Over the years I have stripped the heads of plenty of screws, mostly in household and automotive applications. In these cases it is usually easy enough to drill it out or get a pair of vise-grips on the head of the screw to twist it out (or break it off). The situation changes drastically when working on a pretty guitar, though. A pair of flat-jaw pliers or a poorly used drill bit is a recipe for disaster when working around soft wood.
This is where the 3Peaks DS-115TZ screw removal pliers come into play. These purpose-built pliers have a circular grab area with little teeth that help grab the screw head better to prevent slipping and unplanned damage. These pliers are made in Japan, where they still know how to machine quality tools to good tolerances.
The pliers are about 4 ½ inches long and have comfortable handles that let you get a good grip on what you are doing. They can handle screws with heads up to ½-inch in diameter, though you will probably not find screws this big very often in guitar work. They have a nice smooth action, which might help you not mess things up too badly as you nervously try to get your guitar back to normal.
I have used these pliers a few times for both guitar and household tasks, and they work great! They grip very well, and provide enough leverage to get the job done right. I would recommend putting a bit of tape around the end of the jaws to protect the guitar’s finish, as it is very easy to get close to the wood if the screw is fully seated when it gets stripped out.
3Peaks pliers have not been the easiest to find, but these tools are now being sold through Stewart MacDonald, so luthiers everywhere can get their hands on them more readily. They are not cheap ($29.95), but if you need them you really need them, and it will be well worth your money to pick up a pair before you need them!