The 6 Essential Tools Every DIY Guitarist Needs

Most of us have experienced that dreaded feeling in the pit of our stomachs after hopping into the car and turning the key only to be met with the persistent click of a dead battery. In these scenarios, jumper cables — a seemingly mundane item collecting dust in the depths of the truck — prove to be a priceless acquisition.

To the gigging guitarist, this same principle of preparedness applies. With a basic maintenance kit in your gig bag, you'll be equipped to solve any technical issues that arise right before a set.

Acquire these six simple tools, and you’ll inevitably thank yourself later. These pics not only represent the essentials tools for on–the–fly road repairs, but are also a worthy foundation for anyone looking to venture into the world of repair and luthiery.


1. The Humble String Winder

It may seem silly to put such a basic, ubiquitous tool at the top of our list, but how well that one device does its job makes it indispensable. A string winder can turn a 10–minute restring into a 2–minute job during rehearsal.

And like pens and lighters, string winders are one of those things guitarists can never seem to find when they need them. Just keep one on you.


2. A Pair of String Cutters

String cutters are Robin to the string winder’s Batman. Cutters make quick work when removing old strings or a tattered string stuck on the tuning peg.

They can also serve as a nifty bridge pin extraction tool on acoustics, or even a last resort wire stripper if you've got a broken lead in the control cavity.


3. Pliers

Pliers are real multitaskers.

If used prudently, pliers can tighten jacks, tuning machines, and toggle switches. They can bend the ball ends of strings on acoustics or Bigsby–equipped electrics.

They’ll back out stripped screws or temporarily crimp and reattach a broken wire. Pliers can even serve as a height adjustment tool for stubborn thumb wheels on a Tune–O–Matic bridge.

Get them in the needle nose variety, and never let them stray too far from your sight.


4. Micro Screwdriver Kit

A well–stocked micro screwdriver set will be the backbone of your maintenance kit, so be mindful in choosing one with quality bits that won't strip out and deteriorate.

The best kit I've found is from Stewart Macdonald. It's got a variety of different Phillips and flatheads to choose from, as well as 11 different Allen bits.

Whether you're undoing neck lags, tightening strap buttons, fine–tuning intonation, or adjusting individual saddle height, this kit has you covered. Just keep track of the bits!


5. Steel Ruler

A quality steel ruler will help you take accurate measurements where they matter most. In the guitar world, this usually means checking action, neck relief, and pickup height.

Without some form of measurement, these adjustments can eat some serious time before a set. Remove the guesswork, and get it right the first time with a proper ruler.


6. Electrical Contact Cleaner

There are a variety of different contact cleaning sprays available, but one of the more widely known brands in the guitar repair industry is called DeoxIT D5. It essentially cleans oxidized metal surfaces, and helps to re–establish continuity between contacts.

Gigging out regularly exposes your instrument to harsh, muggy environments that corrode and break down electrical components. Having a can of DeoxIT on hand can save the day when you've got crackling switches, pots, intermittent jacks, or even a gummed up battery terminal.

It'll work on amplifiers too, and is generally safe on most finishes. Just make sure you clean up any excess.

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