How to Solder
Soldering is a core skill in modifying guitar
electronics. No matter how imaginative your designs are, if you do
a job improperly you are going to inevitably end up with at least a bad
ground (buzzzzzz!) if you get any sound out of your guitar at all.
The following tips are to start you on the right track.
A lot of people (myself included!)
make one very common mistake in soldering. You would assume that,
because the solder melts so nicely when you touch it to the iron, that's
the way you go about it. WRONG!!! This is going to leave you
with cold solder joints.
A cold solder joint is a phrase with a
double meaning: 1) it describes a connection that no current flows through
(where "cold" = opposite of "hot") and 2) one that was formed by improperly
applying the hot soldering iron. Even if a connection is made, the
solder tends to just appear "blob"-like, and it will likely break if any
torque is applied. That means that even a "working" connection may
not be by the time you re-assemble your guitar let alone while you're in
the middle of a solo at a gig!
The proper way to solder
is counter-intuitive: You apply the soldering iron to the metal, then
add the solder to that without touching it to the solder iron. The
solder will magically wrap around all the hot metal and form a conductive
skin across the surface of every component it touches.
Do NOT: Apply the solder to the iron
and then dribble it onto the connection you want to fix.
Tip: Purchase a proper stand for your
soldering iron if it didn't come with one. Stands like the one pictured
here are sold for ~$6 at Radio Shack. They are much safer than the
little wire ring that many inexpensive irons come with and leave the tip
exposed for you to burn your sleeves on (I did!).
Tip: Keep the tip of the iron clean
(most stands have a sponge for this purpose) and, when soldering, apply
the broad side of the tip, not an edge. The more contact you make
with the metal, the more heat will conduct. Similarly, make certain
the components you are soldering are clean! A thin layer of grease
or oil is common on many components (even if they're relatively old) and
can impede joining the solder no matter how hot you make it!
Tip: Use a thin gauge of solder.
You can always feed more of it into a joint, but a thick gauge will be
difficult to get into a tight space.
Tip: Get a multimeter with a continuity
test. A continuity test is generally a continuous beep when you have
a working connection. This is indispensable when you are soldering
as it lets you know that you are making good connections. If you
happen to have a cold joint somewhere, a multimeter will allow you to find
and address it. (I had an earlier version to the one at the left;
This will set you back $30 unless you happen to catch it on sale, but you'll
find a million uses for it!)
Tip: Be patient! The standard
low-wattage soldering iron will do any job described on these pages, but
it may take a little time to get the components hot enough to melt the
solder. This is because the components draw the heat away almost
as fast as the iron delivers it. No big deal, okay?
Do NOT: Crank up the heat on a high
wattage soldering iron. You can end up frying the components, particularly
if you have active electronics (e.g., a preamp). Use a heat sink
if you are doing a job that could result in damage to more sensitive components.
Tip: Another helpful tool is a small,
adjustable vice like this one I found this one at Wal-mart. The head
pivots and locks in place to firmly hold small components at the angle
you desire, freeing your hands to manipulate the soldering iron, solder,
wire, and other tools. Also, it has a suction base (activated by
the lever) to keep you from knocking it over while you have a hot iron
If I left anything
out, please feel free to email me.