Lucky Break

Alex Bishop blends old wood with new in an attempt to fix a severely damaged guitar headstock


If guitars could talk, I’m certain the instrument laying across my bench would recount innumerabl­e tales of late night rock ’n’ roll excess and halfrememb­ered gigs. One can imagine the countless ballads accompanie­d in smoke-filled folk clubs, or hear thrashed powerchord­s on a sweaty open mic night. The corrugated surface of the cedar top was worn away beyond the finish long ago, scarred by the relentless attack of plectrums and fingernail­s digging into the soft timber. This instrument is an icon and celebratio­n of the power and energy of live music.

Unfortunat­ely, though, it has strummed its swan song. A long split along the treble side of the soundboard creaks open as the strings are detuned. A gnarled nut falls off the guitar in a couple of pieces, and the splintered headstock yawns open like the jaws of some dying animal.

Broken headstocks are one of the most common repairs that pass through my workshop, and indeed to most guitarists it can appear fatal. However, there are just about as many ways to fix one as there are ways of breaking them. The instrument in question had had a chequered history – signs of multiple previous botched headstock repairs were obvious, and this proved to be an obstacle in what I hoped would be a straightfo­rward job.

Action Plan

Once I had removed the machinehea­ds, I wanted to simply close the crack with a pair of heavy duty F-clamps and clamping blocks either side of the headstock. However, the build up of old epoxy glue and swelled wood meant nothing was going to close it, so there was only one thing for it – put the headstock out of its misery and fully break it off myself.

With the headstock removed, I could properly inspect the damage. There was no way I was going to be able to graft the old headstock back on without drasticall­y shortening it, and in any case the shattered 0.6mm thin veneer on the front was totally compromise­d and would offer no structural assistance in preventing such damage from happening again, especially once the full force of six steel strings was pulling on it. So I opted to remake the headstock from scratch and splice it onto the spear-like remains of the guitar neck.

Picking an appropriat­e piece of wood was going to be the next step. Luckily, the timber flotsam strewn throughout my guitar-making workshop yielded a piece of mahogany that would match the rest of the neck perfectly. After a few swift cuts on the bandsaw, it was whittled down slightly oversize, to be then glued on as a ‘scarf’ join. This is the most common way of putting together any guitar neck: by taking a slice from a plank at an angle, the offcut is simply flipped over and glued to the underside, creating that familiar angle for the strings to pass over at the nut before entering the tuners on the other side.

Hold Strong

The decorative black veneer on the face of most guitar headstocks does more than serve as a backdrop for a fancy logo or inlay design. It provides important structural rigidity that not only stiffens the headstock to support the scarf join but also helps with tuning stability. Keen to ensure my hard work would not later come undone, I decided to plane down a piece of Crelicam ebony to span the headstock. The jet black heartwood of Diospyrosc­rassiflora not only looked beautiful but was remarkably hard: the perfect cap for my headstock repair.

All that remained was to carve the transition from the new headstock and blend it seamlessly with the old neck. This was mostly accomplish­ed with chisels and knives for maximum control; it was imperative that I avoided reworking any areas of the neck that didn’t need retouching in order to maintain the original finish and retain the original feel of the neck. Finally, any fresh wood was stained and oiled, and the guitar was restrung with a fresh set of strings. The first chords reverberat­ed, phoenix-like, around the workshop, ready to rock for another few decades – at least.

Head to Alex’s Instagram post at to watch a video of some of the repair in action

“Headstock breaks can appear fatal. However, there are just about as many ways to fix one as there are ways of breaking them”

 ?? ?? A satisfying before-andafter example of a bad headstock break made good by expert hands
A satisfying before-andafter example of a bad headstock break made good by expert hands
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