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.

5 People Made This Project!

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157 Comments

0
MerciRick
MerciRick

Question 4 months ago on Introduction

I have been battling with trying to fix my guitar for some months now, I've lost so much on my lessons. The adhesives I have used have been of no help.
Attached are photos of the guitar and adhesive

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fishpotpete
fishpotpete

Answer 4 months ago

I had to look that one up. It sounds like it could be some kind of epoxy based on the two tube deal. But I'm going to suggest you take the neck off and scrape all of that old stuff off of there (if you can) and get down to raw wood. You need to use a quality wood glue (e.g. Elmers, Gorilla, etc.) to fix something like this. Do not use a hide glue if you want it to last.

Depending on your level of skill and patience this might be a much more difficult fix than the broken headstock/neck. You need to get the neck heel in the exact place - left and right, up and down, rotational angle relative to the body, etc.

For this situation, I'm thinking it might be time for you to get a different guitar. And I don't say that lightly. It can certainly be inexpensive - but it just needs to be all there in one piece :-)

0
MerciRick
MerciRick

Reply 4 months ago

Thanks so much for your kind and detailed response.
I think I may be due for a new one too 😞 this might take a while and keep me from practicing, but the saving is on going.

Thank you

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sarahabi99
sarahabi99

3 years ago

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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fishpotpete
fishpotpete

Reply 2 years ago

I agree with JordanD101. Take all the strings off the tuners so they strings are out of your way while you are working on it. Take off the two tuners at the break - and the other two tuners as well if the break extends up into their area. Glue/clamp the break as explained in the article. From here you can take two paths to keep the tuner holes clear:
1. after glue/clamping, use a wet Q-Tip or something to clean out the hole for the tuners. That should probably take care of any issues with clogging up the tuner hole. or
2. After the glue has dried, you could use an appropriate size drill bit to clean out the hole - but that's dangerous because the drill might end up migrating to one side of the hole or the other an make the hole bigger. But on the flip side, you could manually use a drill bit to finish up after you use the Q-Tip on the wet glue just to make things a little more tidy.

I did a video on a repair to a Ukelele bridge a while back that you might find helpful as well:
Let us know how it turns out!

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tonykaz626
tonykaz626

Reply 5 months ago

I know this comment is two years old but I'm here and so I believe others will also read this, My suggestion here is if the holes do get some glue in for whatever reason, thereby plugging them slighltly, use a reamer rather than a drill bit. It is much safer way to open the hole. I just replaced the tuners on my Ibanez Mikro bass. It is not an expensive bass (teaded a Fender DG-60 acoustic for it) so I purchased tuners off Amazon from Musiclilly for about $18 a set. Problem was they were slighlt larger than the holes the tuning pegs go through. I used the nextdoor app to hit up my neighbors to see if any of them had a drill that would fit a bit with a 1/4" shank as my drill did not. One of my neihghbors told me to go by and I showed him the bass. He suggested using a reamer rather than a bit. Problem was that he did not have a reamer that big. So we tried a drill bit which instantly caught on the paint/laminate covering the headstock and splintered it around the hole. I was able to glue most of it in place and then used a black sharpy to color the areas where it was natural wood color due to missing coating/paint. It worked but I tell ya - A reamer would have been key to doing that work properly and I wish I hadn't been so impatient.

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fishpotpete
fishpotpete

Reply 5 months ago

Great suggestion! I agree a drill bit can get too aggressive and the reamer is a better solution. Thanks for the tip!

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JordanD101
JordanD101

Reply 2 years ago

Take them out, just keep track of the pieces so you don't lose them. If they get glued they may not turn

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RexJ52
RexJ52

1 year ago

Thanks for info. I did nearly this exact repair on a Epi Dot almost 7 years ago. Still stringing and playing it. There are a couple of differences: It was not completely separated since it had a lot of wood fibers connecting both pieces, and could be flexed back and forth. So it lined up perfectly, with yellow wood glue used, and then clamped for 5 days. I smoothed it as much as possible and advertised it recently, 7 years later. Lots of naysayers. Any ideas on how to get buyers to understand that it is still a good guitar regardless of the repair?

0
fishpotpete
fishpotpete

Reply 8 months ago

I hear what you're saying about people not understanding about these repairs. I can see that the value of the guitar would go down, but it's still just as playable and durable.

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sheffoldd
sheffoldd

8 months ago

Can anyone tell me if I should add screws to my headstock after gluing it back onto the neck for further reinforcements?

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fishpotpete
fishpotpete

Reply 8 months ago

No. I would suggest you not do that. The glue is more than sufficient to hold the repair. If the repair is done properly, the glue will not fail. It was even demonstrated in this article because the headstock had broken off and was repaired before. That 1st repair glue joint held up perfectly even when exposed to the same forces that caused the neck to break in a different place the 2nd time. And if the guitar gets knocked over again and the headstock breaks off, I feel confident that the break would occur at a different spot than the first two places (although probably pretty close to the same area).

