Every aspiring amp builder and guitar tech needs a trusty soldering iron by their side! Beyond the iron, there are several pieces of gear that you need to solder. In this article we will take a look at soldering irons, tips, solder, and accessories. I will give you some handy recommendations to help steer you in the right direction. Enjoy the best soldering iron for guitar and amps!
What to Look for in a Soldering Iron
There are many aspects that determine if a soldering iron is going to be acceptable for guitar and amp work. These are the must haves!
Technically what you need is a soldering station, not just an iron. A soldering station includes a temperature control module, soldering iron, holding stand, and often a cleaning element. In order to produce quality work, you will need all of these components. There are many options that are a standalone iron and I do not recommend these for guitar or amp work.
Soldering Iron Not Soldering Gun
Many of us have Grandpa’s old soldering gun laying around in the garage somewhere. While these tools have their place, they should never be used for guitar or amp work. They are simple not precise enough to obtain good results.
Not Mandatory, But Extremely Useful
The next for aspects of soldering irons are not completely mandatory, but I highly recommend them. A quality iron with the right features will vastly improve your soldering ability!
Most quality soldering stations will have a power unit that allows the technician to control the temperature of the iron. This is important because different tasks call for different temperatures. Sensitive components such as integrated circuits might require a lower temperature in order to not be damaged.
Other components that have a lot of thermal mass such as turret connector may need more heat. Not to mention different solder flows and different rated temperatures as well. Being able to directly control the iron’s temperature make it a versatile and accurate tool.
Quality matters when it comes to tools, and therefore it can be a big help at times to know that you have a well-made soldering iron. Weller has been the leader in soldering solutions for years, and their products can be trusted. It is no surprise that Weller irons take up 3 of the 5 spots on my recommendation list.
Now this isn’t to say that other companies don’t make quality soldering irons and stations, because they do. But when I went to purchase my iron (that has been working flawlessly for years) I chose a Weller.
Best Soldering Iron for Guitar and Amps Reccomendations
With those tips in mind, here are my pics for the top 5 soldering irons for guitars and amps
Weller WES51 Analog Soldering Station
This is my soldering iron and I love it. It does not have as many features as some of the digital units, but it is tried and true. It heats up quite fast and I have definitely put it through its paces. This iron simply works and won’t let you down.
- 50 Watts
- 350-850 degrees temperature control
- Auto Power Off after 99 minutes
- Temperature Lockout
Weller WESD51 Digital Soldering Station
The WESD51 is the digital big brother of the WES51. This iron has the same impeccable quality of its lower model with a few extra features. I found that I didn’t need the extra features so opted for a cheaper unit. However, if you are soldering daily and doing production work, the digital model would be the way to go as it is even more accurate.
- 50 Watts
- 350-850 degrees temperature control
- Degrees displayed in F or C
- Auto Power Off after 99 min
- Temperature lockout
Hakko FX888D-23BY Digital Soldering Station
The Hakko station certainly has the most features on this list. It is designed to be a top model for heavy production use, so it may be a little overkill (but it may also be total soldering bliss.) I have not personally used this unit, but I know many people that have with good experiences.
- 65 Watts
- 120-899 degrees temperature control
- Password protected temperature setting
- Preset mode stores 5 temperature settings
- Degrees displayed in F or C
X-Tronic Model #3020-XTS Soldering Iron Station
The X-Tronic Iron has a boat load of features and a very competitive price. Not to mention it is a top pic on Amazon. I also do not have any experience with this iron, nor do I know anyone who has used it. The online reviews speak for themselves though, and include a lot of praise.
- 75 watts
- 392-896 degrees temperature control
- 10-minute sleep timer
- Degrees displayed in F or C
Weller WLC100 40-Watt Soldering Station
This is the first soldering iron I ever used, and it is where many electronics techs begin as well. It is the most basic unit on this list, but it is another industry standard. I would recommend the soldering iron for beginners or folks that will not be soldering very often. If you are looking to do more work than this, I highly recommend a higher-end, temperature controlled model. But hey, we all start somewhere right?
- 5 to 40 Watt operation
Soldering Iron Tips
No, these aren’t tips on how to use your soldering iron. Those tips are found in my Soldering 101 article. These tips are the actual tips that you put on your iron!
There are a vast array of different shaped soldering tips. They are shaped differently because they are all designed for a specific purpose. Generally speaking, the smaller your work piece (what you are actually soldering) the smaller the tip. The larger the work piece, the larger the tip. For guitar and amp work I recommend getting 3 different tips.
