Essential Items No Guitarist Should Leave Home Without

Posted on by Jay Hale

Ever been to a club with a live band, and halfway through the first set something breaks down on the guitarist or bass player’s rig – sometimes something as simple as a string breaking – sending the player into a tailspin? I once saw a show on the Sunset Strip (think “pay to play”) where the guitar player didn’t bring a backup anything, and upon breaking a string during the first song he spent three quarters of the remainder of their pricey 30-minute set trying to get his guitar re-strung and back in tune. It was painful – and he was paying for it, in more ways than one! Needless to say after that night I never saw that band (or guitarist) anywhere, ever again. Even worse if something like that happened at a gig where you were getting paid to play during a predetermined time-frame. Club owners, event organizers, promoters and the like tend to get really offended when they’re paying you to play but you’re working on your gear instead!


But aside from a backup instrument, there are a small but essential list of items you should always have on hand to make sure you’re equipped to handle on a moment’s notice those little mishaps that can tank a less-prepared player’s evening and possibly the entire gig.

I’ve been accused of showing up “over-prepared” for gigs, but in my experience there’s really no such thing. Some of these items are commons sense IMO, but amazingly I’ve seen more than one player at a club that showed up unprepared, and catastrophe usually ensues. Don’t be that guy! Here’s the bare essentials for getting through a 3 or 4 set gig:

  1. Extra sets of strings – this one – like a lot of them – is a no-brainer, but people forget all the time. Even if you (as I do) change your strings prior to every gig, accidents can happen. Bring spares. Lots of them. Of course, this means you’ll also need to have –
  2. Peg winders, wire cutters, and a tuner, so you can dial things back in quickly. In addition to the tuner pedal on my board, lately I’ve been carrying a Peterson SC-1 strobo-clip.
  3. Wrenches and screwdrivers – I’ve been to gigs where the guitar player has a Floyd Rose and doesn’t remember to bring at minimum his 3mm wrench. String stretches beyond the range of the fine-tuners or breaks, he stands there helpless and looking like a dummy…epic fail. Again, don’t be that guy! Screwdrivers are invaluable in case some part loosens mid-gig, like your guitar’s volume knob.
  4. A flashlight – club stages are usually darkened for “ambiance”.  Ever try to find a small bit of black hardware on a darkened stage without a flashlight? I don’t know about you, but personally I don’t want to have to!
  5. Spare cabling – Even high-end instrument cables occasionally short out. Carry spares for your pedals, at least one longer instrument cable, and a spare speaker cable if you use cabinets with your amp. Speaking of pedals, if you’re not using a dedicated power supply, be SURE you have…
  6. Spare batteries! 9 volt, AAA, watch-size (if that’s what your tuner takes) – a back up for anything that could fail mid-gig is the rule. Change them prior to the gig if possible.

You. need. me.

You obviously can’t prepare for every contingency – I used to carry a soldering iron, solder and a wiring kit too but I can only think of one time I had to use it in so many years, so that may be overkill. But the better equipped you are for the little bumps in the road the smoother everything will go in the long run. You’ll look more like a pro in the event something does go wrong too, and club owners will see how well prepared you were to deal with it quickly. They probably won’t be anything less than impressed at your professionalism. And at the very least they will know for future reference you’re reliable if nothing else, which may get you a repeat booking. Repeat bookings = regular gigs. which is never a bad thing!

Cruz Tools GrooveTech Guitar Player Tech Kit


I used to carry an Anvil-style briefcase filled with these items to every tech or cover gig, but recently manufacturers like Cruz Tools have come out with portable tool kits (for both guitarists and bassists) that are far smaller and more lightweight. They even have extra pouches for strings and picks, too coo. The compact yet fully stocked packaging totally reduces the space requirements a collection of tools like this takes up in what you have to lug to the gig, making a musician/tech’s life way easier. Lately I’ve taken to carrying this kit, a Tremolo Spring Installer/Puller (which fits in with the mini-ruler compartment), a couple of extra mini-screwdrivers (that also fit in the pouch) and my clip-on tuner instead of the briefcase, and I love it. Way less to carry, and yet you’re still nearly fully prepared for any little goof-ups that may occur.

The Bass version rocks too!

That’s the great thing – these days one can absolutely pull off 90% of your average gig duties with one of those small but well-stocked kits, spare strings, a clip-on tuner like the Peterson or a Snark tuner just for a couple of examples. Your cables and backup batteries (if needed) can go in the pouch in your guitar’s gig bag or case. Don’t like gig bags? Get a gym bag or backpack to carry along, whatever you’re into.  You’re still probably not going to be able to rebuild your amp on the spot, but you’ll be well-prepared for the average run-of-the-mill gig mishap.  What more would you need to pull off a flawless gig?

