Installing Strap Buttons
Installing a strap button on a guitar or other instrument is by no means rocket science but it pays to be cautious and mindful of what you're doing. This article will detail the way I do it, the tools I use and tips for proper installation. If I showed you some pictures of do-it-yourselfers gone wrong you would quickly understand how such a little job can create such big problems.
- A strap button with mounting screw and felt washer
- An awl for marking the correct position
- A tapered drill bit that matches the mounting screw
- Wax for lubricating the screw
- A countersink to prevent finish chip
I take a few steps that some may consider needless but do so to insure a perfect outcome every time. While my technique may be overkill for some, others will appreciate my attention to detail and assumption that caution is never a waste of time. There's something about drilling a tiny hole in a $10K guitar that can make even an avid woodworker squirm.
Choose The Position
If you don't get this right it's all downhill from here. When choosing the spot to mount a button it must pass a few simple test....
- Will the hole I'm about to drill contact a neck bolt? There are more and more manufactures using bolts in their construction and you need to know where they're located before drilling a hole. Most of the time a cover plate or label will be used on the end of the neck block to conceal the bolts. You need to find out first where the bolts are located.
- Will the button interfere with my fretting hand? You definitely don't want the button mounted so close to the fingerboard that you and it will make constant contact when playing up the neck.
- Does the position of the button hold my strap securely? Buttons should be pointed towards the floor, not the ceiling. Placing a button on the wrong side of the neck is a common problem for do-it-yourselfers.
Mark The Spot
Once you are sure about its position you can mark the spot with an awl. This indentation keeps the drill bit from walking when it's time to drill the hole .Typically (that does not mean always) the button will be at a distance half way between the heel and bottom of the fingerboard.
Many manufacturers use mounting bolts that pass thru the neck block and into the heel. It is critical that you are aware of the position of that bolt if present.
Bevel The Finish
This will not apply to all finishes but is quite important when dealing with instruments who's finish tends to chip easily. When a drill bit or wood screw first enters the hole it lifts the wood slightly and this can cause some finishes to chip.
This is done with a very light touch and is meant to merely bevel the finish, not create a countersink in the wood. I may repeat this more than once if the finish warrants it. With truly problematic finishes I may even run lacquer thinner around the hole to melt down any finish that wants to lift.
Drill The Hole
Tapered drill bit with
tape to mark depth
As I mentioned previously, I use a tapered drill bitthat matches the strap button screw. This ensures that the screw has gripping power thru its entire length.
This is a pretty important screw and we want to make sure it's going to hold for years...oops, forever!
A Touch Of Wax
When installing screws for the first time I often choose to place a bit of hard beeswax on the screw to cut back on friction. Once a screw is lubricated very lightly with wax it should go in firmly but not so forcefully you risk cracking the neck. That is an even greater concern when drilling into the heel cap!
- Drilling into a neck bolt which makes it necessary to plug the hole and drill another. That could ruin your whole day!
- Placing the button on the wrong side of the neck. The button should be pointing to the floor not the ceiling.
- Drilling too small of a hole and splitting the heel when installing the screw. Feel the pain!
- Drilling too large of a hole. Or... watching your peghead break off when the neck plummets to the floor after the strap button popped out.
- Taking a large chip of finish off with the drill bit.
I have a flare for the dramatic huh? When you have seen all of these scenarios, as I have, then you realize that people have and can make all of these mistakes.
Wide Flat Heels
Wide heel with strap button
Here's a button that's been installed in the heel cap.
While this is a popular spot on instruments with wide heels and cut-a-way sides, it isn't the best scenario.
Some "athletic" players have a tendency to push the guitar away from their body, which pulls at the strap button. If you are impersonating Elvis I would stick with a traditional placement.
Loose Strap Buttons
If a strap button is very loose, so much so that the screw spins freely and the button can be pulled out by hand, it is best to repair the hole by plugging it and re-drilling. I use a small dowel, or a toothpick, if it is large enough.
Should I glue the button in the hole? That would be a rather emphatic no!
Glued in screws are often broken when someone attempts to re-tighten them.
Titebond is best for gluing dowels as Superglue would ooze out of the hole, causing damage to the finish. Once the glue dries I level the dowel with the finish and drill it for a new strap button screw. Keeping the dowel to the smallest size necessary means it will be invisible when the strap button is installed.
Only A Little Loose
When a screw still has gripping power but still will not snug up, we can sometimes reinforce the hole instead of plugging it.
I have to say this again...do not glue the screw in the hole!
I take medium viscosity superglue and coat the walls of the screw hole in order to build them up slightly, thereby decreasing the actual size of the hole and hardening the walls. More than one coat may be necessary, however, before installing the screw the glue must be dry!
Acoustic Guitar Repairs
- Action / Set Up
- Bridge Plate
- Bridge Pins
- Buzzing - Noise
- Care / Maintenance
- Convert Rt. to Lt.
- Fret Replacement
- Fret Types
- Neck Damage / Issues
- Neck Angle
- Neck Resets
- Part Glossary
- Strap Buttons
- String Changing
- String Choices / Effects
- Truss Rod
- Tuning Machines
- Tuning Troubles
Avoiding A Strap Button
To avoid drilling a hole in the heel the strap can be tied to the peghead.
Straps tied around the peghead are useful on 12 string guitars and those with very heavy pegheads.
Heavy pegheads naturally want to dip towards the floor forcing your fretting hand to support the weight.