When it comes to gigging, the one thing all musicians can count on is that things can and will go wrong. Cables die, tubes fail, strings break, drum heads tear, and singers bleed. Most musicians are prepared for the common problems like a broken guitar string or drum stick, but being ready for crazy and unexpected mishaps is what separates the pros from the wannabes. So, when heading out to a gig it’s always good to bring everything, and prepare for anything.
Trying to predict potential glitches isn’t always easy, but it’s the goal when packing gear for the gig. I’m not saying you need to be a modern-day Nostradamus, but a little forethought goes a long way. For example, if there’s even a remote possibility you might need a tool or a piece of gear –just bring it. You’ll be glad you did when you actually need to use it. In addition, history is a great teacher so it’s good to prepare for everything that has gone awry at past gigs. I bring everything I need to perform, plus back-ups for all of my gear, and the tools needed to repair anything that fails. I’m also a big fan of having non-gear necessities for the whole band such as: Pliers, screwdrivers, duct tape, vocal-care items, and a simple first-aid kit. On the occasions when it’s not possible to bring all of your extra gear, it’s good to plan for the potential troubles usually solved by having back-ups. For example, I can’t always bring a spare guitar to gig, so a broken string would need to be handled right when it happens. In these instances, I’ll have my extra strings, peg wider, and wire cutters unpacked and in a handy spot so I’m not wasting valuable stage time digging for my tools. It also helps to have a good working knowledge of your instrument so small problems like a broken string are an easy fix. Being able to change a string in about a minute allows me to handle that particular issue with minimal delay to the performance.
Of course, being handy with quick-fixes and having backup gear is a great way to be ready for trouble, but the ultimate preparation lies in maintaining gear between gigs. Keeping equipment in top playing condition is essential to avoiding on-stage malfunctions, and it’s easy to do. Strings don’t break as often when they’re installed/stretched properly and resting on a bridge that does not have burrs in the saddles. Drum heads are less likely to break if they are new, and cables will last a lifetime if they are handled correctly (especially when wrapping them up at the end of the night). If you’re unsure of how to properly maintain your gear, consult with a good tech or teacher to learn the fundamentals. As with personal health, preventative care is the best way to avoid future problems. Take the time to maintain your equipment properly and it will return the favor by not breaking down on stage.
I realize that anyone interested enough to read this article probably believes this is all common sense. And I agree, but it certainly is not common practice. I have played too many gigs where fellow musicians abuse the band gear, don’t have backup gear when it’s needed or the right tools to fix their gear, and obviously disregard instrument upkeep between performances. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my share of knuckle-headed moments, but I also learn from my mistakes and embarrassments. To me, there’s nothing more horrifying and stressful than disappointing your band and insulting the audience by holding up the show -especially if it was avoidable. So, when packing and preparing for a gig it’s best to bring everything you could possibly need, maintain your gear like a champ, and be thoughtful enough to anticipate the unexpected. It’s amazing how a little foresight can help us all manage anything a troublesome gig can throw our way.
Jeff Nagel is a guitarist, instructor, songwriter, session musician, and writer located in Seattle, WA