Soldering Iron Tips for Guitar and Amp Work
First, I suggest a small, chisel style tip. This is going to be your work horse for guitar and amp soldering, and you will use this tip about 90% of the time. It is the right size to fit into small areas, but large enough to supply adequate heat to components. In fact, you probably want to have a few of these hanging around.
Second, you should have a medium to large chisel tip as well. This tip is too large for guitar components, but there are a few amplifier applications where this is great to have. At times, you will have many large components to solder together or need to solder directly to the chassis (like a grounding bar). In these instances, a larger tip will allow the greater amount of heat required to flow easily. You should definitely have one for these types of jobs.
Finally, I recommend a small pencil style tip. These are great for tight spaces such as guitar control cavities or stomp box pedals! They also flow less heat, so this tip if preferable to use on small, sensitive components.
Now that we have the iron and tips covered, lets talk about solder. As with everything else, there are many different types of solder, all for different purposes. Solder falls into two main categories however, lead and lead free.
I personally like leaded solder. It is your grandfather’s solder and just plain works. I find that it flows incredibly well and is easy to work with. My favorite is 60/40 Tin-lead solder. This means that the solder is comprised of 60% tin and 40% lead. The higher amount of lead makes it melt at a lower temperature and increases its work-ability. 90/10 is also popular, but as you can imagine, it flows at a much higher temperature.
Lead free solder is also readily available for those that are conscious about the environment and safety. I find that the leaded solder simply works better, and as long as I don’t eat the solder, I am perfectly safe from the lead.
I want to touch a minute here on something that you are bound to run into while working with musical electronics, silver solder. Silver solder contains actual silver in the alloy composition. Silver is an excellent conductor, so silver solder is marketed as a premium option. While I am sure the quality is excellent, I do not recommend using silver solder.
This actually has nothing to do with its claimed sonic capabilities, but rather the work-ability of the product. Silver melts at a very high temperature relative to the other alloy ingredients. So high in fact, I have damaged a couple sensitive components while soldering with sensitive solder. I believe that I get a better joint using regular 60/40.
Soldering also requires something called flux in order to work. Flux is a solvent that cleans the work piece as you solder. Technically, soldering will not work in the presence of oxidation. The flux keeps the work piece from oxidizing while you solder.
The solder I use is called rosin core. This means that the flux is built into the solder itself! I highly recommend using this because it is much easier than having to use separate paste flux. In fact, when you solder and you see the smoke rising from the tip, this is actually the rosin flux, not any of the tin or lead.
Beyond the iron, tips, and solder, there are still a few accessories you need for a successful soldering job. Here’s what you need.
From time to time you will need to un-solder a joint. Weather you are making a repair or forgot a wire lead, having the ability to un-solder is a necessity. There are a few different products that do this, but my favorite is the solder sucker. Just heat the joint with your iron and as soon as the solder flows, hit the button to release the sucker and the solder is gone! This technique works well but not perfectly. You may have to use it a couple times and further clean the joint before re-soldering.
A solder pick looks just like a dental tool used to clean your teeth. The purpose of this tool, is to test you have a solid solder joint or not. By using the probe to pick at the connections within the joint, you can easily tell if everything is good and solid. If any component moves, you know you need to redo the solder joint.
Solder Tip Cleaner and Sponge
It is extremely important to keep your soldering iron tip clean while soldering. You can find out why in my article on how to solder. But the tip cleaner and sponge are the best ways to do it. After each joint, run the tip through the brass cleaner to remove any excess tinning or particulate. Then run both sides of the tip on the damp sponge. Using a tip cleaner and sponge will obviously keep your soldering iron tip clean, and a clean tip produces great joints!
Since one of our hands is always occupied by holding the iron, some joints are simply too complicated having only one other hand to use. A third hand is basically a small clamp that helps hold your work piece in place. The better mechanical fit, the better solder joint will result. Using a third hand ensures that everything is physically in line first, thus making solder joints better as well. These come in different types and models, so be sure to pick the one that is best suited for your needs and application.
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about soldering gear for guitars and amps. I always recommend doing through research on any product (especially tools for amplifier building) you are considering buying. Make sure it is the right tool for job and you will be rewarded with quality work, and you will have a fun time using it.
Keep in mind that the most important aspects of a soldering iron are to ensure it is an actual iron (not a soldering gun) and to go ahead and get a soldering station. It is simply a pain in the butt not to have one. After that, purchasing an iron with temperature control and getting one that is a quality brand will ensure quality operation. I hope this guide has helped you with your iron search. Happy soldering!