List of needed items and tools for guitar maintenance?

Discussion in 'The DIY Tool Shed' started by 57fenderstrat, Oct 5, 2019.

  1. 57fenderstrat

    57fenderstrat Tele-Meister

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    Howdy folks ,

    I have been playing for 16 years or so and only ever really do basic maintenance and setups on my guitars. I can obviously do the easy stuff like action and intonation however, I would always take guitars to the shop for truss rod stuff, neck relief, fret leveling, electronics etc. I think it’s time for me to learn how to do all that stuff independently. I really like the guys that do my occasional maintenance but this past month I had a tiring experience dealing with a guitar and I had to take it back two times right after the initial setup and it took nearly a week to get it back each time I sent it in. I’m still only 95% happy with the results but at this point I’m just tired of dealing with it anymore. My techs go above and beyond to make sure I’m pleased but at the end of the day I am the one who should be doing it because sometimes I ask for something to be done but quickly realize I liked it better the way it was before and want it changed back.

    I was looking for some suggestions on a list of tools and items needed. Gauges, tools, cutting nuts, etc. I also want to learn how to do the soldering and such for changing caps, pickups, and whatnot. Maybe some suggestions on books for learning about it also? I don’t know if I’m brave enough to take on something like a full refret but I should be doing the rest. At this point I would really only be working on strats, teles, and acoustics. If you read this long post then thankyou.
     
  2. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I use a high quality 18" straight edge, and feelers to check / set relief. Truss rod wrenches depend on what yours look like. For an acoustic, you'll generally need an offset allen - Stewmac sells 'em. In general, StewMac sells it all. Many find them overpriced, I find them usually worth the price. The tools are good, and last. But if you prefer, use them to figure out *what* to get, then get the knock-off someplace cheaper.

    To set action I use a 6" steel engineer's rule marked in 16th, 32nd, and 64th. Stewmac's Action Gauge is OK, too. Easier to read for my old eyes.

    I have radius gauges, but hardly ever use them during a setup. With Gibson style bridges (and Gretsch), the radius is built in. With Fender style, just set the height of each string above the fret, and they'll all be the same radius as that fret.

    Get some new screwdrivers, with good tips. Don't go trashing all your screw heads. And for Fender intonation, get one with a long enough shaft (8") so the handle is completely off the body. Otherwise you'll ding the finish.

    Set of tiny Allen wrenches for Fender saddles, TonePros locking bridges, some pot knobs, etc.

    A few microfiber cloths for wiping down during a string change. Keep the fingerboard one separate from ones you use on the body. Run them through the wash occasionally. And of course some polish / cleaner. Avoid silicone products. I like Gibson Pump Polish, but there are a ton of 'cosmetic' products.



    For nuts, get the Hosco double-edged taper nut files. They're easier to use than the one-gauge-per-file kind that look like hacksaw blades.

    Get some good string cutters (don't use electronics wire cutters on hard guitar strings).


    For making nuts, you can do the shaping by hand with sandpaper and a dead-flat surface. Then maybe a file or two for shaping. I really like the small 'razor file' that StewMac sells. It's one of those with chemically sharpened teeth, and makes shavings not dust. But really, anything will do for shaping. Everyone has a preference, usually developed over time. You might want a small vise, but I got by for a long time just using the guitar nut slot to hold the thing still. Gotta be careful, though. There is a nut slot ruler that helps layout the distance between the strings. Well worth it. You want to place the slots so the space between the strings is equal, but thatr means the centers are all different because of the varying string thicknesses. The rule does that work for you.

    Get some good CA glue and some accelerator.

    I don't know how I'd live without Micro Mesh. Seems pricey, but I still use the pieces I bought 7 years ago. It's great for polishing nuts, and frets. Also for small finish repairs.


    Fret level & crown... First step is to get the neck flat - not the frets. I use a notched straight edge for this. Then a 1"x16" dead flat bar, with 220 grit stuck to it. A good sharpie to mark fret tops. Masking or preferably binding tape to mask the fingerboard. (Masking tape isn't sturdy enough to stand up to the edge of a file). I buy binding tape from ... you guessed it... in three widths. Much nicer than using scissors to fill in the upper frets. No more hand cramp...

    There are a zillion crowning tools, and probably only ONE that works right for you. Sorry, I can only tell you which one I like. But I own a ton, because I had to try them to find out I hated 'em. I like the old-school safed-corner triangle files. Good fret files, not a random triangle from the hardware store. Those will leave a lot of scratches...


    I didn't mention a lot of things, but it should be enough to get you going, until you figure out how you prefer to work. The main thing you may need is the knowledge to use the tools. Just the fact that you need to ask for a tool list sorta implies you won't initially understand the tasks very well. Take care not to focus too much on the tools, and spend the effort on learning how it all works. Neck geometry... For instance, you mention that you've set action and intonation. But won't touch the truss rod. Well, I'd never do the action and intonation without first adjusting the truss. It's like trying to eat your dinner, and then cook it after. Just don't work that way.

