How To Solder

About 9 years ago I spent 12 months and a lot of money attending audio engineering school. Although it  didn’t lead to recording bands, learning the basics of soldering has been very useful as a dj. Fortunately, you don’t need to spend $40k on an education to learn soldering, just read on after the break and we will take you through the basics. But why in the world is this important to djs? Well here are just few good thing you will be able to do:

  • fix a broken audio cable for nothing
  • build a really nice cable for $5 instead of paying $40 at the store
  • When something small breaks on your controller- fix it instantly
  • comfortably explore the exciting world of DIY midi
  • make yourself super valuable to a club

Its so easy…

Soldering is the technical term for joining 2 pieces of metal together by coating both with a third metal that makes a permanent bond. You probably discovered that wrapping cable ends together with tape not only looks ghetto but rarely lasts very long. If you have the right tools then its much faster and significantly more effective to just solder 2 pieces of wire together. To get started you will need 3 basic things:
1. A Soldering Iron
There is a wide range of soldering irons out there but its worth buying the good ones if you can. Weller, which is one of the best available, normally run about $150 in the store but can be found at flea markets and garage sales for much less. I picked up mine for $15 at a club’s going out of business sale!
2. Solder
While there are many varieties of solder out there, generally the kind found at radio shack is good enough for small jobs. A $4 roll will last you for months.
3. Clamp
Having only 2 hands, most djs will find themselves awkwardly attempting to hold together many small things at once. Unless you happened to be a watch maker in a past life, then I recommend you buy a clamp. you can use a vise, clamp or the popular helping hand.

Learning the basics

Now that you have the tools, lets learn how to solder:

Taking it to the next level

Here are some advanced soldering tips from our resident hardware expert Fatlimey: 

If you have to connect lots of stripped wire ends to stuff and you don’t have the necessary three hands, flux is your friend.

  1. Take the stripped wire end and dip it into a pot of solder flux to very lightly coat the exposed metal part of the wire.
  2. Position the coated wire end against the contact you want to solder it to.
  3. With your coil of solder laying on the table in a “hands free” manner (free end sticking up), tap the tip of your iron against the solder so that a small blob melts and is transferred to the tip of your iron. The rosin core of the melted solder will quickly burn off as smoke. This is exactly as designed.
  4. Holding the coated wire against the contact, solder as usual and hold the wire still until the solder sets. You will find that as the tip of the wire heats up, the flux coating melts and the solder almost jumps off the iron onto the wire and fills gaps easily – the reason for this is that the flux breaks the surface tension of the melted solder and the soldering iron tip (now that the original flux core has burned off) is slightly repellent.
  5. Job done. Repeat for the next N-hundred joints…

So, go get yourself rosin some flux. Solder with a flux core is great if you can position the iron on the component and tap the flux against the newly heated contact – the flux embedded in thesolder does the job of breaking the surface tension. If you find that you don’t have enough hands to work like this then coating the receiving part with a tiny bit of flux does the same job but doesn’t require you to melt the solder at the joint itself.

Oh, and don’t bother with ROHS lead free “silver” solder for hobbiest projects. It melts too hot and is a royal PITA to use. Normal Tin/Lead solder will make soldering a lot easier, melts cooler (protecting your components) and generally causes a lot less burned boards, melted plastic and swearing at things.


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Comments (13)
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  • Victor Talay

    Hello… I would like to use rotarys, sliders, buttons, pads, keys… from my broken  midi keyboard to make a controller for Ableton, … The motherboard had issues and they don’t have that model ‘s part anymore (Axiom49, 2007!), the other parts circuits are independant from each other as they connect to motherboard and in good state. My actual only clues for some assembly solutions took me to the world of Midi Box but as a newbie in electronics, except for music, I need help to figure some project.

  • Jay Def

    I went to work for an electronics manufacturer who taught me to solder. I hated working for that company, but it’s good to know that some of what I learned there can be used for something good.

  • Ramzi Abdoch

    [quote comment=””]hmmm…i’m debating whether to try my luck at fixing my faderfox myself or sending it to a professional. this just made the idea of doing it myself a little more plausible.[/quote]
    [quote comment=”17694″]that’s funny. just a few weeks ago i bought myself some 16gauge copper speaker wire & solderless rca connectors. needless to say it was pretty janky. thus i kept thinking, “if only i knew how to solder, this would be a little less ominous of a problem”


    Whoa, you just used the word “janky.” Where are you from? I thought that was only a Memphis thing.

  • takeAbath

    hmmm…i'm debating whether to try my luck at fixing my faderfox myself or sending it to a professional. this just made the idea of doing it myself a little more plausible.

  • RSDJMoniker

    Remember. Heat the Metal, not the Solder!!!

  • DJ Phaidon

    I'm a military certified micro-miniature repair tech, so here are a few other pointers that help with soldering.

    Blobs of solder are very bad. They can short out other connections and will corrode faster than minimal solder joints. Think Richie Hawtin, very minimal, when it comes to the amount of solder.

    If the solder looks dull, like pewter, it is a bad solder joint. The goal is to make the solder look like brightly polished silver, called a wetted solder.

    While flux is awsome at reducing surface tension and aiding in a good solder joint, it is bad to leave sitting on a circuit board, it's very corrosive. Get yourself a few hobby brushes, some lint free paper towels, and some Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, and clean the area you're working on BEFORE and AFTER you solder. This will help in both creating a good solder joint, and reduce the amount of corrosion that occurs from the flux.

    If you need any other tips or advice, hit me up in the forums

  • J. Muco

    Timely article! Good job. I just recently installed a popup light and ground wire on a technics SL 1200. It was extremely easy, but I was initially intimidated by the thought of soldering. I learned the hardest part was taking apart and putting the turntable back together again.

  • BentoSan

    Just before you want to fix a controll on the a midi controller that you may have purchased – it might be a better idea to make sure you practice on a hobbyist kit before your first soldering experiment is on your expensive investment.

    Nice write up guys 🙂

  • midifidler

    Make sure your flux is not acid flux, otherwise the wires will corrode and break over a few months…

    And flux most importantly removes surface oxidation from the two pieces of metal being bonded together, this allows the solder to form a much stronger inter-metallic bond

  • LastOne

    This is another reason to buy an arcade-mod DIY kit, isn't it?

    Good job again. Keep it running…

  • Atreyu

    that's funny. just a few weeks ago i bought myself some 16gauge copper speaker wire & solderless rca connectors. needless to say it was pretty janky. thus i kept thinking, "if only i knew how to solder, this would be a little less ominous of a problem"