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How to repair a broken guitar neck (headstock)

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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

Gravity, headstock geometry and thin wood can lead to a frustrating situation!  The pics show how a clean break can occur... 
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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.kumar00113 days 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.kumar00113 days 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!

(removed by author or community request)
rghoff (author)  michael.beaton.752 months ago

Yes, I would definitely finish up the break. If you don't, you would probably never get a solid glue joint at the end that is still connected. Plus if you take everything apart, you can do a close inspection of the break area and see if there are any other issues you need to be concerned about. Let us know what you end up doing and how it turns out!

If the headstock is still attached to the neck(not by much), would you consider finishing the break to ensure repair.
JayS33 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 JayS33 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)  MuhammadUmairAfzalHashmi4 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.

Bodie35 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.
Bodie35 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.

IMG_0001.JPGIMG_0010.JPGIMG_0004.JPG
DevanQ Bodie35 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 DevanQ5 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 DevanQ5 months ago
Did you read my reply? I may have to adjust the neck a bit, but the repair turned out great.
rghoff (author)  Bodie35 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 rghoff5 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 !

wusupworld11 months 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_vogt16981 year 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_vogt16981 year 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?
mauro12mdp3 years ago
Hi, I have to repair a classical guitar headstock but the damage is quite messy, the cut is nothing clean. How far is it possible to fix a highjy damaged headstock ?
I've repaired them with pieces missing, using polyester resin and fiberglass mat. Thing is, it won't be a secret. I haven't had much luck tinting laquer that blends the resin's booger green color to rich brown mahogany...and I even consulted several professional artists.

The way I see it is if your guitar has suffered so serious an injury that a glass fill repair is the only thing keeping it from the garbage can, you will just have to live with the fact that the repair is visible.

If you make a good clamping fixture that perfectly aligns the two pieces on the same plane, it shouldn't matter much that some voids had to be filled with glass. You can't just leave the voids. If not filled, they could possibly resonated and weaken the bond. Voids are the second most evil thing (after dirtty or oily mating surfaces) that a joint can suffer.

If your neck looks like a drunk beaver gnawed it off, you are gonna face a little unsightlyness, but you WILL play again.

T-Pig
N. Cal
thanks again... sorry you left me with a doubt...
how do you prepare that "glass" fill ?? you mean fiberglass right ? is that difficult to work with ?
Hi mauro12mdp, thanks for checking out my post.

Yes, when I say 'glass' I am talking about chopped (not weave) fiberglass in polyester resin.

Is it tuff to work with? It's a lot more hassle than working with wood, so I only use it in especially drastic situations. I'll give you an example.

A good customer of mine was in a metal band that saw a lot of action. He estimates he's played 700-800 shows from 1991 to 1995. His favorite guitar was a 68 Les Paul that was already beat stoopid when he got it. This is how we met. He had snapped the headstock off several times and had it repaired different ways by different shops, none of which stood up to his abuse for very long. He came to my shop and asked if I could reset the headstock for once and for all.

This was a super tuff job because not only would I have to reattatch the headstock, but I also had to remove all traces of the previous repairs, one of which was two pieces of 1/8" x 1/2" x 3" carbon fiber epoxied onto verticle slots about 1/2" apart from one another. All traces of any glue or fillers had to go as well.

This left serious voids that had to be dealt with. For a normal guitar, I'd carefully match and cut pieces from new wood and glue them in and pay great attention to matching the finish as best as could be, but this guitar lives the life of a crash test dummy so unless I wanted to redo this job for free once a year forever, I needed to forget about trying to bring it back to original condition, and set the headstock in a way that will survive like a cockroach, even if it don't exactly look original. Glass fit that criteria perfectly because the rest of this guitar looked like crap (it had more stickers in it than any guitar I haveever seen, most of which were pictures of nekkid fat women), so the visual aspect of the repair wasn't going to be a factor. All that mattered is that it be the last time it would ever need to be fixed.

I explained to the guy that if he could forgo the finish matching, I could make a structurally sound bond that I could guarantee would not fail anything less than getting run over by a truck. That's what what he was hoping to hear, and that's what he got. Eighteen years later, it's still good.

To anyone who may want to try this kind of fix, I would highly suggest that you take extreme care to make sure the alignment of your clamping fixture is perfect and that it is perfrctly clean...because two things in this world you DO NOT want are #1- seeing your parents get it on and #2- having to remove the glass and resin to do it over again if you make a mistake.

T-Pig
N. Cal
I have been researching diy boatbuilding and have learned quite a bit about epoxies.
It seems pretty clear that conventional wood glues require a very close fit to make them work but epoxy requires a gap between the wood surfaces to ensure a strong fit.
As an example, wooden strips laid side by side to make a hull cannot be clamped too tightly because the epoxy will squeeze out resulting in a weaker joint.
I hope this helps a bit.
My immediate problem is that I need to repair, as a favour, a lengthwise split in the headstock of my brothers semi accoustic guitar. It is the classic type with 2 slots, with three tuning pegs each side. Basically I need to fabricate one of these slots and I am scratching my head as to how to achieve a repair strong enough to take the strain.
rghoff (author)  harrykee3 years ago
If it were me and a classical guitar, I'm thinking it would be better that if you have a really damaged area, cut out the area and replace it with a refabricated peice and use wood glue. One thing about the classicals is that they use nylon strings and will not have near the tension on them as a steel stringed instrument. The classicals don't even have a tension bar in the neck.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for your answer!! I found it very helpful. I'm not going to have any shop or something similar but I'm trying to learn for helping friends in need =)
rghoff (author)  mauro12mdp3 years ago
I don't think it really matters if it's clean or messy - the key is that you can get a solid connection between the two pieces and they line up properly. The clean break (like my example) will give you more gluing surface. A messy break (snapped off across the grain), will not give you near the surface area. But that doesn't mean it won't work. Just make sure you get good glue coverage on both sides, clamp it the best you can and let the glue dry for at least 24 -48 hours.

Another watch out with the "messy" break - you may have more difficulty getting the ends to "nest" into each other. You might have to remove some of the troublesome splinters to get a good nesting.

Good luck - let us know how it goes!


Actually you'll be better off with a messy break than a clean one. All the random ridges throughout the break will give the glue better places to hold the neck together.
ohh It sounds logical. Thanks for the instructable nice work !!
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