Gibson Broken Headstock Syndrome

For every ten guitars I repair with broken headstocks, nine of them are Gibson Les Pauls.

Besides being heavier than the average guitar, they also have a radical headstock angle, which is their weakest point… so, if you drop or knock over one of these guitars on a hard surface, there’s a good chance, almost guaranteed, that the headstock will break. Heck, it happened to my buddy just a little while ago… right in from of my eyes! Like in slow motion, it tipped over, and we all stood in shock and awe, wide-eyed and jaw-dropped, staring like the impending disaster of a trainwreck about to happen, completely unable to move. Good thing for him he has a buddy like me!

This neck pictured had multiple breaks in it, including at the headstock. I’m not sure what happened to this poor thing, but it would require multiple gluing stages for proper setting. Not an easy task, and not one left to an unskilled technician. The breaks ran down parallel to the fingerboard on both sides of the neck. The fingerboard could actually be peeled away from the neck, so that was addressed first. Because of where the breaks were, it was a little tricky, but each step was successful, and as you can see in the images below, it turned out pretty well.

This is an example of a minimal touch-up after repair. The entire neck doesn’t require refinishing, although it could’ve been done. The trouble with refinishing is that it’s labour intensive. In the shop, that equates to a lot of billable hours, which often can be difficult to justify.

Once repaired, the break area is sanded until smooth with fine-grit abrasives, then sprayed over multiple times to match the existing finish. Any imperfections are removed, and once it’s cured, buffed-up to a high gloss. What I love about Gibsons, is that they use nitrocellulose lacquer finishes, which are generally a breeze to work with in repair. With all that preexisting wear on the neck, we kept the touch-up minimal, which kept the bill low, which made the customer happy.

So if this kind of mishap has happened to you, don’t write the guitar off! There are generally several repair options available- some to restore functionality, others to fully repair and refinish, and some in between (like this one).

It now looks better than when it was brought in to me, and the guitar will see many more years of use!

Learn all about headstock and finish repairs in our articles, classes, and books. Have questions? Post them below.

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