Taking your guitar to a tech or luthier for setup and adjustment is very convenient from a time perspective, but finding a professional who really knows what they’re doing near to your home can sometimes be a challenge. Not only that, but the services of a pro can add up pretty quickly when parts and labor are factored in.
If you’ve got the time, inclination, and patience to have a go at some of the more common guitar repairs and upgrades yourself, not only will you likely save money, but you’ll also get to know your guitar in a way you never thought possible. These tools will also of course come in handy if you wish to build a guitar, either from scratch or from a DIY guitar kit.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ll be walking you through the tools you’ll need to get started in making your own repairs, adjustments and upgrades – Let’s get started!
- Tools Needed for Common Guitar Repairs and Upgrades
- Individual Guitar Repair and Upgrade Tool Guide
- Soldering Iron
- Fret Nipper/End-Cutting Pliers
- Precision Ruler
- Fret Bending Jig
- Fret Slotting Saw
- Fret Hammer
- Fret Press
- Fret Press Caul
- Fret Crowning File
- Fret Rocker
- Fret Leveling Beam
- Fret Bevel File
- Fret Dressing File
- Fret Erasers
- Hand Files
- Strobe tuner
- Allen Key Set
- String Action Ruler
- Fretboard Oil
- String winder
- Neck support
- Maintenance Pad
- Notched straightedge
- Contact cleaner
- Radius Gauge
- Radius Sanding Block
- Feeler Gauge Set
- Luthier’s Tool Set
- Final Thoughts on Tools for Upgrades and Repairs
Tools Needed for Common Guitar Repairs and Upgrades
If you’re looking for the tools to complete a specific job, the list below should give you what you need. While you can in theory use just about any tools you want, the below should allow you to cleanly and competently finish that job!
Soldering Iron, Fret Nipper/End Cutting Pliers, Precision Ruler, Fret Bending Jig, Fret Slotting Saw, Fretting Hammer, Fret Press, Fret Press Caul,
Fret Angle File, Fret Rocker, Fret Leveling Beam, Fret Bevel File, Fret Dressing File, Fret Eraser
Replacement Nut, Nut Lube, Needle Nose Pliers, Precision Hacksaw, Superglue
Clip On Tuner, Precision Screwdriver
Allen Key Set, Precision Screwdriver, Flathead Screwdriver
Guitar Cleaning Solution, Fretboard Oil, Cleaning Cloth, Polishing Cloth
Soldering Iron, Solder, Flux, Phillips Head Screwdriver, X-Acto Knife, Wire Cutters/Crimpers
Individual Guitar Repair and Upgrade Tool Guide
The primary purpose of a soldering iron is to use solder and flux to fuse together 2 metal components in order to make a permanent electrical connection. Because of their high heat, they can also be used to soften glue.
Best Soldering Iron For Guitar: Q-MING Soldering Iron Kit
Fret Nipper/End-Cutting Pliers
Fret nipper and fret end cutting pliers are used to get purchase on, and remove old frets in the prep stage of a refret. Besides removing old frets, they are also used for snipping off the ends of the new frets you’re installing.
Best Fret Nippers/End-Cutting Pliers: Stewmac Fret Cutter
A precision ruler is typically made from metal for durability, and has much smaller incremental measurements than a standard ruler. These small increments allow for greater accuracy when measuring, making it ideal for jobs with tight tolerances where measurements are made in mm and thousandths of inches.
Best precision ruler for guitar: Offidea Machinist’s Rule
Fret Bending Jig
Fret bending jigs are specialist luthier’s tools that are used to bend and shape fret wire. Using a jig will allow frets to be set to a precise radius in order to properly fit the fretboard of the guitar they are to be installed on.
Best Fret Bending Jig: Guyker Fret Bending Jig
Fret Slotting Saw
Fret slotting saws are precision tools used for either enlarging fret slots to accommodate bigger frets, or to clear out dried glue from the existing frets after removal. They have short blades and short handles to allow for good control.
Best Fret Slotting Saw: Suizan Japanese Dozuki Hand Saw
Fret hammers have precision heads and are usually filled with sand or liquid in order to kill any shock that could otherwise cause damage to your guitar. They have a rubber striking surface to avoid causing damage to the frets or fretboard when hammering them into place.
Best Fret Hammer: StewMac Deadblow Fretting Hammer
A fret press is used to evenly distribute pressure onto the new frets to ensure that they are correctly and evenly seated across the width of the fretboard. They come with a range of attachments in different radii, and are designed to avoid leaving pressure indentations on the neck.
Best Fret Press: Jiayouy Fret Press
Fret Press Caul
A fret press caul is an attachment for your fret press. They come in different radius/fret sizes and need to be selected according to the specifications of your guitar. They are designed to hold the fret in place while operating the press.
Best Fret Press Caul: Jiayouy Fret Press Caul
Fret Crowning File
Fret crowning files are specialist tools that are used to reshape the top of the fret after it has been leveled. They typically have multiple sides with different profiles so that you don’t need multiple tools to recrown different guitars.
Best fret Crowning file: Baroque Fret Crowning File
Fret rockers are simple tools that are used to check whether or not frets are level with one another. The appropriate side of the tool is laid across the top of any three frets and “rocked” to check for movement.
Best Fret Rocker: FretGuru Fret Rocker
Fret Leveling Beam
Fret leveling beams are large tools designed to simultaneously sand down and level every fret on the neck. They are heavy metal beams that use sandpaper to file down the frets and the paper grit can normally be changed to work from course to fine, leaving a smooth finish.
