Quarter inch cables have a tendency to break or at least show signs of weakness against angry drunken guitar players who yank their connectors right out. It is nothing personal, and bass players do it to.
In this video, Mike shows you how to identify a bad solder, how to fix it and demonstrates how to make your own cables.
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- 00:00 - Start
- 02:04 - Things That Can Go Wrong
- 04:32 - Hands On
Hey! How are you doing? I'm Mike.
Today, we're gonna talk about soldering.
If you like to make music with anything that has a cable attached to it, like a guitar, or a mic, or an audio interface, basically anything that's got a hole to stick a cable in, you're gonna want to know about soldering.
Why do you want to know about soldering? For starters, it's a lot cheaper to make your own cables and to fix your own cables than it is to go out to the store and buy them.
But more importantly, it gives you a more concrete understanding of the different types of connections that you're working with, and the different types of signals that you're working with.
Let's take a look at some of the tools that you're gonna need if you want to solder.
Here we've got a vise, and this is useful for holding your connectors and your cables while you're soldering, and it's very good if you want to keep from burning yourself.
Some of you might be into that, but I'm not, so I'm gonna use the vise.
Then you have your blades, which you use for stripping back jacketing on your cables.
Here we've got strippers.
These guys are sometimes known as T-Strippers, or just strippers.
This is called a Mini Stripax.
This is what I prefer to use, because it's quicker and it's easier to get the job done, but they both perform the same task.
So whichever one you have will work just fine.
Here we have a soldering iron, and a base station.
It's important that you have a good soldering iron, for a couple of reasons. First, a good soldering iron has a good tip on it, which is what you're using when you work.
Also, a good soldering iron will work at the proper temperature, and maintain that temperature the entire time you're working.
So you'll have an easier time while you're soldering, and you'll have stronger connections.
And last but not least, rosin core solder.
Today, we're gonna talk about guitar cables, because they are some of the most common cables that you work with, and also, they're some of the simplest when it comes to soldering.
First, I'm gonna show you an example of a bad soldering job.
Then I'm gonna show you an example of a good soldering job, and explain to you how to do it.
So here's an example of a poor soldering job.
I can see at least five things that went wrong in this scenario.
For starters, let's note that on a 1/4" guitar cable, you've got two conductors: the hot conductor up on top here, and the shield conductor down on the bottom.
The first thing I noticed is that the hot conductor is supposed to have a non-conductive jacketing that protects it.
In this case, somebody has stripped the conductor so far back that the entire length of the wire in the connector is exposed.
This can lead to shorting and corrosion down the road.
So this cable won't last you very long.
The second thing I noticed here is that the shield conductor is not making proper contact with the sleeve of the connector.
That's pretty self-explanatory.
It's also very well exposed, in the same way that the hot conductor is, and they're getting dangerously close to touching each other.
So another thing I noticed over here is that there's a giant amount of solder where somebody tried to attach the shield.
This is a common mistake that people make when they're first learning how to solder, because they think that the more solder they put on, the better.
That's not necessarily true. In this case, it's actually detrimental, because you'll see, the amount is so big that it's actually coming close to touching our other conductor up here.
Another problem I see here is that the hot conductor has what we call a cold-solder joint.
You can see that the solder here is not as smooth or as shiny as the solder that we have down here.
What that tells me is that while this solder was drying, the conductor was either moving or shaking, and now leaves you with a weak solder point.
So somewhere down the line, that conductor's gonna come off the pin, and you're gonna lose your signal.
The other major problem I see here is that our strain relief isn't properly clamped down.
That leaves nothing to stop the force of an angry guitar player yanking on the cable, and possibly breaking off your solder points.
By the way, whoever soldered this reversed the hot and the shield.
So you could see here the hot is actually soldered to the sleeve, and the shield is actually soldered to the tip, where it's supposed to be the other way around.
You could tell, because you could see the jacket sticking out on the hot conductor.
Now that I showed you why this sucks, I'm gonna chop it, and show you how to do it right.
Here's a tip for you.
Anybody who's ever soldered anything can probably tell you if they've made this mistake more times that they could even count.
Before you even think about prepping your cable, take your backshell and put it on.
Otherwise, you're gonna hate yourself after you solder it and realize it's too late.
The first thing we need to do is strip back the jacketing on our cable.
If I look at my connector here, I've got a strain relief, and I've got my two solder points.
I need to find a strip back that can clamp this strain relief down on the jacketing, but can also leave enough room for my cables to have some place, so I can get them where they need to go on the connector.
The blade is a very convenient measuring tool.
In this case, if I look at the blade next to the connector, I see that this line here is almost the perfect measurement for how far back I want to strip my cable.
So now, to strip back my jacket, I'm gonna hold my cable up to the line that I measured and I'm gonna use my razor to cut through the jacket.
I don't want to press too hard so that I cut through the strands, but I want to press hard enough that I can get through the jacketing.
So this is what we should get after we strip back our jacket.
Notice that none of the shield wires have been cut.
The next step here is to twist the shield wires into one conductor.
So we take them all here, bring them all together, and twist them.
Now I've got to strip back a little bit of my hot conductor so that I can solder it to the connector. But remember! I don't want to strip it back any farther that I need to, because that leaves the wire exposed and susceptible to things like shorting.
To do so, I'm gonna use my Stripax.
This leaves me with a little bit of the hot wire exposed to solder it to my connector.
Now I'm gonna tin my wires.
Tinning is when you put a little bit of solder on them to get them prepared.
First, make sure that you've got a nice clean tip on your soldering iron.
It'll make your job hell of a lot easier.
So now, you want to remember that you only need a little bit of solder on your conductors.
Ok! So now that we've tinned our wires, we also need to tin our connector.
This connector's already got some solder on it, because it was previously used.
So what I'm gonna do is just reheat the solder a little bit and put some new solder on it to freshen it up.
So now we're gonna take the wires and solder them on.
We put everything in place, so that all we have to do is heat it briefly with the soldering iron, and everything will be good.
And there we have it! So now, what we have to do is clamp down the strain relief.
I'm gonna use my T-Strippers here to do it...
and make sure we have a nice, tight grasp.
Now it can't be pulled out.
Alright! That's a clean solder.
Everything is making a full connection where it's supposed to be, we don't have too much solder on everything, the strain relief is clamped down and holding everything in place, and there's no exposed wire where there shouldn't be.
This is gonna last you a while.
Now, the last thing we have to do is put the backshell on.
We just got to screw it on...
and there you have it! So now, you should be able to understand some of the basics of soldering, you should be able to distinguish a good solder from a bad solder, and you should be well on your way to making all your own cables.
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