Headstock Repairs - Reinforcement

Broken Gibson headstock repair

We've talked a lot about neck resets over the last few weeks so let's move down the other end of the neck. Headstock breaks.  

Nobody likes to see it happen but sometimes your guitar takes a tumble and the impact can—all too easily—snap the headstock. In most cases, this is a (reasonably) straightforward repair and can be re-glued soundly.  

Sometimes, though, the nature of the damage can force us down a more 'involved' path. If the break is 'short' (i.e. it doesn't provide a lot of glueing area to ensure a sound repair) it may be necessary to consider some reinforcement to ensure the repair holds.  

One solution is what's called a 'backstrap overlay'.  

This involves overlaying some fresh wood over the repaired break. The new wood glues onto the unbroken wood either side of the crack to add strength.  

Let's take a look at one. 

Reglue headstock before applying backstrap

Remove wood to accept overlay

In the first photo directly above, I'm repairing the break. This might seem odd but I need to get everything back together properly before I apply any reinforcement. The repair is carried out as it would normally be since the actual re-gluing isn't the real problem—the problem is keeping it in one piece after string-tension is applied. I need to glue-up everything as normal and then reinforce things to ensure the repair is strong.

When the initial repair is done and the glue has dried, I can begin the real work on this one. I remove a few millimetres of wood from the rear of the headstock and, past the break, along the neck. It would make for a more discreet repair if I brought this all the way to the end of the headstock but, on a Gibson, I like to stop short of the serial number. If the guitar is ever sold on, a perspective buyer may be put off more by the lack of a serial number than a well-executed repair. 

The photo above on the right shows the removed section. I'll inlay the new wood here so let's get on with that.

Clamping for backstrap overlay on Gibson neck break

New wood overlaid over broken neck

The wood to be overlaid on the headstock is thicknessed and cut to the rough dimensions. To accommodate the angle between headstock and neck, I bend the new wood. It's this bending that adds extra strength to this repair as the wood grain curves to the correct angle.  

Repairing guitars often makes for some intricate clamping setups and overlays are prime culprits. A shaped caul is useful to get the wood in that curved bit glued in properly. The roughly shaped wood overlay is pretty obvious (and pretty ugly at this stage) in the photo on the right. 

Newly inlaid wood cut to shape on headstock

Tuner mounting holes drilled in overlay

This is where things take shape (pun intended). The overlay is cut to shape and the tuner holes drilled.  

At this point I can go through the usual finish prep. Grain-filling, sanding, etc. In cases like this I need to match the colour of the original finish on the newly overlaid wood. I also have to manage the transitions between new and old finish carefully to keep things looking as inconspicuous as possible. Sealer, colour, and a number of clear-coats later and I'm ready for the next step. 


Have to wait for the finish to cure properly. Then sanding and buffing and polishing and reassembling and stringing-up and… 


All is well with the world.  

Gibson headstock break repaired with backstrap overlay

Les Paul neck repair with reinforcement

Maiden Lucan

Customised West Ham Steve Harris Iron Maiden bass

This is just a quick post (mainly because I think this is cool). I seem to have a lot of finishing work on lately which has made for a reasonably time-consuming run. There's quite a bit of work in finishing, especially in refinishing or doing cool little custom things like this. 

Steve Harris West Ham Bass

This one needed paint-on 'binding'— and believe me when I say that was time-consuming (I envy the skill of those pin-striper guys you sometimes see on the car-customisation shows). Then a Hammers decal was applied and lacquered over. 

Since I spent much of my formative years with Iron Maiden cranked on the stereo, it was really, really, fun to Steve-Harrisise this bass. 


I like candy—Refinishing

Candy-apple red refinish

Candy-apple red has been a Fender staple for a long time. These candy colours are achieved by spraying a clear lacquer that's been toned with a coloured dye over a metallic finish. It's a great-looking finish and I love it.

And I'm not alone. Which is why I'm refinishing the front of a P-Bass headstock to match the candy-apple finish on its body.  

Refinish - stripping original finish

Regular old P-Bass headstock. Nothing special. Let's get to work. First up, stripping. A liberal application of elbow-grease helps me to sand off that original finish and we're back to pale, raw, maple. Preparation is important at this point as we'll be putting down a metallic finish on this and that needs a flaw-free surface.

