Repairing a broken Gibson headstock

Broken Gibson headstocks are very common, and we’ve repaired A LOT of them over the years using various techniques such as backstrapping, laminating multiple-layer overlays, routing reinforcement splines, and sometimes a combination of everything. We see so many broken Gibson headstocks that we’ve developed our own proprietary tooling to give us repeatable and reliable reinforcement splining results. We’ve also seen a lot of prior repair misadventures that we’ve had to navigate, which can significantly complicate the approach to the job. This was one of those jobs. Here’s how I went about repairing a broken Gibson headstock on this Les Paul.

This was a particularly bad case of a guitar neck being broken in half.

This headstock took a hit and snapped right at the truss rod access cavity, as many of them do. It was then repaired previously with epoxy and reinforcement splines, and the voids were filled with epoxy putty. But the splines were made of two 1/4″ pine dowels that proved ineffective against 100 pounds of constant electric guitar string tension. However, that wasn’t the biggest issue: when the headstock was reattached, it was done so at the incorrect angle. When I dry-fitted it into place the angle was almost as flat as a Fender headstock. This would make the truss rod nut inaccessible and also cause down-pressure issues for the strings as they seat against the guitar’s string nut. The best solution I saw was to fabricate a new section of the neck to reset the headstock angle. Below is a photo journal of my process for restoring this instrument.

Hard rock maple is the most structurally reliable material for something like this.
I used Titebond Original Wood Glue for this repair.
I chose a 15 degree angle to split the difference between Gibson’s 14 degree and 17 degree designs.
I carved in a headstock volute to add to the structural integrity of the area
We designed and built this fully adjustable headstock splining router sled and it’s become invaluable to us. [Editor’s note: no, we don’t offer plans available for this.]
I used quarter-sawn maple for the reinforcement splines – it’s a lot stronger than the original mahogany.
Veneer overlays really seal the deal for structural stability on headstock repairs.
This secondary overlay not only further strengthened the neck, but it added the proper thickness back into the neck profile that was over-sanded during the prior repair.
Once the veneers were feathered in, a couple coats of vinyl sealer gave the lacquer a nice and consistent substrate.
What a beauty!

This was a rather convoluted repair: fixing bad repair work makes things far more complicated than it could have been if we’d had the first crack at it. But all’s well that ends well. This Les Paul headstock is now stronger than it was when it left the factory, and is ready to rock for decades to come.

Check out New Orleans’ own Penguins with Knives to hear Benjamin Deffendall rock this guitar!

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