Fig. 1. Strap buttons come in an amazing array of shapes and sizes.
For most performers, it’s essential that a guitar has strap buttons (Fig. 1). Though many guitars come with strap buttons already installed, some don’t. If you have a guitar without strap buttons and want to install them, the good news is it’s a straightforward job—if you know the correct procedures.
There are two critical considerations: The first is to find the right location. If strap buttons are installed incorrectly, your guitar won’t balance well when you play standing up. The second consideration is to be very careful when installing a button on the neck heel—you can crack it. So, using both an acoustic and an electric guitar to illustrate the process, let’s find out how to do this right and avoid those potential problems.
Our instruments. Recently, a client brought in two guitars: a Larrivée OM-03 Vintage Sunburst and a 2002 Gibson SG Supreme. The Larrivée already had an endpin, but it lacked a strap button. The owner wanted me to install one so he could stand when playing onstage. For the SG Supreme, he wanted me to replace the stock buttons with a set of locking devices, so he could safely rock out with his band. For the Larrivée, we decided on a standard nickel-plated strap button and felt washer from Allparts; for the SG Supreme, we chose Schaller Security Locks.
One caveat. My client wondered if adding a strap button would devalue his acoustic. On most modern flattops, a correctly installed strap button won’t devalue the instrument (two exceptions are high-end vintage guitars or classical guitars). A strap button is useful for working musicians, and most guitar manufacturers will offer to install one before the guitar leaves the factory. Another reason to add a strap button to an acoustic is that tying a strap around the headstock (the old-school approach) can damage the finish, and in some cases, add unnecessary pressure to the neck joint. There’s a lot of debate about this. Most collectors would never want anything installed on a guitar that was not considered original, so if you have a vintage axe keep this in mind.
Fig. 2. (left) To install a strap button on the treble side of a flattop’s neck heel, you need to take two measurements. One is the distance down from the fretboard. Fig. 3. (right) The second measurement is the distance away from the body.
Selecting the location. Let’s begin with the acoustic. The first step is to decide where to install the strap button. For the Larrivée, I determined that the best location was on the treble side of the neck heel about 1 1/4" below the top of the fretboard (Fig. 2) and about 1 1/2" out from the body (Fig. 3). I selected this spot for balance and structural integrity: This placement will keep the guitar from leaning away from you when you play, and this part of the neck heel is very stout, so you won’t have to worry about cracking the heel—assuming the button is installed correctly, as we’ll discuss in a moment.
Fig. 4. Mark the strap button’s location by pressing the screw tip into the wood.
Once you’ve made these two measurements and located their intersection, mark it. You can mark the location using a pencil or gently press the strap button screw into the heel (Fig. 4).
Tip: If you use a screw to mark the drilling location, be careful not to slip—you could scratch the heel.
Selecting the drill bit. The goal is to drill a hole that’s slightly smaller than the outside diameter of the screw. If you use a drill bit that’s too big, the screw will strip the wood and the button will not hold properly. Most strap button screws are relatively close in size, but they do vary depending on the manufacturer. Make sure you measure both the threads and the screw shaft so you know what size drill bit to use.
For example: The outside diameter (including threads) of my strap-button screw was 9/64", and the shaft (without threads) was about 7/64" in diameter. By choosing a 7/64" bit, I left enough wood for the screw to tap (or thread) itself into the heel without damaging it.