After years of playing guitar in bands, I have learned the hard way that there are some things that I need to bring to every show. Most of these items are well worth the investment and you might already own these items. Sometimes, we try to minimize the gear we bring to shows to make life easier. I highly recommend that you keep these items in your gear list. Here are five important things every guitarist should have at every show.
If you play enough shows, you will soon learn that not all load ins are ideal. Sometimes, you park a mile away and need to haul your gear from the car to the stage with no help. Don’t waste your time and energy going back and forth on multiple trips when you can haul it all one time. That is when the equipment cart pays for itself. This saves your back, and you can usually get everything is one leisurely trip. Any cart will do, but I LOVE my Rock N Roller cart. It works for PA, drums, guitar gear, etc.
I also like the fold up two wheel cart. The main thing is that both of these fold up for transport to the show. Some carts are nicer, but they are huge! There are times when I need to fit my gear into a car and these save the day.
Don’t leave home without a spare set of strings if you are a guitar player. Bass players should also have an extra set, but they break strings less often. You might have a new set of strings on and you think you are safe from a string breaking during your show. Don’t relay 100% on that fact as things can happen during live shows that are not foreseen. Make sure you can restring your instrument if needed.
Even if you have to take a five minute break, it is better than telling your fans that the show is done because you can no longer play your songs with only three strings. Make sure you have the equipment needed to restring your guitar as well. If you have a locking nut then you better have some Allen wrenches for that. You will also want to have a good tuner on hand (see below).
Worst case, keep an old set of strings as spares. They might not sound great, but they will work in a pinch. Just inspect them for any flaws before making them your spares. I have also used the wrong string gauge to replace a string when I didn’t have the correct one on hand. Again, this will get you by until you can go buy a new set.
extra instrument cable
I always carry an extra instrument cable with me. I have never once used it. There were several occasions when I lent it out to other musicians, however. You should bring an instrument cable even if you are getting your backline amp provided. You never know when the sound company will not have enough or have a pile of really beat up cables laying around. It will be one less thing to be concerned about when you should be worried about just performing.
While your at it, figure out a good way to identify your cables. You can put a piece of tape with your name on it, or buy only red colored cables. Either way, make it easy to know which cables is yours. We all want to leave the show with the same amount of gear we arrived with. Sometimes, it is less and we don’t know until the next show when we really need it.
protective covers or road cases
Did you just pay $2000 for that new super sweet amp only to throw it in the back of a pickup truck each show to get scratched up and abused? Believe me, I have personally seen this a few times. Stop beating up that killer gear and get some protective cases for it. There are cheap cases such as gig bags and there are professional touring cases like hard road cases. You should get what works best for your situation and price range. I personally like the soft gig bags because they are cheaper, lighter, and don’t take up a lot of space. I also travel to most shows in my own car. If I was on tour with a bus and trailer then I would look at a hard road case for the most protection.
I personally use a company out of California called Studio Slips for my amp cases. They offer many options to make each cover work the way you need them to work. I have used some of my cases for years and they still look great. Even better, the gear they are protecting still looks brand new. I don’t baby my amps either. I put the cases on them and slide them around in the back of my SUV. Best money spent ever!
I also like the Gator brand cases. I have had several over the years and have had no complaints. They make really great and lightweight plastic cases for rack-mount gear. I had an Anvil case for some gear once and the case weighed twice as much as the gear inside. After lugging it around for a month or two, I switched it out for the Gator cases. I still use that case today after more than a decade.
A good tuner
Every guitar player should make sure their guitar is in tune in order to sound great on stage. There are lots of choices out there for tuners these days. I have a few different varieties and they work well for different situations. I also remember buying a cheaper low quality tuner starting out and being frustrated at how out of tune my guitar always was. So buy a nice tuner. Luckily, technology has made these tuners high quality at a low cost.
One thing I would recommend is to think of all the situations you will find yourself using your tuner. If you play outside during the middle of the day then make sure your tuner’s display can be seen in direct sunlight. If you play inside a dark club then make sure you can read your tuner with little to no lighting. You should also see what kind of batteries or AC power it takes. Stay away from tuners that take batteries that are hard to find locally. You might need to run out for a battery the day of a show and you would hate to find that the battery you need is special order.
I like to use a pedal version tuner during a show. It has a bigger display and I can turn it on and off with my foot. I personally recommend the Peterson Strobostomp Classic tuner. It has presets to help you get more precise with what kind of instrument you are tuning. It also has a DI out option that can be helpful. If my amp were to die then I could go direct into the mixing board out of my tuner. Unfortunately, they no longer make this version with the DI. I would recommend their new version if you don’t care about the DI feature. Be sure to also check out the Korg Pitchblack, Boss TU-3, or the TC Electronic PolyTune. All are great choices.
I also have a Snark clip-on tuner for times when I am just hanging out in my living room. It is small and easy to use. It also is very accurate. I have used my Snark tuner to tune up a guitar and checked it with my Peterson tuner for accuracy. They were a dead match. The Snark is also very budget friendly.
Always be prepared
Every show is unique to a certain degree. Things can change dramatically in a minute. Being prepared with these five things can help you get through those unexpected problems. You can play better once you feel confident that you are ready for whatever the road dishes out. Now is a good time to go over your gear and see if you have all five items. If not, then plan to acquire them before your next show. You might not ever need them, but you will thank me if you do.