Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Gigging Guitarist: 10 Essentials

If there's one thing every musician learns at their first gig, it's the difference between being on a stage, no matter the size, compared to playing in your garage or bedroom. It's an experience that can't be taught in any other way... you just have to go through with it, get over the stagefright, take the bumps and bruises, and then go through it again. And again. I average about 2-3 gigs per week, and still learn new things regularly, whether it's a "gig hack" to make life easier, or just a pitfall to avoid. Here's a list of some of the things that can help improve your gigging experiences...

1. A good gigbag. If you're hopping in and out of cabs, subways, buses, or walking a good distance, don't cheap out on this. My life changed with my first MONO case... the price tag may seem daunting, but the first time you put a Les Paul Custom or '78 P-bass in it and throw it on your back, you'll be happy you splurged. The shoulder straps alone are worth the price. The interior is plush and heavily padded, has excellent neck support, and plenty of storage space for cables, strings, pedals, tuners, iPads, sheet music, etc. (I'm still amazed at the amount of stuff that gets squeezed into mine for some gigs). These things are no joke, and worth every penny.


2. A headstock tuner. Even if you have a pedal tuner, it won't hurt to spent $10 on a Snark or similar clip-on tuner and throw it in your gig bag. Odds are, someone else in your band will need it if you don't. I leave one in my acoustic case and another in my electric gig bag, just to be safe. There's no excuse for not being in tune, ABSOLUTELY NONE.

3. Extra strings & winder/clipper. Do I really need to explain this? NEVER play a gig without a backup set (or two). I try to keep my strings fresh, new set every few gigs, and use GHS Fast Fret in between changes, but even with all that prep, stuff still happens. Plus, if you hunt around the internet enough, you'll find bulk deals all over the place (I get my Ernie Balls by the dozen for about $3-4/set). If you're snobby and insist on Pyramids or Elixirs or whatever, then at least keep a cheap backup set handy. When you inevitably break a string on stage, don't fumble around, get it done quickly, preferably while the rest of the band keeps jamming on something. I've got one of these fancy do-dads in my gigbag at all times, as well as one of these for more drastic procedures.

Ready for anything
I swear by it for string life

4. An extra cable. I need two, so I carry three. Never rely on a venue for something like this... if they happen to have extra cables, odds are they're cheap and have been abused. After years of using cheap cables, I realized it's worth a few more bucks for quality (particularly if that quality also comes with a lifetime warranty). I use a Lava Retro Coil cable from my guitar to pedals, then a Monster Rock from pedals to amp, with an extra Monster as backup (Doesn't hurt to keep a short speaker cable in your bag, either).

5. Extra acoustic bridge pins. (Disregard if not an acoustic player) No one thinks of this, and neither did I, until my buddy J.D. Patch mentioned it... he once broke two strings, lost both pins under the stage, and the rest of the show was a disaster. Now he carries six spares in his case. These little things can go flying when a string breaks, and considering they cost about $1/ea for the plastic kind, there's no reason not to keep a few handy.

Yes, those things.

6. An extra slide. (Disregard if not a slide player) I've lost these damn things in every way possible, from shattering on a hard floor, to literally flying off my finger like a UFO, never to be seen again, to rolling in between floorboards under a stage. Whatever kind you like, always carry two. If it's some fancy blown-glass hand-welded free-range also-a-pipe slide, find the closest thing you can for under $10 and throw it in your case. The audience won't notice any difference, I promise.

Two of my favorite Ernie Ball slides and a slide pouch (with room for extra picks)

7. A 9V Battery (or two). Especially if you play acoustic guitar with an active preamp like a Fishman or L.R.Baggs, batteries can short out without warning in a heartbeat, so even if there should be plenty of life in yours, it's better to be safe than dead. For pedals, even if you have a great power supply, it doesn't hurt to have battery backups in most if not all of them. Power supplies die, cables get pulled from sockets, but hopefully gigs won't suffer.

8. Extra picks. I can't believe I'm even typing this, but I've actually played gigs with people who had ONE worn down ancient pick on them, and that was all. C'MON, MAN! Go online, get a big bag of whatever kind you like, and grab a few before every gig. Leave a few in your gigbag or case. Keep a couple in your wallet. Again, NO EXCUSE. You can even go to Steve Clayton USA and get custom picks, like these:

Shameless J.P. & the Voodoo Blues plug.

9. A tip jar (or hat). Even if a venue is paying you something, it won't hurt. You might even make enough to cover those extra strings or batteries for the next gig. When performing in public, never be afraid to put a hat out... there's always that one drunk guy who absolutely loves Skynyrd and drops a $20 for callin' him the breeze.

10. Thick skin. This takes time, but you can't let the little things bother you... people may walk out in the middle of a tune, or stick their heads in and decide it's not for them. You can't win 'em all, but you can keep at it and improve over time. If someone requests a song you don't know, keep it in mind for next time... if you're backing someone who launches into a tune you never played before, don't get angry or frustrated, just do your best to fake it for the crowd (then slap him afterward). If you're performing originals that you've put a lot of time, energy, and emotion into, don't be offended when a generic cover tune gets a better response... there's a fine line to walk between artist and entertainer. All of these experiences build character, and will ultimately make you a better musician.

(Disclaimer: i have no affiliation or endorsements with any of the manufacturers mentioned in this blog)