How to guide - Wiring your guitar's jack mono socket
Your guitar's jack socket can take a lot of punishment over a long amount of time, and it's not uncommon to need to repair or replace it from time to time. The mounting nut can sometimes work loose, meaning the solder connections are damaged from unwanted movement or perhaps general wear & tear over years can cause damage too. Maybe you'd like to upgrade a lower quality item to a high end replacement like those by Switchcraft & Pure Tone. Whatever the reason for you looking to replace your jack socket, hopefully this how to guide will help you learn a bit more about them, and importantly how to replace them. The jacks most commonly found on our guitars are standard, two connector, 1/4" female audio jack sockets which is what I'll be looking at today.
This is a very simple process but one I feel all guitarists should comfortably know how to do, whatever your level of experience with a soldering iron. But also it might be useful if you're planning on installing a new pre-wired harness in your Strat or Les Paul for example where the jack can't be pre-wired prior to install. I will detail the process for both brands of mono jack socket I offer, the Switchcraft mono and the Pure Tone Multi contact jack sockets. Both are the very same principle, but due to their slight differences in appearance it is beneficial to discuss both here. I hope you find this how to guide useful!
Here is a photo of a new Switchcraft & Pure Tone socket side by side, although they do look different there are a few key similarities. The only parts you need to be noting specifically when installing are the two connection lugs. One is the live, hot or positive connection lug. People can refer to them as a number of things but those are the main ones to look for. The other is the ground / negative connection lug. I'm going to talk about each brand, so it's nice and clear depending on which you have decided to use. But first, let's get the right tools for the job, to ensure it's stress free as possible.
Tools potentially required
- Soldering Iron: Most hobbyist soldering irons we have in our tool cupboards at home are more than up to the job of helping you fit your jack socket. I do personally recommend a 40w iron, this will provide ample working temperature for guitar electronic components.
- Solder: For commercial product reasons, I have to use lead free solder. I personally use Rapid brand lead free.
- Wire Cutters: Provides a clean snip of your new or existing wires
- Small, long nosed pliers/grips: These are a must have tool for guitar wiring I find. It helps handle the small wires securely and when placing them around the connection lugs for a secure join prior to solder.
- Wire strippers: This is relevant if you're using plastic coated wire, as it will safely expose the inner core of the wire to work with. If you're used cloth or 'push-back' wire as it's sometimes called, then wire strippers aren't necessary.
- Screw drivers and 13mm socket: Depending on the guitar you'll be fitting your jack socket to, you may require a screw driver to remove the jack control plate safely. You'll also require a 13mm socket to remove the existing jack socket securing nut, and also to install the new jack securely.
- Optional heat shrink: After soldering you can choose to add some heat shrink over the joints. I personally do this as it's an extra bit of strength for the solder joint if the jack socket does work loose, but also it acts as shielding on those connections too. You don't have to heat shrink the connections, but if you have some already it's worth doing so. You can use a hair dryer for example to shrink it to the connections if you don't have a heat shrink tool.
Types of Jack socket
Now we've got everything ready, let's look at the jack socket in detail and how to easily identify which lug is which and how to securely solder it. Starting with the Switchcraft mono jack socket. Below I have shown which lug is which, but rather than just show I wanted to explain why and how to identify them too. The first thing you may notice from comparing the two lugs, is that one of them has little notches either side of the lug and one is a little smaller with straight edges. This really helps quickly identify which is which, but just in case yours is any different, it's good to know how the socket works to allow you to identify them too. The live/hot lug is connected to the large tab facing upwards in the below photo and comes in contact with the jack plugs 'tip'. So if you follow the shaped metal down from that large tab on your jack socket, you'll notice it is part of the same metal that your hot/live solder lug is. The second lug, your ground, is part of the central piece of metal, this contacts the 'sleeve' of your jack lead and is therefor your ground. This one is the simplest to identify, so if you're unsure about your hot connection, check out the ground first and the process of elimination with help you identify the switch. But feel free to save the below image and keep it for future reference too.
The Pure Tone multi contact jack is up next. This one looks a bit different to the Switchcraft version due to it's additional jack lead contact points. Pure Tone designed this switch as an upgrade to the traditional jack socket by providing twice the contact patch on the jack lead connector, dual tension grounds and dual positive tips for optimal signal and lowest possible noise. I personally see this jack as a great upgrade purely in a reliability sense as I think you'd be incredibly hard pushed to notice a tonal difference, but with that incredibly secure connection to the jack leads tip and ground sleeve it's a common sense upgrade for very little extra cost.
Due to the additional plug contact points, it can be a little more difficult to identify which lug is which on this particular jack socket. So this section may be of help if you are looking to install a PT jack to your guitar.
