overlay

Repairing a Nasty Headstock Break

I’ve written a bit about headstock breaks before. I get to see a lot of them. Probably ninety percent tend to fall into a category I call “Gibson-Style Headstock Breaks” and are usually relatively straightforward to repair.

The other ten percent can prove a bit more challenging, though.

That's a nasty break

This one’s nasty. It’s a ‘short’ break meaning there’s not much glueing surface to provide ‘grip’. It's also got some nasty splintering and, while the owner thought to collect some of the loose splinters, most of these won’t jigsaw back cleanly (and there are some missing).

If ever a headstock repair needed reinforcement, this is it.

Splining is one option for reinforcement but there’s too much damage here to make that a viable option (and, as an aside, the truss-rod has a pretty big ‘anchor’ that leaves little room either side of it).

Nope. We’re going overlay on this one. Again, I’ve written about overlays before (here and here for example).

The wrinkle on this repair is that there’s some serious splintering and I want to be as sure as possible.

Double-overlay, baby!

Overlay on the front and the rear.

Lots of photos follow:

As usual, I have to repair the break first to get the headstock reattached. While this isn’t too much trouble, there’s no way the repair could stand up to string tension without additional reinforcement.

Partial overlay on front of broken headstock (untrimmed)

The front first. I wanted to keep the maker’s logo intact so I removed some wood for the overlay and ‘feathered’ it towards the end of the headstock. The image above shows the inlaid overlay before the edges were trimmed.

Zoomed section shows feathering from new to existing wood

You can (probably) see in the side view photo. There’s a ‘fade’ from the existing wood to the overlay I’ve added. I’ve still extended the overlay well past the break so there’s plenty of good wood for it to grip.

Overlay trimmed and re-drilled for tuners

Above is the trimmed front overlay. The raw wood is the new section and the black headstock end is (obviously) the pre-existing section. I've re-drilled the tuner holes that were covered by the overlay. It's a good idea to do that now. If I'd waited until the back overlay was on, I'd have lost them. ;-)

The backstrap overlay. 

Now around the back. Again, I remove wood from around the repaired section and into the good wood either side. Then a new piece of wood is inlaid into this ‘lower’ section to bring it back to the height of the original wood. These glued-in overlays provide a lot of strength to the repair. 

Because the headstock is angled back, I pre-bend the overlay/backstrap before it's inlaid. Some more info on the backstop bending if you want it. 

The feathered transition from old to new is clearer here

Cleaned up around the front and applied some sealer. This lets you get a better look at the feathered edge of the overlay—the transition between new and existing.

A little lacquer tidies things up

Now we’ve got some colour and lacquer applied. Everything’s nice and tidy and, as you can see, it’s strung-up and holding. Great.

And around the back, it's looking ok too. 

Around the back and the clear finish means we can’t have an invisible repair but it’s pretty discreet.

Not too shabby, I reckon. 

Guitar Neck Repairs: Splines

Headstock repairs are nothing new in these parts. If you pop by the Haze blog from time to time, you'll probably have seen more than a couple over the last few years. We've also talked about the need to reinforce some broken headstocks with a 'backstrap' (a piece of wood that overlays the repair to add strength).

I like backstraps. They're an effective and discreet way to strengthen a neck repair. They can take a bit of time and effort to do properly, though, and splines are not the only game in town. There are times when an alternative is preferred. 

Splines are the prime candidates.

Spline Headstock Reinforcement

A spline is a slat of wood that's inlaid into a channel cut in the neck.

Like this:

Reinforcing a broken guitar neck repair with splines.

The idea is that the channel runs for a distance either side of the repaired crack. A slot is routed and the spline glued in. The newly inserted 'good' wood of the spline ties together the good wood on both sides of the crack.

As you might expect, the splines are carved down to match the neck and the finish touched up. Splines are not quite so inconspicuous as a well-executed overlay but they are an excellent way to bolster a neck repair that needs some reinforcement. 

And, in the right circumstances, you can even get inventive in your splines

 

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. 

Waiting.  

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

Playing. 

All is well with the world.  

Gibson headstock break repaired with backstrap overlay

Les Paul neck repair with reinforcement