There are some problems that will give you that sick to your stomach feeling and when the headstock snaps off your guitar chances are you'll be light headed and wish you were dreaming. However it happens from time to time anda qualified luthier can generally fix it and the techniques vary from guitar to guitar and from one shop to another.
First some tips to help you avoid this situation:
- Keep the guitar in the case when not in use
The guitar looks great sitting out in the room but it's only a matter of time before someone or something knocks it over. It is best to keep the guitar in the case when it's not being played.
- Buy a guitar stand
If you want to see your instruments and choose not to keep it in the the case, buy a quality guitar stand. How many times do you lean the guitar up against something and walk away? If the answer is anything more than never...get a quality stand.
Also, if it's an electric guitar unplug the cable too. It's really easy to snag the cord with your foot and pull the guitar over (see photo). When it comes to a sudden stop the energy has to go somewhere and don't be surprised if the energy snaps the headstock right off the neck.
Finally if you lean the guitar up against your amp "string side down" and happen to fall into the guitar, the strings can put some major dents in the frets that will need to be dressed out.
- Buy strap locks!
For roughly $20.00 you can greatly reduce the likelihood you'll spend hundreds getting the guitar fixed.
Okay Here is Some Repair Information
Broken headstocks fall into a few different scenarios and costs vary depending how severe the damage is, if it needs reinforcement, if it's been broken before and how much finish work it needs to look good again.
- Cracked but not broken off
Any time the guitar has a crack it's best to get it fixed right away. Don't let it sit and oxidize or get dirty with time. Take it to a professional and DO NOT TRY TO FIX IT YOURSELF. A luthier should understand which adhesive to choose in which circumstance and if you mess with it you'll only make it worse and more expensive to fix. If you're brimming with confidence that you can fix it yourself...run (don't walk) to a professional.
- Broken with a clean /flat grain break
If the damaged area is fairly straight and "with the grain" of the wood, the glue joint will end up pretty strong ifdone right. It's probably best to also have the damage reinforced with splines, patches or another acceptable method but if cost is prohibitive you can have it glued and hope for the best. You'll need to be very careful with the guitar and hopefully it's a lesson you only need to learn once. Accidents happen even when we're very careful. Talk to the luthier to see what they recommend and ask about which adhesives they use in the shop.
- Broken with endgrain breakage
These are the worst types of breaks and the hardest to fix. End grain in wood doesn't adhere as well as straight or flat grain breaks, it will need reinforcement. Depending on the guitar design it may need a back strap overlay which is pretty involved and can get pretty expensive. But, like any of the other repairs if the guitar is valuable or you have a strong emotional attachment to it, have a pro fix it for you.
- Finishing Work
If there are reinforcements needed there will be some finishing work done as well. This can be a simple shading job to hide the patch or spline or it can be an entire refinishing of the neck. It comes down to what works for the instrument and the customers wallet.
No matter what work is done and no matter who does the work it's always possible to break the headstock again so be careful.