What soldering gun
February 14, 2005 10:42 AM   Subscribe

GuitarTechFilter: I have purchased some replacement pickups (humbuckers) for an old Les Paul. Rather than paying the $60-80 bench time to have the local music shop do it, I was considering doing it myself. In order to do this, what kind of soldering gun do I need? Any particular gauge/weight of solder? What else do I need in terms of equipment to pull this off?

Thanks for your help!
posted by Flem Snopes to Technology (11 answers total)
I've done this myself plenty of times. Just used your standard craft store soldering iron and whatever solder I had laying around. The only equipment you need is a screwdiver, outside of the soldering iron and the solder. It's a lot of fun, I wish I had more stuff like that to work on.
posted by spicynuts at 10:45 AM on February 14, 2005

Best answer: Don't use a soldering iron over 30 watts, no guns. You don't need a lot of heat and the spaces are small. Use standard 60/40 rosin-core older meant for electronics. I prefer the lighter gauge solders, like this one from Radio Shack.

Since a guitar gets knocked around a lot, make sure you practice before you work on your Les Paul. A cold solder joint or one that is not mechanically sound may work on the bench but fail at a gig.

A wiring diagram is essential. Make sure you know beforehand which wire goes where. If you can, take pictures of every step, including disassembly and removal of the old humbuckers. Save them. If you should decide to sell the Les Paul at a later date, having the original pickups, even if they're not installed, can enhance the value.
posted by tommasz at 11:05 AM on February 14, 2005

I'd recommend using very thin gauge electronic solder, not the thick plumbing solder you're likely to find at home supply store. If you haven't soldered before, practice a bit with a couple pieces of wire. Practice soldering them together and using the heat of the iron to separate them.
Good luck! Hope you bring the Les back to life...
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:05 AM on February 14, 2005

Best answer: Not guitar-specific, but small electronics-specific- You'll want a soldering iron and not a soldering gun
because a soldering iron is easier to handle and less likely to overheat those new pickups. I'd recommend a dual-heat one like that. You don't need a more expensive one if you only use it occasionally.

This is the solder I use for small electronics work (pickups qualify as small). You'll be melting the old solder from the old wires and potentiometers and attaching the wires from the new pickups..

The big thing is that you want to get flux-core, and not acid-core (which is for pipes ONLY) because the acid core will destroy your electronics over time.

Here's a REALLY great guide on soldering with pictures..

Here's a quick guide to pickup replacement from Gibson.

Good luck!
posted by fake at 11:09 AM on February 14, 2005

Best answer: I think 40 watts is the minimum, actually; less than this and it's hard to desolder from the back of the volume pot. An iron with a cone tip is what you want, not a gun. You shouldn't be soldering anywhere near the pickups - just at the end of their leads - so you're unlikely to damage them; also, pickups aren't really heat sensitive, apart from the wax they're soaked in to prevent vibrations from causing 'microphonics'.

I use small gauge rosin core solder and a bit of flux. Flux is like a grease that allows the liquid solder to 'wet' the surface it's placed on. Avoid acid core solder. And be sure to work with ventilation - lead vapors go right into the bloodstream.

Radio Shack sells everything you need, and they also have handy things like poisable alligator clips. Be sure and cover the part of the guitar near where you're working with an old towel so you don't burn it, drip solder on it, or scratch it!

On preview, I see that I'm in agreement with most of the above posters.

What kind of pickups did you get? And how old is your Les Paul?
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:52 AM on February 14, 2005

I don't have much to add, but I've done this and othe wiring projects on guitars a bunch of times and it's pretty straightforward, but can be a little frustrating the first time. You're soldering in a very small space, on relatively expensive stuff, so it can be a bit daunting. That said, if you have a guitar that you care less about than the Les Paul, you might want to mess around with that. Also, make sure you have good lighting, and a good stable spot for your guitar.

You should also probably save the original Les Paul pickups. I'm not sure what year your guitar is, but it may be more valuable with the originals.
posted by drobot at 12:17 PM on February 14, 2005

Response by poster: This response has been awesome. Just picked up everything I need at Radio Shoack. FYI it is a four year old Les Paul classic (not old enough to be interesting). It has the standard alnico magnet pickups in it that it had when I bought it. I am upgrading it to '57 Classic Seymour Duncans, the same model I have used in another Les Paul. Thanks all for the help.
posted by Flem Snopes at 12:43 PM on February 14, 2005

I have one of those 57 classics in my (fairly modified) Ibanez ESsomething. It smokes.
posted by drobot at 2:05 PM on February 14, 2005

Oh wait, I have the 57 classic gibson humbucker - not the symour duncan (sorry.)
posted by drobot at 2:06 PM on February 14, 2005

Response by poster: Mission accomplished!

The link from the gibson site posted by fake up above was the most helpful, if a bit tricky: Duncan uses different colored wires than Gibson does in its 4-conductor humbuckers. This was actually pretty fun and immensely satisfying, and all the advice here was perfect.

By far the most difficult part was getting the pickups seated in the spring-loaded mounting rings! Everything else was a breeze... even if Gibson uses about 4x as much solder as they really need to... took me a while to desolder the grounds. Thanks again!
posted by Flem Snopes at 6:48 AM on February 15, 2005

That looks sweet.

I love the '57 Classics, by the way; they're my favorite Gibson pickup (although I like the Burstbuckers too.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:47 PM on February 21, 2005

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