When I started out in recording it was far more common for people to build or modify their own equipment than it now seems to be. These were the pre-Internet days when even dial-up modems were still a few years off in the future, so information came mostly from books and hobby magazines. If somebody had mentioned high-speed fibre back then, I would have thought they were talking about All Bran.
What set me thinking about those long-gone days was a recent review I undertook of a capacitor microphone kit that involved soldering all the parts and screwing all the sections together. It made a nice change from simply rewiring my guitars and turned out to be a very satisfying experience, even though the only real skill involved was the ability to use a soldering iron correctly. The end product was very worthwhile and worked out significantly cheaper than buying an equivalent ready-built microphone.
We all seem happy enough to spend a fair amount of money on plug-ins and other studio add-ons, but judging by the readers I’ve visited and spoken to, there still seems to be a reluctance to invest in a decent soldering iron; and unless you get a good one, soldering can seem like very hard work. The closest parallel I can think of is that old acoustic guitar you used to learn on — the one that had an action so high that you could almost slide a Telecaster under the strings at the 12th fret. How many people must have simply given up because they didn’t have a decent instrument?
So, why not treat yourself to a thermostatically controlled soldering iron with a fine tip, rated at around 50 Watts, to brush up on your soldering skills? You certainly don’t have to be into hardcore electronics to find plenty of uses for a soldering iron in the studio, though there are enough kits for stomp boxes, preamps and simple studio processors to get you started down that path should you wish to follow it — not to mention countless circuit diagrams just a few clicks away on the Internet. Electric guitar repairs can be conducted with the bare minimum of electrical knowledge, and repairing your own cables is always more cost effective than buying new ones. You’ll also find that your studio installation starts to look a whole lot tidier if you’re able to make up cables of the correct length, rather than having metres of extra cable coiled up on the floor behind the desk. A good soldering iron should be considered an investment, not an expense, and may well pay for itself on your first project or cable repair session.
Paul White Editor-In-Chief