Sorry guys, its been a while i know. Work expansion has left me busy, so not much time to write.
Thought i would show you a neckbreak repair that i did a while back, as it wasn’t as straightforward as most breaks to put right. Neckbreaks, or the more likely Headstock breaks. Is there anything worse that can happen to your guitar?
It is mostly a Gibson problem, or any guitar with a heavily angled headstock that’s made from mahogany. It’s rare to see a maple necked guitar like a Fender Stratocaster suffer from a headstock break. This is partly due to the maple being so hard, but mainly the flat transition from neck back to the tuners.
Though a dense and often heavy wood, mahogany is fairly soft and fibrous in its makeup. Gibson angle the headstock back on their guitars as it helps increase pressure on the nut and also increases the string tension on what are ‘short scale’ (distance from nut to bridge saddles) instruments.
The problem comes from the neck being thinnest at that angled bend, added in with the material removed for the nut, and the huge amount removed for the truss rod and its access cavity, and you’re not left with much wood.
Now also bear in mind that the angled headstock increases the down pressure onto this exact point too. The average set of 10-46 gauge electric guitar strings can produce 180lbs (80kg) of pressure across the neck, and this is focussed at its two break points, the bridge and the nut. That’s a lot of pressure! The average 2x12”combo valve amplifier doesn’t weigh that much.
Gibson also likes to fit large and heavy tuning machines to its guitars too. For example a set of the popular Grover ‘Kidney bean’ tuners weigh in at 10 ounces. That’s 285grams or a quarter of a kilo of metal on the headstock.
It’s a lot to ask of what little wood remains at the nut area to handle, and the slightest fall or knock onto the usually large headstock will cause minor or major damage. The example i will show you here was sitting in a stand and fell over.
You can see also how the break went right through from front to back and has pulled away the truss rod cavity.
As you will see, it’s not usually the end of the guitar if it does get a break, though it’s something to avoid if at all possible!
This Gibson was a little more work than most, due to it having had a re-spray in red cellulose at some point over its original sunburst finish. Repairing traditional Gibson Nitro-cellulose is fairly easy, as no matter how many years pass, new nitro will always melt into the old. It makes a virtually seamless spot repair possible. Car paint such as Polyurethane or Acrylic cellulose ( the cellulose is the chemical carrier for the actual finish in the different paints) does not behave this way as it chemically ‘cures’ once dry. This makes the blending of cracks and repairs always visible as the new product will simply not burn into the old, leaving a ghost line where old and new meet.
The only way around this if you’re going to do it properly is to re-finish a larger area and fade the paint to a joint. Done correctly it will be invisible, and this is the method I used for this repair.
After stripping the tuners off the headstock, I made a start by rubbing away the thick red finish right down to the wood. A lot of repairers would literally have just squeezed glue into the break as it was and just returned the guitar with a smoothed out crack in the paint. To me this was simply not an option, as the owner had informed me that this headstock had been broken and glued once before, when the guitar was new. This new break had actually torn apart that original repair, so not only was the area weak, but it was full of old dry glue and damaged wood fibres. For a solid and strong fix it would need cleaning out and this included the edges of the break, so the paint had to come off.
After all the cleaning was done inside and out it was time to glue the break. Sometimes a headstock break will require extra wood to be added in the form of braces placed into small routed out channels, but as this was a relatively ‘clean’ break with no material missing i decided it would be more than strong enough as a straight glue and clamp job.
Due to the difficult angle of the breaks position, I made up a clamping caul out of some thermo mould plastic to custom fit the back of the neck. This would allow my clamps to have a good flat surface and also protect the neck from pressure damage. The break was injected with Tightbond resin and clamped from several positions. I left this clamped up for 24 hours, which is longer than needed but it doesn’t hurt.
I re-fitted the large tuners and allowed the new repair to sit for a few days to see if the joint moved at all, which can happen if there was moisture in the joint or the glue was too old etc, but all was fine. This also confirmed to me that extra splines or inserts of wood in the break were not needed in this particular case.
During the repair I had noticed several large patches along the neck back that were worn down through the clearcoat. It was then i decided that it would be best if I painted the entire neck back, up to the heel. Not only would this freshen the worn patches, but would allow the headstock fix to become invisible. As this was a 2 stage (colour and clear) finish I scraped back the clear topcoat to show the correct shade of red. I had my paint supplier custom match this unknown shade of red for me and put it in an aerosol. This sort of repair doesn’t require alot of paint as it already has the red finish as a base. Its more of a blowover coat to level everything up. This new red was applied in several thin coats, with rub downs in-between, to slowly get the height back up from where i had to scrape it away.
Once I was happy with the finish, the red was rubbed down smooth with various wet finishing papers and was blended into the heel at the body end. After being cleaned over with spirit and tac cloth I then gave it several coats of gloss clear acrylic. This went on reasonably heavy so it could then be flatted back and buffed.
After leaving it to dry/harden properly for 2 weeks, and buffing the clearcoat to a decent shine, it was time to put it all back together. The extra effort was certainly worth it as far as I was concerned, and the owner happily agreed with me. I was very pleased with the repair as the new finish made it totally invisible. It’s also a very strong glue bond under the finish so this guitar is perfectly stable and useable once again. To anybody that didn’t know it had been broken, it would now be impossible to tell just by looking.
Though a success, I would also offer the above repair as a warning to all the guitar buyers amongst you. Done properly, something as severe as a full headstock break can be totally concealed. Now while the above repair will likely be perfect for the rest of this guitars days, it could also have been done by someone using the wrong glues, or wood fillers etc. I urge caution when buying any guitar that’s been re-finished from its original colour/paint type, as it can be a sure sign that something bad has happened and been covered over.
This Firebird however, lives to fight another day!
Newtech Guitar Services