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I get asked often what tools I recommend for making soldered cables and for setting up a pedalboard.
Needless to say there are some tools that are 'must haves' and others that are 'nice to have'. Some are essential for a quality result, others will simply save you a few seconds of time, but that's about it.
I will keep this list updated as time goes on, but for now this is my "2023 Rig Builder Tool Kit"
This doesn't include the parts you need to build the rig such as
...As those are all found in our Parts Store!
Let's start off with soldering cables. I'll start with the essentials and then move on to the 'Must Be Nice' list after that.
Soldered Cable Essential Tools
1. Soldering Iron - An adjustable iron with a decent amount of power is a must have. You don't have to break the bank on this, but I also wouldn't get the cheapest you can find. If you plan on soldering semi-regularly, check out this iron by Hakko. Or if you're more of a Weller kind of person (PC vs. Mac situation) check out the Weller 1010NA - you can't go wrong with either.
2. Flush Cutters - Basically a wire cutter, but allows the user to cut accurately and in tight spaces. A must have in my opinion. This one is also by Hakko and I'd recommend buying a spare right away just to be safe.
3. Cable Tester - This basically tells you if your cable is going to work before you install it on your pedalboard. It can double as a cable jig (holding your plugs while you solder cable to them)!
4. Fume Extraction - Take care of your lungs! This will help you remove solder fumes away from your station and more importantly, your lungs!
5. Solder - Ideally you'd get a couple sizes of solder. One for standard size 1/4" plugs and XLR and a slightly smaller one for midi, 1/8" plugs and smaller connections. If you can only get one get the 0.032"
6. Utility Knife - I love this for cutting through the black jacket of a cable (and the center conductor as well). Some people think it feels too dangerous. If that is the case, feel free to get a different wire stripper. Once you're used to this though, you won't go back.
7. Screw Driver - A must have for undoing pancake and midi screws. You probably already have this hanging around at home.
8. Pliers with Teeth - These are an essential for plugs with strain relief clamps. Make sure they have teeth or they just tend to slip all over the place!
9. Irwin Wire Strippers - You could put these in the 'Must Be Nice' category, but I know I couldn't live without them. Once the jacket of the cable is cut, these remove the jacket with ease!
Soldered Cable 'Must Be Nice' Tools
Now on to the tools you'd consider once the soldering life is the life you've chosen. A couple of these could go up into essentials which I will explain when I get there.
1. Rosin Flux - The solder you'd use for cables comes with a flux core. Flux helps the solder adhere and make a solid connection to the two metals you are joining. Having some extra liquid flux on hand means you can more easily make connections and take a little extra time. It reduces the need for pre-tinning your connections as well. Don't forget to get a bottle for your flux as well. Only use the tinniest drop per connection!
3. Heat Gun - This is really only necessary for cables if you are going to get into heat shrink. You could also use a hairdryer on a high setting if you want to save a bit of money but take a little longer to get the heat shrink to do it's thing.
4. Third Hand - If you aren't going to use liquid flux, I would put this in the essentials category. It can hold your cable in place while you tin the ends of your wire. If you are going to use flux, this can come in handy sometimes, although not entirely necessary.
5. Mini USB Drill - This is the tool I use more than any other. If you are only doing a few cables at a time, it's not worth it. If you are doing cables every day like I am, it's essential. Get those pancake, pedal, midi screws in and out in record time!
6. SMD Tweezers - These are perfect for getting a stray wire in a hard to reach place in a plug. They are also going to come up again in the pedalboard building section for putting labels onto plugs!
Now on to the pedalboard setup tools, tips and tricks. Things that are going to make setting up your board straight forward and save you time!
Pedalboard Setup Essentials
Deoxit - Contact cleaner is one of the pedalboard builders essentials. Have a crackly pot, jack, power socket? Spray this into the troubled area, plug / unplug the cable / twist the pot for 20-30seconds and you're good to go! Deoxit is the most well known, but you can also just look for, "Electrical contact cleaner" and make sure it's safe for PCBs, non corrosive and safe for plastic.
Label Maker - This is top of my list. I can't tell you how many times I've thought, "I won't need to move that cable" and sure enough I unplug a bunch of cables and none of them are labeled... a nightmare to re-do down the track. Label EVERYTHING! You'll be glad you did. Put these labels right on the plug itself, on your power supply, patch bays, midi controller etc.
Label Tape - I love the 9mm white on black (black tape with white writing). It just does it for me. Also, don't waste your money on the branded stuff, get the no-name version for a 3rd of the price. Works just as well.
