How To Tighten Loose Guitar Knobs and Controls

Guitar set up

In this video from Gibson TV, Gibson Master Luthier Jim DeCola shows us the proper way to tighten loose controls and guitar knobs.

Video Text:

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[Music] hi i’m jim dicola master luthier for gibson guitars welcome to gibson’s guide to guitar setup and maintenance in this episode we’re going to cover tightening loose controls mostly the electronic controls that uh you know you’re getting a lot of use out of your toggle switches your pots your jacks those things can become loose from heavy use or because of expansion and contraction of the wood typically in winter air is a lot more dry than it is in other times of the year so the wood can contract causing the controls to sometimes work loose and with heavy use that makes it worse so with the right tools and depending on the controls you know it’s not not an issue starting with the toggle switch that’s a simple one if you have the right tools

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now a lot of times what will happen is they’ll rotate and and again with all the controls if they rotate too much they can cause a wire or electronic failure and that’s usually most electronic failures are actually mechanical failures so if your switch is loose and it starts rotating or if you tighten it without holding it down properly you can strain those wires and break one of those wires loose and that will cause a failure on the switch same thing with the pod if it becomes loose and you rotate it too much it can twist and cause a failure there and same as the with the jack so starting with the switch the first thing that we’ll do is remove the switch cover there’s three screws that hold that on three phillips screws and the reason we want to take that off is so we can hold that switch in place while we tighten it down

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now with the cover removed you can see the switch here and you can see the wires and the wires are very delicate so you want to make sure that switch doesn’t rotate so what we’ll do there’s two different wrenches that we’ll use today or i’ll show you one is an adjustable toggle switch wrench you can get these from various guitar shop supplies like stewart mcdonald or luthier’s mercantile and you can hold the handle and rotate this to clamp it down and it’ll grab the knurl of that nut so when you go to tighten it down you want to make sure that the throw of the switch is adjusted properly and if you look on the back you want to hold that switch in place so when you tighten it that switch doesn’t rotate and you can see that switch should basically be parallel with the center line of the guitar so

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we’ll be holding the switch washer into position while i’m holding the toggle switch with my thumb in back and then i take the adjustable socket with the switch in the center holding the washer down and holding that switch in place i’m able to tighten it down with that socket the other method is with a spanner wrench and it’s just a piece of steel with a v-notch on each end and then it is serrated on one side of each of those v-notches so when you tighten it you want to use the side that has the teeth towards the bottom side and when you tighten it that will grab that knurled nut and again you just tighten it to where it’s snug and make sure that throw is going up and down as it’s intended so with the proper tools that’s that’s very simple if you don’t have those

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tools you can get by with needle nose pliers however you know you can also scratch your guitar if you’re not careful if you don’t have these wrenches and you want to play macgyver and tighten it with needle nose go for it here’s what you want to do take the needle nose and put a couple layers of masking tape on the bottom so if it would touch the guitar you’re not going to scratch the guitar and then make sure you use needle nose that have teeth on the inside of the jaws that way it’s less likely to slip as you’re tightening it so if you have those teeth on the inside of the jaws they’ll lock into the knurl of that nut and you just gently tighten that down and you can’t get by with needle nose so when you’re done then you can go ahead and close it back up you’re set there next we’ll tighten the controls with controls you want to take the knob off in this case we have a knob jack and this is actually made by stuart mcdonald but it’s a

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replica of a tool that gibson came out with decades ago so you can see it’s curved up on one side and it has felt on the bottom so what you want to do is put that felt side down and then just like a jack you want to push up on that knob until that knob comes off and sometimes you want to rotate that knob you may work it up on one side and then turn it around and maybe work on it a few different directions until it eases off now you have your knobs off now you’ll want to tighten the can the nuts down on the pots you can use several tools for that recommended a socket wrench so this is a half inch deep well socket and in a socket driver like a screwdriver so it’s deep enough to where the shaft of the pot can go inside

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and then you can securely tighten that pot nut this is what we use at the factory and this is what i would recommend so what you want to do in this case is go ahead and remove that rear control cover again depending on the model you may have some pots that are free rotating and some mounted on a metal plate that will naturally keep them from rotating because they have tabs that prevent that but just to play it safe we’re opening this up so you can see inside here this is the version that has the tabs on the pots in that metal plate that metal plate keeps it from rotating and it also adds shielding to that circuit so now we’re good now we’ll come back now it’s a matter of just tightening that nut down because we know the pots not going to rotate if you don’t have that metal plate like on a

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vintage guitar a lot of the the 50 style guitars don’t have that you’ll want to hold that pot in back just as you did that switch and that will keep it from rotating it as you tighten it down because if it rotates it could snap the capacitor or one of the wires so then you get that socket and then you tighten the pot nut now here’s another thing you need to consider when on some of our models we have the dial indicators on the pot nuts right and that’s this little bent piece of metal that coincides with the number on your knob so you want to tighten that and you want to have this arranged so they’re all in the same angle so right now i can confirm they’re all pointing in that same direction and since i don’t have to hold it i can hold that dial indicator with my index finger and then tighten that pot nut until it’s snug