Best Fret Leveling Beam: FretGuru Precision Fret Leveling Beam
Fret Bevel File
Fret bevel files are alternative tools for shaping, or applying a crown, to a fret. In essence, they are Teflon blocks with 2 abrasive file inserts, each at a different angle. They can be used instead of, or in conjunction with crowning files.
Best Fret Bevel File: Jiayouy Fret Bevel File
Fret Dressing File
Fret dressing files are specialist tools that are used specifically for filing down fret sprouts and ultimately shaping the edges of the frets to make them more comfortable to play.
Best Fret Dressing File: StewMac Fret End Dressing File
Fret erasers are abrasive blocks that loosely resemble the kind of eraser you would find in a stationary set, but the similarities end there. These blocks come in varying grit counts to work from a rough grind to a mirror shine finish on your frets. They are ideal for removing rust during service work.
Best Fret Eraser: Baroque Fret Eraser Set
Hand files are multipurpose tools that are used for shaving down and shaping almost any material used in luthiery. They come in different shapes and sizes, allowing you to select the most appropriate file for the job in hand.
Best Hand Files: Kalim 16 Piece Hand File Set
Screwdrivers are required for a huge number of guitar repairs and setup tasks. Most guitars use different screws for fitting different components, so having a full set of both Phillips head, flat head, and even Torx drivers is essential.
Best Screwdriver Set: Jakemy Ratchet Screwdriver Set
Strobe tuners are highly accurate tuning devices that can measure pitch to thousandths of cents. Having a strobe tuner is very useful during intonation adjustments to ensure maximum accuracy across the entire fretboard.
Best Strobe Tuner: Peterson Stroboclip HD
Allen Key Set
Allen keys are hexagonal tools that are typically sold in sets. Sometimes they are all attached to a frame, in other cases they are individual keys in a set. For guitar maintenance it’s advisable to buy the separates as it’s easier to reach tight spots with them. They’re available in metric or imperial measurements.
Best Allen Key Set: Craftsman Hex Key Set
String Action Ruler
A string action ruler is a specialist measuring device used to calculate the distance from the bottom of the strings to the fretboard. Some will have metric measurements while others will have imperial.
Best String Action Ruler: Baroque String Action Ruler
Fretboard oil is used for nourishing and moisturizing the wood of your fretboard to prevent it from drying out. There are a number of different oils available, including some natural, and some petroleum based. Lemon oil is another popular choice, although it isn’t actually lemon oil, but rather a mineral oil with lemon scent.
Best Fretboard Oil: Dunlop Formula 65 Lemon Oil and Cleaner
A string winder is a simple tool designed to increase the speed at which you can turn the tuning heads on a guitar, allowing you to slacken, or tighten, strings much faster than you otherwise could by hand. They’re very handy for string changes and even just tuning when you’re trying to save a bit of time
Best String Winder: Roadie 2 Automatic String Winder
A neck support can either be a shaped pillow or a small tripod. In either case, the purpose of a neck support is to position your guitar correctly and to safely stabilize it as you perform your maintenance or repairs. A good neck support with have a soft touch surface so as to prevent scratching the guitar’s finish.
Best Neck Support: MusicNomad Cradle Cube
A maintenance pad, or mat, is a great way to protect your guitar’s finish when you’re performing maintenance. Especially when you don’t have access to a permanent work bench, a mat can be laid out on top of any table, or even the floor, and provide you with a sturdy, yet forgiving workspace.
Best Maintenance Pad: MusicNomad Premium Instrument Work Mat
A notched straight edge is a tool that is designed to measure how straight (or bowed) the neck is. As the name suggests, these rules have pre cut notches in order to fit properly over the frets and get the best possible measurement of the neck’s relief (or lack thereof).
Best Notched Straight Edge: iLuiz Notched Straight Edge
Contact cleaner is a solution that can be safely applied to electronic components like pickup selector switches and potentiometers in order to remove any dirt or debris that may be causing poor performance or even total failure of the parts.
Best contact cleaner for guitars: Deoxit Contact Cleaner
A radius gauge is placed over the surface of the fretboard in order to measure the radius, or curvature. These tools usually come as a set designed to measure a wide range of radii, which is useful if you’ve acquired a guitar with unknown specs.
Best Radius Gauge: Dreamtop 9 Piece Radius Gauge Set
Radius Sanding Block
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A radius sanding block is a pre shaped block that conforms to the desired radius you’re looking to achieve. They are normally made from wood or aluminum, and require that you place disposable sandpaper sheets on them before use. Having a set of multiple sizes makes it simple to adjust a compound radius, or to make spot adjustments where necessary.
Best Radius Sanding Block: StewMac 4” Radius Sanding Blocks
Feeler Gauge Set
A feeler gauge set is used to measure small distances that even a precision ruler can’t manage. Each gauge is a known thickness, so, rather than attempt to read a measurement off a scale, the feeler gauge is inserted into the gap. If there is still space between the 2 sides of the gap you’re measuring, try larger gauges until the gap is filled, and this is the measurement.
Best Feeler Gauge Set: Handook Stainless Steel Feeler Gauge Set
Luthier’s Tool Set
A luthier’s tool set combines the most commonly used of the other tools discussed in this guide in one handy set, negating the need to purchase each tool individually. The set can be added to with individual pieces as you find a need to own them.
Best Luthier’s Tool Set – MIFOGE 45 Piece Guitar Maintenance and Repair Set
Final Thoughts on Tools for Upgrades and Repairs
We hope you’ve found this guide to the best tools and upgrades useful. One of the most exciting things about performing your own upgrades and repairs is realizing that the possibilities are almost limitless when you have the right equipment, and knowhow, to take on these tasks yourself.