Learn to solder like a pro in this easy-to-follow demonstration.
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.
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).
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.
There are tools sold specifically for holding wires and parts, available through an electronics supply house.
Step 1: Prepare the Joint
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.
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.
Step 2: Clean the Tip
Photo 5 — Wipe the hot tip with a damp sponge to keep it clean.
The tip must be cleaned before each and every joint—you can use the damp sponge for this (Photos 5 and 6).
Photo 6 — A clean, dross-free tip looks smooth and shiny.
Solder produces a by-product called dross very, very quickly, and the dross fouls the tip, preventing good heat conduction and introducing waste material into your solder joints.
Step 3: Tin the Tip
Photo 7 — Add a small amount of solder to a freshly cleaned tip just before you solder a connection. When you see this telltale puff of smoke, pull the strand of solder off the tip, shake off any excess, and then move quickly to the joint.
Immediately before you get on the joint with the heat, add fresh solder to the tip of the iron to “tin” it. Simply feed solder directly onto the tip so it’s completely coated (Photo 7). A tinned tip will provide much better heat conduction than a tip that’s clean but not tinned.
Step 4: Remove the Excess Solder
Shake off the excess solder after tinning—you want the tip coated, but not dripping. I have a fire-resistant container beside my soldering bench, and after tinning I tap the barrel of my iron on the edge of the container to knock excess molten solder into it. You can use any fire-resistant container for this, such as a tin can or ceramic bowl, but use care not to start a fire. Because solder melts at such a low temperature the risk of a fire is very low—molten solder is unlikely to ignite even highly flammable materials like paper—but use care anyway!
Step 5: Get on the Joint Right Away
As soon as you’ve removed the excess solder from the tip, get right on the joint. By “joint,” I mean the wire and the solder lug, or the wire and the back of the pot, or whatever it is you’re soldering. Dross will start to form on the tip very quickly, so as soon as the tip is prepared, get to work.
Step 6: Heat the Joint
Photo 8 — Gently press the iron’s hot tip against the joint to heat it before you bring the solder into the equation. The goal is to make the joint itself hot enough to melt the solder.
Heat the joint, not the solder (Photo 8). You want the joint to be hot enough to melt the solder. It’s a given that the iron is hot enough to melt it—just feed a little onto the tip and you’ll see—but you also want the joint itself to be hot enough to do the same.
Photo 9 — While holding the tip against the joint, feed the solder onto the heated joint, not the soldering iron tip. Here the emerging puff of smoke indicates the solder is melting.
If you feed solder onto the joint without it touching the iron (Photo 9), the solder will melt and be attracted right to the joint. You can watch the solder actually wick out onto the surface you’re soldering to—this is what you want.
Step 7: Get off the Joint
As soon as the solder has flowed onto the joint properly, remove the heat from the joint. Most components can stand a fair amount of heat, but some are more susceptible to damage than others, so there’s no need to push your luck. Pots are fairly durable (unless it’s a cheap pot), so it’s highly unlikely you’ll damage one by trying to solder a wire to its back. But again, there’s no need to push your luck, so as soon as you’ve completed the joint, pull the iron away and let the joint cool with the components remaining motionless.
Photo 10 — When the molten solder has flowed into the joint, pull away both the solder and iron. Keep the joint motionless as it cools and don’t blow on it—the moisture in your breath will enter the cooling connection and potentially cause it to fail.
If you’re soldering to a ring-shaped solder lug, then you’ll want to fill it completely with solder (Photo 10). This will maximize the mechanical strength of the joint.
Like most skills, soldering proficiency is acquired through practice. Employing good technique will allow you to become competent all the more quickly, so follow these steps, and you’ll be soldering like a pro in no time. You should probably practice on projects that aren’t expensive or mission critical—you might want to think twice about rewiring your only guitar before that gig with Clapton tonight. But if you keep at it, you’ll be one step closer to being a consummate DIY’er.
Two Ways to Improve Your Soldering Projects
After you master the basics, there are two more skills to add to your bag of tricks: removing old solder and installing heat shrink tubing. There are plenty of occasions where you’ll wish you could remove old solder and re-use a part. For example, you might have rescued a volume or tone pot from a previous mod or project. If it’s a high-quality pot, like those from CTS, why toss it and buy a new replacement when you can put the old one back into service? It’s easy to reverse the soldering process and remove old solder and bits of wire. You simply need a solder removal tool. There are several types, including disposable braided wire that’s designed to wick molten solder away from a joint, and various vacuum pump tools and “solder suckers.” I prefer a simple rubber bulb with a heat-resistant Teflon tip.
Here’s how it works: Stabilize your component, in this case, a pot (Photo 11). See how one lug is filled with solder? Let’s make that go bye-bye. Apply heat to the lug with a freshly cleaned soldering-iron tip.
When you see the solder turn shiny and molten, hold the bulb away from the lug, squeeze and hold the bulb, and then bring its tip to the lug and release the bulb. Fffffft! The molten solder goes up the tip and into the bulb (Photo 12).
Look at that—a nice clean lug ready for its next mission (Photo 13).
Tip:It’s good to recycle pots and parts, but never try to reuse old solder. Clean it off and start fresh.
In case you’re wondering what happens to the old solder, every few months you simply work the tip out of the bulb, shake the collected cold solder beads into the trash, and reinsert the tip into the bulb. Good to go.
When you’re working with wire and electronics, you’ll often encounter instances where you need to insulate a connection from other wires or components. For example, you want to install a favorite old pickup into another guitar. However, the pickup leads have been cut back over the years and now they won’t reach the intended switch or pot, which means it’s time to splice short extensions to the pickup leads. No problem, except if the exposed wires touch each other or other components, they’ll create a short and you’ll hear only silence (or an annoying hum).
Electrical tape will do the job to insulate the splices, but heat shrink tubing—aka heat shrink—offers a more elegant solution. To make this work, you’ll need a heat source. Some folks use a lighter, but I prefer a heat gun because I like to avoid open flame in my workshop. Heat guns aren’t expensive and they get the job done efficiently and safely.
The details: Designed to slide over wire of different gauges, heat shrink comes in various diameters. After you select the right diameter to comfortably slip over your wire, cut off a piece that will straddle the solder splice or joint you plan to cover. The pros suggest a length that’s about three times as long as the exposed section. Use hemostats or a clamp to temporarily hold the ends together while you gauge the length you’ll need to cut (Photo 14).
Next, remove the clamp, slide the heat shrink over one end of the wire (keep it far away from your hot iron) and solder the wires. When the solder has cooled, slip the heat shrink over the new joint, center it, and fire up the heat gun. The tubing will start to immediately contract around the joint (Photo 15). Don’t worry, air from the heat gun doesn’t get hot enough to compromise the solder joint. Once the tubing has completely closed up around the wire, you’re done. The joint now has a tough, new skin to protect it. —Andy Ellis
- Three Must-Try Guitar Wiring Mods - Premier Guitar ›
- The ABCs of Output Jacks - Premier Guitar ›
- The Stompbox-Builder's Secret Weapon - Premier Guitar ›
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.