Broken tuner screws - help!


Hi All,

as I was trying to install some vintage-style Gotoh tuners into a maple neck for a tele I`m building, a couple of the tuner screws broke, leaving most of the screw in the wood. The part of the screw is below the level of the wood surface. I did drill pilots (3/64") to the correct, carefully measured depth and wasn`t applying much force, after lubricating the screws with some soap. I`ve installed numerous tuners and never had this happen, ever. Does anyone have any advice for removing the broken screws? I`d prefer not to drill them out and fill the holes with maple dowels, but do I have any choice? After spending the better part of 2 hours doing prep, measuring 20 times, drilling pilots and all the rest I`m pretty pissed with myself.

Boy, This is a tough one,  can you approach from an angle that will be covered by the tuner? if so you may be able to excavate it out that way

Here's another idea, it will be your call of course.  glue the screw head in place so it looks normal, then glue the tuner in place.  alls you need to do is prevent the tuner form slipping or spining.    If the glue breaks loose, it will probably be when you are tuning the string.

Maybe a whole different set of tuners, ones which have the screw in different locations, and  will cover the boo boo.

Would love to see before and after pics, 
There are several ways to xtrack these broken screws. First wait until you calm down. If you have a dremel tool with attachments and a small set of screw xtractors the job will be fairly easy. Since the remaining portion of the screws are below the surface take your dremel tool and find one of the grinding stones, cutting dies, or sanding drum (paper) that you can use to level the top part of the broken screw. Try to get the surface of the broken as level as possible, take a small center punch and place in directly in the center of the broken screw and lightly tap it with a small hammer, then drill a small hole in the middle of the broken screw the size the screw extractor calls for then back the screw out. The second way to do this operation is to take a small center punch and place it close to the outside of the screw from the center then lightly tap (not Happy Gilmore  tap)  it out. If this works just back it out enough to grab it with a small (tiny) pair of channel locks and back it out just make sure that the tools don't touch the wood. Good luck with your choice.  :hello2:
Hi Guys,

thanks for the suggestions. I have a couple of Dremels and a bunch of attachments, but no Xtractors. Do screw extractors come in a small enough size to extract what are essentially #2 wood screws? The external core diameter on these guys is 5/64" and I haven`t ever seen anything to extract that small a screw. I can`t get at the top of the broken screws without taking some wood away,  as they are ~2mm below the surface of the wood. Drilling a hole in a 5/64" diameter screw will take a drill bit I don`t possess, assuming one exists that small to drill metal. I might have a 1/32" bit somewhere. Your suggestions are really good, I just don`t know if tools exist to work at that small a scale.

This is without a doubt the last time I use nickel-plated screws. It`s stainless every time from now on. I guess I`ll be going to Rockler tomorrow to see what they have and what they might be able to order.

thanks again,



There is one, and only ONE way to effectively remove the screws broken below grade.

First of all, the screw is in there because its TIGHT to begin with, so the extractor is not going to do much, as it took a full slot on the head to break it clean off instead of moving the threads.

Here's how to fix it.

Go down to the local hobby shop, but also, welding supply places have similar.  Get some steel tubing that is "just bigger" than the body of the screw.  Now take your dremel, or a hand file, and make some nice even, and sharp, V notches in the end of the tubing. Cut about an inch of the tubing (with the notches on the end) and place it in a crank drill.  Now drill over the end of the broken screw - in the same direction you want to turn the screw.  Go slow, light pressure and remove wood a bit at a time.  Soon, the screw will come out, with a little wooden plug too.  Now, go back down to the hobby shop get some small maple dowel, and plug the hole.  When the glue is dry, redrill it.  And try again.  You'll not see "the repair" because the tuner and screw head cover it.

This is the only way... trust me trust me trust me.

My reference is Frank Ford:

I've used this method myself on several used guitars I've gotten, that had broken tuner screws.  In every case, it worked flawlessly.
OMG CB- Genious idea,
I cant believe i didn't think of that. Yeh the hobby shops will have some small diameter tubing, with thin walls, but still rigid enough to bore down far enough to get it out. you may as well grab the dowell at the same time, should be the outside diameter of the tubing.
No make a second trip for the dowel, its the punishment for breaking the screw in the first place.

As for genius idea, I give credit to Frank Ford, arguable the best guitar-smith on the planet.  He's not a luthier.  Luthiers make guitars.  He mends them.

