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Matt's Must Have Tool List

I have been asked many times to make a video, write a blog, attach a note to a pidgin, etc. about some of the tools I think that every guitar builder should have. Now, these are not going to be the kinds of things that will break the bank. In fact, I would encourage you to seek out some of the bigger industrial machines on the used market. My beloved pin router, for example, was covered with dust and banjo parts 7 years ago when I rescued it from a factory that had since outsourced everything offshore. I shudder to think that the parts they were having made were also done with… a CNC! That is a tale for another time. Back to the idea of Matt’s Must Have Tools. There is a long list of tools that are absolutely essential, no ifs, ands or buts. I have decided to call them Matt’s Must Haves. Brace yourselves for this list to be long but rest assured, you can acquire them over time and some of them might just make you some money if you play your card right. I have also put Amazon links to all of the tools that I recommend as well as some back up choices if the number one choice is sold out. Things to measure other things with, draw straight lines with and write things down with are the most basic and most overlooked guitar making tools. I get it they are not sexy, you can’t really hurt yourself when you use them and you might look like a nerd if you are constantly measuring stuff, writing things down and doing math. I will not spend too much time on these, just promise me you will buy them first and learn how to use them. Oh yeah, buy multiples of the inexpensive things. They have a way of getting lost, wandering off or hiding from me. I have every reason to believe they will act the same way in your shop. Straight Edge, you will need, at least, one good precision ground straight edge. I’m not saying that the el cheapo yardstick at Home Depot won’t work but don’t be tempted to think they are the same thing. Your fret jobs will thank you. I like the 24-inch model you will be surprised how often you will use this one. Protractor, making a perpendicular line on a center line is something you are going to do repeatedly. Get a whole mess of these because they are clear, and they disappear. Centering Ruler, I had not even seen a centering ruler until about a decade ago. Maybe I just did not look hard enough? This specialty piece of metal with little black lines will save you lots of time once you figure out all the neat things you can do with it. I sort out inlays, bridge locations, tuner holes and a bunch of other things my tiny brain can’t remember right now. String Spacing Rule, if you only make one guitar in your life you might need this tool. If you make a 12 string, a bass, a banjo and a 7 string you absolutely need this! Back in the old days we used to space strings equidistant and kind of… eyeball it. The problem is that strings are all different sizes and if you make them all the same distance apart the thick ones look all squished together. Machinist Scale, this tool is indispensable! Not only can you measure things with it (provided they are under 6 inches long) they are straight, flat and magnetic. I use them to wipe wet glue off joints and even cut sandwiches too. They also have a little detachable clip if you want to look cool with a pocket protector. Stainless Steel, L Square, this is one of those tools that look a lot like other tools. I like it because it is flat and does not have a thick block on one of the sides. I have a drawer full of those other squares from the home center, but this little guy is the one I reach for 9 times out of 10. I start looking for it on Chris’s work bench because he is always using it too. That is why the listing below has two for the price of one. Of course, you will need to find your own hiding spot from Chris. Contour Gauge, I think more people ask me about this tool than any other. The plastic ones work the best and are super durable. I have linked to one with a metal lock rather than a plastic one. You will use this tool every time you shape a neck. Calipers, the dial kind are getting harder to locate but these are good too. They do decimals, millimeters and fractions. I have a set of the Stew Mac calipers and I always forget to zero for depth. They have that fret thing and it’s decent but mostly unused here at TTG. For repair work, the ability to measure a fret height could be a really valuable feature. However, if you are building guitars and you don't know what size frets you are working with you really need to stop and reevaluate your life.