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i’ll go ahead and do the same thing here now you can tighten it down and take a look at it and put a your knob on it and you can feel where your knob is going to uh lock in to the shaft of the pot right so sometimes if you look down and you get everything arranged but you see that dial indicator is not exactly under that number under the 10 when it’s fully rotated and that’s another key thing you want to do when you put the knobs back on rotate your pot fully so it’s in the full on 10 position and then position that knob to where you can feel it bite into the teeth of the pot and you get it located and now you can see here that dial indicator isn’t exactly under that 10 but i’m not going to worry about that right now now i’m just going to press that knob on you can tap it gently with a soft mallet

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and get it into place but i prefer just to use slow steady pressure i use the palm of my hand and i hold the edge of the guitar and i just compress it until it’s seated all the way down and then i rotate it and if you see here as i rotate it’s rotating nicely if you don’t have it seated properly it can kind of wobble as you rotate it and that just looks sloppy you don’t want it to do that so now do the same with this rhythm tone knob so i’m going to locate it so it’s in the same direction as the others so all the as i’m holding it in playing position that 10 is looking at me at that same angle right i’ll do the same thing i’ll press that down with the palm of my hand while i’m holding the edge of the body and i feel it can’t go any tighter and then i check it to make sure it’s rotating fine and if it does have a slight wobble

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i’ll kind of close one eye and look at it and then on that high side i might press it down and then rotate it again and then just kind of adjust it until you get it seated flat and then give it one last push and that’ll keep it seated properly so at this point the knobs are secure the orientation of the knob numbers is correct but the dial indicator is slightly off-center it’s it’s not quite to nine and a half and it should be on 10. so the dial indicator needs to rotate counterclockwise just ever so slightly so to take care of that i’ll set the guitar down on the bench and i’ll get a small hammer and a doll rod and even though the knob is securely tightened you can gently tap that indicator just like that and now

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it’s right under the 10 and it still hasn’t loosened up it’s still secure so that will take care of pots so again the right tools like the knob jack and your half inch deep socket wrench come in very handy if you don’t have that you can use a crescent wrench or you know box wrench in fact these are some from stuart mcdonald they’re very thin and they are convenient because you can keep them in a small tool bag and uh and then even these they’re so thin sometimes you can get them without even taking the guitar apart or the knob and you can kind of finesse that knob back you know where it needs to be with that thin wrench then you can close up the control cavity lastly we have the loose jack and jacks work loose probably mo more commonly than any other controls because there’s so much heavy use and the nature of their location and so forth so in this case the jack nut is

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loose and i could use that same half inch socket to tighten it down however what can happen when you tighten it down that jack can rotate inside that jack plate and that cable can wrap around the jack causing a short or causing it to interfere with the action of the jack when the cable is inserted so i recommend removing that jack plate so you can securely hold the jack in place while you’re tightening it down and you don’t have to unwire anything you can do it while it’s fully wired okay now you can see how the jack is soldered to that cable and there is a plastic insulator tube on there but still if it rotates too much you know it can cut through that tubing and that’s not a good scenario so what i’m going to do here is rotate i like to get that jack

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positioned so it’s aligned so the flat of the jack is parallel with one flat side of that jack plate it just keeps it orderly and then it kind of lets me know when i put it back together where everything is so i’ll go ahead and use that same half inch socket but i’m what i’m going to do this time you can either hold it in your hands i like to hold the wrench in my hand like so and use my thumb to hold against the jack plate as i tighten it and hold the jack in my other hand and just rotate it like that or in some cases i might take a rag or polishing cloth and kind of hold the jack assembly inside that wadded cloth and then go ahead and tighten it down but either way it’s good to keep a thumb on there so it doesn’t rotate on that jack plate as you’re tightening it down once it’s

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fully tight here then you can insert it back inside the guitar and then tighten it back down once you’re done you want to make sure you put a jack in there to make sure that nothing interfered and that the cable didn’t go behind the actuator of the jack so again it’s a pretty simple repair that occurs you know quite often on guitars and if you do it properly you won’t have to do it as often and if you have the right tools it just makes it a lot easier so then we can lock it down and close everything up and then we’re done tightening up the jack the pots and the switch sometimes you might have guitars that have midi toggle switches they would use a quarter inch socket drive so it would be

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a similar tool like this and again you could use an open end wrench or crescent wrench but a socket head is just more secure and less chance for slipping and causing damage to the guitar again when you’re tightening and control the the best course of action is to hold that control as you’re tightening it so it doesn’t rotate and stretch a wire out and it just allows you to secure it down without potentially damaging it so that’s it for tightening down all your electronic controls stay tuned for the next episode of gibson’s guide to guitar setup and maintenance

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