Photo 8a

Leather laces. I love to work on my guitars. Whether I’m trying out one of the projects from Dirk Wacker’s Mod Garage column or finding new ways to hot-rod a guitar, there’s always an instrument on the workbench. But one thing has bugged me for a long time: I hate gripping metal hardware with metal tools. The potential for scraping a potentiometer when you’re de-soldering its lugs, or scratching the sides of a Tune-o-matic bridge when you’re filing saddle slots, is just too great.

If you play clubs, surely you’ve heard the “turn it down” refrain, usually delivered by the manager or an irate bartender.

Ah, sweet relief. Leather laces—the kind found in heavy-duty work and hiking boots—can prevent metal-on-metal contact. Just master tying a slipknot (Photo 8a) and you’ll be in business. Whenever you need to protect a part, simply sling a leather slipknot over each of the tool’s gripping surfaces, pull the knots tight, and voilà—you have padded jaws. This can work with vise grips and bench vises (Photo 8b), pliers, wrenches, clamps, and other gripping tools. You can buy 12 feet of this handy stuff for less than $8. It’s thick enough to stand up to a cranked vise and tough enough to last years. Rawhide rules!

Photo 8b

“Paid my dues” bracelet. If you’re into declaring your guitar-tribe affiliation in a subtle way, here’s an idea you might like. Collect the ball ends from all those used strings you toss out each year—including bass strings—and make a bracelet that other guitarists will instantly recognize.

The cost is minimal. Other than the ball ends (start saving them now), you’ll need a roll of 1 mm elastic cord. This diameter threads perfectly through the ball ends of guitar strings, regardless of manufacturer. You can buy this stretchy stuff at hobby shops and online—98 yards cost me $7. That’s a lifetime supply.

Photo 9a

Additional tools and materials? Measuring tape, scissors, a wire cutter to snip the ball ends from the windings, a tool to hold the ball end still while you snip, and a white grease pencil (Photo 9a).

Start by measuring your wrist (if you like your bracelet a bit loose, add 1/4" to this number). Now add 6"—this total is how much you’ll need to cut from the roll of elastic cord.

Use wire cutters to snip the ball ends from the strings. A small hex wrench inserted into the ball end works great to hold it steady while you snip it free from the winding.

Photo 9b

With the grease pencil, mark the cord 3" from each end. At one end, make a single knot at the 3" mark—this will be a backstop for the ball ends you’ll be threading onto the cord from the other end (Photo 9b). Slip the ball ends onto the string until you reach the second white mark.

Tip: I suggest turning to bass strings for the final two ball ends. Their larger holes will slip over the final knot, covering it.

Photo 9c

Now grip the 3" ends, pull the cord semi-tight, and tie a square knot to hold the bracelet together. Snip off the extraneous cord, but leave a little at each end of the square knot—1/8" works great. Push the ball ends over the square knot, slip the bracelet on, and admire your work (Photo 9c). Wear it proudly—each ball end signifies hours of playing time. (Paid my dues!) This handmade bracelet makes a great gift for other guitarists in your life.

Gathering enough ball ends for a bracelet can take a year, depending on how much you play and how many guitars are in your petting zoo. (To help you estimate how many old strings you’ll need to collect to make a bracelet, six ball ends—one string change—equals about 3/4" when laid side-by-side.) Of course, you can accelerate the process by petitioning your guitar-playing friends—and even local techs or repair shops—for old strings. Then you’ll need to change the bracelet name to “paid our dues,” but that’s tribal too, right?