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What makes Les Paul headstocks susceptible to breaking off/cracking at the neck?

Discussion in 'Other Guitars, other instruments' started by RoscoeElegante, Sep 17, 2017.

  1. RoscoeElegante

    RoscoeElegante Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2015

  2. JD0x0

    JD0x0 Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 22, 2009
    New York
    bad design.

    Angled and thin, with tons of tension pulling on it.

  3. tubejockey

    tubejockey Tele-Meister

    Nov 25, 2015
    the bozone
    Lack of a volute. This is why you typically see scarf joints on modern designs that don't have a volute.
    tonyj likes this.

  4. corliss1

    corliss1 Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Sep 13, 2008
    Lansing, MI
    The above.

    The 17 degree pitch of the peghead doesn't leave a lot of wood at the area where the truss rod access is. Look at a les paul from the side, picture a rod down the middle of the neck, and imagine how much wood is remaining around the rod. It's not a whole lot.

    PRS tweaked the angle a bit (and the tuner -> nut string alignment....but that's a whole different issue) and it happens far less with those. But, the minute companies don't follow "tradition" it's not authentic and desirable for some reason, even though it's a known flaw.

  5. Mr. Lumbergh

    Mr. Lumbergh Poster Extraordinaire

    Jun 13, 2013
    Initech, Inc.
    In addition to everything mentioned above, add in the fact that the neck and head angle combine to guarantee that the first thing to hit if a Lester goes backwards onto the floor will the be the headstock. It's already a weak point, and the rest of the guitar design puts a bulls-eye right on it should there be a mishap.
    Modman68 likes this.

  6. RoscoeElegante

    RoscoeElegante Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2015
    Does a Bigsby on an LP worsen these risks?

    Also, is a lower string gauge best? I much prefer 11's, but is 9.5 the heaviest that's safe on an LP?

  7. corliss1

    corliss1 Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Sep 13, 2008
    Lansing, MI

  8. Old Tele man

    Old Tele man Friend of Leo's

    May 10, 2017
    Tucson, AZ
    The cross-grain tilt back headstock design.
    jd53 likes this.

  9. maxvintage

    maxvintage Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

    Mar 16, 2003
    Arlington, VA
    Like everybody said, it a fundamentally bad design, or at least a flawed design. Relatively steep headstock angle. One piece of wood for the neck, instead of a scarf joint. No volute, thin neck, plus truss rod adjustment at the headstock and relatively heavy tuners--It's like a perfect storm.

    To "fix" it you'd want a shallower neck angle, a scarf joint at the headstock, lighter tuners and (gasp!) a truss rod adjustable at the body end, like maybe a spoke wheel

  10. Bortyeast

    Bortyeast Tele-Holic

    Dec 9, 2012
    It's called planned obsolescence.

  11. E5RSY

    E5RSY Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 5, 2009
    Georgetown, TX
    And the question arises: Which is weaker, Gibson or Rickenbacker?

  12. jvin248

    jvin248 Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 18, 2014
    Near Detroit, MI

    Gibson knows how to fix it, but look at the 2015 models and the number of vocal customers that were upset with the model changes like volutes -- because apparently that effects classic tone perceptions -- and Gibson was forced to back away.

    See how little wood is in this cross-section, and how the grain is straight with the neck and running to end grain on the face.


    See how the saw burn marks are where the high-e tuner would go, this particular image is a three piece, but those cut blade burns are where the regular Gibson grain would run out, and be weak points that if the neck holds at the truss rod nut it often fractures across the headstock at the E and e tuners. This also shows how large the truss rod nut pocket is across the width of the neck not just depth.



    Necks breaking off traditional guitars at the time the Telecaster was getting designed likely influenced Leo Fender to make the neck flat and out of a less expensive piece of wood.

    This is a typical Gibson style neck (a tdpri builder recreating a Gibson model), and see how much wood is used compared to a flat style on a Tele.


  13. deytookerjaabs

    deytookerjaabs Friend of Leo's

    Jun 5, 2015
    In most cases scarf joints don't do anything to alleviate the issue, it's a lack of wood that makes the biggest difference. There's a few companies that use the same design but put the truss plug before the nut with the adjustment piece at the heel of the neck. That leaves all the wood at the bend for added strength. Also, volutes help.

