like you use for frets/nuts... and your fingers if you're not careful).

I got the spring clamps years ago - it was a bag of clamps on the budget table somewhere (Sears Hardware? Ace?) - In the US, Harbor Freight has these sold individually (and still pretty cheap).

One nice thing about the shiny black lacquer finish - I've used black automotive touch-up paint on some old pawn shop guitars and it's pretty easy to do a finish fix on those.

Good luck on this - let us know what you end up doing!

KaylaJ23 months ago

sombody stepped on the neck of my guitar and it is really brocken, it was a $3,000 guitar and i don't have the money to repair it, what do i do?????

rghoff (author)  KaylaJ23 months ago

Sorry to hear about the guitar! Even though I would normally just fix it myself, at $3,000, I think I would partner with someone that could take care of the finish issue. But if you don't have the money, don't touch the finish! Just do the fix and you should only end up with a hairline at the end... Of course, not seeing the actual damage, it's hard to say.

NancyJ34 months ago

This is great to know. The other day my younger sister was playing with my guitar. She broke it on accident. I hope that I will be able to fix it soon. There are a lot of ways to fix it. I hope that I will be able to fix it soon.

<a href='http://www.hoffmanguitars.com' >http://www.hoffmanguitars.com/</a>

EmilyS35 months ago

My guitar was damaged by my dog who got too excited and knocked it over and then stepped on the neck. The crack is pretty big but it isn't completely broken off. This is my favorite guitar and I really want it to look nice! I may try this out and if I don't do a good job or it doesn't look good I think I will take it into a guitar shop to be repaired. I better make some calls and see if there are any guitar repair shops near me.
Emily Smith | http://www.hoffmanguitars.com

Hey
The neck of my acoustic guitar isn't completely detached. The crack is pretty small. Extends only till the tuning keys on both sides. Can i directly apply the glue inside the crack without taking the whole thing apart?
rghoff (author)  suryansh.kumar0016 months ago

Just another thought - if you post a picture or two, maybe I (or someone else here) can give you a better answer.

rghoff (author)  suryansh.kumar0016 months ago

My initial suggestion would be to finish the break. But Michael Beaton (see his comment below) seemed to have luck by opening it up and working the glue as as far as possible. Assuming that you can get most of the surface area covered sufficiently with glue, his method should work in many cases. The only watch out is that it's not 100% bonded and will not have 100% of the strength potential - so keep that in mind if that's a concern. So say the visible part of your crack (the part you can easily open) is about 25% of the neck width. Depending on the structure, grain and strength of the wood, the crack may actually be 75% of the neck (and growing). But you just can't see it... yet. If you are not sure or comfortable what to do, I would strongly recommend you take it to a shop to get inspected before doing anything.

Hey
The neck of my acoustic guitar isn't completely detached. The crack is pretty small. Extends only till the tuning keys on both sides. Can i directly apply the glue inside the crack without taking the whole thing apart?

Well, I asked a well known guitar-repairing/musician friend of mine(before I read your last comment), and he instructed me not to break it, but pull it apart, wiggle it, whatever it takes to get the glue down in there. I did just that using a plastic puddy knife wedged in the crack while releasing the glue down and using a small zip-tie to push the glue in. I feel confident that I have a good joint but I'll find out for sure soon! Thanks for your feedback and expertise!

If the headstock is still attached to the neck(not by much), would you consider finishing the break to ensure repair.
JayS39 months ago
In my opinion, tite bond II wood glue works best for neck repairs, and probably any instrument repair. I've repaired two severe broken necks with it (one 2 or 3 inches from the headstock behind the fretboard) and my guitars play and look fine!!
JayS3 JayS39 months ago
Of course, I have yet to do the cosmetic work, but I'm lazy and I don't really know the best products to use, I wouldn't want to ruin the finish.

i want to know which material used to Repair i mean Glue/or somthing else ?

wood glue/hide glue or something else ??

rghoff (author)  MuhammadUmairAfzalHashmi10 months ago

I just use a basic white glue designed for wood. I would NOT use hide glue - that glue is used for things that can be taken apart later. My understanding is that some classical instruments (e.g. violins) use hide glue so they can be taken apart for repairs. If you are in the U.S., then use something like Elmer's or Gorilla brand wood glue (based on a white glue) for the neck repair. Hope this helps. Let me know if you need more information...

your immediate response will be appreciated,

my guitar body has been broken from Neck.

Bodie311 months ago
Neck is holding up OK and string tension is holding; haven't had to re-tune even though I have new Elixer strings 10 to 54 installed. I feel the strings are a bit high, but he may want them high for his style of picking. I like my string about 10 thousandths because I play my strings very light.
Bodie311 months ago

Thanks for the help. I pretty much did the same thing, but I wanted to check and see if there was anything I missed. I was thinking of putting dowels through the fret board to make it stronger, but I think I will see how strong the wood glue holds. Thanks.

