Yesterday, we brought our readers an article instructing them on how to either fix or replace an input jack. Not too long ago we gave detailed steps on how to replace pickups on a standard Telecaster. What I’m getting at is that both required the use of a soldering iron and general knowledge of how to operate one. The problem is more often than not, or unless you already work with circuitry, the newer musician has never come across the need to solder until something goes wrong with their gear. Although it’s not all too difficult to learn the technique, inexperienced persons can easily make mistakes that they are probably not even aware of, such as not tinning the tip or the actual placement of the iron. Anyways, if you are a musician who doesn’t mind a little DIY and wants the knowledge to be able to masterfully handle not only the outside of the guitar but the inside as well, then you’re going to have to learn to solder. Good news is that it’s not all that difficult but the bad news is if you do it wrong, you can end up ruining your guitar, but that’s why we have guides! So for all those ready to melt some metal before they melt some faces, read on and check out the proper techniques for soldering.
Alright, before you can go out and solder, you’re going to need a few things. If you’re the kind of player that likes to customize your axe in any way you see fit, then a soldering iron is a great investment because you will undoubtedly be using the tool for any modifications or repairs dealing with circuitry.
Notice the lugs on bottom left
Here’s what you’ll need for most guitar related soldering:
Needle nose pliers
… and some electrical tape won’t hurt either
The first and most obvious thing you will need is a soldering pencil, which is simply a soldering iron with a fine tip. It’s recommended that you not skimp out and get the cheapest soldering iron available, but it doesn’t have to be the best of the best either. Black and Decker or other reputable brands are the best bet since they are usually of pretty good quality and come at a fair price. Although you will need something with at the very least 25 watts of power, 40-60 is recommended since it will make your life much easier when you’re ready to heat some solder. You will also need some common house tools such as needle-nose pliers, wire cutters and wire strippers if you want to make the job a lot easier and of the best quality. And finally, you will need some solder, a damp rag and a place to rest the soldering iron when not in use. Also, it should be said that it is best to be in a work area where you will be standing up, like a workshop bench, for the simple fact that it will make maneuvering your hand with ample precision that much easier.
Preparing the Connection
The most important thing here is to find a way to hold the wire in place without using either of your hands. Before that, get those wire strippers ready to cut the plastic covering off the wire to expose about an inch or so of the metal wiring. Feed it through the eye of the solder lug (see above if you don't know how one looks like) and wrap it around a bit until it holds on its own. Next, you will need to get the wire clamped down so that it doesn’t move at all once the soldering starts. You can use electrical tape or pliers to get this accomplished but just don’t think about using your hands for two reasons; no one’s hands are capable of being absolutely still and secondly, any movement during the 10 to 15 minutes it takes for the solder to cool may cause internal fractures in the solder which ultimately affects the integrity of the joint adversely.
Clean and Tin Your Tip
Alright, now these next two steps are often skipped by less experienced hands but are important if you want to make the best possible connection. The first thing you’ll need to do is clean the tip of the soldering iron as best possible, making sure any noticeable residue is completely removed. Have that damp cloth ready because the tip must be cleaned before each and every joint connection. The reason for this is because solder produces a byproduct known as dross – a mass of solid impurities which floats on molten metal. It is produced pretty quickly and if left on, it can not only ruin the tip causing poor heat conduction, but can also introduce waste material into your connection. Before you go and solder, make sure to tin the tip of your iron, meaning give it a thin coat of solder, but not so much that it begins to drip. The reason for this is because a tinned tip produces much better heat conduction than a clean tip and with soldering, good heat conduction is the name of the game. Remove the excess solder after tinning but remember to dispose of it in a flame resistant container such as a tin can to avoid any accidental burning.
Connect Your Joint
A workplace where you can stand is optimum
Alright, now that you have your tip tinned and your connection held in place, you will have to solder without delay as the dross will form quickly. Start by heating the connection – the point where the wire and the solder lug meet – and not the solder. Essentially, you want the connection to be hot enough to melt the solder without the iron ever having to make contact with the solder. This will ensure that the solder will be attracted to the connection joint and nothing else. If you are working with a ring shaped shoulder lug, make sure it is entirely filled with solder for maximum mechanical strength of the connection. Alright, while the iron is still in contact with the joint, feed the solder to the connection until it properly wicks (like a cone) then immediately remove the heat from the joint. The reason you don’t want to have the iron on too long is because excess heat can damage certain components. For the most part, these components can stand a good amount of heat although some are more prone to damage than others so it’s always better to just not push your luck.
And there you have it, the proper method for soldering! While not at all that difficult, you will need practice before you will be able to solder like a pro, so a good idea is to test out your knowledge on something you can bear to part with instead of, let’s say, your only guitar. With a few tries and proper technique – not to mention avoiding skipping steps – you will be able to completely rewire your guitar in no time!