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.

What's Needed:

strap button installation tools

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....

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.

choose spot on neck heel for strap button

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!

Common Problems

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 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!

Avoiding A Strap Button

To avoid drilling a hole in the heel the strap can be tied to the peghead.

purchase martin guitar strap
Martin Guitar Strap Button Brown

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.

purchase quick release strap
Quick Release-Guitar Strap

Strap Buttons

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