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Article from One Two Testing, October 1985

twenty tools to take on tour

The right tool for the right job, isn't that what they say? Ben Duncan scores 20 essential tools that'll keep your instruments and gear just right.

NOT WITHSTANDING giant strides in musical technology, the repairs and ad-hoc arrangements needed to make a gig happen have remained at much the same level over the years: nuts and bolts, plugs and leads. Put simply, if your Harmonizer or Space Station dies on the road there's not a lot that can be done.

But then true electronic failure is relatively unlikely.

In fact, the majority of rock-induced failures are mechanical, and are easily seen and jury-rigged with elementary tools — provided you have perceptive eyes and a mechanically-inclined mind. Failing this, lead testers and meters plus some deductive reasoning should enable us to confirm whether equipment is definitely beyond immediate repair. At least then we can get on with sorting out a replacement.

4 THE MEDIUM-SIZED FLAT-BLADED "GARAGE (Stanley £1.50; hardware shop)
5 THE PLIERS (about £2-£4; market stall)
6 THE CUTTERS (Lindstrom 7190 £14-£16; MS, STC)
7 THE LONG-NOSED PLIERS (Lindstrom 7890 £12-£13; MS, STC)
8 THE AB STRIPPER (AB Mk3FC, large, £26; AB MkLFD, small, £24; AB Multistrip-F, plastic, £10; MS, STC)
9 THE SOLDERING IRON (Antex X25, £8, MapUn; Adcola L686 stand, £6, STC)
10 THE CABLE TESTER (Homebuilt — check models from BSS, EMO and Neutrik)
11 THE TEST METER (Hoiki LCD Multimeter 3211 £44; Verospeed)
14 SOME SPARE PLUGS (Duraplug EPF133 £1.50)
19 THE SOLDER SUCKER (AB-type PRM Desolder Gun £9; STC)
20 THE ODDS AND SODS (Spiralux Nut-spinners £1-£2; MS, STC)

MS, STC — see "Sources" on page 30

1 SOME have "Access All Areas", others say "Stage Crew", yet more say "Stage Pass", and most of them are encased in plastic ("laminated") and attached to a high-pressure beltclip. By the book your stage pass should be on display at all times, but wearing it around your neck (of Janice Long) is a bad sign if you (naturally) want to look really cool. The reason? When you're running about at gigs amongst the audience, someone will eventually swipe your pass or it'll fall off as you grapple with a cabinet. Secret: make it invisible but accessible.

2 THIS TOOL is unobtrusive enough for you to carry it at all times. It will detect high voltages (such as the mains), grounding via your finger in complete safety — but only if your hands and the screwdriver's insulation are all kept dry. It also fits about 25% of screws you'll need to undo or tighten up in a hurry, especially those on XLR plugs.

3 ALSO KNOWN as "supadriv"; the most useful sizes 0, 1 and 2 are illustrated. The original and infamous Philips cross-head screws are rarely met today, but the manufacturing advantages of the cross-head screwing concept are very real (because electric tools can be used to speed up factory assembly). So 50% of musical equipment is held together with Pozidrive screws. Hint: if you don't have a Pozidrive screwdriver at the commencement of a panic scene, remember that a conventional narrow-bladed screwdriver will often work, provided you press hard and turn it slowly.

4 THE BLADE is 3/16in (=5mm) wide, and the shaft is heavily fluted. This is none too comfortable, but it increases the transfer of your muscle power to the turning edge, making it possible to snap tight screws free with a sharp twist. More blade width also soups up the torque, but too much stops you using the screwdriver on smaller recessed screw-heads: 3/16in is the optimum for most electrical things, including mains plugs, cover-plates and rack-mounts. Putting on a longer handle is another way to increase torque, but again too much may prove limiting in a confined space. The screwdriver illustrated is about right at 8½in long.

5 INVALUABLE as makeshift nut-turner, gripper, crimper, cutter, twister and hammer. Put a rubber band around it to grip phono plugs and other small objects — as when soldering up a lead.

6 THE LINDSTROM cutter illustrated is strictly a precision tool for cropping small wires. However, it will comfortably cut soft metals like copper up to 1.5mm in diameter. It's also lighter and therefore far more comfortable than the hunky "electrician" type, found in hardware shops' Tool Bars. There's also a spring so the jaws open after each cut is completed.

7 AGAIN, a lightweight precision pair, with jaws that have stayed dead true after five years of misuse in rock'n'roll electronics. The jaws on the cheaper Tool Bar variety will soon do the splits, despite their apparent rigour. Mystery: what can we use them for? Answer: long-nosed pliers make it seem like you're wearing an extension grip on the end of one hand. You can use them to manipulate fiddly wires into position when wiring up plugs or multicores. Or to grab a dead fuse which has fallen into the recess of the amp's guts (please switch OFF before doing this). Or to crimp tight a wire so it stays in place while you reach for the soldering iron.

