The Ultimate Guitarist’s Toolkit: The 3 Important Areas To Consider

Guitarist's toolkit

Most of us build up our guitarist’s toolkit over the years, collecting parts and tools as needed. But why wait until you NEED a tool? Today we talk about the 3 areas to consider when building your toolkit for home maintenance.


A Guitarist’s Toolkit: DIY Saves Money

Electric Guitar is a fantastic instrument, and over the years we have seen many improvements that make it easier to work on them, and keep them well maintained. Features such as a Spoke Wheel Truss Rod Adjustment at the heel of the neck just makes life easier on all of us.

Because your guitar does need maintenance, regularly. Whether it is a simple tweak of the truss rod, some intonation issues, or a full-on setup… you will have to do some adjustments on your guitar at some point. Or, you pay someone else to do the work for you.

These are basic guitar maintenance adjustments, and almost every guitar will need a truss rod tweak or some work on the intonation at some point. It is just part of playing an instrument made out of wood that shifts over time.

Then there are things like keeping your frets polished and clean. Even in a climate -controlled environment, you also need to keep your fretboard hydrated. Being a guitar player is fun, but being able to do basic maintenance is part of being a guitarist.

That is, unless you have roadies and techs that do all of your work for you! Unfortunately, that is not the case for most of us out there. So knowing how to work on your guitar is paramount, and a valuable skill.

Of course, you can always take your guitar to a tech and let them do the work. But that will quickly start to add up, especially if it is a small issue that can be fixed at home in just a few minutes. If you have more than one guitar, this can add up even faster!

So it may be an unpopular opinion, but I think you should at least know how to do a basic setup on your guitar. Doing intricate fretwork, or major repairs are probably better left to professionals. Minor adjustments and setups, on the other hand, should be done by YOU.

To be able to do work on your guitar at home, you are going to need the right tools for the job. Your guitar usually comes with the most important tools that you will need like the Allen keys. But you will also need a screwdriver for most guitars.

That is going to cover the basics, but if you want to really save some money, you need to build what we call a “guitarist’s toolkit” around the studio. Everyone here at the office has a guitarist’s toolkit, and mine is probably the most expansive since I do tech work myself.

I work on my own guitars, as well as quite a few customers that I have locally. I do everything from electronics repairs, full setups, to serious fretwork. You definitely don’t need those kinds of tools, but you should have what you need should a situation arise.

Today we will look at the 3 categories that really matter, and the tools that you should have at home. We will go over everything from the basic stuff, to the more “specialized” gear. The best way to build your guitarist’s tool kit is over time, as needed.

We just naturally start to build up guitar “stuff” over time. We end up with extra parts, knobs, and all kinds of other guitar tools. Either these tools come with guitars, or we buy them over the years as we need them.

But if you want to get ahead of the game, we will also be going over everything you need to do setups and maintenance on your guitars at home. Being prepared is always a good idea, but it is imperative if you want to gig or be in a band.

If you want to be a pro, then building a guitarist’s toolkit is essential. Every professional guitarist has a kit that they take on the road, and to gigs as a backup plan. You need to be able to work on your guitars on the fly.

A comprehensive toolkit ensures you can perform regular maintenance, make necessary adjustments, and keep your instrument in top shape. In this article, we will explore the must-have tools and accessories that every guitarist should include in their arsenal. Let’s dive in and build the ultimate guitarist’s toolkit.


Basic Maintenance Tools: The Essentials

Guitarist's toolkit

Your guitarist’s toolkit doesn’t have to be huge to start out. In this section, we will talk about the absolute essentials that every guitarist should have. You might even already have most of these tools around your house.

To keep your guitar in optimal playing condition, these essential tools should be a part of your toolkit:

  1. Guitar Strings: Most of us have a string gauge and brand that we prefer. You should always have a few sets on hand, and change your strings often.
  2. String Winder and Cutter: A string winder speeds up the process of changing strings, while a string cutter ensures clean and precise cuts for a professional setup.
  3. Guitar Polish and Microfiber Cloth: Maintaining a clean and polished guitar not only enhances its appearance but also protects the finish from dirt and smudges. A quality guitar polish and a soft microfiber cloth are essential for regular maintenance.
  4. Fretboard Cleaner and Conditioner: To keep your fretboard in pristine condition, invest in a fretboard cleaner and conditioner. This helps remove grime and moisturize the wood, preserving its playability and extending its lifespan.