Frank is also a great guy, a real gem of a human being.
-CB- said:
No make a second trip for the dowel, its the punishment for breaking the screw in the first place.

Ok, I digress, Make the trip LOL  CB sometimes your funny :laughing7:
This is where the complete freakin n00b comes in here and says.... .uh.. well the first time i ever tried it (about 4 horus ago) it worked perfectly. and I didn't measure... and the drill bit i used wasn't designed for my dremel, it was too small and i had to wrap tape around it before i put it in the chuck for a good fit. and i just kinda held the neck with one hand and drilled the drills with the machine heads on the headstock.... 

i probably did it totally wrong... and it worked perfectly.... sorry if that makes me an ass lol.

I'm not bragging, im just amazed at how well its turning out.
Nigel I'm just checking back to see if you removed the broken screws and if you did how did you do it. The reason for the way that I said to do it is because you didn't want to drill them out and use a maple dowel. I don't like to use them either because it doesn't feel right and no matter if they are hidden they are still there. The way that you described how that they broke my first thought was that something was wrong with the metal in the screws(air pocket) back in the 60's I worked for Vermont America making screws and bolts so I saw my share of faulty material. Of course if the screws were broken from excessive force then most of the time you will have to bring out the drill and dowel.
Hi stuck in the sixties,

first of all thanks for all the tips and suggestions. I very, very carefully attempted to extract the screws, but as soon as I drilled into the screw body with a 1/32" hardened bit the remainder of each of the screws spun down to the bottom of the pilot holes within seconds. So much for them being stuck. No doubt the soap did it`s job, albeit too late to help. If only someone made a left-handed 1/32" drill bit I`d have used that, but of course no-one does that I can find. The ease with which the remainder of the screw spun down to the bottom of the pilot holes leaves me feeling that the screws were faulty, but I can`t be certain. At this point I`ll take "operator error" as the reason and move along.

So, I`m stuck with the very good suggestion that CB made and the technique I didn`t want to use at the outset. I cannot find steel tubing anywhere locally (just what the heck is a "hobby shop"), but have some brass tubing. I see that Frank Ford uses brass tubing (as a one-shot deal) to make some small dowels on his Fret-com website. so I`ll try using it in some scrap maple and see how it works.

At this point I`ve been putting off doing this as long as I can, but I guess this week will be the week. I`ll see if I can bring myself to take photos of the carnage.

I came across this problem 3 years ago when i owned a sailboat with a lot of beautiful teak.  There is a tool made especially for this.  I bought it at a place i think was called hamilton marine,75.htm I think is their website but i ordered out of a paper catalog.  it is a special bit you buy for a drill--must get the right size for the screw--they can help you with that.  I believe you just put it in your drill clockwise until it locks on, then you reverse it and it comes out neat as s _ _ t.  I did this on a number of old brass screws that broke off in my teak when I replaced hinges, etc. 

In fact, i am going to order another size to get the whammy bar stub out of my strat--its been in there for 20 years--for the first 2 years I replaced the block 3 times, then read that the bar is the first thing EC throws away when he gets a new strat--so I followed suit.  never liked the strat whammy anyway--always liked the Jmaster better.

have a look on the Hamilton website--maybe you can get their phone number and give them a call.  Boats use these thingz for all sized screws--small ones like you need all the way up to broken deck screws.



Nice, but this link has even smaller sizes that guitar folks might find better suited!
I had this same problem recently, and I couldn't find the correct size steel tubing. So my Dad, being the genius that he is, simply took the metal tip off of a ball-point pen ink cartridge, and it was the PERFECT SIZE. We didn't even have to use maple dowel, that's how perfect it was; exactly the size we would need our original "pilot hole" to be.

If any of you can't find the steel tubing, LOOK FOR A PEN!

CB is dead-on - you just have to do the right thing.... I haven't broken screws or stripped their heads lately due to meticulous waxing, and buying a NEW #0 Phillips-head screwdriver every few years after sharpening the old ones - I still haven't found a really high-grade, tool steel screwdriver, even the good ones are cheap if you know what I mean. The other big thing you can do in the FUTURE is to use the right-size drill bit, i.e. a #49 wire-sized bit. It's bigger than  1/16" and smaller than 5/64" and the screws that Warmoth sells glide right in (with wax) yet grab well. I bought a dozen of the bits so if anyone wants one, send me a couple of bucks and your worries will be over. At least those worries.... :laughing7: You can get 'em cheap on Ebay (but pay $3 postage), or any decent hardware store can order you one too.