Frank Ford's Jack the Gripper

And speaking of tools every guitarist needs to have around… We were, weren’t we?

Images Courtesy Gibson

Have you ever had a ¼” guitar jack come loose on a guitar? You know, the standard Switchcraft type with the nut around it? Guess what? Unless it is mounted on a plate that is removable from the outside of the guitar, it is a pain in the neck to tighten it back down. While you are trying to tighten, the whole jack wants to spin around at the same time as the nut does. That can put pressure on the wires connecting the jack and eventually break either them or the connection. If you’ve ever fished the electronics out of an ES-335-type guitar (or even watched a video of someone else doing it), the idea will send a shiver up your spine. If you’ve got meaty palms and short fingers like mine, that’ll be a big shiver. Several outfits have come up with tools that offer solutions to this problem but only one looks to be a permanent solution: Frank Ford’s Jack the Gripper.

Image Courtesy StewMac

I don't remember how I came across this tool, but I'm glad I did. Jack is a hand tool that takes the familiar form of a screwdriver a with handle and shaft, but the similarity ends there. In the case of Jack, a knurled cam lives at the end of the shaft. When you insert the tool into a ¼" jack and gently rotate it either direction, the cam grips the jack and allows you to hold it immobile. You can then put a wrench on the nut and tighten it down without rotating the jack and stressing the wires.

Images Courtesy Luthier's Mercantile

When Jack arrived I popped it out of its packaging and put it to immediate use on a Les Paul and my ES-335. The tool made the job incredibly quick and easy. The tool comes with an adapter that allows you to use a 3/8” drive socket to tighten the nut on a recessed jack such as you find on a Stratocaster or Telecaster. The shaft of the tool fits through the holes in both the adapter and socket to reach and grip the jack.

Images Courtesy Luthier's Mercantile

Now, Jack the Gripper isn’t cheap, $43.35 at Stewart MacDonald, but it is built like a tank, built to last. My ES-335 is my go-to electric guitar for sessions. If tightening the jack had worked a wire loose the guitar would have needed a trip to my luthier that would have cost more than the tool. Jack is made of steel with a wooden handle and is hand-built by Frank Ford. Frankly (Hahahaha) it looks like it will outlive me. Other versions I’ve seen use a rubber stopper to hold the jack, and we know what happens to rubber: over time it dries out or wears out, rendering the tool worthless. And let me be really honest: I like good tools. I like to know that my tool isn’t the reason a job is tough. I agree with engineer John Muir, author of the book, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot, when he said:

"This is the tough one, and will make or break you. You must do this work with love, or you fail. You don’t have to think, but you must love. This is one of the reasons I have nice tools. If I get hung up with maybe a busted knuckle or a busted stud, I feel my tools, like art objects or lovely feelies, until the rage subsides and sense and love return…"

And here’s the thing: this tool isn’t just for your guitars – it is for anything that has a ¼” jack, such as a pedal, an amp, a P.A., whatever. When you think about it, we guitarists use lots of things that feature ¼” jacks. If you are at a gig and don't want to pull the device apart, Jack allows you to easily and completely fix the jack on the spot. For some reason I've always seemed to end up the repair guy in the bands I played with so there have been a hundred times when I could have used one of these. I know you are thinking: file this one under "I won't use this thing very often." But when you need it, you need it. Many years ago I destroyed a vintage lap steel while dealing with a loose jack: My 1950s Magnatone had a loose jack that had sunk into the Tele-style recessed cup. While I was trying to pry up the cup, the pressure from my screwdrive shattered the delicate celluloid "mother of toilet seat" jacket that covered the guitar and held the "fret markers." With this tool I could have escaped that catastrophy. Believe me: when you need it, you'll be glad you have it.

Now, why didn't I think of this tool?