The Show Might Go On
Don't Forget these Gigging Essentials
by Daniel Brooks
Congratulations! You got the gig. You know you’re ready. You’ve created a great set list. Your gear is modified and adjusted to perfection. You’re so well rehearsed you could play any of your songs perfectly, anytime, anywhere, for any audience. Rock and roll greatness awaits you! What could go wrong?
Well, a lot of little things, actually. Regardless of whether it’s your debut or your thousandth time on stage, there are minor snags that can mess up your show or keep the unprepared from doing the gig altogether. Any of them could happen to anyone, and are likely to happen to you, sooner or later. Fortunately, a little preparation can reduce most of the more predictable setbacks to mere maintenance and save the evening. Here are a few essential items you should bring to every gig in order to make sure the show goes on.
Back up guitar - Strings break or go out of tune. Guitars occasionally get dropped, smashed, knocked over, stepped on, damaged or even stolen. Or maybe you have a song that requires an alternate tuning. Rather than put your audience through the epic experience of watching you restring, retune, repair, or troubleshoot your guitar on stage, just grab your backup, plug it in and get on with the rock and roll greatness.
Tuner - Maybe there are those who can turn the act of tuning a guitar into high art, but even for them it is rare to play for an audience that appreciates the avant garde aspects of the genre. For the rest of us, a tuner is essential. There are several great, inexpensive tuners out there, but I have a Boss TU-3 chromatic tuner that may be one of the best investments I’ve ever made. One click of the footswitch mutes the guitar’s signal and gives me an immediate visual reference for the note I’m actually playing, accurate to within one percent sharp or flat. I can tune any string to any note, quickly and quietly, and I often use the TU-3 to mute the signal to swap guitars between songs without the audience having to endure the non-musical noises that accompany the process. The TU-3 has the bonus feature of a buffered bypass, effectively reducing the tone sucking effects of my 25 feet of cables, pedals and patch cords to that of the ten foot cord that runs from my guitar to my tuner. Brighter highs and punchier mids, a mute switch AND a perfectly tuned guitar in seconds, easily one of the best $99 I’ve ever spent on gear.
Cables - It doesn’t matter what kind of guitar, amp or pedals you’re playing if one of your cables shorts out and stops working. In my experience, defective cables are one of the more frustrating causes of equipment failure. They’ll work great for years and then, one day, in the middle of a song . . . silence . . . It’s always good to have a two or three more cables than you need. Sooner or later, you or one of your band mates or the guitarist from your warm up band will really appreciate the backup. And while you’re at it, I’ve found it’s a good idea to color coordinate your cables or mark each one, at both ends, with its own kind of tape, or ribbon, or shrinkwrap, or even a dab of paint. It helps you keep track of the cable that goes into the front of your amp, and those that go into your effects loop send and return jacks.
Batteries, Adapters, Extension Cords - A dead battery will silence any one of your favorite pedals, leaving you with an eternity or two of onstage troubleshooting, and then the rest of the set or even an evening in front of an audience without the sound you need to express your epic vision. Fresh batteries will keep your sound going strong. An AC adapter or an upgrade to a power supply will insure you never again have to worry about your batteries, and an extension cord or two will insure your pedals and amp will get all the juice they need, anywhere on stage. Mount a power supply to your pedal board and you can leave your whole signal chain intact, powered and stage ready for any show.
Picks, Strings, and Straps - A broken or dropped pick will disrupt the song. A broken string will disrupt the song and knock your guitar out of commission for the rest of the set. A broken strap will disrupt the song, make you sit for the rest of the set, and risk dropping your guitar on the floor and knocking it out of commission for good. Spare picks, strings, and straps are cheap and easy to keep on hand.
Tools - With two or three different sizes of Phillips screwdrivers (#0, #1, and #2, specifically), a soldering iron, wire cutters, needle-nose pliers and a roll of gaffer’s tape, you can do almost any basic emergency fix on almost any piece of musical equipment. Throw in a string winder, a handcart and maybe some double-sided Velcro strips and tales your wisdom and benevolence, or at least your extraordinary common sense, might just become the stuff of legend.
A First Aid Kit - You don’t have to be a doctor to know that sometimes a little human maintenance makes all the difference between success and misery. You’ll probably find you have different items in your first aid kit, depending on your travels and your band mates. But, in my experience, more than one show has depended on someone getting some desperately-needed Ibuprofen, or a band aid, or a nail file, ear plugs, ginseng, superglue or a towel.
Pens and Paper - Sharpies and notebooks and other implements of instruction are the essential tools of the literate. Bring a few notebooks and a handful of pens and Sharpies and you’ll find a thousand and one reasons to thank yourself. Use them to create set lists, mailing lists, lyrics, notes, drawings or a reminder of things you will definitely bring to the next gig.
Did I forget anything?