    If you don't believe me about scarf joints & headstock breaks search ebay>guitars>forpartsnotworking>epiphone where you'll see a whole bunch of scarf joint epi necks (even with a shallower angle) broken around the joint. It's only the actual joint that's stronger, but the whole area will still be susceptible to breakage.

    And of course, a heavier electric guitar can still snap a 3 piece with volute or, heck, even have a break at the heel if it takes a big fall.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2017
    tonyj likes this.

  14. jayyj

    jayyj Tele-Holic

    Jul 13, 2014
    Manchester, UK
    In fairness to Gibson, they were making guitars with one piece mahogany necks and this headstock design from the mid 20s to mid 50s with no problems - many thousands of acoustics and low end archtops were made that way and it's rare to see them with breaks. The issues started when the guitars were getting heavier, the bodies thinner, and the necks were getting much thinner around the trussrod nut area.

    When faced with a sudden influx of guitars with broken necks during the mid 60s guitar boom Gibson quickly began to look for ways to strengthen them so they would be less likely to break, adding a three piece construction in '69, a volute in '70 and eventually abandoning mahogany for maple in '75. 70s Gibsons still broke even with the modified designs - although the changes might have been a lot more effective had it not coincided with the guitars of that era getting very heavy - but it's certainly not fair to say Gibson didn't do a fair bit to address the issue when it initially became apparent

    In the end it was a no win situation. Keep working on the design to try to eliminate the problem against a growing chorus of fans demanding they revert to how the models were originally made, or return to the 50s/60s style necks people wanted and accept that they're going to break every now and then. Even today, were Gibson to implement the changes people always suggest in these threads, there would be a guaranteed forum meltdown that real Gibsons have to have one piece mahogany necks with traditional truss rods.

    It's worth saying in closing, Gibson headstocks don't just spontaneously combust - they sometimes break when dropped or knocked over. A headstock break on a Gibson is more common than other big names but still, the majority of them don't break. Look after them - get straplocks, use a stand rather than propping them against an amp, basic commonsense stuff - and a Gibson is more than capable of standing up to many years professional use.
    tonyj, Xingshen71 and AAT65 like this.

  15. Old Tele man

    Old Tele man Friend of Leo's

    May 10, 2017
    Tucson, AZ
    That's WHY I love the multi-piece laminated necks, ala' Epiphone, Ovation, etc..
    pdmartin likes this.

  16. Rythameen

    Rythameen Tele-Meister

    Jun 24, 2017
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    This...been playing Les Pauls for more years than I care to admit, but I always took care of them, and have never broken one in over 40 years.
    E5RSY likes this.

  17. jackinjax

    jackinjax Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Sep 11, 2016
    Knock wood. :rolleyes:

  18. deytookerjaabs

    deytookerjaabs Friend of Leo's

    Jun 5, 2015
    I've got a headstock break story.

    My first year of college, which was my first year of music school, my first drive down to the university with all my necessities: clothes, toiletries, amp, & guitar. I packed my newly purchased '62 ES125t in the trunk with it's airport quality case. I arrive at the dorms nice and early so I can get an evening of last minute practice before my audition. I unpack, get settled in, and in the late afternoon grab a bit of vending machine coffee before my practice session.

    Open up the case....broken headstock. I never hit any big bumps on the way down, was delicate carrying the case, and can't recall hearing the snap.

    Walk into the audition the next day "um, sir, I don't have a guitar." Luckily, there was a spare Benedetto around and I passed just fine.

    Then the next weekend drove 12 hours round trip to get my Les Paul Studio. To my stepdad's credit (he was a carpenter) he did a heck of a job fixing that headstock at some point in the semester too. The Les Paul is still in tact, haha.

  19. dr_tom

    dr_tom Tele-Meister

    Sep 21, 2013
    My Rickenbacker 360 has gone down a bunch of times and I've never had a problem.

  20. jd53

    jd53 TDPRI Member

    Dec 29, 2011
    I've been playing Les Paul's and SGs since the 70s. The one rule I've followed is to never put the guitar on a stand, always back in the case. I hate strap locks but have switched to PRS strap lugs and they seem secure.

    I've never had a break but I've seen them happen, if you drop it, if the stand is knocked over, it's done.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2017

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