For gigging guitarists and bassists, packing for a gig means more than just loading up your instrument, amplifier, pedals, and cables into the car. It means preparing for a plethora of “what if” scenarios that may bring your gig to a grinding halt.
However, there are often-forgotten essentials that should find their way into your gig bag sooner rather than later. The live music environment is unpredictable. Gear gets dropped, stepped on, and kicked, and may even just stop working for no reason at all, although, it may have something to do with the dropping and kicking. The venue may have an odd stage layout that isn’t at all like your rehearsal space. It doesn’t take much for an unexpected surprise to show up, so it pays to prepare for the worst with these essentials.
Power strip with surge protection and extension cords
Your gear is no good if you can’t power it on! Every venue is different, and some may have power outlets placed around the stage in a manner that is less than convenient. In these instances, a power strip with surge protection and extension cords are your best friends.
A power strip with surge protection not only offers additional onstage outlets to plug your equipment into, but also protects it from harmful power surges and spikes. They are also relatively inexpensive and should be considered cost effective gear insurance that can fit in your gig bag.
An extension cord is indispensable for reaching out of the way outlets or powering up pedal boards out front. You may want to bring two extension cords, a long one at 25-50 feet depending on the shows you do and a shorter one of 10-15 feet. The shorter one may be the one you use most, but you may need to run a long run to get on another breaker circuit at the house party.
This brings up the point about using outlets on different breakers. If they are all on the same breaker then your whole band and maybe the PA are running on the same 15 amp breaker. If the wire in the walls was perfect and very short to the main box, then that outlet could supply 1800 watts (120V x 15A) of continuous power. Most clubs and houses do not usually have the newest wiring and there may be long runs to the breaker box. The connections from the breaker to the outlets may also be old. This all reduces the power available. This may be fine for a 1000W PA, 200W bass amp and 100W guitar amp, but at the peaks of a larger system the AC voltage will sag. This means your power will be lower and the maximum power of your PA, bass amp and guitar amp will also be lower. Sometimes this can slowly damage speakers because the amplifiers will clip early due to the sagging AC voltage. So if you can use that longer extension cord to put another 15 amp breaker supplied outlet on your system your system will have more power and you can prevent these issues. This provides another 1800 watts for a total of 3600 watts of available power.
A basic tool kit
One of the benefits of electric guitars and basses is that they do not need specialized tools to be adjusted or repaired. Here are some essentials: both medium and small Phillips head and flathead screwdrivers, Allen keys, extra batteries, electrical tape, and a soldering iron.
To remove a pick guard or adjust your instrument’s intonation, a common Phillips head screw driver or Allen key does the job just fine.
A flat head screwdriver is useful to open certain effects pedal battery compartments or remove your guitar’s knobs.
An Allen key (or hex key) set is very useful to have, as these can be used to adjust string height at the bridge saddles, or make adjustments to the truss rod.
A soldering iron can be a lifesaver for more advanced repairs. Although not common, the soldered connections in a guitar may corrode over time and or come loose naturally. When your guitar’s wiring gives out, soldering the connections back into place is the only option outside of a very temporary, unreliable fix with electrical tape. Of course, this requires that you know how to solder, and if you don’t, it is worth learning. It is a very useful skill that will help you with a lifetime of guitar modifications and repairs, such as changing out capacitors or installing new pickups.
Extra 9 volt batteries and AA batteries are good to have, especially if you use effects pedals, an active instrument, or wireless unit that requires them. This is often a life saver at the gig, because they can last long enough to forget you should replace them.
A first aid kit
A small first aid kit is always a good thing to have around, even if you don’t have clumsy, accident prone band mates. Many venues, especially bars, may offer the recipe for disaster with glassware, spilled drinks, heavy speakers, and large crowds of people.
Extra picks, strings, and cables
Picks have a tendency to get lost under couch cushions and beds, never to be found again. The same goes at a gig. Bring more than you think you will need. That way you aren’t crawling around on the floor between songs looking for that one pick you brought- and dropped during your solo. Stash some in your bag and guitar case, that way they are not lost from only one place.
While bringing a backup guitar is ideal, extra strings are still a good option in case you break a string. The last set of strings can become the gig back up set. This may be more common for a bass player than a guitar player.
While high-quality cables like Carvin Audio’s C20P utilize heavy-duty, insulated connections, many lower quality cables will fail early and even the good cables can handle your drummers kick drum spikes or high hat pedal on them so many times. Having an extra set of instrument, speaker, and power cables keeps you covered.
A permanent marker
Not only are these needed to sign autographs for your adoring new fans, permanent markers are great for marking the mixer, set list adjustments or when someone forgets to make set lists.
What do you always bring to the gig? Let us know in the comments!
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Even if you’ve matched your bass head and cab properly impedance wise and set your amp for clean sound, sending simply too much power to your bass cab can result in blown speakers. This often happens when you are using a rig you are unfamiliar with, as we tend to know the limitations of our own equipment and have chosen that setup for a reason. Borrowing another bassist’s amp or using a backline rig only to blow it up is definitely not a great feeling.