Guitar repair – A return from the dead for this one?

Sometimes, life presents you with a problem so complex that you’re left scratching your head about where to begin!

Recently, I was accosted by one such problem. It was called EX(tra)L(arge)????

I’ve seen a few guitars that carried signs of carelessness: a saddle that had dropped out, a black bridgepin standing proud among five white ones…But this one amazed me. It had all the tell-tale signs of a guitar that had been stripped (almost at gunpoint) of all that it possessed: saddle, strings, tuning machines, bushings, truss rod cover, heel cap…All that remained were three screws (the photo above) on the face of the headstock that once held the truss rod cover in place, as if to say, ‘Don’t lose heart, we’re still there’!

But these were all little problems. The big one was that it also had a broken neck.

When I tried turning the truss rod, it kept turning without ever catching, leading me to presume that the truss rod was broken too!

When I looked at neck straightness, it was straight, except for the area between the 2nd and the 5th/6th fret. Interestingly, the break in the neck was right under there.

I had no idea what problems putting on strings would present. But for that I needed to have tuning machines.

So, the first order of business was to put on some tuning machines. But then if you know, not all tuning machine screw holes line up. The previous machines used were held down by two screws each, while the ones I was holding needed only a single screw to hold them in place – and those too did not line up.

Then began the long process of plugging those holes and cutting them flush with the surface of the headstock. Likewise the three screws of the truss rod cover were removed and their holes were plugged.

Trying on the tuning machines gave another shock. The holes from the earlier machines were at least 2 mm smaller than what the new tuners needed! I did not have a drill bit of that size (which would have eased my work tremendously), and so, I had to manually enlarge the holes with a reamer.

Each hole took me something like 25 – 30 mins to ream to size, and I could not do them all in one sitting. The holes got reamed over two days.

Once the machines fit in their holes, I marked where the new screw holes needed to be drilled and did that.

And then the machines were screwed in place

Now, the owner wished to have a plastic nut and saddle and I was nobody to argue with that. However, I do not stock plastic spares, so I troubled the owner to get me a plastic saddle.

With the saddle in place, a new set of strings were thrown on just to see how much the break in the neck opened up under string tension. Thankfully, it didn’t open up much. However, the string action was such that you could drive a double-decker through the gap!

Also, I did something I never do: leave strings unclipped at the headstock. There was a reasoning behind it. I would need to unstring the guitar when I was trying to repair the break in the neck. If I didn’t remove them, they were liable to break while clamping, or, in the process of tuning them up.

The strings came off while they remained threaded through the bridge. Glue was pumped into the break in the neck and with the help of strategically placed cauls and some precautions, the whole area was clamped

Helping me in my effort was the humidity. It was nice and dry with 39% moisture in the air.

The set-up was left to cool off, while I concentrated on other things: the saddle for example. If I cut its present height by half that would certainly improve the action, but whether it would make the guitar playable, I wasn’t sure at all. But it had to be done.

After two whole days staying clamped up, I released the clamps on the guitar and the joint seemed solid. However, there was still that extra relief between the 2nd and the 5th/6th fret. With the truss rod broken, I needed to apply external pressure to straighten the neck to the maximum.

When the clamp was released, there was some improvement but not as much as I would have liked to see.

Now, it was the turn of the fretboard to get some attention.

There was only one way to clean the DNA caked on it…

…by giving it a bath with soap and water!

That cleaned, I was ready to give finishing touches to to neck repair. It was flooded with glue,

scraped clean and then the crack was painted over and buffed out

Again the guitar was strung up and tuned to pitch.

And from here on, I don’t have any photographs of the instrument. I got so happy with the results of the glue-up that I forgot to take photos! But I must report that the action had come down quite a bit – certainly not what I would call optimum but not unplayable by any stretch of imagination.

Meanwhile, I also patched up the heel with some pickguard material.


Amit Newton

An experienced guitar tech with over 10 years of experience working on acoustic Gibsons and Martins in the Gulf region. There is nothing that cannot be repaired; the only consideration is the price at which it comes. And yet, if there is sentiment attached, no price is too high! WhatsApp/Call me: 7080475556 email me:

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