As the old saying goes, a craftsman is only as good as his or her tools. That may not be completely true, but there's certainly some merit to that statement. Keeping your guitar or bass in good condition can be difficult and expensive. However, if you have these five items on hand, you'll be fully equipped to keep your instrument maintained well enough that it will never need extensive repairs.
1. Allen key
Allen keys are needed to adjust most guitars' truss rods, and if you have a locking tremolo, it's essential to have one just to keep your guitar in tune. Truss rods are built into the majority of electric guitars, so you can correct the natural changes that the neck goes through. In most places, the changing seasons will expose your instrument to different temperatures and humidity levels, which will change the shape of your guitar's wooden components. Left unchecked, your neck may bow towards the strings, which will create fret buzz. It may also bow out, causing your strings to rise off the fretboard.
You can get a set of Allen keys for around $10 on Amazon, which is a far smaller fee to fix a truss rod than what you'll get at any guitar shop (unless the guitar tech is very generous).
2. Wire cutters
Guitar stores tend to sell fancy and sometimes expensive restringing tools with a wire cutter built in. I personally think that these are kind of a rip-off. Any good pair of wire snips will do the trick and give you more versatility. If you're working on your electronics, chances are you may need to make some precise cuts in tight spaces, so get something small but sturdy. The shape of the cutters in the photo above is ideal. They also provide a clean cut to excess string on the tuners.
If you don't have access to any wire cutters, nail trimmers will work in a pinch. Either way, making a clean cut with a good tool will make your various guitar chores a lot easier.
3. Soldering gun
At some point, you may want to change out your pickups or do some other repairs to your guitar's wiring. Fortunately, learning to solder isn't hard; use this guide, and see how easy it is. Soldering guns and solder are very inexpensive, and once you get the hang of it, you should have no trouble with wiring issues in any of your electric instruments.
4. Electrical contact cleaner
These products tend to come in aerosol cans and can provide a quick and lasting solution to many of your guitar woes. If your instrument is making a crackling noise while plugged in, chances are it's simply due to some dirty electronics. Try to clean them out before you take it into the shop. (Just don't use soap and water!) CAIG DeOxit spray is my preferred product for electronic cleaning, but brand to brand, they're all pretty similar. A quick spray beneath your pickup switch may be all that you need to sound good as new again.
If a problem persists, you may need to open the guitar and give the potentiometers (pictured above) some attention. Either of these chores are hardly worthy of the talents of a true guitar technician, but are perfect for conducting a quick fix at home.
5. Fret cleaner
Dead skin, sweat, and dirt will probably start to coat your fretboard at some point. When you do a string change, take the time to rub your fretboard down with a good fret cleaner. All you'll need is the product, a rag, and an old toothbrush to clean your instrument in just a few minutes. Use just enough oil to get all of the gunk off of your instrument, but no more. A soft toothbrush or a toothpick will come in handy for getting rid of the grime stuck on the frets. Nobody likes a gunky fretboard, and while this chore may not do much for your sound, it'll give your guitar smooth action again.
I currently use Dunlop 65 to clean my instruments, but I have no real preference. Just to be on the safe side, stick with products that make no mention of lemon oil, since it can be harmful to fretboards.
With these five tools, you can fix most everyday problems that you'll encounter on an electric guitar or bass – and avoid the exasperated stares of technicians who know that you just asked for a repair that would take you five minutes at home. Be sure to have these tools handy to assure that you can take care of any problems that would waste a guitar tech's time and your money.
Matthew Wendler is a blogger and multi-instrumentalist from New Jersey. He specializes in guitar, bass guitar, and bagpipes, and is passionate about writing both professionally and for enjoyment. His personal blog can be followed on Twitter at @ymiatvmi.