How to Repair a Broken Guitar Neck (headstock)

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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!

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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... 

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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147 Discussions

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RexJ52MormonVoodoo

Reply 4 weeks 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.

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fishpotpeteMormonVoodoo

Reply 1 year 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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RexJ52

4 weeks 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?

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83V0

Question 2 months 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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fishpotpete83V0

Answer 2 months 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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83V0fishpotpete

Reply 2 months 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.

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Japac1

2 months ago

Hi. After this repair are you able to hang the guitar on a hanger with the weight on the headstock ( think hanger attached to the wall)?

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fishpotpeteJapac1

Reply 2 months ago

Yes, the neck will be just as strong as it was before. Actually stronger because you fixed the weakest part! That's not to say it could break again in a different place. That's what happened to the guitar in my article. It got knocked over a second time and it broke again... but not in the spot where the original repair was. That part held up fine.

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ChrisH836

Question 10 months ago

I too have a guitar with a broken neck at/near the head stock. Its not a neck I can replace easily as I cannot find any guitars like it (used) and none of the new stock necks offer a head stock shape the same; part of my sentimentality. Not to spark a debate on whether the guitar is worth all the work, its a Squier out of Korea but it was a first year issue and I believe the quality really suffered later but this one is really well built (original higher end pickups, a really good quality Floyd rose, lots of fret life left in it). Not a really expensive guitar when I bought it but very expensive to me as a poor starving student and its got loads of history. That being said - I had a personal "need" to get it fixed and playing on it again. (enough of my story)

It is partly a break/crack at roughly the same place as an old one but some of the areas that were glued before are still perfectly in place. I think it is likely a new fail like yours. The difference is, its not a clean break (through) and since there was some gluing of the fret board to the neck from the previous break I'm not inclined to make the break any larger in order to glue it better.

I am thinking of using glue syringes and needles to introduce the glue in the crack and then clamping the pieces together. I was also thinking of using a band clamp (cloth strap) to hold the pieces better. Do you think I'm on the right track here? I've provided a photo.

My crack also interferes with the locking nuts/clamps, but any glue here will simply make the bolts through the neck be glued in place (no interference with the top/playing side so the glue won't interfere with the moving parts). I wasn't thinking of removing them at first. But, given the nuts question below, do you think it best to remove them entirely before gluing?

Thanks

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fishpotpeteChrisH836

Answer 10 months ago

Sorry to hear about your guitar! You're on the right track... so go ahead and take out any hardware that might be in the way before you glue. As far as bolt holes and things, you can clean them during the gluing process while the glue is still wet. You could potentially wait until the glue is dry and drill them out - but you have a very strong possibility of the glue pushing the drill bit in the wrong direction and messing up the hole. As far as the wood glue is concerned, it won't stick to the metal parts very good at all. So I wouldn't worry about the metal bits getting glued in place. But there's no reason to have to fool with that later on.

If you use a cloth strap clamp, be careful that it doesn't get glued to the neck! You don't need a death grip on the joint. Just enough to ensure even contact and pressure across the joint and sufficient pressure to squeeze out any excess glue. Tight, but not enough to leave dents :-)

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sarahabi99

2 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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fishpotpetesarahabi99

Reply 11 months 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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JordanD101sarahabi99

Reply 11 months 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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NethanP

1 year ago

The instructions are very nicely explained, thanks for sharing. It will be cost-effective as well. I generally prefer to repair different parts of the guitar myself. The parts of guitar by FaberUSA are genuine and they also have detailed videos about how to replace them.

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Benjamindamola

1 year ago

Hi i accidentally broke my guitar into two parts very close to the neck what should I do

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fishpotpeteBenjamindamola

Reply 1 year ago

If you post a pic, I'd have a better idea of what to suggest. But the short answer is - if it's a similar break as the example in this Instructable, then you can simply follow the same directions. If it's not clear, please let me know and we can work together on getting the answer. Thanks!

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FlackJ

2 years ago

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

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steve.oakley.10FlackJ

Reply 1 year ago

wood or white glue is the WRONG glue. period. wood glue is a slight variation on white glue. NEITHER is rated for STRUCTURAL use. Thats something thats hold a load. over time ALL wood glues will move. its. how it is. Instead there are two options. The proper glue is a hide glue. Its what good guitars are glued with when made. The nice thing is that with heat, you can take the joint part. That would of been handy in a dual break situation. The other option is epoxy. While some lutherer types might not like epoxy because its quite permenet, it will hold. In fact it will hold when any oily woods may be involved - dark exotics. My other trade secret to fixing headstocks so they _wont_ break again I'm not saying. hard earned and not for free.

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fishpotpetesteve.oakley.10

Reply 1 year ago

A few comments on this

1- On the guitar in this Instructable, the wood glue demonstrated its strength as seen when the guitar was knocked over a 2nd time and the neck broke in a different place - the original repair held up just fine. The break had nothing to do with the original fix. So I totally disagree that the wood glue doesn't hold up - the proof was demonstrated here.

2. If you want to use hot hide glue, that's great. But for most people, the accessibility and ease of using wood glue out weighs any benefits of using the hot hide glue. If you have an expensive guitar, then yes, use hot hide glue - and if you don't have experience with hot hide glue, then by all means take it to a luthier and let them use what they feel is best. But keep in mind that hide glues are not permanent - they can fail from heat (example here: http://www.stewmac.com/How-To/Online_Resources/Neck_Building_and_Repair_and_Setup/The_damage_caused_by_storing_a_guitar_in_a_hot_car_or_attic.html)

3. Epoxy is lower on the list as well - yes it's strong. But it doesn't penetrate the wood fibers as well and clean up on a finished guitar neck can be a nightmare. If you're working with an original build and are at the glue/clamp/sanding stage (pre-finish), then it's probably ok.