8 THIS is about the most expensive hand-tool (especially if you insist on both sizes), but it can lift your spirits when you're faced with a pile of leads that need sudden reconstitution. Why? Well, the original lightweight AB Stripper illustrated was designed for production-line workers. Stripping is fun: you just insert the wire, squeeze, and let go. Done! The cutter has hundreds of tiny teeth bedded on rubber: these auto-adjust, sensing the hard copper under the plastic. The good news is that low-cost versions of these strippers (with a plastic body instead of the original aluminium) have arrived at much the same price as a decent pair of manual wire-strippers, making the latter rather redundant. Back on the street, cheapo wirestrippers (under £5) are a time-waster.

9 ANY CHEAP MODEL that you like the feel of will do (circa 25 watts minimum and up to 40 watts). Heavyweight "solder guns" are fatiguing to work with and best forgotten. Soldering tips (the "bit") can be changed. Too small a tip won't allow through heat when a large terminal needs to be warmed up, for example on a brass-bodied guitar lead jack. Too big a tip is like writing with a paint-roller. The optimum is about ⅛in/3mm. Modern tips are iron-coated for strength and long life, but need looking after. If left hot without a thin coating of solder they're done for. Never wipe the tip clean on abrasive materials — leather humping gloves or old rags are fine. Immediately after wiping, apply some fresh solder to "tin" the tip, then lightly wipe off the excess. This should keep the bit looking bright and silvery. When it goes irredeemably black, and soldering becomes difficult, the tip plating is dead.

The optional stand illustrated prevents nasty burns. But having seen how it's constructed, if you can screw an old valve spring into a block of wood at an angle of 45° then you've got one free. As for solder, 500 gram reels easily go walkies, but it's the cheapest way to buy. So keep the big reel at home, and live with coiled lengths secreted around your toolkit. For added security and good fortune, you can wind old solder lengths around tool handles (an old Scottish custom).

10 SHOULD HANDLE XLRs, "standard" jacks and phono plugs, and preferably B-gauge (studio-style) jacks as well. More elaborate testers will also cope with balanced leads, identifying more complex faults, or even test the cable from one end only. Normally both ends have to be connected, which is a foul nuisance for a cable that's fait accompli, with one end ever-so-neatly taped around the drum riser... Therefore, lead testing is best done in a routine pre-gig check, or before rigging. A leads-tester in a solid box also makes an excellent wiring jig — that is, a means of holding plugs in place when rewiring them.

11 ANY TYPE should have a continuity tester, meaning good connections can be instantly (bleep) confirmed by ear alone without peering at the meter scale. Cheap Analogue test meters (with a needle and scale) can be picked up for around £5 to £10 at garages and electronic parts stores. They'll also break as soon as you drop them off stage, or the test leads will come apart, or you'll blow up the guts because you forgot to switch from 'Resistance' to 'AC volts' when checking the mains' voltage.

In 1980, an auto-ranging digital testmeter cost around £300, but today, thanks to the Japanese, minimalist models are available for about £40. The one illustrated is the size and weight of a large felt-tip pen. So it's light enough to survive if you drop it, particularly as there's no fragile meter movement. The readout is LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). "Auto-ranging" is an advantage; it means you can't blow it up, because it can handle and display any level from 0.01 up to 1000 volts without adjustment, and will also read plus or minus without changing over the leads. Of course, owning a test meter presupposes you know what you're looking for: the table outlines some common voltages and resistances.

12 THE ORIGINAL Ever-Ready rubber model illustrated is cheap and durable, plus it has a hook so you can keep it around your waist. A torch which you can comfortably hold in your mouth is also handy. More elaborate is a mains-powered Cliplite (that's a bulb-holder-cum-bulldog-clip) is ideal for bringing illumination to dark corners of the stage wings and the back of dead Fender Twin Reverbs. If needed, use a mike stand to hold the Cliplite over the operating theatre.

13 ESSENTIAL for all all types of ad-hoc woodwork, like knocking drum risers back together, nailing down mike stands (otherwise they go walking off the riser when playing commences), holding down bass drums, repairing holes in the stage, and hanging up multicores.

14 ILLUSTRATED is a virtually unbreakable mains plug made of soft plastic by Duraplug, model EPF-133. Conventional rubber and hard-plastic plugs all break in the end, but hard plastic does at least shatter, so you do know it's happened. With rubber plugs it's usually the fuseholder inside that falls apart, so the fault isn't obvious. Spares are also needed because 13 amp plugs go walkies (maybe the lighting guys were short). Or a band arrive from US/France/Holland, and of course their two-pin plugs have to be deftly chopped off and replaced wholesale.

