Photo 1 — The essentials: a low-watt soldering iron, a stand, a small damp sponge, and a roll of “electronic silver solder” like this .020" 60/40 tin/lead rosin flux solder from Kester.

Given the DIY nature of this issue, we thought it would be appropriate to address good soldering technique. If you’re willing to invest a few bucks in some modest tools and spend a little time practicing the basics, you can learn to wire up guitars, stomp kits, speaker cabinets, and even do some simple amp mods. Once you understand the fundamentals, you can save money and derive a lot of satisfaction from working on your own gear.

The tools. You’ll want a decent soldering pencil (a small type of soldering iron) rated at least 25 watts, but no more than 60 watts. (Many guitar techs like a 30-watt soldering iron for working on guitars and amps, and a 15-watt iron for working inside stompboxes and on delicate printed circuit boards.) You’ll also want a stand to hold the hot iron when not in use, a damp sponge, and some rosin core solder made for electronic work (Photo 1).

Photo 2 — If your soldering stand doesn’t house a sponge, just put a damp household sponge in a glass or ceramic dish. Other helpful tools: a hemostat and small clamps to hold parts still as you solder them, and a “solder sucker” bulb for removing solder.

You should also have some basic hand tools, such as wire strippers, needle-nose pliers, wire cutters, and something to hold the wire in place while a solder joint cools (Photos 2 and 3). There are tools sold specifically for holding wires and parts, available through an electronics supply house.

Photo 3 — In addition to hook-up wire, you’ll want wire strippers. Alternatively, luthier suppliers offer old-school “push-back” wire with a waxed cotton jacket (center) that eliminates the need for stripping off the plastic insulation from the end of the wire. Electrical tape and heat shrink tubing come in handy when you need to protect or insulate your work.

Step 1: Prepare the Joint
For every joint, you need to find a way to hold the wire in position without using your hands (Photo 4). Wrap the wire through the solder lug once to make it hold tightly on its own, use tape to hold it in place, lay a pair of pliers on the wire to hold it firmly where you want it, or use a mechanical soldering aid to hold it. Use whatever works, except holding the wire manually. When you make a solder connection and rely on your hands to hold the soldered wire steady while the joint cools, you will fail—no human hands are steady enough to hold anything perfectly still, and you want the wire to remain absolutely motionless while it cools. If there is movement, the result will be internal fractures in the solder.

Photo 4 — Before you attempt to solder a connection, the wire and component must be secured to assure they remain absolutely motionless. Here, a spring-loaded heat-sink clamp holds the wire in place while a vice grip gently clamps
the pot shaft.