Written on November 20, 2012, by Jay Hale

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  • Rohan

    Expensive and difficult to store safely, but a spare set of valves if you’re running a valve rig is never a bad thing. At the very least, one spare pre amp valve and a matched pair of output valves. Failing that, a few companies are making tiny portable ‘amps’ these days, for instance EHX’s Calibre 22 and 44. These are relatively cheap, and whilst they may not have all the bells and whistles (or indeed the volume) of your main rig, it could save your arse if your prized head goes down. Orange’s Micro Terror might also be worth checking out.

  • Steve

    You didn’t mention Duck Tape! That’s the #1 every band needs to always have some available at every gig item. Solder joint break? Duck tape it. Keyboard stand nut gets stripped? Duck tape it. Rhythm guitarist won’t shut up between songs? Duck tape him.

    • duct

      • Dustin Vanharn

        its a capital D so hes referring to the brand fuck nut

        • Guest

          Nice tone, hope you have a better one on your guitar…

    • Paul DeLuca

      sorry but duct tape wont fix a broken solder joint

  • johnny

    spare 110 volt cord for yourself or someone else..and a hat or head mounted flashlight is helpful..and for heaven’s sake..a pair of cheap reading glasses ..if you wear em.

  • Scott S

    I just take a backup Guitar. Change the string later. Always cables, tools,Flash light. You are never over prepared if you use common sense. Good rule… Changes strings before a gig!

  • Steve

    I carry a “POD” in my case, in case of amp troubles. Carried it for a few years, but finally had to use it. I tried replacing tubes in the amp first, that wasn’t the issue. Luckily, the “POD” came through like a champ. (not a champ amp, a Blues Jr, actually)

  • Actually I DO have a back up everything. My band may spend a ridiculous amount of hours in a van to play a forty five minute gig. And I’ll be damned if I’m gonna ruin it. Fuckin’ idiot sound men do quite well without MY help. 😉

  • Ace Steele

    I wonder if that was MY gig Seymour described. Back in 1989, at the world famous Gazzarri’s on the strip! I used to always have between 3 & 5 guitars on stage at every gig. This ONE gig, our equipment van got a flat 2 blocks from the club. I hopped out with my main guitar, saying “I rarely switch guitars anyways”. 1st song, Our singer backs in to me, knocking one of the tremolo back springs loose. Instant downtuning to “B”. No backup axe. Drum solo instead of 2nd song…Worst gig ever. Always have a spare guitar, spare fuses, spare cords, batteries, & a backup plan, like a POD or something. Even back then, a Rockman & a direct box was always in my gig bag.

    • Jay Hale

      This was indeed at Gazzarri’s, but it was ’90, and the dude definitely (visibly) broke a string, not a spring.

  • Kay

    NEVER change strings hours before a gig. Change it 2 nights before the gigs so that the strings have time to break in. Or else, you’ll have a helluva tuning nightmare… 🙂

    • mutbrain

      If you have a good guitar and know how to change strings properly, you can change them hours before with no trouble. I try to change them the day before, though. 🙂
      A lot of pros change strings daily in the studio.

      • gadget

        Yeah stretching strings is fundamentally basic. One company even sells a string stretcher so all of two minutes you have a guitar that has tuning stability that is better then a guitar that has a couple days use on it.

    • Paul DeLuca

      if you stretch them properly you don’t have that issue

  • 2nd the Duct/gaffer tape, and I wouldn’t leave home without my Leatherman — wire cutter, pliers, screwdrivers, blade, all in one.

  • You didn’t mention Deoxit! never go to the gig without it.

    • Jay Hale

      Good point!

    • Paul DeLuca

      Deoxit is the best thing since contact cleaner was invented…it may be pricey, but its totally worth it

  • jodalow

    I always take spare guitars, but, had it happen, that my pedalboard didn’t want to work, ( now I have a voltage regulator ) and I just played straight to my amp,( always be able to play without things and step outside your comfort zone ). The current at different venues will mess with your gear. After that gig, my tubes blew out. Spendy lessons. Carry spare everything and some preventative measures.

    • rck

      I echo the idea of bringing a backup guitar. Nobody has time change strings mid set.

      As for amp issues I suggest bringing spare fuses. You’re far more likely to have a power surge than any other issue. If this is the case, inexpensive little fuses can bring your amp back from the dead.

  • Paul DeLuca

    Spare tubes are a must even if you have just a tube preamp like i do in my bass rig. however pulling a preamp out of my rack isnt the fastest fix…thankfully i keep a SansAmp BassDriver DI on my pedalboard. I never use Duct/Duck Tape…gaffers tape is much better…doesn’t lave goo on anything and has a nice matte finish