These are the “bare basics” that every guitarist should just always have at home, even if you usually take your guitar to a tech for setups. This is total beginner stuff, and everyone has a different preference for these products. I like the Music Nomad products for polish and fretboard cleaner.

It seems like every guitarist I know likes different products when it comes to polishes and fretboard hydration. Just make sure you buy from a trusted source, and never use household products to clean your guitar, since they may have harsh chemicals.

This is just the beginning of a guitarist’s toolkit, but it also the most vital part. Not keeping your fretboard hydrated can cause it to crack and potentially break. If you have a matte finish on your guitar, make sure you get the proper cleaner. Glossy/shiny finishes require different products than matte finishes.

Once you have decided on a string gauge for your style, you should have some extra sets in your toolkit. That way, you can keep a regular schedule of maintenance. I like to polish the guitar, and clean the fretboard/frets every time I change strings, which is often.

This is the best time to polish the guitar, and clean the fretboard since all of the strings are off of the guitar. You can also polish your guitar in between string changes. Again, this is the essential parts of your guitarist’s toolkit.

But if you want to get more in depth with your maintenance, you will be moving into another “level” of care for your guitar. If you want to be able to do setups and adjustments at home, you will need some more tools.


Guitar Setup and Adjustment Tools

When it comes to maintaining and optimizing your guitar’s playability, you have a choice: entrust your instrument to a professional guitar technician or take matters into your own hands. One option costs money over and over, while the other is a one-time buy for home tools.

By empowering yourself with the knowledge and tools required for guitar maintenance, you can achieve greater control over your instrument’s setup and maybe unleash some of your creativity! You can set up the guitar exactly how you want it, or mod it to your own specifications!

As you familiarize yourself with the various components and adjustments, you gain a deeper understanding of how your instrument works. A Stratocaster works differently from a les Paul for example, and both guitars have totally different parts.

This knowledge not only empowers you as a guitarist but also opens the door to further exploration and experimentation with different setups and modifications. Some guitarists change out knobs, switches, and other hardware components.

Achieving optimal playability and intonation requires the following tools for guitar setup and adjustment:

  1. Truss Rod Wrench: The truss rod wrench allows you to adjust the curvature of the guitar’s neck, ensuring proper neck relief and action. Most guitars come with the right size for your guitar in the box, if not, then email the manufacturer.
  2. Allen Wrenches: A set of Allen wrenches, or hex keys, is essential for adjusting saddle height, bridge alignment, and other hardware components. Different sizes cater to the specific parts of your guitar.
  3. Screwdrivers: Precision screwdrivers of various sizes are indispensable for adjusting pickup height, tightening screws, and making minor hardware modifications. You should have small screwdrivers, as well as larger ones.
  4. Capo: Apart from its role in changing the key of a song, a capo can aid in assessing and adjusting intonation and action at different fret positions. It’s a versatile tool for setting up string height.
  5. Sandpaper & Steel Wool: These can be used to clean and adjust frets. Sometimes just a few passes of sandpaper can fix fret sprout. You can also turn a glossy neck into a matte finish, if that is your preference.

Your guitar probably came with a large hex key for the truss rod, and a smaller one for bridge adjustments. Some guitars will come with more than two, especially if you have a Floyd Rose Trem System equipped on your guitar. Make note of the sizes, so you can replace them as needed.

But different sizes of screwdrivers are just as important. You want different sizes for the various different screws that need to be adjusted on your guitar. Pickup screws are smaller than pickguard screws, and both are smaller than intonation screws.

Just like a Floyd Rose needs different sizes of Allen keys to set up, your guitar also needs different screwdriver sizes for different screws. Using a screwdriver that is too big can strip out the smaller screws like the intonation screws on the bridge.

The screws for adjusting pickups are usually very small, so you need the right driver bit to fit those as well. Most of us do NOT use a powered screwdriver or drill when doing basic maintenance. A power drill can strip out the wood, and cause some serious damage.

These are all great tools to have at your disposal when doing setups, adjusting action, and setting the neck relief. If you want to change pickups, or repair electronics, you need yet another set of tools.

Electronic issues are usually where most guitarists give up and take the instrument to a tech. But that shouldn’t be your knee-jerk response! Guitar electronics are usually very simple, and just a few quality tools can make it very simple to learn.