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lachlanw2307
lachlanw2307

Question 1 year ago

Hi I was just wondering if this could be done with a not as clean break? My replica Gibson sg the legacy ones made by Tokia head came clean off at Woodford and I do t have the money to get it repaired, the break is very splintered and uneven

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fishpotpete
fishpotpete

Answer 1 year ago

Sounds like a challenge! Can you post any pictures? That would help me (or others) make some suggestions. The bottom line is that just about ANY broken neck can be fixed and the guitar will be just as playable as before (if done correctly). Gibson necks break off all the time and it's a routine fix.

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MormonVoodoo
MormonVoodoo

2 years ago

Use titebond or hide glue. Elmers will, eventually, fail.

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RexJ52
RexJ52

Reply 1 year ago

You must be talking about their crafts glue we used in kindergarten. As I posted above, I used Elmer's top grade wood glue to great success, still playing guitar after 7 years. I do agree that Titebond would be a good alternative for the squeamish builders.

1
fishpotpete
fishpotpete

Reply 2 years ago

I know people will swear by one glue and swear AT another. But no one ever offers any evidence. Here are two published papers and a wood worker's review that seem to reach the conclusion that most wood glues are pretty good for gluing wood-

https://unb.ca/fredericton/forestry/wstc/_resource...

https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/pdf2016/fpl_201...

https://woodgears.ca/joint_strength/glue.html

Obviously some glues can fail if exposed to excessive heat or moisture (ex. Hide glue)... But for hide glue, that's one of it's potential benefits.... or weakness. So the bottom line is: Elmers will hold up just fine - please provide published proof if that's not the case.

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83V0
83V0

Question 1 year ago on Step 6

Hi @FishPotPete, first of all thank you for the informative Post.

My LesPaul took a hit while in the hard case during overseas transport, a reminder to all that additional padding is not a luxury whenever the case goes out of sight.

What looked like a scratch, turned out to be a "smile" crack on the neck, that became visible when changing strings.
It is ending at the nut and starting 10 - 15 centimeters below.
The local guitar shop wants to break the neck and glue back on, what does not enthuse me at all.
Hence, my thought to open the crack a little and insert glue with a syringe.
(will use warm hide glue for that as it goes into cracks very well, StewMac refers)
What I am concerned about is that when clamping, obviously glue will be pressed out as it should.
Whereas the tuners that are mentioned in the earlier @ChrisH836 post are static, and can in Principle stay in place during glueing, in my understanding the trussrod should freely move inside the neck.
Q: Should I, and if so how do I shield the trussrod from being glued to the neck ?

The first five centimeters, where the tensioner-nut is, I can protect with a strip of a plastic card and some waxed paper. What about lower down ?

Any thoughts welcome and thank you in advance.

(as a side note, using a 12" radius sanding board with openings cut for the frets I made a solid base for a clamp on the fret board so as not to be worrying about dents or scratches.)

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fishpotpete
fishpotpete

Answer 1 year ago

Sorry to take so long to get back to you!

I tend to agree with the guitar shop and just open the thing up and fix it. That's a pretty simple break, unless I'm missing something. As I show in the article, you want enough glue to cover the surface and not much more. There should be some oozing when you clamp it -and the oozing should be pretty much consistent along the entire repair.

From the photos it looks like the tuner don't come into play on this repair at all. So I'd just leave them in place.

Glue - Since this is probably the most critical, major structural component of the guitar, I strongly recommend using a quality wood glue (like Elmers/etc.) and not use the hide glue There are a lot of conversations about various kind of glues in the previous comments/responses - take a look through those.

The key to any repair like this is to position the two pieces so they "lock" together... even just dry, the two should fit hand-in-glove kind of thing. With no side to side movement. If you can't get it to do that while it's dry, then the break may be too complex to try to explain in an email. That's when you go to the shop, especially if this is a nice Les Paul (not like the cheap Epi LP in the article.)

Please let me know if you have any other questions!

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83V0
83V0

Reply 1 year ago

@FishPotPete thank you for coming back. Much appreciated.
Meanwhile syringe inserted the hot glue and the clean straight forward crack is stable and, until now ;-) , is permanently closed.
Used hide glue as easy cleaning up and also loosening trussrod would have been possible if necessary.
Trussrod is working, it came loose from glue at first try with a little click, 1/8 turn without excessive force, so suppose the amount of glue and oozing was correct.

Note:
If it were a "nice" LP I would have sent it in for repair but this is an Epi traditional pro II (excellent for my level of playing) that, however, was bought in USA.
Epi required me to send it back to US for "worldwide" warranty assessment (Local distributer of no help after consultation with Epi) and, possibly paid, repair.
So, decided to save over 200 $ on shipping (or about 60 % of price paid), void the Worldwide Warranty and self repair, with your guidance.

Thank you.