Learning to properly solder guitar wiring and electronics, setting up a workbench

Discussion in 'Luthiery, Modifications & Customizations' started by AwakenTheSkies, Jan 13, 2021.

  1. AwakenTheSkies

    AwakenTheSkies SS.org Regular

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    Hello guys,

    I had attempted this before with a cheap soldering iron and holding the guitar on my knees. Obviously it would always go grey, not shiny and looked a bit sketchy so I gave up and took the guitar to a tech to do it for me. The result: expensive as f*ck bill and after a year the pots are failing again. I'm super pissed. Not only this but I'm super broke too and I can't afford to take my guitar to a tech.

    I'd rather invest in a table & proper soldering iron and learn how to do it myself, with patience and practice. What should I get guys? What type of soldering iron? What type of solder? Should I get something to hold the guitar neck up on the table? Any videos or instructions that you keep coming back to for soldering?

    Thank you
     
  2. CM_X5

    CM_X5 SS.org Regular

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    Hakko FX-888D, I've used a lot of cheaper options but having a nice temperature controlled iron and a nice wedge tip makes a huge difference. Also someone might argue with this but I prefer leaded solder and it's way easier to work with as a beginner. Just make sure you have good ventilation. Also get some good flux, I've been using a paste flux from MG Chemicals that works great but it's a sticky mess if you use too much.
     
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  3. mastapimp

    mastapimp SS.org Regular

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    As someone that solders electronics fairly regularly, I can give you some advice.

    At my office, we use Metcal/OKi soldering stations and tips. These are probably out of your budget, but they are very reliable and the irons heat up instantly and self regulate their temperature. You can get a cheap Weller or a Hakko which may be a bit clunkier, but can get the job done. The more surface area on the tip, the better it will handle bigger heat sinks. Like the other post mentions, a wedge tip is a good choice, especially for guitar work.

    Solder with lead in it is always superior and will reflow easier, but there's environmental concerns with discarded electronics. You can work around this with a decent flux (i use some generic liquid flux with activated rosin most often with copper, specialty flux for stainless). Use the flux sparingly and you'll get a nice clean solder joint that's shiny, like you mentioned earlier. Decent solder by Kester with a rosin core is what I use at work most often, but I still use liquid flux here and there to help get the job done. Some specialty fluxes can be corrosive, so read the instructions carefully about handling and cleanup. I generally clean up excess flux after soldering as a habit.

    If you're doing this stuff in a garage or out in the open with good ventilation, you're probably fine. At my lab, we use a fume extractor with charcoal filters that do a decent job.

    A good set of heavy duty tweezers/needle nose pliers are also a must. You don't want to burn your fingertips holding something in place while you reheat solder or place a wire.

    The last thing I'll mention for keeping things neat and tidy is heat shrink tubing. You may end up with a soldering station with a built in heat gun that'll do the job for applying the heat shrink.

    I get by with just putting my guitar on a few towels on a nice flat work area and I only solder things once or twice a year, so I've never had a need for any kind of special gear to hold the neck in place.

    Good luck!
     
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  4. aesthyrian

    aesthyrian SS.org Regular

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    If you're just soldering guitars and small stuff I use a Weller WLC100 and it works fantastic. Pretty affordable too.
     
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  5. AwakenTheSkies

    AwakenTheSkies SS.org Regular

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    Thank you for the great advice everyone!

    Thank you, I will look into buying a Weller or a Hakko since some of those seem to be popular and affordable. Should I get a third hand or helping hand to hold things in place? Any good place to order from in Europe? Or just Amazon?
     
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  6. mastapimp

    mastapimp SS.org Regular

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    Depends on what you'r'e doing...if you're just installing pickups and soldering to the pots that are already screwed in, you can get by without a vise. If you're making your own cable or soldering to parts removed from cavities, a vise may help. I use a vise for small PCBs and eval boards at work that have lots of tiny surface mount parts, but I can't remember needing one for any of my pickup swaps or hardware installs.

    I'm in the USA so I can't really recommend any European retailers. We use PanaVise products at my work, i'm sure you could find them on Amazon.
     
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  7. Karg

    Karg SS.org Regular

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    Try investing in a 10 dollar bottle of electrical contact cleaner to see if it fixes your pots.
     
  8. AwakenTheSkies

    AwakenTheSkies SS.org Regular

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    Maybe it will, but I will have to learn to solder guitar wiring & electronics eventually, it's inevitable. There's no way I'm going to keep paying the techs a ton of money for something that I don't really consider a good job.
     
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  9. Reinholderx

    Reinholderx SS.org Regular

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    I'm in Australia so been in an out of various lockdowns for the best part of 12 months so I've used some of the time to try and learn how to build my own effects. I'd tried a few years back and had trouble with the soldering. I started with a fairly cheap iron (can't even remember the brand) but since I decided to give the building another shot I also decided to spend a bit more and get a 'proper' soldering iron. I got the Hakko 888 I think it's called. It's probably not professional grade but it was a big step up from the no name one and made a huge difference to me. Just being able to control the temperature (and get a consistent temperature) meant not having to hold the iron close to different parts and risk ruining them etc amongst other things.

    I don't have a third hand thing just a pcb holder for what I do. In a pinch I find blutack is pretty handy to hold stuff for a short time (just be careful what you're sticking it on I guess).

    If you're just doing basic running repairs or pickup swaps every now and then I don't think you need too much other than a soldering iron and solder to be honest. When I've done it in the past I've just chucked a towel or something down on a flat surface and used firm-ish cushion/s to support the neck (may not be the most professional but it's worked for me so far).
     
  10. diagrammatiks

    diagrammatiks SS.org Regular

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    the hakko 888
    the xytronics 168
    or a chinese t12 switchmode station are the best budget irons to get.
    weller doesn't make anything in the same price range that's comparable.
    once you have a good iron the rest is just practice.
     

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