So the first difference you may notice is that instead of the Switchcraft items single, long contact for the jack connector's live tip, this has two, and sitting directly under it are two secure connections for the jack connectors ground sleeve. The easist way to identify which lug is which, is to look for the lug that tucks underneath the fibreboard section. That is the 'hot' lug which connects to the tip of the jack plug. The other lug is the ground, and when looking at the jack socket you may see that it is part of the same metal piece as the section that contacts the sleeve of the jack plug. I have made some diagrams to help with identifying these though!
So now you know which lug is which, let's look at the wiring in your guitar or new harness.
What type of wire?
Depending on your plans here, whether it's retaining the existing wiring in the guitar and simply replacing the socket itself, or replacing the wiring and/or harness too. You may notice different types of wire used, so let's look at the possible types of wire found in your guitar.
You'll likely see either of these three types. On the left is plastic coated wire, in the middle is the vintage style cloth 'push-back' wire and on the right the similar cloth and braided covered wire. Many import or lower budget guitars will feature plastic coated wire, most Fender based applications will see the middle cloth covered wires, and most Gibson type applications will use braided finish wire. I'll show you how to wire each type, the plastic and cloth covered wire are essentially the same principle, but all you'll need to do here is identify which is the hot wire and which is the ground. Different manufacturers can use different colours, so the best way is look at the existing jack socket. Identify your hot lug, and go from there!
Removing the old jack socket
Let's get to soldering. Heat your soldering iron up, and prepare the tools and parts needed. If you are replacing an old jack socket, use the 13mm socket and/or screwdriver to remove the control plate if there is one and the jack socket nut securing it in place. Snip the wires at the lugs, try not to cut too much length off the wires to make sure you have plenty of wire length to work with. I tend to snip the wires right at the lug. On the below example, this Strat copy guitar had a red wire for it's hot, and a bare un shielded wire for it's ground, further showing how different manufacturers can have different colour coding.
Now prepare your new jack socket, mount it to the control plate if the guitar has one, as this sometimes helps steady it, or use a soldering 'helping hand' tool to keep it in place whilst you work on it.
Before connecting the wire to the jack socket lugs, I recommend 'pre-tinning' the lugs to make for a better solder joint and easier connection. Simply grab your soldering iron and place it on the lug to heat the joint a little. As the joint warms up, flow a little solder onto the lug, tinning the lug which simply puts a little coating of solder onto where you'll be attaching your wire. Repeat this process on each lug.
If you're keeping your existing wiring, look back at your notes about which wire is which, then attach them to the relevant lug on the jack socket. If you did want to use heat shrink, now is a good time to pop some over the wire ready to shrink after you have completed the solder joint. If they are plastic coated wires, then use a wire stripping tool to expose the central core, then place the core through the relevant lug hole and bend it around the lug for a secure 'seat' on the connection. If you have push-back cloth covered wire either on the guitar originally or have installed a harness using this wire type, simply push some of the cloth covering back to expose the central core. With the core exposed, and using your small long nosed pliers, pop the core of the relevant wire through the correct jack lug, then wrap it around the lug for a secure contact. The photo below shows the hot wire (off white on this occasion) already soldered to the hot lug, and the ground wire wrapped around the lug but not yet soldered to show an example of both before and afterwards. I have also prepared the wire with some heat shrink ready to cover the lug afterwards.
For a braided wire type found on many Gibsons, this is a slightly different process as you technically are only looking at one wire and don't have a separate hot and ground wire like the above photo. Instead, the ground is made via the outer braided shielding, whilst the hot is protected by a black cloth covering inside the braid. But don't worry, the process is just as simple and can be seen in the photo below. Push back the metal braid, and first work on the hot connection. Same as the cloth covered wire above, push the cloth shielding back a little to expose the central core and wrap that around the hot lug on your new jack socket. Once that solder joint is complete and cooled, bunch together some of the braided shielding and pop some of it through the hole in the ground lug of your jack. Solder as normal and now that completes the hot and ground connections of your jack socket using braided wire.
Safely re-fit into your guitar, and test. Providing your connections and solder joints are good, then you shouldn't have to worry about your jack socket for a long time indeed. Hopefully this guide helps you in replacing or installing a jack socket, I have gone into a fair bit of detail but wanted to make sure a few types of socket and wiring styles were covered and hopefully improves your understanding of it not just showing how it's done.
If you would like to order a new jack socket, you can find different versions via the links below -
Switchcraft mono jack socket
Pure Tone Multi contact jack socket
Pre-Wired Pure Tone multi contact jack socket
I do understand for some rewiring a guitar can be a daunting task, but it can be a rewarding job to carry out if done so with the correct knowledge and tools. But if you are at all unsure about fitting, I do highly recommend getting a professional and importantly, trusted guitar technician to fit the harness for you. If you are local to my office (West Midlands based), I do also offer a fitting service. Please get in touch via the contact page for more info.
Thanks and I hope this article is useful,
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