Few feelings rival the exhilaration of performing music for a live audience, but don't think that such rapture will always come your way without some degree of intelligent preparation on your part. Whether its your first gig or your hundredth, there are a few things you should think about before you load your gear into the van.
For starters, unless your goal is to give yourself a hernia and destroy your own hearing and drive listeners away with ear-splitting volume, there's rarely a need to drag your high-powered amp and refrigerator-size speaker cabinet to any venue other than a stadium. Bring a low-power, single-speaker combo amp instead. If the venue is small, a 25-watt rig will deliver more than enough volume for you onstage and for your fans out in the room. If the venue holds more than 200 people and your rig needs to be miked, the soundman will have a much easier time making the band sound good if your onstage volume isn't overpowering the club's P.A. speakers.
If you still feel you've got to drag the big rig to the gig, you probably won't even consider leaving any of your guitars at home, but you should-one guitar is usually all you'll need (unless, of course, your set demands that you use both an acoustic and an electric). Sure, it's nice to be able to switch between a Les Paul and a Telecaster for creating different tones within different songs, but do you really need four guitars onstage with you for a 45-minute set? Do you want to waste stage time switching and tuning guitars? Do you want to give your singer more things to knock over? If you so insist on bringing multiple axes to a gig, bear in mind that someone is going to have to keep an eye on all your gear before and after your show so that some predatory club-goer doesn't walk off with your stuff. (It happens all the time.)
Definitely bring along a tuner. Guitars are very susceptible to changes temperature and humidity, and if you play aggressively or simply bring your guitar out from the sweaty heat in your touring van into the chilly, air-conditioned climes of a dark club, the physical and/or environmental changes will definitely throw your tuning out of whack. Even if you can tune by ear very well, no one wants to hear you tune up during a performance. When you're practicing at home or rehearsing with your band you can stop in the middle of a song and retune your guitar, but that's not going to fly when you're standing up in front of a crowd of people. A tuner-preferably one with a mute control-running in-line with your other guitar effects or even on it's own will allow you to quickly tune your guitar.
Peek inside the gig bag of a regularly gigging guitarist and you're also likely to see some or all of the following:
- Extra sets of strings are a must. When a string breaks and you're caught without a spare, there won't be any place to hide. If you know which strings you tend to break, buy singles and pack them for every performance.
- A peg-winder will save you precious seconds onstage while putting that new string on, and you might need a pair of wire cutters to get that old string off the tuning peg.
- Picks are easy to lose and easy to forget, so load up next time you're at the music store. One can never have too many picks-put some extras in your pocket, wedge them underneath your pickguard, or be a rock star and tape them to a mic stand (maybe get a pick holder for your mic stand to assist in locating these more easily)
- Fresh 9-volt batteries will keep your stompboxes singing and your tuner tuning.
- A power strip and an extension cord will pay huge dividends. When it comes to electricity, most clubs don't have enough conveniently located power outlets. Stage-side outlets are often beaten up and undependable. Keep yourself powered up and safe from shock.
- Duct tape is the gigging musician's fix-it-all. You might need to tape cables down onstage, mark a spot where you get good feedback, hold your pedals in place, or bound and gag your drummer.
- Electrical tape can save you when you're conducting emergency surgery, may you never need it.
- Guitar polish is not essential, but you might want to buff up before downbeat.
- A soft cloth is not essential, but you might want to buff up before downbeat.
- An extra strap will come to the rescue when you realize your favorite one is back home in the other guitar's case.
- Ground-lifting adaptors cost less than a buck each, and they are invaluable. You'll know it's true when you go to plug your amp in and find that the outlet can only accommodate two-prongs power chords.
- Instrument cables suffer from heavy footsteps, tangles, and spilled beer over time and are prone to wearing out, so throw an extra one in your gig bag just in case the one you normally use becomes intermittent or stops working altogether. If you don't need it, someone else in the band will sooner or later.
- Extra fuses are tricky to carry around since they can be fragile. But pad a small box and carry extra tubes in case yours break in transit or burn out.
- Extra tubes suffer from heavy footsteps, tangles, and spilled beer over time and are prone to wearing out, so throw an extra one in your gig bag just in case the one you normally use becomes intermittent or stops working altogether. If you don't need it, someone else in the band will sooner or later.
- Ear-plugs protect those near-field monitors attached to your head. There's nothing worse than starting your own show with your ears already ringing, so invest in a good pair (preferably with filters). Even if you don't wear them while you're playing-and you should-you'll be happy that you have them if you're planning on listening to the bands that go on before you.
- Screwdrivers (flat and Phillips) are often needed for accessing truss rods or battery compartments.
- Allen wrenches are indispensable when you need to make a truss-rod adjustment on the fly.
- A flashlight is helpful when making backpanel changes on your amp or looking for the pick you dropped five seconds before the lights are about to go up. It can also help you find all this junk in your gig bag.