Volume 36 - Broken Necks

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Northcoast Voice

It never fails that each week something new will come through the doors of my shop that will give me a new way of experiencing a task that I have performed hundreds of times before. It may be replacing a nut (very common) or lowering the action by changing the saddle height, or fixing a broken neck. Whatever the task, each instrument and each “break” is always a little different from the one before. Although the procedure is usually the same, the task itself can be very different. I have a guitar that has come to me with a broken headstock, cleanly broken in two separate pieces. Many people ask me, why can’t you just glue it back together and I can be on my way? And I tell them “That’s not the way I do things here at this repair shop”. For one, it is risky at best to think that the glue alone will hold under the string tension. When it leaves my shop I want to have a little more confidence in my repair than just the glue. After all, I am giving a guarantee of my workmanship, so I don’t want to worry that it is going to be returning to my shop anytime soon.
 In the case of this broken neck the type of break will determine exactly how I am going to repair it, but in most cases I find that incorporating two cleats in the break helps stiffen the joint and makes it nearly impossible to break in the same spot again. I have been using this procedure for some time now and have never had one come apart or “rebreak” in the same spot before.  Usually after I have aligned the two pieces of the broken neck back together “perfectly” as possible, I will make sure there is a ample amount of glue in the joint and tightly clamp the halves back together. After cleaning all of the excess glue off (this must be done while the glue is still wet. Otherwise you will have a real mess to clean up) I determine where in the crack I will place my cleats.
  cleats in neck

I call these reinforcing wooden inserts “cleats” because I can’t think of any other name for them. Sometimes the cleats are different sizes, do to the placement of the crack on the back side of the neck. You must take in consideration that there is a truss rod running down the center of the neck so the cleats must run along each side of the rod. Sometimes you do not have very much room to accomplish that. This means that you may have to offset the cleats to each other depending on how the crack runs through the neck.  It is very important that you place the cleat half way through the crack so that it spans both sides of the crack. . It’s also important to note that the cleats should run deep through the crack all the way to the fingerboard or the headstock faceplate. The biggest problem with this type of repair is trying to hide it. If it is done on a dark or solidly colored neck it is generally not such a problem Sometimes you can “shade”  a dark toner into the  lacquer or sort of “sunburst “ it into the area of repair. Of course with a solid color the only problem is to match the existing color. Sometimes you may have to spray the whole neck to get it right. This would entail removing the tuning machines and taping off the fingerboard and the body and usually the face of the headstock so that no overspray gets on anything. The hardest ones are the clear maple ones or the ones that have multiple laminations running down the neck. The only saving grace on the laminated necks is that they are much stronger and hardly ever break at the headstock. Or at least I have not yet seen one in my shop anyway. Now I don’t want anyone to go out and see if they can break there laminated neck just to prove me wrong, because even though I’ve never repaired one I know that it would be extremely difficult to hide on such a neck.
    Sometimes this repair will also involve having to replace the faceplate of the headstock if it damaged in the break. I have gotten lucky before where I was able to replace just a portion of the plate so that I didn’t have to change the inlay or logo of the guitar maker. That is where it can get very tricky. The cost of this type of repair can vary widely due to all of these circumstances. Of course if the guitar owner is willing to have a blemish or two from a repair the cost can be dramatically lower. For those of you with vintage guitars or are just very particular about the aesthetics of the instrument, the cost would be more. The range is $150.00 (a reglue and cleats with no faceplate reconstruction, just a clear coat of lacquer to seal the repair) to up as high as $350.00 or more on certain vintage restorations with special headstock inlays and such. Each repair needs to have a special jig made specifically for the size of the cleats to be used and how the jig is manipulated onto the neck so the placement of the cleat can be routed out in a clean and precise manner. This sometimes very time consuming. Not to mention the color matching and or shading involved. Or you can just glue it back together with some Liquid Nail and put a screw or two in and call it a day.( Please don’t ask me to do that! )Well I hope I have shared some interesting facts with you and please “Stay in Tune” for the next adventure in repair in the Voice and have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year!

                                                                                                  Thanks Again!
                                                                                    Patrick from Wood-n-Strings