A couple of coats of sealer/lacquer next. These are sanded down flat before I apply the metallic. In most cases, I'll mix my own metallic finishes by adding bronzing powder (essentially tiny particles of metal) to clear lacquer. 

Metallics are tricky. I've got to be careful as any imperfections or runs mean removing the finish and starting again—it's not possible to hide any 'fixes' in a metallic. 

Candy apple finish and logo decal applied

Time for candy.

Some dye added to clear lacquer. By mixing and altering ratios of different coloured dyes, it's possible to match the colour on the body. Matching can be tricky and, once matched, it's important to remember that if you have to add another coat, that will shift the colour. Even clear coats can change how the colour looks. 

And let's talk about the clear coats. With a headstock, I have to apply some decals first, though. These will be covered over by a number of coats of clear lacquer. These coats will seal everything in and will give me enough 'build' to sand and buff at the end. 

That 'end' may be a while off though. Finishing in this way requires time. These finishes are evaporative which means they cure or harden as the solvents in them evaporate. That takes time. How long can vary with different finishes and even weather conditions but don't expect it to be less than ten days and a fortnight or more is safer. The final result can be compromised by rushing this. 


Candy apple bass refinish

Note: As I'll likely spark some extra refinishing enquiries with this post, it's only fair for me to mention that refinishing isn't an inexpensive process. There's certainly a place for it but it might be hard to justify purely because you're not keen on the colour of your guitar. Of course, if that's enough for you to justify it, brilliant. Give me a shout.  ;-)

Les Paul Neck Removal and Repair

les paul broken neck heel

Yikes. If you've been reading my stuff for a while, you've probably spotted a few different examples of neck breaks. Most of these have been up at the headstock end as that's the more likely place for a break.

It can happen down the other end too, though. This Les Paul took a tumble and broke in a nasty way. The exterior damage is obvious but it's pretty certain that crack extends into the neck tenon too (the tenon's the bit that gets glued into the neck pocket in the body).

This neck needs to come out to be properly repaired.

It's not too often that I need to remove a Les Paul neck, which is lucky as it's a relatively involved job. With a strong cup of tea to steel myself, I set to work.

les paul heel repair frets
les paul neck removal

First up, a few frets need to come out. To remove this neck, I need to soak and steam the glue out and that means getting access to the internals of the neck joint. I do this by drilling small 'access' holes. These are drilled in the fret slots. When it's all done, I'll fill the holes with rosewood plugs and re-cut the slots. All of this is hidden by the refitted frets.

Your eagle-eyes will have noticed a little dot on each (numbered) fret. These frets will be refitted and the dot tells me which is the bass end.

Keeping fingers crossed, I take a look under the neck pickup, hoping for a long tenon. No luck. If I could have seen the end of the tenon, I'd know exactly what size it was so I could position my holes to accurately access the sides of the neck joint  (if it's not clear what I mean here, a photo later on might clarify things).

Since all of this tenon is hidden, I have to measure out the usual Gibson size and position for this guitar and hope that it's built properly to spec.

In the photo, above on the right, you can see the pencil marks I've used to plot out the tenon and the holes I've drilled to get access to the joint.

gibson neck removal
steaming off gibson neck

This one's a bit weird-looking, I'll admit.

In the left image, I'm using a syringe to insert boiling water into the holes I've drilled. I give it a few seconds and then suck it back up again. What comes out is cooler water with some manky-looking dissolved glue. I repeat this process a lot over the course of a couple of days. A Les Paul neck joint is a hell of a strong joint and doing this gives me a little bit of a head start before I hit it with the steam.

Which is what's happening on the right. That nozzle lets me get piping hot steam deep into the joint. The heat and moisture helps to dissolve more glue and, after some time and work, the glue eventually lets go…

les paul neck tenon
les paul neck joint repair

…Leaving most of the bloody tenon still in the pocket. D'oh!

The heel crack extended into the tenon as we thought. Now I have to keep working to get this piece out with pretty much no leverage.

More tea required, I think.

Some steamy swearing later and it's out. Now, in the side of that neck tenon, you can see the tracks of those holes I drilled earlier. We were right on the money with the positions too—nice.

gibson guitar neck tenon repair
les paul neck joint fix

And here's the jigsaw we need to get back together. You'll notice a small shim in the neck pocket. This was installed at the factory (it's not uncommon) and I'll reuse it for this repair.

