Fixing a broken Gibson headstock

This week I encountered an all too common problem: a Gibson Les Paul with a broken headstock. This happens ALL the time – Gibson carves their necks out of one piece of mahogany, leaving end-grain exposed and thus creates a very weak point right where the headstock joins the neck. Couple this weak point with about 200 pounds of string tension and some rambunctious children, and KAPOW! Broken headstock.

Although a broken Gibson headstock seems like the end of the world, it’s usually a pretty simple problem to fix. This one was especially simple, as the headstock was still attached to the neck, and the crack wasn’t terribly deep:

If you look closely, the finish looks white around the edge of the break, which means there may be some air underneath the finish along the edge. I talked with the guitar’s owner about how the line might be visible without doing finish work, which could take a lot more time due to the curing times of nitrocellulose lacquer – but he didn’t care much about how it looked, as long as it was funcional, so we proceeded without worrying too much about the finish.

I first tested my clamping setup with a dry fit before using any glue. In this instance, I used a single bar clamp, an aluminum plate on the face of the headstock, and some cork and wax paper. Once I was happy with how it all closed up, I flooded the crack with glue and replaced my clamping array. To give it just that little extra push over the cliff, I set the headstock leaning face down on a soft yoga block, and let it sit overnight:

The next day, I removed my clamp and tested the new joint’s strength. The new glue joint is actually stronger than the wood itself, so I wasn’t surprised to find that it wasn’t moving on me. Great success! Now, on to glue clean up:

I cleaned up all the glue with a damp rag, and then felt along the crack line. These things almost never close up to the point where you can’t feel the line, so the most time consuming aspect of fixing a broken headstock is sanding the line smooth. I wet sand the break with Micromesh, starting with 3200 grit and working my way up to 12000. This was a fairly smooth line, yet it still took me over an hour of sanding to get it perfectly smooth.

My elbow isn’t feeling so hot, but I’m pretty happy with how it came out. Although the line is somewhat visible (it shows up much better in the photo than by the naked eye), it’s perfectly smooth and totally solid. Not bad for not doing any finish work, no?

This fix will hold for a long, long time. In fact, I warrantee all my repair work for life – if it somehow breaks again along the same glue line, I’ll fix it for free. It’s important to me that not is my work solid, but that it stays solid. Kapow!

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