    Again, StewMac. Dan Erlewine wrote a good book some years ago, and it's still a good one. Something like "How to make your guitar play great".

    Fender's site tells you the steps - in order - for doing a decent setup. Good enough place to start.

    Best of luck, and enjoy the journey!
     
  3. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Oh, for electronics, get a multimeter - spring for a Fluke if you think you'll ever want to work on an amp. Otherwise a cheapie is fine - guitars have no voltage to speak of...

    Just in general lest I forget again, get a digital caliper. Can't live without mine.

    Back to electronics, get some wire cutters, small needle nose pliers - the electronic kind, not the mechanic kind. They're smaller and pointier. I swear by the small gauge wire strippers that StewMac sells (sorry). I never had a pair like these. Sharp, and they handle those tiny four wire humbucker leads, as well as cloth wire, etc.

    Get a 100W variable temp soldering station. You need the temp to cleanly solder pot shells. And you need to be able to dial it back for soldering capacitors, etc. I like my Aoyue, others like Weller. Use leaded solder. I use 66/44 rosin core, .031" diameter. Anything similar. Get one of those Hakko tip cleaners that look like a gold brillo pad (but aren't). Keep the tip shiny with fresh solder (tinned, they call it). Clean before each connection, and after. So, clean, solder, clean.... clean, solder, clean... You might like a pair of hemastats - get the ones without teeth, so they don't mark up your wires. Those cheap helping-hands things are nice once in a while, too.
     
  4. 57fenderstrat

    57fenderstrat Tele-Meister

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    Thank you sir ! You have been a helpful and valuable source of information to me since I joined this forum. Stewmac was what I was thinking about when I wrote this. The last few days I have been looking at their website and watching more of the videos they post but it felt daunting sifting through all of the choices they have listed. I have a fair amount of basic materials already like the microfiber, painters tape, some lubricants for the nut and saddles, stuff for general cleaning. The longer screwdrivers is certainly good advice because the only thing I have right now is a crumby little microtool for guitar that folds out like a pocket knife. When you try to use anything it would fold closed or move and it’s easy to ding your finish with that thing.

    I certainly have a lot to learn but there’s no better time than now to start
     
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  5. 57fenderstrat

    57fenderstrat Tele-Meister

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    Excellent! Thank you so much! I do have some interest in doing things like building an amp kit but I know that is many years in the future from now and requires a lot of knowledge and safety, I have to learn how to change a pickup first :lol:
     
  6. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Just get the minimum to start, and then every time you need a tool, buy the best you can justify. And maybe buy one more, too. Until you have this:


    20191005_043447.jpg 20191005_043500.jpg


    For certain things, you can save by shopping Phila Luthier Supply, over StewMac. Personally, I steer clear of eBay and the Chinese crap sold on Amazon. Mostly.
     
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  7. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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  8. SecretSquirrel

    SecretSquirrel Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    I got that book (saw it at a Barnes & Noble store) — it's great, recommended.

    He doesn't get into some 'advanced' stuff like fret leveling ("take it to a tech") but there are good YouTube videos covering that, and not to forget Ron Kirn's guide to fret leveling, which was my best lesson in it: https://www.tdpri.com/threads/fret-leveling-yer-tele-101.201556/

    The Erlewine book comes with some snap-out radius gauges, which can be handy (I've used them already!).
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2019
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  9. milocj

    milocj Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    One nice thing that Stew-Mac has is their Stew-Max membership which gives you a year of free shipping along with weekly or monthly specials for members. Some of their stuff is overpriced, but the membership is nice because it makes some things that you "forget" to buy or anything else that may pop up during that year cheaper to buy simply from the savings on shipping. A pot or even one resistor will ship free.

    It's also nice for some of the stuff like amp coverings or grill cloth that might sometimes be relatively expensive to ship due to the length.
     
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  10. 57fenderstrat

    57fenderstrat Tele-Meister

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    Wow that is a nice bench ! Something like that is what I would like to slowly work towards. I prefer to purchase nicer quality and acquire good working things first even if it takes longer. All of this stuff and learning more about the workings of the guitar in general is going to be a cool adventure.
     
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  11. tubelectron

    tubelectron Tele-Holic

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    Here's what I use for checking and adjusting the setup of my guitars :

    [​IMG]
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    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    -tbln
     
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  12. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I enjoy working on, and building guitars, as much as playing them. I just started doing this maybe 7 years ago, and now I have the guitar bench, plus a whole friggin' woodshop in the garage. Deep rabbit hole... :)


    +1 for the StewMax membership. $40/year. Free shipping on every single thing. 50% off all printed material and DVDs (like that Erlewine book). Other deals, too. And if you don't like something, free return shipping, too.

    When I first signed up, maybe five years ago, I wasn't sure I'd spend enough in a year to make it worthwhile. Yeah, right! As soon as I had free shipping, my spending probably quintupled. Thing is, I need the stuff. Now I don't have to wait, and to search everywhere else first.
     
