Tools and Supplies

Below is our list of recommended tools and supplies (and why) that you may need to do your mods. We may start selling supplies directly but for now these are links to Amazon. 

Let's start with solder. Stay away from the Lead Free stuff, it is difficult to work with and it's brittle. Always use rosin core solder for electronics - not plumbing or brass instrument repair etc. If you have 60/40 in a small diameter (.025"), you are good to go. At the shop we use Lead Based Rosin Core Solder with Silver (Sn62Pb36Ag2). A few years back Kester was discontinuing what we have in the shop so I bought a lifetime supply. This is pretty much the same stuff and will get you through at least 2 small mods and 1 major one.

SnPbAg 62/36/2 Silver-Bearing Rosin-Core Solder, 0.022" Diameter - 1.5oz 

We solder all day long and it takes us almost a year to go through a pound of solder but if you need a lot.....

Solder Wire 62/36/2 Tin/Lead/Silver no-clean .031 1/2lb

Next is soldering irons and tips. Another note on solder first. Most of the gear you will be modding will have Lead Free solder. The lead-free solders melt at higher temperatures of about 217°C/422°F compared to 183°C/361°F for the lead-based option. So you will need a soldering iron that will get hot enough for lead free. Also there are chemicals in the lead free that don't get along with lead solder and your tips will wear out faster than just using lead. It takes us about 6 months to wear out a tip here in the shop. 

You will want an iron with a small tip for electronics work that will melt lead-free solder (most hobby soldering irons can do this) and is at least 25 watts, adjustable temp is nice but not necessary.

At the shop we use the Weller WTCPT. The tips are temp controlled via a magnet sensor in the iron and maintain a constant temp depending on the tip, they come in 600/700/ and 800 degrees. We use 700 degree tips in a few different small sizes. It's not cheap. $600.

Temperature Controlled Soldering Station (WTCPT)

It's overkill for most and there are some good options on a budget. In the very good category I would stick with Weller, I've been a fan of the brand since I started soldering.  About $100

Weller WE1010NA Digital Soldering Station

And for $60 you can get this a very nice soldering station for the money. Anything cheaper out on the market I would not recommend based on personal experience. I started out on a cheap iron from Radio Shack and two years later I got a entry level Weller and the difference  was amazing.

So you have your solder and an iron now you need to get rid of some older solder from the gear you are modding. While solder suckers are really fun and in a pinch can be used as a fidget they should be used with caution on single sided circuit boards (most of the gear you will be modding). Some of these suckers are so powerful they will rip a solder pad right off the PCB. However on a double sided board such as the newer Fender amps a sucker works great for getting all the solder out. For single sided PCB's we use solder braid, and one roll should last for several jobs.

A couple more notes on solder removal. Lead Free solder is hard to remove, to soften it up, prime the solder joint with some lead solder prior to removal. On double sided boards solder removal can be difficult even with a good sucker, braid and iron. A good practice is to completely remove the component and leads from the PCB with a hot iron, NEVER FORCING A LEAD OUT OF A HOLE, then remove the solder from the joint. Solder Suckers can also be solder blowers if you have the dexterity to pull that off, there are also bulbs that can blow better than they suck but are easier to handle. If all else fails there is a method I call the buddywacket. Basically you make sure the PCB does not have any wires/pots/switches or anything else that could break if they got wacked. With the solder pad primed with lead and the old component completely removed hold the pcb in one hand and heat the pad with the other, when the pad is melted quickly wack the PCB on your bench to dislodge the solder. If you try this method wear closed toed shoes, I know from personal experience how wacked solder feels on feet in sandals. I also don't recommend this method on large PCB's like in an amp.

In addition to avoiding burning your feet there are some other safety considerations. First safety glasses. Even if you are just working on a little pedal you don't want to be clipping a lead and have it shoot into your eye. Also have a first-aid/burn kit close by as well as a small fire extinguisher.

If you are working on an amp a multi-meter is a must, if you are working on a pedal it's still a great tool. At the shop we use a Fluke 87 and in my opinion at $500 is the best money can buy. The only drawback has been replacing fuses when they blow as they are about $10 each. There are some other great options out there that wont break the bank. The minimum requirements should be the ability to read AC and DC voltage up to 600 Volts, read resistance, read capacitance, also nice to have is ability to test diodes and current. The Fluke 117 is a great meter still expensive at $175 but should last a lifetime. Last this Fluke 101 will get you through any mods we sell and only set you back $50.

I will be adding more tips and recommendations soon so keep coming back.