No, Not that Hollywood

This is holly wood. That's not the same as saying "THIS IS HOLLYWOOD" a whole different thing. This is the stuff they glue to the front of the headstock that gets painted black and gets the inlays. It splits real easy as I found out yesterday.

I work on the guitars I get fairly routinely. I don’t do big stuff like structural repairs or pickup winding but I can resolder a jack or swap out parts and do a setup. I’ve gotten pretty used to working on very expensive guitars and i don’t get too scared of doing anything stupid. I don’t drill holes for any reason. I don’t mess with paint or lacquer. I don’t do fret work. I spend a ridiculous amount of time filing and reslotting saddles because that can make a huge difference in the tone and I like the get the relief just right, so I usually adjust the truss rod as well. It’s generally pretty easy stuff and, unless a screwdriver slips, I can’t do much damage. And I never have…until today. No, I didn’t drop it or smack it into the doorframe and break the headstock-nothing so dramatic. In fact the action that caused the problem was so slight that I’m still scratching my head over it. I was working on a very nice stoptail 64 ES-335. It had once had Grovers and now had a set of Klusons with those big oversize adapter bushings. I figured I would swap out those bushings for a set that looked like the originals but still filled the larger shaft hole. Some of them were a little tight, so I took off the tuners and popped the bushings out with a mallet and small dowel (it was actually a half a chopstick). I’m sure Stew-Mac gets $19 for one of those. Anyway, the bushings popped right out and the new ones went right in. No problemo. Then all I had to do was screw the tuners back in. I noticed the screws didn’t look original-they looked very slightly too long but thought nothing of it since they worked fine for however many years those Klusons were back on. So, I started screwing the tuners back in place. I don’t like loose tuners, so I generally tighten them down pretty securely. Then it happened. I was tightening the “B” tuner and the screw wouldn’t quite go all the way in easily. Well, I knew the screw wasn’t going to go through the front of the headstock-it wasn’t that long and I turned with a bit of force to get that last thread in. I hear a pop. Not a snap or a crackle. Just a pop. “Oh, shit…what did I do.” The headstock wasn’t cracked. But I heard something. I turned the guitar over and I saw that there was a hairline fracture in the face of the headstock. If you aren’t aware of this-and I’ve never written about it-the face of the headstock has a thin veneer of holly wood over the mahogany-presumably because holly is a tight grained wood that takes the black paint well. Mahogany has open grain and needs to be filled before you can get a smooth finish on it. Anyway, holly is fairly brittle and splits easily. Apparently the screw was just long enough to reach the holly and cause it to split. It’s very thin and very old. The good news is that the crack is in no way structural. The neck or headstock isn’t weakened at all by this but the lesson is clear. With apologies to Dylan Thomas, do go gentle into that good guitar.

There it is...well that knocks off about $500. Just for tightening one teeny screw. Crap.

6 Responses to “No, Not that Hollywood”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, that’s a bummer but, as you note, a lesson well-learned! I’ve noticed too that some screws holding on Kluson tuners are not original tuner screws nor original to the guitar and, as you commented, not tuner screws at all. I work to replace those when I encounter them. I’ve seen a couple instances where the too-long screw pokes a small hole right through the holly wood overlay…

  2. OK Guitars says:

    That’s pretty much what happened and I should know better. The screws were the correct type but perhaps 3 or 4 threads longer. I even measured them against the side of the headstock and with the depth of the tuner housing they didn’t look like a problem. Fortunately, it isn’t structural. I could probably touch it up but I’ll leave that to the next owner. Better I crack a headstock veneer than a headstock, I guess. The “pop” was so loud, I thought I had split the headstock from one end to the other.

  3. RAB says:

    Ouch! No fun!

  4. Steve Newman says:

    So sorry for the bad luck! Only thing worse is when someone has “home installed” a set of Grover tuners and uses whatever small screws happen to be in the bottom of the toolbox and actually splits off the small “wing” section that is on each side of the headstock. I’ve seen this happen and repaired this issue on a ’62 Les Paul SG and a late ’69 LP Goldtop.

  5. OK Guitars says:

    You should see the way some of them enlarge the shaft holes. I swear somebody used a nail file on one I had. Or a butter knife.

  6. ty millsaps says:

    ferrules(forced in,too tight)will cause headstock to separate/crack at wing seams when tuner screws are installed with screw on seam line!…learned from experience!!…

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