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:
- 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 -
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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…
- 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 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!
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.
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?