Guitar Electronics and Wiring Tools

Guitarist's toolkit

Doing small electronics work is definitely not for everyone. It can be difficult to understand how each part of the guitar works, and the work is very intricate when you get down to switches and potentiometers. One wrong wiring point can make your guitar sound wrong, or not work at all!

But you don’t have to know how to completely rewire the guitar! Sometimes you just need to diagnose a problem, and it could be as simple as one wire being loose that needs to be soldered. Usually, the biggest electrical problem guitarists have is grounding issues.

A bad ground wire is easy to diagnose, since you can usually hear it! If you experience unusual buzzing that stops when you touch your guitar, then that can be a grounding issue!

In that case, it is just one point that needs to be soldered. There are many issues that can arise that are very small jobs, and can be fixed at home. This can save you tons of money if you have a guitarist’s toolkit on hand!

For guitarists interested in electronics and wiring, the following tools are necessary for maintenance and modifications:

  1. Multimeter: A multimeter is an invaluable tool for measuring electrical values, diagnosing issues, and troubleshooting problems related to pickups, switches, and other electronic components. Find out where the weak link is, quick!
  2. Soldering Iron and Solder: When it comes to repairs or modifications, a reliable soldering iron and quality solder are essential for soldering wires and components securely, ensuring reliable connections.
  3. Wire Cutters and Strippers: Wire cutters and strippers are indispensable for cleanly cutting and stripping wires during electronic repairs or modifications.
  4. Electronics Cleaner and Contact Cleaner: To keep your guitar’s electronics in optimal condition, invest in electronics cleaner and contact cleaner. These help remove dirt, dust, and oxidation from electrical contacts, ensuring reliable signal flow.

Even if you never plan to do any electrical work on your guitar, then contact cleaner should still be in your guitarist’s toolkit. Your knobs/potentiometers and input jack can become scratchy because of dust or dirt buildup. Contact cleaner can save you a trip to a tech.

When it comes to soldering irons and solder, a cheap model will do fine for quick repairs. But if you want to make this a regular hobby, then investing in a quality soldering iron, as well as high-grade solder is a must. There are different types of solder that vary in quality.

Again, doing electronic work is not for everyone and sometimes it is better to just take your guitar to a tech. But if you have the time, it can be very easy to learn. I bought a very cheap guitar to work on, and learned how to solder.

This is a valuable skill, and even if you have no electronics background, it can be easy to learn how to fix an electric guitar. If you have these items in your guitarist’s toolkit, then you will be ready for just about anything!


My Personal Choices: Tools On My Bench

guitarist's toolkit

These are just a couple of things in my guitarist’s tool kit that have made my life much easier when it comes to setting up and fixing my guitars. I currently have 6 electric guitars, and two electric basses. So it can be a little overwhelming sometimes!

I also do setups and repairs locally for other guitarists, so I often find myself swamped. Time is money, and I want to give the customer my best work, without cutting corners.

Restringing and regular maintenance can be time consuming with so many guitars. But I added a couple of items to my guitarist’s toolkit that make a big difference. These are budget products as well, and have served me for quite a while now.

The Ernie Ball Power Peg string winder has absolutely changed my life at this point. This makes the chore of restringing my guitars so much easier. It cuts the time in half for my guitars that do not have locking tuners.

I have several guitars that do not have locking tuners yet, and this gadget makes it so much easier to restring multiple guitars. These guitars have Grover tuners, so it seems silly to even replace them with locking ones. The Ernie Ball Power Peg is well-worth the $20.

The D’Addario Fret Polishing System is another part of my guitarist’s toolkit that I just cannot live without at this point. I absolutely love these little fret polishing cloths, and they are FAST. They can be used more than once, and a pack lasts me 6 months!

So if you only have one guitar, the D’Addario Fret Polishing System can last you YEARS. These are just like the sheets of micromesh that you can buy from 3M, but the cost is lower. The fret polishing system even comes with a fret guide, so you do not mark up your fretboard.

Both of these products have made my life so much easier, and they are an essential part of my guitarist’s toolkit. The polishing cloths have replaced sandpaper and steel wool, and the string winder replaced several tools in my arsenal!


Will I Break My Guitar?

Your guitar, even if it is a budget model, is probably very resilient. If you do small adjustments, then you most certainly will NOT break your guitar. It can actually be very difficult to “break” your guitar, even if you were trying!

