Length: 6 minute read
As a long-time guitar tech and someone paid to fix people’s guitars for national recording artists, I’m going to give you my perhaps shocking take on guitar tools and multi-tools so prevalent in the accessory industry today. This is a fairly brief article so it won’t take long.
If you’ve ever broken a string or needed to tighten the screws on your Floyd Rose whammy bar or bridge, then you’ll appreciate the concept of a guitar multi-tool with the right tools all-in-one unit.
ONE OF THE BETTER MULTI-TOOLS, by IBANEZ
Just like the well-known Leatherman, a good guitar multi-tool has screwdrivers, allen wrenches, and if you’re lucky a good wire cutter included. Acoustic guitars need much less "toolery" simply because they lack the metal screws more common in electric guitars in the bridge and pickup area. Most electric guitars today have screw-on pickguards as opposed to glued pickguards on an acoustic steel string, such as Fender Strat and Telecaster.
The point of an ultimate guitar multi-tool is having all of the needed tools in one hand-held item. Just like with bicycles, guitar multi-tools should have a Phillips and standard screwdriver, and preselected Allen wrenches most common for guitars then hopefully omit all the rest! Perhaps the best example is the highly sought-after 3mm allen wrench, so necessary on many import guitars as these do everything from raising and lowering your bridge and guitar action, to loosening the locking nut and string clamps on a guitar with a whammy style bridge system. It’s the equivalent of the 10mm wrench you need for cars.
The truth is you can go a long way with many Asian made electric guitars by just having a 3 millimeter allen wrench. Many guitar tool setups will have a neck adjustment wrench, but once again this is just another allen wrench. If you own a Martin, they often require a special allen tool you need to get from them.
SHOCKING CONCLUSION ABOUT GUITAR TOOLS
So I’ve already told you I’ve been a professional guitar tech for many years, and worked on guitars owned by guys in the Beach Boys and Ace Frehley’s band, as well as hundreds of other local musicians. That said I’d like to give you my honest take on these guitar multi-tools. Ready? Nearly all of them are subpar quality and gimmicky! There are a couple exceptions, like the Ibanez unit above. But it lacks a wire cutter. In my opinion you're better off using a couple of quality screwdrivers and a separate small set of allen wrenches with a quality wire-cutter. You really only need three main items in your guitar multitool – screwdrivers, allen wrenches, and a needle-nose wire-cutter which doubles as a small pliers. You should also have a string winder but those aren’t usually part of a multitool.
WHY ARE THEY SO BAD
The trouble with most guitar and bass accessories is they need to be under the $20 or $25 mark to be sold in most music stores and websites. Since retailer profit is huge in this industry, you aren’t going to get a super quality item for $15. It might function, but it’s likely not going to offer you the precision needed in key areas or with an important guitar repair. This is especially true with the wirecutter. (Look at all the stuff you get in this pictured, kit shipped from China on Amazon, there's over fifteen tools here plus picks, pins, and a case, all for $14.99? Is the quality really there?)
AMAZON MULTI-TOOL FROM CHINA - How good could all of this be for $14.99 ?
Most guitar tools I’ve tried don’t have good wirecutters and struggle to cut most guitar strings, which is the primary reason you’ll need to pull out a multitool (to change a broken string). The other HUGE problem is assembling all these items into one multitool creates bulk and what you’re left with is a larger item that you are manipulating around your guitar’s delicate paint and finish. That it why most guitar multi-tools do not have all the "tools" you need, such as lacking a wire cutter or truss rod wrench. It’s much easier using a small separate screwdriver or allen tool rather than a bulky multi-tool. This is probably why I do not know any professional guitar repair guys that use a "guitar multi-tool". They all use separate tools.
THE BEST GUITAR MULTITOOL RECOMMENDATION
In wrapping up, the best recommendation I can give you is buy a couple small quality screwdrivers. Usually a hardware store or auto-parts store will sell quality tools. Here you can also get a good but cheap set of all the allen wrenches you could need for under $8. Harbor Freight is great for this. Try to figure out if your guitar is standard or metric, but even if not you can still often get both sets for under $10 and some places sell them together. Lastly you’ll a good needle-nose pliers/wirecutter tool, don’t skimp out here because this is usually the first tool to fail. A good one will never fail and be guaranteed for life. If you can afford it, get a small one and a larger one. Again, around $10 here. You won’t need a pliers much on guitars, except maybe for pulling out a stuck loosened screw or retrieving a small piece of broken string stuck in your guitar tuning mechanism.
The icing on the cake is a string winder or two, these are rarely above $2 and quality isn’t a huge concern here as they all work. These also function as a bridge pin puller for acoustic guitars. More icing - if you own a Gibson or Epiphone you might need a special allen wrench that resembles a tiny smoker's pipe. Guitar Center probably has a drawer full of them since they get one for every Gibson that comes in its shipping box and often customers buy the guitar without the shipping box. They might even give you one for free.
Lastly you can easily get a small Velcro nylon case in many department stores, or Amazon to keep all these together in your gig bag or case.
So that’s it. You can get a much better setup for your guitar by assembling your own multi-tool kit separately and it will be less risky using them on your precious guitar finish. Maybe not the glamorous answer you were looking for, but experience tells me it’s all about quality and function over glamour. I’d rather have a slightly bulkier kit with all quality tools than a cheap gimmick guitar tool that fits in one hand.
THE ULTIMATE GUITAR TOOL You're Missing Out On?
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