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Ed's Shed: Intro to Soldering, Part 1 — Required Tools and Safety Tips

In a recent column, I discussed the various reasons your guitar might cut out.

Loose wires, faulty components and other such gremlins raised their ugly little heads.

Rather than sob into your pillow about it, you can sort these problems out—if you know how to solder. Soldering is an essential part of any guitar tweaker’s trick bag. Master the noble art, and you'll be able to install new pickups in your guitar; replace faulty controls, switches and jack sockets. Even custom-build your own cables!

If that sounds good to you, you’ll need to add some new goodies to your tool box (See Photo 1 in the photo gallery below). I’ve included some links in the tool list below. Where you buy your tools in entirely up to you. I just want to make sure you get the right stuff.

Obviously, you need to invest in a soldering iron. Look for a 40-watt soldering iron. That’ll work great for guitar wiring jobs. I would recommend you get a soldering iron holder, too. Most come with a built-in sponge to clean the tip of your iron. That’s important.

You’ll also need a roll of 60/40 rosin core solder and safety glasses. You’ll find a pair in your local hardware store for around $9.

Right. You’ve got the tools and you can’t wait to start joining stuff together. Well, at the risk of being a kill joy, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t talk you through some safety tips first. So don’t plug that soldering iron in just yet.

Heads up: Always wear your safety goggles when soldering (Photo 2). No excuses. Hot solder can "spit" and hit you in the eye. I learned this the hard way; that’s all you need to know. Don’t be as dumb as me. Let’s move on. Work in a well-ventilated area and avoid breathing in solder fumes. That translates as: Open a window and keep your nostrils away from the smoke that rises when you solder stuff.

Don't let the hot bit of the iron touch any part of your anatomy. A soldering iron burn hurts like hell. Keep it away from other people, animals, soft furnishings; basically anything you don’t want covered in burn marks. Remember that it’s not only the tip of the iron that's hot. The iron's shaft is searingly hot too.

Don't let the hot iron touch your guitar's finish or the coating on any wires in the control cavity. Both will melt. Also, try not to let molten solder drip onto your guitar's finish. Yes, it will cool, but when you pick that little splat of solder off, it’ll leave a permanent mark on your guitar.

Next time, I’ll talk you through preparing your soldering iron and your guitar’s components (Photo 3) and wiring (Photo 4). Stick with me and you’ll be soldering like a pro in no time. Bye for now!

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