In this week’s Gear Rundown, we’re going to take a look at the gear we need as a guitarist to perform at our best in a live scenario and make sure that everything goes smoothly, from the minute you begin the drive to the venue, right up until the moment you arrive back home after the gig.
The right guitar/guitars
It goes without saying that to perform a gig, you’re going to need your guitar. But the tricky part is making sure you have the right guitar for the gig you’re playing. If you’ve been booked to play a ‘solo acoustic’ set, don’t bring an electric guitar and run it through a DI to get an approximation of an acoustic sound. The opposite is true for gigs requiring an electric guitar through an amplifier. Don’t plug in an acoustic and crank the distortion right up. It’s just not the same thing.
Furthermore, it’s important to have guitars in the right tunings for each song you will need to perform. For example, if most of your set is in standard but two songs are a half step down, it’s worth having a second guitar already in that tuning. This is an especially true if you do indeed have more than one usable guitar. There is no excuse not to bring one in the alternate tuning. It thus stands to reason that if you have 5 working electric guitars and your bands set has 5 different tunings, you should be bringing all of those guitars. It will save you a heap of time on stage and present your band as more professional
The right amplifier
This is very similar to guitars. If you’re going to be playing in a metal band, a high-gain amplifier with multiple channels and an FX loop is essential. This will allow you to pre-set multiple tones and switch between them on the fly, as well as having perfect control over all of your effects pedals. Having enough wattage is also crucial. This allows your amp to be heard without having to crank your master volume as high as it will go. This translates to your tone having more clarity and gives the sound engineer enough headroom to place you nicely in the overall mix.
However, if you’re playing pastoral sounding jazz, then all you might need is a more acoustic oriented amp with the one channel and the general tone controls. No need to over-complicate things here.
Spare Leads and patch cables
My rule of thumb is to always have 3 more leads than you need. If your entire rig needs 5 leads to run…bring 8. This will save the day if something goes wrong or a bandmate forgets to bring one of their own. Same thing for the patch cables you use to run your pedals. If you need 3 be sure to bring 6.
All leads and patch cables should be of high quality as they will directly affect how clear and articulate your tone is.
PRO TIP: Be sure to also bring a spare speaker cable to connect your amplifier head to its cabinet.
I’ve heard many horror stories from musicians of all levels who have broken a string on stage, replaced it, broken the same string and replaced it yet again only to have the EXACT same string break.
Stories like this are probably the result of a sharp edge in the string saddle causing the string to snap. However, it stands to reason that you can NEVER have enough spare strings.
Picks, Pick holders, capo and tuner
Be sure to pack vast quantities of ALL the different picks you will use throughout your set. They are the most commonly lost item of any guitarist ever. Pick holders are also crucial. Whether they be the type that attaches to your guitar or wraps onto a microphone stand. They allow you to quickly grab the exact pick you need without having to fumble around in your pockets when you drop one or run all the way back to grab one off your amp.
If you’re not running a tuning pedal in your rig and your guitar doesn’t have a built in one, then it is very handy to have a clip on one. This will attach to your head-stock, right next to that trusty capo you wouldn’t dare to forget if you need it.
Common Guitar Tools
The following list of tools are important and can help you make the night run smoother so that once the music starts playing you can focus on delivering a great performance:
Screwdrivers – Having a set of small screwdrivers as well as one larger one will allow you to tighten any bolts your gear may have as well as remove it if necessary. (i.e. to replace batteries)
Batteries – Know what kind of batteries your rig needs, and have spares
Plyers – For pulling out bridge pins and other miscellaneous jobs.
Gaffer Tape – Any musician should always carry a roll of gaffer tape. It’s uses are innumerable. (taping down wires, taping up flyers, marking the stage, etc.)
Extension Cords – If you’re playing a venue that’s new to you, it would be wrong to assume you will have access to power right near your rig.
Power Boards – See above.
Spare Bass Strings and Drumsticks – This one may seem odd but it can really save the day. Likewise, the drummer should carry spare bass and guitar strings and the bassist should carry spare guitar strings and drumsticks.
String Cutter and Winder – If you’re twenty minutes out from set-time and realize your main guitar needs to be restrung if you want to avoid a snap, these two items will save you an immense amount of time.
PRO TIP: Make sure you stretch those strings right out of tune and re-tune it multiple times if you intend to use them live so soon after putting them on. New strings love to slip out of tune,
Warm fingers means clean playing whereas cold fingers means you will stumble across the fretboard and get frustrated. Wearing gloves from the minute you leave the house to the minute you need to play a note means warming your fingers up won’t be as difficult. Especially useful in winter when steering wheels feel like ice.
Food and Water
Last but not least. Something we all tend to overlook when preparing mentally for a show is our own health. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated, including in the car on the way to the venue, and make sure you have enough to eat so that you have energy, but not so much that you will feel bloated and lethargic on stage.
On the way home after the show, here is where you can treat yourself and indulge a bit to reward yourself for a show well performed.