Other spare plugs illustrated include XLRs, mono and stereo jacks, and a phono plug: often these are leftovers from cannibalised leads. Don't forget that the part which most often breaks on XLRs, the insert (the part bearing the actual plug pins, or socket receptacles), is removable. It follows that you can take the insert from a spare chassis-mounting XLR to use in a plug provided the sex is the same. Unillustrated (who hasn't seen an aerosol can?) but not to be left out, is aerosol contact cleaner, essential for cleaning ash and grot out of dodgy switches and faders, to overcome crackles and pops.

15 CHEAPO nail varnish (say 70p) is streets ahead of Loctite for locking nuts and screws which refuse to stay tight.

16 SMELLS HORRIBLE but writes on anything including metal, plastic and white gaffer tape. Silver paint-pens are handy for permanent marking of dark surfaces.

17 WHENEVER you hook up to an XLR connector on the rear of an unfamiliar item of gear, and it doesn't work, it's probable that the XLR conforms to the wrong wiring convention. Pin two or pin three "hot"? Balanced, unbalanced or hybrid? The basic phase-change leads illustrated swap over pins two and three. If uncertain, we can always plug them in-line and try again for a signal at the mixer. A pair of phase change leads is also handy for checking that your lead tester actually works: that's when every single lead you test reads faulty and you begin to doubt the veracity of the tester itself.

18 YOU'LL NEED a collection of PP3s for FX and DI boxes (these are continually going flat), and some torch batteries. If you want to do the job properly, alkaline batteries (eg Duracell) cost more, but last much longer under all conditions. Lead-tester batteries normally last a year or two so don't need to be carried — ditto the batteries in analogue test-meters. But any digital meter (see item 11) will eat batteries over a month or two, and more quickly if you do a lot of bleeping with the continuity tester. More elaborate Nicad rechargeable batteries have greatly improved in the past four years, and are cheap enough (relative to throwaway batteries) to pay for themselves in no time at all. Also, look out for low-cost Nicad chargers which accommodate six or more of all the common sizes of battery (eg HP7, SP2 and SP11).

19 A HANDHELD vacuum pump, used to whisk molten solder and gunge out of crevices and terminals before re-soldering a plug. Another method is to turn the plug over quickly once the solder has melted, and then rap it sharply. But beware of molten solder splashing around! The solder sucker is also invaluable for removing components or wires from printed circuit boards.

20 THESE INCLUDE an adjustable spanner, nut-spinner and assorted Allen keys, which are invaluable for everything from the dismantling of drumkits to fixing the Transit's fanbelt after the show. Nut-spinners are like screwdrivers but with a socket head. They're classified in metric and "BA" sizes (M3, M4, M5, M6, M8, 0, 2, 4, 6 and 8BA are the most useful ones). They're faster than miniature spanners and less easy to lose if dropped.


MANY OF THE TOOLS illustrated are exclusive to the electronics biz, and won't be found in the average high street tool-shop. So we've selected several electronic part distributors who will supply by mail-order.

STC Electronic Services (STC) (Contact Details).
MS Components (MS) (Contact Details).
Verospeed, (Contact Details).



POWER AMP OUTPUT anything above ±2 volts is a DC fault.


DIGITAL POWER SUPPLY: see manual. Normally ±5 volts; sometimes ±12 volts too.

DI BOX BATTERY either 9 or 18 volts.

MIXER POWER SUPPLY: see manual. Typically ±15 to ±24 volts.

PHANTOM POWER SUPPLY normally 40 to 48 volts (test between pins one and two on mike lead).


LINE LEVEL TEST TONE typically 0.3 to 1 volt (a digital meter can read steady signal levels at mixer outputs: use the integral test oscillator if fitted).


US/CANADIAN MAINS 110 to 120 volts.

EUROPEAN MAINS 200 to 230 volts.



TESTS are limited to checking mikes and speakers, unless you're'a boffin.

MIKE RESISTANCES are around 100 to 600 ohms on low impedance models (pins two and three on a balanced XLR plug), and up to 10,000 ohms on high impedance types.

SPEAKER RESISTANCES are always a little lower than nominal impedance, so don't be too fussy. For example, an eight-ohm speaker will often read five ohms, and a pair of those in a cabinet may well read 2.5 ohms when connected in parallel. Dead speakers usually read open circuit (meter needle doesn't move, or display flashes zeroes), but look out for the occasional "dead short", a steady 0.00.

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Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Oct 1985

Donated by: Angelinda

News by Ben Duncan

Previous article in this issue:

> Overtones

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> TinTin Adulation

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