Being able to carry out basic soldering jobs is an incredibly useful skill to have for all guitarists.
Perhaps you want to switch out your pickups or pots, or maybe you need to repair a broken cable, or you could even be looking into building your own pedals. Learn to do it yourself instead of forking out to have your local guitar tech do it for you!
Luckily, soldering pretty easy to learn, and a suitable kit is very inexpensive to put together. When you consider the cost of say, getting two humbuckers replaced by your local store, a basic kit could pay for itself after just one job.
Let’s look at the equipment you’ll require. As a bare minimum, you will need the following:
- Soldering Iron/Station
- Solder (60/40 Rosin-Core)
- A means to remove old solder, e.g. Desoldering Braid or Solder Sucker
Other toys you might like to pick up are wire strippers, heat sinks, a helping-hand unit, a multimeter, safety goggles and extra wire. The list could go on, but for most people starting out, the equipment I’ve listed above is all you’ll need until you start tackling more advanced jobs.
What are the Best Soldering Irons for Guitar?
When choosing a soldering iron for guitar wiring, it is more important to consider temperature rather than wattage. For example, a budget 40 watt iron may not get as hot as a quality 30 watt model. A higher temperature is important as this will actually help to protect your components. This is because a hotter tip will quickly melt the solder, while a lower temperature iron will slowly melt the solder, and gradually heat everything connected to the point of contact as well. The more time you spend melting solder, the more likely you are to melt plastic wire insulation, overheat your components, or produce defective solder joins.
This isn’t to say that you should buy an uber-expensive, commerical quality iron right off the bat. Higher priced irons are designed to be used by professionals who are soldering on a daily basis. As a guitarist, it’s unlikely you’ll be using your iron every day!
For guitar related soldering jobs I suggest picking up a soldering station, as opposed to the iron on its own. A station gives you a sturdy place to store the iron when not in use, as opposed to the unsafe, flimsy folding stands that come with the cheaper irons.
On top of that, a station usually also comes with variable wattage/temperature control to allow you to use the iron for a variety of jobs. This also allows you to turn the wattage right down in order keep it warm when not in use. Keeping the iron at maximum temperature for longer than necessary will degrade and/or pit the tip.
Weller WLC100 40 Watt Soldering Station
My personal recommendation for a good quality, affordable soldering iron for guitar is the best-selling Weller WLC100 40 Watt Station. Weller is a well-known and trusted name in soldering irons, and at just $40 this really is the best value for money soldering station around.
- Illuminated Power Switch – so that you don’t accidentally leave it powered on
- Built-in Holder – keep the iron safely stored when not being used
- Variable Wattage – 5 to 40 watts
- Sponge Holder – to keep your tip clean
- Beginner Friendly Chisel Style Tip – others are available if needed.
Find out more, and read the glowing reviews at the link below.
Click Here for Info on the Weller WLC100 Station
What Type of Solder Do I Need For Guitar Wiring?
Simple! 60/40 Rosin-core solder is what you’ll need for guitar jobs. This solder is a mix of 60% tin and 40% lead, and has rosin flux in the center to ensure that the solder melts and flows easily and quickly. Smaller diameters (.032″ – .062″) are best for guitar wiring.
Solder Removal Tools
The last essential tool you’ll need is something to remove old solder once it has melted. You’ll need to remove solder for jobs such as swapping out old pickups.
You have a few choices here – the main tools are desoldering braid, desoldering bulbs, or solder suckers. Desoldering braid is held against the heated part, and the melted solder then soaks into the braid. Alternatively, the bulb and the sucker both suck away the molten solder. All methods are viable, and all are very inexpensive.
To pick up all of the gear I’ve listed above should run you roughly $50 – around the price your local guitar tech would charge you to switch out one set of pickups. It’ll have paid for itself in no time at all!
If $50 is more than you’d like to spend, I’ve also included an ‘all-in-one‘ option in the link below which will be fine for occasional jobs.
For working on smaller components such as soldering pots lugs, switch contacts or caps, a more accurate pointed tip is preferred. Chisel style tips are best for situations that require considerable heat, such as when soldering ground wires and braided shield to pot cases.
Tinning The Tip
In order to keep your iron in good working condition you will need to ‘tin‘ the tip every time you turn it on and off. Tinning is simply the process of keeping a shiny layer of solder on the iron tip to prevent it becoming rough or dirty. If you fail to regularly tin your tip it will eventually refuse to accept solder, rendering it virtually useless.
Learning to Solder
Learning to solder is very easy (if I can do it, so can you!), but I couldn’t possibly cover all techniques and jobs in a single article. So when you’re ready, I’d recommend heading over to YouTube and watching a few tutorials so that you can actually see what it is you are supposed to be doing. Start off by watching videos which cover the absolute basics, such as proper soldering techniques and iron maintenance. After that you can progress on to videos which tackle the specific jobs you will be carrying out.
There are literally hundreds of videos covering what you need to know, but here are a couple of good ones to get you started…
- Check out this video for a great introduction to soldering basics.
- Seymour Duncan has some great videos for basic guitar jobs on their blog.
Tips and Tricks
- Dont blow on a joint to cool it faster. This might lead to internal air pockets which may loosen the joint over a period of time
- Only strip as much insulation from wires as is needed. Too much exposed wire can come into contact with other wires, causing issues.
- Heat the connection first. This will aid in preventing air pockets (also known as a ‘cold-joint‘).
- Tin the wire AND contact points before soldering. A thin coating is all that’s needed.
- Protect your guitar with card or rags. If a splash of solder lands on your guitar it will cause instant damage.
- Wear safety glasses. Again, just in case of rogue splashes.
- Work in a well ventilated areas. You don’t want to be breathing in solder fumes or you’ll have a bad time.
And that’s about it folks. Once you’ve mastered the basics of soldering you will potentially save yourself a fortune in guitar tech fees by being able to do these simple jobs yourself. And once you’ve mastered the basics, the world is really your oyster. Build your own pedals, modify your amps, make your own custom cables – have fun!