Introduction: 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
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.