Repairing a broken headstock with an overlay

Fixing broken headstocks are a regular part of life in a guitar repair shop. Most times people bring their guitars to us, thinking that a broken headstock means the death of their beloved guitar. The thing is, most headstock breaks aren’t nearly as bad as people tend to think, and we can resuscitate their instrument with relative ease. No need to ring your guitar’s death knell! We gotcha.

Occasionally, we get a broken headstock in that is deceptively complex. We recently received a broken Taylor guitar, with what seemed to be a fairly innocuous crack. However, upon closer inspection, it was revealed to be a bit of a doozy:

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It broke both along the wood’s grain line and along Taylor’s finger joint (which is a technique they seem to have largely abandoned). The trouble with this kind of break is that just gluing it back together isn’t an option: the two opposing glue surfaces are just too small, and are oriented in such a way that they would just pull apart under string tension. We would have to add structure across the break to make this guitar super stable. In this case we opted to create a headstock overlay.

First, we removed the neck from the guitar (easy enough with a Taylor, which utilizes a bolt on neck design), and flooded the crack with glue, and arranged the clamps in such a way to ensure a super tight fit. We used the added weight of the clamps as a sort of leveraging mechanism, to ensure that the crack closed up perfectly.

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Our next step was to remove wood from the headstock, right across the break, so that we could add new wood and build a new stronger structure. We carefully marked it off, and then used a series of rasps and files to create a perfect cut.

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We used a contour gauge to measure the shape of our new cut, and then used the gauge to make a perfectly matching chunk of mahogany to mate to the headstock across the break.

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We used a sizable piece of mahogany, as we had opted to create a volute, which is sort of triangular thickening right at the headstock/neck joint. We also added a thin veneer of mahogany across the entire headstock, creating a sandwich of two different layers over the break. This would make the joint stronger, hide one of the volute/headstock seams, and would look pretty classy to boot. We carved the excess wood away, and blended the new wood into the original with a carving knife, rasps, sandpaper, and a lot of patience. This kind of work takes time, but it’s certainly the most fun part of the job.

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Once we were happy with the shape, we oiled the whole thing and polished it up, put the tuners back on, and strung it back up to pitch. It’s now even more stable than it was when it left the factory, and we think it looks great, even if we say so ourselves.

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Yeah, we’re happy with that. Yet another broken guitar rescued from an ignominious fate! Huzzah!


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