All of the old glue is cleaned from the mortice and the tenon and then, the two bits of neck are glued back together. Again, the tracks of those access holes are clear in the photo on the right.

gibson neck tenon repair
les paul repair touch-up

Once it's sound again, the neck is reattached to the body. Those frets are reinstalled and all the frets are levelled to ensure clean playability.

Then, it's just some touch-up to hide the evidence. As the rear and neck of this Les Paul are black, the opaque colour easily disguises the repair.

It took a bit of thought, a lot of work and twelve buckets of tea but this job's a good 'un.

Jack On The Rocks

semi acoustic guitar side repair

It's great having a guitar at a party. Everyone's singing and you're playing and the beer is flowing and—yikes!

Sometimes guitars can party too hard. 

This little semi-acoustic got a bit of a smack as the good times rolled. It was fitted with a side-mounted output jack and it landed (quite neatly, really) on it. The jack disappeared into the guitar and left the side and finished crushed. This image was taken after I'd pulled it back into some sort of shape. 

If this guitar was a super expensive thing with huge sentimental value, we might be looking at an correspondingly expensive side-repair. Sometimes, however, that's not warranted and all that's needed is to get the thing playing again with as little fuss as possible. The easiest/cheapest way of sorting this one is to make the damage good, enlarge the hole and mount the jack on a Les Paul-style plate.

fix guitar sides and jack
guitar repair side damage

The crushed wood had become quite flexible and trying to enlarge the hole in that damaged material would have caused messy chipping and tear-outs. That's not the way to go. I wanted to saturate the area in water-thin cyanoacrylate glue to harden it but even after poking it roughly to shape, the damaged area was still below the surface level and was pretty flaky and messy. 

Enter the Mystery Invention that I teased you with on Facebook and Twitter last night. 

I fished a hefty bolt through the F-hole and gently snugged up a nut on it. This pulled the crushed wood back into something close to its proper shape. I loosened off, saturated the area with super glue and retightened the nut. Incidentally, that white 'washer' you see is a piece of teflon. There's a corresponding piece on the inside too. The glue won't adhere to this and I'm not really keen on ending up with a honking great bolt glued in the jack-hole. The shaft of the bolt doesn't contact the edges but I was very careful to avoid any glue squeeze out contacting there too. 

guitar jack socket repair

Once it's dry, I can enlarge that hole more cleanly. A little, basic, touch-up and clean-up and the jack plate can be installed. This guitar is ready for the next party. 

Super-involved repairs are justified in many cases but, sometimes, quick and easy is the way to go.

Even quick and easy should be done properly, though.

Refinishing Gibson Les Paul Custom

Refinish Gibson Les Paul Custom

You know when you paint your sitting room and you break out the masking tape to stick around all the bits you want to prevent getting covered in that weird green colour that's going on your walls?


Well, I'm certain you know the wonderful curvaceous ins and outs of a Gibson Les Paul.

Imagine having to fiddle about, awkwardly trying to mask off all that beautiful, curvy, binding on the top before you spray it? How much effort and time must that take in the Gibson finishing department every day?

Well, none really. Gibson don't bother masking the binding here before spraying that sunburst or that Black Beauty. It's just too much work. It's far easier to spray over the binding and then scrape it off again.

This Les Paul is being refinished with a black top. I spray solid colour (after some surface prep and sealing coats) over the whole top, let it dry a little (not too much, though) and then scrape the new finish off along the binding. It's actually pretty easy to use a blade, with a knuckle as a depth-stop, to remove the finish cleanly.

Custom refinish on Les Paul guitar
Binding on guitar refinish

With that done, I'll let some of the solvents evaporate a day or two before starting on the clear lacquer top-coats (including a little 'antiquing' for the binding). This bundle of top-coats then needs to cure before being sanded and buffed out to a gloss—a gloss that I'll actually knock back with some gentle relicing to get things in keeping with the rest of the guitar.

None more black. None more beautiful.

By the way, you'll notice that the sides are masked. It's a lot easier to mask here than on the top and, often (as in this case), you'll want to keep the top colours off the side.

Cross-posted to Guitarless