Guitar repair – The break that almost broke me!

Every once in a while a repair comes along that not just challenges you but makes you doubt your abilities and all that you know.

This Tanglewood was every bit that and more!

And it was such a pretty guitar! Just look at that soundhole rosette, and that back!

Earlier, I have made my fondness for Tanglewood instruments apparent. That and the fact that the break was an angular one, where the two faces slid cleanly into each other, made me take up the repair. Add to those the fact that the owner was attached to the instrument, and no other convincing was needed for me to take up the job.

Preparation for the operation began with collecting all that I thought I would be needing for the repair.

I started by taking off the two nearest-to-the-nut tuning machines (for strings E and e). That was where my clamps would go and with the tuning machines in the way, clamping would be impossible.

Once I had everything I needed, the two surfaces to be joined were cleaned and prepared for glue-up. With enough glue, cauls to provide support and padding to protect the headstock, the two halves were glued together, clamped and left to cure for 24 hours.

24 hours later, when the clamps were pulled off, the glue had cured and the break had been healed, with just a little seam apparent.

To take care of that slight lip, I taped off the area and wet-sanded the exposed area.

With the lip gone, I re-installed the tuning machines, strung it up with a fresh, new set of strings, and left it overnight with the tension. In the morning, I was happy to see that it was still in one piece. I called up the owner to come and get his instrument.

When he arrived, and as I picked up the instrument to give it to him, I felt a little wiggle in the headstock. I turned the guitar over and there…staring at me was a sight most horrifying. The break had opened up after staying together for over eight hours!

It was hard to tell at that time who was more disappointed: the owner or me. I asked him to let me have a go at it another time and he left asking me to call him when it was done.

Again, I took off the strings, uninstalled the E and e string tuning machines, but before I did anything, I sat down to figure out what went wrong, where. After a lot of head-scratching and chin-stroking, I came to the conclusion that maybe, the clamping pressure hadn’t been enough.

I cleaned up the old glue from the two faces, and this time, when I was glueing up, I used a strong central clamp, with two smaller ones on the sides to help it and left it clamped for 48 hours. The pieces of wood that you see were used in the hope that they would help distribute the clamp pressure evenly throughout the fault area.

Another 24 hours, but the story was the same. It got stuck but could not take the string tension. This time, I really got worried. I had done repairs like these before, and save the occasion when the break was a perpendicular break, all had joined and held. What was it that I was doing wrong?

Whatever…this had to be repaired, come what may. All the steps were repeated, except, this time I did not remove the strings or any of the tuning machines (I was just plain lazy!). I glued and clamped it shut, again using different clamps this time.

I gave it 48 hours and then after I took the clamps off, and before the joint had time to breathe, I decided to install wooden dowels, 2/3 the thickness of the headstock.

But before I did that I realised that I would have to take off the tuning machines. So, off came the machines, and of course, the strings with them.

With the help of some geometry, three stress points were found (you can probably see the pencil lines). Here I drilled and installed the dowels and then sawed them flush with the headstock.

I finally re-strung the guitar, and 24 hours later, the joint was still holding as I wiped the sweat off my brow. I just did a very temporary paint job to try and mask the three dowels, asking the owner to return after a couple of months so that I could do a proper finish job.

  Here’s a look at how she looked before she left the Garage.

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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