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DevanQ Bodie311 months ago

@Bodie3

How did your repair hold up? Im thinking about doing
this kind of repair on my Takamine... Any issues with string tension
after repair? Thanks in advance

Bodie3 DevanQ11 months ago
On Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 10:01 AM, Bonifacio Dominguez wrote:

I didn't have to use the dowels, the neck seemed strong enough without them. I used a bit of backing soda and super glue to fill in some some cracks in the finish and some 00 steel wool to smooth it off. I thought about spraying some finish on it, but it felt so smooth that I wanted to leave the repair visible so that the kids remembered and maybe tell dad how it broke and how grandpa repaired it. Thank you for the video it was very helpful.
Bodie3 DevanQ11 months ago
Did you read my reply? I may have to adjust the neck a bit, but the repair turned out great.
rghoff (author)  Bodie311 months ago

Interesting idea about the dowels. My only thought is that since you're not dealing with much wood, the prep work to get the dowels lined up and everything might make things more difficult without gaining a significant advantage... maybe. If you can get the dowels in there perfectly, then it's probably a better fix. I think you're wise to try the glue-only first and see what happens.

Bodie3 rghoff11 months ago
Didn't have to use the dowels, the repair is holding up. I may have to adjust the truss rod, the action seem high I did use some arm & hammer soda and super glue mixture to fill in some cracks and chips on the finish. I used 00 steel wool to sand it smooth and I was going to shoot some finish on it, but decided to leave repair so that the kids can someday tell dad how it broke and hoe grandpa repaired it. Thank you for the video and help with the repair, it was very useful. there should be some pictures on facebook of the finished repair.

A friend of mine snapped the the headstock off my Epiphone Les Paul Custom in a similar way. Used this guide to fix it and it worked out nice. brought all the stuff I needed from Biltema in Norway. Thanks !

wusupworld1 year ago

I have a gibson to, my neck broke in the same spot

CSeipt1 year ago
Great write-up! I have an Epiphone PR-350 acoustic from about 1998 that had a headstock snap 6-7 years ago, in almost exactly the same pattern. Mine was sitting on its stand and toppled over onto a slate floor, when it got hit by something. I used Gorilla Glue and it's held up pretty well so far. I didn't clean it up very well at all though, until recently when I sanded it down some. The touch-up crayon thing is a good idea, I'll have to find one! Unfortunately I'm not sure if the tone is quite right or not... I've owned it forever but never really learned to play, after the initial couple of years. Lately I've been wanting to correct this, so I've picked it back up.
j_vogt16982 years ago
My Charvel 750xl has a crack going on the corner of the headstock thru the low E tuning knob. is his repairable by these step?
rghoff (author)  j_vogt16982 years ago
Without seeing it, it's hard to say. I'm going to guess that you would PROBABLY be ok depending on the nature of the crack. If you can't totally open up the crack, then the challenge will be getting enough glue in there. And if the crack is due to the wood warping in a non-uniform manner, that could present issues as well. Send a pic and I might be able to give you better advice.
ahazbun2 years ago
Ant Hill Music has special shopping filters that make it easy to buy the right guitar neck.
jmwinland2 years ago
Would you recommend trying to fix an acoustic guitar neck myself if it's not completely broken off? My six-year-old son fell and slammed into it while he roughhousing around. Right when it was being zipped up in its softcase on the floor. It is cracked pretty badly but not coming off. It is only a $300 Laguna and I am not sure $150-$200 (my uneducated guess) is worth fixing it. I badly need some advice. Here are a few pics.
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rghoff (author)  jmwinland2 years ago
I think you would need to complete the break to do a decent fix on it (so it's in two peices). So my short answer is, Yes, it's worth doing yourself. The problem I see is that the surface of the fretboard would probably need some special attentioin - specifically, where the crack junction would be. It might be as simple as just carefully sanding it down after the glue has dried??? What's interesting in your pictures is it looks like your break is parallel to where two pieces of wood are joined - but that's probably just by chance. BTW - since the surface area you would be gluing is rather large, you'd get a nice strong bond.
Trogador2 years ago
How well would this work on a 12-string with all the extra tension?
rghoff (author)  Trogador2 years ago
Wow, interesting question. My initial reaction would be that it should make any difference. But like you say, with the tension that a 12 string has, you better make sure that the glue joint is totally set before you put the string back on. I haven't looked at any 12 strings in this regard, but I'm guessing they have alittle more wood in the neck area there to start with. The short answer is that the concept is the same - the glue joint is stronger than the wood.

Anyone have any experience on doing this with a 12 string?
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