When it comes to modifying guitars, building partscasters, or trying to improve the playability and tone of cheap guitars there are many essential tools you’ll need. However, most are incredibly easy to find, inexpensive, or both. Below, I’ll talk through the tools I use every day and my recommendations for budget friendly options. These products can help you on the fly in a live setting or in the comfort of your own studio or workshop to make your guitar play and feel better.
Cordless Drill – My Recommendation
Having a compact and reliable drill is one of the best tools you can have even for the most basic guitar jobs. Putting on a new neck? Unscrewing the many pickguard screws on a Strat? A drill is going to save you a lot of time. Some experienced luthiers or techs may have a high tech, super tricked out drill or drill kit, but if you’re just putting some Strats and Teles together like I do, don’t blow too much on a drill.
Tung Oil – My Recommendation
One of the best ways to upgrade the feel and comfort of a cheap dark wood fretboard (Rosewood, Pau Ferro, Ebony) is to condition it with some type of oil finish. It’s incredibly important to remember that you do not want to condition a Maple fretboard, that’s usually done with a satin or gloss finish instead.
These dark woods, common on affordable Les Pauls, Stratocasters, or other popular guitar shapes, are often un-finished, poorly finished, or dried out. Simply wipe some of this on the fretboard with a rag or towel, and let it dry, but be careful to try and not coat the frets themselves. If it dries uneven, feel free to sand it down just a bit, but otherwise it’s a really easy way to improve the cheap neck on guitars like the Glarry GST3.
Screw Driver Set – My Recommendation
While a cordless drill should do most of the heavy lifting, it’s super important to have a wide variety of sizes of screwdrivers to deal with any and all quick repairs.
Soldering Iron Kit – My Recommendation
This is an impressively well stocked soldering kit that won’t set you back a lot of cash. It’s definitely not the high end soldering kit that Dennis Fano is putting Novo guitars together with, but it comes with a lot of important stuff. Soldering iron, stand, tips, solder, current meter, and much more! Having everything you need in one package makes learning or getting work done a lot easier and less intimidating when it comes to wiring a guitar.
Strings – My Recommendation
Some of you may point out that I contribute articles to Stringjoy’s blog, but that is not why they are included here! I slap their 10-48 strings on all the guitars I own, from partscasters to review instruments to my cherished number 1 Stratocaster. They are reliable, crisp, sound great, and it’s supporting an American-made product. Replacing the cheap, often un-coated and aged strings on affordable guitars can go a long way to improving feel and tone. Check these strings out ASAP!
Guitar Polish – My Recommendation
While I do tend to cover a lot of my personal instruments in stickers, I do appreciate a clean, well-polished instrument when I see one. Polish and cleaner is not only cheap, but a really easy way to keep your guitar looking and feeling its best. It can sometimes make a huge difference when it comes to making an old, beat-up partscaster look new again.
String Winder/Cutter – My Recommendation
Probably one of the most important and useful tools ever is this D’Addario multi-tool that incorporates a string winder, string cutter, and acoustic peg lever into one. Peg winders make it way easier to change strings fast and I don’t know why I ever changed strings without one of these. Even players who never work on their own instruments need to own one of these to quickly change strings on the fly.