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September 26, 2020
Guitar Tech: Repairing a Broken Headstock PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 05 June 2007 17:55
Image By Jim Basara
After my recent article on "How to Pack a Guitar for Shipping," I received a new wave of questions about repairing broken headstocks. It's one of the most common questions I receive. Broken headstocks are not common, but they are very dramatic. There's nothing more emotional than opening up the box on your new guitar, dripping with anticipation of your beautiful new baby, only to find a chunk of wood hanging off the end of the neck by guitar strings. I don't write many tutorial articles, because there's such great information available on the web. But when I went to look for a good reference article to pass on to the folks asking the questions, I couldn't find anything I was happy with regarding gluing up a headstock. So, I'll take my best shot.

I still remember my first broken headstock. I was 16 years old and I had saved all my money from my lifeguard and buss-boy jobs to buy a Dean 'Z' (explorer-style body). We were playing a gig at a local high school and some dope ran across the stage, tripped over my cord, and pulled my new guitar off its stand, breaking off one of the wings of the headstock. I was shattered.

Luckily, my parents had insurance. We filed a claim, received a check, and I waited for them to pick up the broken guitar...and waited...and waited...and waited. Months later, I found myself with a new BC Rich Mockingbird from the insurance check and a busted Dean Z. So without any training, advice, or the Internet, I fixed my first headstock. It looks like hell, but it is still intact and hanging on my wall today, nearly 30 years later.

Today, most of my headstock repair inquiries come from ebay buyers who didn't think to inquire about the seller's shipping procedures and received their purchase in pieces. Too few sellers take the time to protect the instruments from shipping. For more information on packing techniques, see my previous article on the subject and make sure that all of your sellers are willing to follow the directions. When I buy on ebay, I send them the article link and ask them to commit to that level of packing. If they won't, I don't buy. Period.

Depending upon the shipper that was used, and the disposition of the shipper representative that catches the case, the recipient may or may not receive reimbursement for the broken guitar. Even if reimbursement is made, the shipper may likely never ask for the broken guitar and you can have a great spare. If not, then you'll want to get your investment back into playing condition.

The next question is do it yourself or pay for the repair? The answer to this question depends mostly on whether you want the guitar to look like new or you are simply looking to restore its playability. If you want it to look like new, then you need to pay a pro. It simply isn't practical to expect professional finishing results without the training, practice, and equipment that a professional refinishing tech will have. But, if you are simply looking to restore playability, then repairing a broken headstock is not as bad as many people think.

There are two major categories of headstock breaks (these are my terms):

1. Broken Wing - A "broken wing" break, as I call it, is when a chunk of the headstock breaks off to one side. This is most common with headstocks that extend out from the neck, like my Dean as well as Jacksons, Charvels, ESPs, etc. These wing-like designs can snap easily when dropped during shipment. Fortunately, they are not difficult to repair.

2. Horizontal Snap - Horizontal snaps are breaks that occur across the headstock. This will normally occur around the nut-line, where two pieces of wood may have been joined, but such a break can happen anywhere from the top of the headstock to the middle of the neck, depending upon the design of the guitar and the manner in which the break occurred.

For this article, we are going to address repairing a "broken wing." It only took a few days for a broken headstock to pop up on eBay. In this case, I found a guitar for my 12 year old nephew who loves sharks and just started learning guitar. I couldn't resist buying it and fixing it up for him.

Here are pictures of the guitar as it arrived. As you can see, a chunk of the right side of the split headstock had broken off in shipment. The fact that the headstock is similar in nature to my Dean Z evoked painful memories when I saw it.

figure 1 - shark-guitar.jpgfigure-2---broken-headstock.jpgfigure-3---close-up-of-brea.jpg
Luckily, the break was very clean, so gluing this up is a pretty straightforward exercise. Here are the main steps:

1. Clean the Break of Debris - The goal here is to make sure that you have good contact, with no splinters creating gaps. Use a dental pick or similar device to carefully lift out any hanging splinters, as shown in Figure 4. When you think you're there, put the pieces together and you should feel them "click" in place like a puzzle piece. Whatever you do, DO NOT SAND, the break. Let the natural separation of the wood help bond the pieces together .

2. Build Glue Jigs (if necessary) - Unless you are lucky enough to have a break line that is exactly perpendicular to the edge line of the headstock, you will have to construct a glue jig to ensure that the proper pressure applied to the joint. As you know, if you apply pressure to two objects on an angle, they will tend to want to "slip" when the applied pressure is strong. In order to keep the broken piece from sliding against itself, you have to make sure that pressure is applied perpendicular to the break line. Figures 5 and 6 are meant to illustrate my meaning.


To provide pressure at the proper angles, you need to create a jig out of wood that permits clamps to be applied perpendicular to the break line. This is not terribly difficult to do. On either side of the guitar, you want a "mold" that fits the headstock on one side, and creates the proper angle for the clamp on the outside. Simply trace the headstock for the inside line. For the outside line, use a drawing compass and simply trace the fault line so that the pencil recreates it on the jig. Note that you have to be certain to create a jig that allows you to put pressure along the entire break. For instance, you can see in Figure 6, that the jig would have to extend well beyond the broken item to allow pressure to be applied at all of the arrow points.

Figure 7 shows the jigs that I made for the shark guitar


There are a couple of main things to note in the photograph. First, you'll see that I cut the sides out of a grade A, pine 2x4. Because of the angle of the break, I had to stair-step the far side to get the sides to line up parallel to the break so that the pressure would be applied perpendicular. Next, note that you also see that I cut two pieces of plexiglass that I clamped to the top and bottom of the headstock. If you nail the right clamp angle on the sides, there is a potential for the fault line to buckle when you start to tighten down. Since the joint won't slip side-to-side, the next most likely problem is for it to slip top-to-bottom. I protect against that by cutting a flat template out of plexiglass and clamping that down.

Finally, note that I label everything when I cut it. You'd be surprised how many times pieces look similar after several hours. So, I label the sides LT (Left Top) & RT (Right Top) and I label the plexiglass the same way. Take the time to be careful in everything you do and things will tend to work out well. Forget the little things, and you end up scrambling with wet glue on your instrument.

3. Sand and Finish - This is a topic where there is plenty of great information out there on the net, so I'm not going to go in to it. Depending upon what equipment you have available and what materials you choose to use, the finish procedure is very different. Unlike gluing, finishing is not something you can reasonably expect to get right the first time. As I said at the beginning, if you want your instrument to look like new, take it to a pro. If it doesn't have to be perfect, you can do a pretty good job at home. With a little sanding and spraying, the headstock came out looking, well, better than new. Clearly, it was a cheap guitar and cheap lacquer was used. The repair actually came out with a higher gloss than the guitar itself.

Figure 8 below shows the final repaired product. From a stability perspective, the guitar should be every bit as solid as it was off the shelf.


For another view, Figure 9 below shows a glued up Kramer headstock. Like the 'V' shaped headstock, Kramers, Jackson's, etc. are prone to these kinds of breaks. This picture is provided by my friend and mentor Mile Jones at Fretworks. Miles is a true master. Notice in the picture that all of the same principles apply. The break in the headstock was relatively parallel to the neck, so Miles built the jig to apply the cross pressure to the break at a perpendicular angle. You can see that the orange clamps, which apply the pressure to the break, have been cut into the jig to create the proper angle. You can also see much effort Miles went through to make sure the break didn't shift vertically when the cross pressure was applied. I just don't think it's possible to use too many clamps when gluing a headstock.


Hopefully, this article gives you the confidence you need to fix up a busted headstock. While it's a devastating event, it is actually not a difficult thing to do, painting aside.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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