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  13. 57fenderstrat

    57fenderstrat Tele-Meister

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    Awsome looks like I should become a Stewmac member and get the book to start learning. I told myself I was going to take it easy on buying guitar stuff for the rest of the year...yeah right ! Funny how that happens
     
  14. TimTam

    TimTam Tele-Holic

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    Start with a list of jobs you want to be able to do, not a list of tools. Then list tools against jobs, looking at a range of sources to see what the best choices are.

    In terms of the worst places to look for assembled tool kits, Stewmac is the top of that list. They have range of tool kits, all characterized by often-dubious tool choices that are usually grossly over-priced.

    You should be able to get a good starting collection for setups and minor maintenance for not much more than $100 if you already have some general purpose tools and choose carefully, with maybe just one or two exceptions. One tool that I feel is justified in blowing that figure out is the Stewmac Z-file (centered or original), which is the best novice tool for fret crowning (ie for those with no skill or experience). If you want to do nut work then that will probably blow things out by $50-$100 again. ;)

    With the exception of the fret and nut files, most of my tools come from ebay and the local hardware store. The Chinese ebay stuff is mostly fine (and a lot of the US-sold stuff comes from China anyway, just at twice the price or more). Even the Chinese soldering irons are good now, for 10-20% of the price of 'name' brands. I've had Weller, Fluke, HP and Tektronix gear before. There was a time when you had to pay extra for that quality. Not any more (or it's overkill for guitar work).
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2019
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  15. 57fenderstrat

    57fenderstrat Tele-Meister

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    At this point I am mainly just wanting to do my own basic setups the correct way on a strat, tele, and a few acoustics. I won’t have any major maintenance needs for awhile because my strat just got a fret dress and my main acoustic got a new nut a few days ago.

    I have wanted to learn how to do this for awhile but feel it’s time to learn because my acoustic went to the shop three back to back times the last few weeks and I’m still not totally satisfied with it. It takes too long too, when I send it in the guitar will be gone for a week and if I could just do it at home it would probably be done in an hour.

    I also want to have the freedom to do some electronic stuff so I can try out different caps and such, see what I like and what I don’t.

    Most importantly before I go buying stuff I need to get that book and read it. That way I know I will be doing things in the order they should be done.
     
  16. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I suggest starting with setups, then tackle nuts, then frets. Start doing electronics in parallel, any time. Setups aren't difficult to learn, but they take practice and time to perfect.

    Setup tools - you don't really need much. I got by at first with a couple bath towels for padding, and a CruzTools setup kit that came with a Custom Shop Strat. That, a few hardware store items, and stuff you probably already have.

    It's only when you get into nuts and frets that the tools start specializing.
     
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  17. 57fenderstrat

    57fenderstrat Tele-Meister

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    I have the book and it’s great , I have an order coming in the mail and got everything covered for setup except for the new screwdrivers...

    I have gone to two local Lowes and a Home Depot looking for an eight inch no 1 Phillips but no luck yet, I think I will just have to snag one online.

    The question is for the rest of the sizes do you folks recommend the stewmac set of drivers ? The price doesn’t seem horrible on them but I’m alittle concerned with all of those little bits lasting or fitting snug in the shaft. Any experience with this set ?


    I passed up a couple different sets at the hardware stores because they mainly consisted of larger sizes, I might go back to re-evaluate and then order the 8 inch online.
     
  18. blowtorch

    blowtorch Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I used to be all about this stuff, but I've found the only tool you really need is a debit card.

    I've also found I have no real desire to be a guitar cobbler, and I have better things to do with my time (apparently)

    Really I'm sure a lot of this is prompted from my fading nimbleness of hand and sharpness of eye
     
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  19. Vizcaster

    Vizcaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    I took a broken .050" allen wrench, drilled a hole in the butt of a small flat head screwdriver, then heated the allen wrench and stuck in the plastic. Now i have a small screwdriver for Strat saddle height adjustment screws and for intonation and for pickup height, and it makes it harder to lose the allen wrench! Otherwise I have a small box of random small allen wrenches that I'm always fumbling with.

    For headstock-adjusted trussrods, I like long-handled wrenches. You'll need 5/16 (gibson) and 1/4" (guild) sockets or nut drivers. For allen wrench adjustable trussrod nuts, you can get long-handled allen wrenches from places like Granger. 1/8 for fender, 3/16 for MIM, 4 and 5mm for imports (you can bend the shaft of one for sound-hole adjusted Martins).

    For the purpose-built pricier tools, I don't think there's anything as valuable as a good set of Hosco nut slot files. A triangular chainsaw sharpening file does everything else and you can modify it with a bench grinder to give yourself a 'safe' corner.
     
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  20. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    let me recommend NOT buying the "kits" sold by the various guitar suppliers. they are made in Asia, and usually substantially inferior to the same tools purchased from a good hardware supplier, Ace HardWare, Home Depot, Lowes, etc Will have all the screw drivers, pliers, cutters, etc you can imagine....

    The only thing I recommend getting form Stew Mac etc would be the specialty tools, such as nit files, Fret Cutters, and the Crowning file, .. you will wind up with much better "stuff" for about the same money..

    ron
     
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