The Man who does not solder to music, is the Man who has not lived.
— Abraham Lincoln
It stings your eyes and curls the hairs in your nose; the sickly sweet smell of flowing rosin flux turning the corner of your mouth up into a wry smile. There is pitting on your work mat from those flux bubbles that pop, bouncing minuscule bits of liquid fury against your cheeks and onto your bench. Your lab looks like mine: tools stored point down in an old water glass — when they can be bothered to be stored at all — with PCBGrip, Pana-Vise, and four sets of helping-hands all competing for the same four square inches of free workbench space, more than it looks like some NASA Assembly-Clean-Room-Wet-Dream. Besides, deep down, honestly, there is pride in how your work area looks.
You, my friend, are joining dissimilar metals by the practiced application of yet a third metal, turned shining and molten on the end of a tool called “an iron”, by God! This activity requires… this activity demands… an appropriate music selection. A soldering soundtrack.
We are engineers, you and I; there are standards that must be adhered to, set down by those before us, who knew what it was to be forced into soldering an entire back plane of through hole components while the pinhead three benches over listened to Sonny and Cher on their Realistic Flavoradio. There are formulas, physical laws and philosophy we can draw on from their sacrifice.
Telsa’s Law Of Flux State Transition
“The effectiveness of flux is directly proportional to the distortion of the electric guitar.”
— Nikola Tesla
The forced resonance that occurs when sufficient levels of electric guitar distortion are passed through solder wire, was shown in 1888 to smooth the state transition of rosin core flux from a solid to a liquid. The greater the distortion, the easier the flux will flow into your solder joint. Don’t debate this with me, son. It’s a fact.
Siddhartha’s Soldering Satisfaction Axiom
“Bliss is the deviant SOB reflowing placements with narrow pin pitches.”
— The Buddha
The more your assembly process makes you feel like you should be investigated by some agency responsible for maintaining societal order, the greater the satisfaction you will achieve in a job well done. When O-Ren Ishii walks at the head of the Crazy 88 into the House of Blue Leaves, is her diminutive march greeted with Ryan Seacrest sponsored pop-pablum? No. Is her procession made to the twinkly saccharine autotuning of some post-pubescent who should really know better by now? Hell no. It’s announced with the horn, and with the drum, and with the wail, of “Battle Without Honor or Humanity”.
Do you think a woman with that music playing has ever had “a case of the Mondays”? No. Shit, no.
… and neither should you.
Euler’s Blues Limit
Stated simply, as x approaches The Blues, f(x) will equal the quality of your soldering, measured in units of daaaamn, with 1.0000 daaamn being considered an ideal act of soldering. This value grows asymptotic with respect to 1 as x rises past Stevie Ray Vaughn, the point at which the quality of your work really can’t improve beyond 900 millidaaamns.
Even as x approaches the Robert Johnson Threshold (also called “The Crossroads”), improvement beyond .9233 daaamn is only theoretical at the current level of technology. This is commonly referred to as the Hendrix Horizon.
Daaamn, Stevie. Daaamn.
Some Suggested Listening
As a lot of my production is currently done by hand soldering and testing, I’ve had quite a lot of time to investigate various aspects of the advice above. Consider the list below as having been proven, both practically and scientifically.
Dredd: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Paul Leonard-Morgan Youtube Playlist Spotify Album Amazon Link
This one checks all the boxes, but it doesn’t tick the “you’ll feel like a deviant” box so much as it drives over the checklist with studded tires mounted on a sandrail driven by the Lord Humungus. This is my go-to, when late orders come in that have to make shipping. And in case anyone’s curious, I’m in the Lord Humungus > Immortan Joe camp.
The Social Network – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Youtube Playlist Spotify Album Amazon Link
A slow burn, perfect for starting those days when you’ve got a lot of product to move and your Hakko’s going to be hot before the morning coffee is cold. Tracks like “Intriguing Possibilities” will grip your heart with a cold, cold hand making you believe all your competitors are working that… much… harder and solving problems that… much… faster, than you are.
Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress: Godspeed You! Black Emperor Youtube Playlist Spotify Album Amazon Link
You know, I put a “strong” HTML tag around the album and band name up there. It’s not enough. There should be a “fervent”, “passionate” or “I want this to damage my cochlea” tag. This is debug music… troubleshooting music… the right mix of some Phrygian Dominant Scale influence granting a strange sense of illuminative hope but growling volumes of bass and distorted Gibson Les Paul in a minor key reminding you that your design proves you’re your own worst enemy. An audio memento mori.
Junkyard Speed Ball: Left Lane Cruiser Youtube Playlist Spotify Album Amazon Link
It can’t all be “Siegrieds Tod und Trauermusik”, and when I’m particularly excited to be getting some work done, like when the delivery man arrives with a new set of prototype boards for me to solder down, Left Lane Cruiser is that sort of good ‘ol country crunchy blues that makes your brain feel like it grew taste receptors and was force fed Warheads Sour Candy Worms. Yes, that’s a good thing. Trust me! You’ll recoil… in delight! Seriously, this is great for first builds, first revs and respins. Although considering how good my prototypes usually are, I generally start with this but end up at Godspeed You! Black Emperor, up there.
Carmina Burana: Carl Orff Youtube Playlist Spotify Album Amazon Link
What this lacks in distorted electric guitar, it makes up for with an utter lack of subtlety. A collection of medieval Latin and German lyrics about fate, drinking, sex and gambling set to music by Carl Orff in 1935 that is so driving, so emphatic, you’ll be compelled to wear a horned helmet, drink mead and dice with Bacchus as soon as you’ve cleaned all the flux gunk off your production run. “Rex sedet in vertice caveat ruinam” should be the motto of all Hardware Startups. (“Ego Sum Abbas” would be my ultimate Karaoke song, if it was ever offered in the catalog. Buy me a beer, though, and maybe I’ll sing it a capella.)
Lift your skinny fists, like antennas to heaven, good friend. Solder on.