There are many myths out there that can scare guitar players away from doing home setups, most of them involve breaking the guitar neck. I have heard all kinds of silly things, and none of these things are even remotely true:

  • If you cut all the strings off at once, it will break the neck!
  • Adjusting the truss rod the wrong way will break the neck!
  • Only a luthier should do anything to the frets.
  • Always keep your guitar in the case!

And so many other silly things that you hear from less-experienced guitarists. Your guitar neck is designed to take an immense amount of pressure from the strings. So I seriously doubt that a few adjustments from you could “break” it.

When dealing with the truss rod, always make small adjustments and wait a while. When setting string height, make an adjustment, and then measure again. Taking slow steps is the best way to get your guitar set up “perfect”.

That being said, this is why it is so important to have the right items in your guitarist’s toolkit. Using the WRONG type of wrench will not break your neck or truss rod… but it CAN strip out the bolt. The same goes for the bridge saddles and other screws on your guitar. Have the correct tool for the job!

As long as you make small, incremental adjustments to your guitar and have the correct tools, you will not harm your guitar. Whether it is adjusting the truss rod, or setting your string height, you should go slow and take your time.

If you are really concerned, and have an expensive guitar that you do not want to make mistakes with, then you can always get a cheap guitar to practice with. The second-hand market is full of inexpensive guitars that you can use to “learn on”.


Guitarist’s Toolkit: Wrapping Up

When I started playing guitar, taking the guitar to a tech was just not feasible. Firstly, there were not very many in my area. I think there were only two or three in my whole town, so they were always booked.

Second, they were very expensive for a young kid! I couldn’t always afford $30 just to get my guitar playing well again. I ended up checking out books in my library to learn how to work on my guitars myself, and I have never looked back.

It also took quite a bit of trial and error over the years to learn how to get things “just right” for me as a player. The more you play, the more you realize how you like your action and neck relief. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” setup for guitar.

Doing your own guitar setups with your guitarist’s toolkit provides a level of convenience and accessibility that is unmatched. Instead of scheduling appointments and waiting for your guitar to be serviced, you have the freedom to work on your instrument whenever you choose. This accessibility allows for more frequent adjustments, ensuring your guitar remains in optimal playing condition at all times.

That means zero downtime for all of your instruments. You will also notice that once you set up the guitar, it is easy to keep it the way you like it over time. You can do small tweaks on the fly, and your guitars will always play their best.

You may also realize that you have a real knack for working on guitars! If you do, then you can easily do customizations right from your home with your toolkit. You can change pickups, and components at will.

By taking control of your guitar’s setup through DIY maintenance, you unlock a world of benefits. From cost savings and convenience to customization and skill development, the advantages of doing your own guitar setups are numerous.

So build your guitarist’s toolkit, and start learning the “other part” of being a guitarist! Doing your own maintenance is a liberating experience, and you can easily do the basics at any age. You are never too early, or too far into your guitar journey to learn how to do maintenance.

What is A Guitarist’s Toolkit?

A comprehensive toolkit ensures you can perform regular maintenance, make necessary adjustments, and keep your instrument in top shape. This includes various Allen wrenches, measuring tools, and cleaning supplies.

What Tools Do I Need To Change Pickups On My Guitar?

First, get the correct wiring diagram from the manufacturer for your guitar model and pick configuration. Next, you will need a few tools:

Multimeter: A multimeter is an invaluable tool for measuring electrical values, diagnosing issues, and troubleshooting problems related to pickups, switches, and other electronic components. Find out where the weak link is, quick!
Soldering Iron and Solder: When it comes to repairs or modifications, a reliable soldering iron and quality solder are essential for soldering wires and components securely, ensuring reliable connections.
Wire Cutters and Strippers: Wire cutters and strippers are indispensable for cleanly cutting and stripping wires during electronic repairs or modifications.

Will I Break My Guitar If I Try To Work On It?

Your guitar, even if it is a budget model, is probably very resilient. If you do small adjustments, then you most certainly will NOT break your guitar. It can actually be very difficult to “break” your guitar, even if you were trying!

There are many myths out there that can scare guitar players away from doing home setups, most of them involve breaking the guitar neck. As long as you make small, incremental adjustments to your guitar and have the correct tools, you will not harm your guitar. Whether it is adjusting the truss rod, or setting your string height, you should go slow and take your time.

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