SMD Tweezers - These are listed in the cable making, 'must be nice' list, but for pedalboards, if you're going to label, these are really helpful for applying labels straight and consistently.
Scissors - This sounds like a no-brainer, but you need scissors and I would suggest getting multiple pairs. One for loop velcro (the glue sticks to them like crazy, it's annoying) and another for non-glue related cutting. You'll thank me later. I wouldn't worry too much about 'industrial' vs. standard, I would much rather have multiple pairs then one 'good' pair.
Heat Gun - Again, this could be a hairdryer, but if you're going to build boards a lot a heatgun is great for anything from getting glue off an old board, reworking a bit of plastic, heatshrink, warming up in winter... it's a great tool to have on hand.
Drill - This is not absolutely essential, but if you ever need to mount a power supply, D socket jack, or slightly mod a pedal, you will need this or a drill press.
Drill Bits - These are arguably the best thing for the DIY'r when needing to make a hole in metal, wood, plastic or pedalboards!
Step Bit - This is what you need if you're going to drill a D socket (locking jack, XLR, USB panel mount) or midi panel mount size holes. These are often quite a bit bigger than a standard drill bit set will allow for!
Center Punch - If you need to make an accurate hole without a drill bit sliding off course, this is the tool for you! Very useful if you're drill D socket templates or a series of holes that depend on the accuracy of an adjacent hole nearby.
Pencil - A mechanical pencil is a great thing to have. Map out holes, anchors, channels, write notes right on a board (if it's metal) and you never have to sharpen the mechanical ones!
Multi-Meter - Very handy if you need to test a cable that has already been wired in to a board. You can test one end of a cable that is wired in a couple feet away from the other end with the continuity setting to make sure it's working and/or to make sure you have matched up both ends of the same cable.
Pedalboard Setup 'Must Be Nice' Tools
These are just nice to have for a pedalboard setup, but I wouldn't necessarily call them essentials. As budget allows, pick up a few of these if you think they will help your workflow.
Dremel - This can be handy for de-burring, cutting or grinding away at pesky holes, engraving (albeit, not accurately), removing paint for better ground connections etc. Not a must have, but I use this once every 3 builds, give or take.
Rivet Gun - This one is specific! Get the exact one linked if you're going to use it for pedalboards. The reason being, other rivet guns don't have a standoff. The head actually hits the edge of the D socket connector and you can't use it properly. The Stanley MR100 is the only one I've found that makes this easy.
Why use rivets instead of nuts and bolts? I know I'm going to get some haters here, but rivets don't come loose! They are easy to drill out if they need to be removed, but generally speaking, once they go in, you don't need to ever move them! Why risk a loose connection if you can make it more robust?
1/8" x 2/5" Rivets - These will hold those pesky D sockets in place quickly and easily.
Double Sided Foam Tape - This is nice to have if you ever want to connect something (a pedal, pic tin, PCBs, pedal mods etc) to a board or surface a bit more robustly than dual lock or velcro. It's low profile, cheap-ish, and very strong (if you get the clear stuff especially). Don't use this if you need to get the item off the board once it's down. Best removed with heat.
Upholstery Tools - Make sure to use the plastic ones only - unless you're fine with huge scratches / gouges out of your pedals! These can be very helpful to remove difficult pedals that have already been dual locked to a board! See below for the velcro equivalent.
Thin Metal Ruler - This is perfect for breaking the connection between hook and loop velcro. Don't get a ruler with cork or anything else attached, just one layer of metal and you're good! Get a 15" or 24" version if available! Simply slide the corner of the ruler between the velcro over and over while pulling the pedal up - easy removal!
Masking Tape - Use it to protect the paint on pedals if you're working close by, lay it down to measure out holes (with pencil) on a pedal or power supply and transfer those holes to a pedalboard for drilling, map out cable channels, write notes... Masking tape is great to have, although not essential in the beginning.
5-10 foot USB cable - This is really handy for programming. You can have your board on the ground and a computer on a desk and still reach with the USB cable. Get a couple variations (A, B, C etc) so you can get multiple pedals without issue.
IEC Male to Female Adapter - Very handy adapter for Cioks and other power supplies. Leave this plugged in and mount your Cioks supply close to another pedal or surface without needing to leave room for plugging and unplugging the IEC cable for setup and tear down.
USB Adapters - Get a USB adapter to leave plugged into hard to reach USB ports. Leave them plugged in all the time and simple plug in to the adapter when you need to access that pedals USB port instead of ripping the pedal off your board!
That's it for now. Check back in here for updates periodically!
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