When I first started switching electronics years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I'd never soldered anything together and I thought "how hard can it be?" It involves a hot iron and some solder. The solder melts with the heat of the iron. The melty stuff goes over the things you want to solder together. Right? I found no success. Only frustration followed. I did everything wrong.
My first mistake was using solder made for plumbing. I think I bought it at Walmart and it was right next to a black $5.99 soldering iron. Solder is solder right? That combo may be good for something but it's not for soldering guitar components. Huge setback, I felt like a failure.
You have to use 60/40 Rosin Core Solder.
I decided to do some research. In about 2 seconds, I found 60/40 rosin core solder. I actually just purchased some. That link will give you way too much unless you're me. It will last me a year or so.
The 60/40 rosin core solder is the best thing since sliced bread. It's thin and melty. It wasn't pretty but after a few hours, I was able to connect a few things together.
With my newly found confidence, I decided to look into this whole soldering thing and learn what I was doing wrong. Turns out, it's not about melting the solder on top of the components. That doesn't work because the components are cold and the solder is hot. It won't stick no matter how much solder you are using.
Join The Two Components
What you have to do is join the two components. I try and make a physical connection. The scenario is usually a wire being soldered to a lug. You can thread the end of the wire into the loop of the lug. You can also buy alligator clips. I use alligator clips a good bit. It speeds up the process.
Heat The Components Up
Once the two components are touching each other, heat them up with the tip of the soldering iron. It only takes a few seconds. FYI, that is the exact soldering iron I use on a daily basis. It heats up fast, its the perfect temperature and it's inexpensive. If it breaks, I'm not out $100.
Be careful not to burn yourself, any wires, the carpet or your desk. I keep mine in a metal container which keeps it out of harms way.
Now Add The Solder
While the tip of the iron is still touching the components, add the tip of the solder to the components. If both components are the right temp, the solder will melt over and make a secure connection. You don't need very much at all. More isn't better. Less is more. If you are using a ton of solder, something is wrong.
How secure is the connection? The new soldered connection is actually stronger than the wire itself.
A Few General Maintenance Things About Soldering Irons
The tip of the soldering iron has to remain clean. When it is clean it is shiny silver. You clean it by wiping it on a wet sponge or cloth. I use an old cloth and I dampen it while my iron is heating up. Get in the habit of cleaning the tip between every use.
The components which you are soldering need to be "Tinned." What that means is you have to add some solder to every wire you intend to solder before you actually solder it. It's easy, you just heat up the wire and touch it with the tip of the solder. Most components, like the lugs on pots and switches are pre-tinned. Not necessary to do it again. Cloth wrapped guitar wire is also pre-tinned.
Good luck and happy soldering. Half the battle is using the correct tools and solder. The other half is technique. I got the hang of it in 6 or 7 tries. Now, I don't remember ever not knowing how to solder. It's cheap to get into, you don't need a $80-$100 rig unless your wiring 10 guitars a day.Hope this helps.
Owner, NoVA Guitar Setups