I’ve been playing music for 20+ years. In that time, just about everything that could go wrong at a show has gone wrong. Thus, over the years, I’ve acquired a some things that I prefer to have at each gig that will help me give the best performance I can possibly give. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list, nor is it necessarily the basics one will need to put on a show. In fact, this list presumes that basics have already been acquired: workable instrument, sound reinforcement, adequate power, and a suitable room to play. Rather, this list is comprised of things that are oft overlooked by the beginning and intermediate musicians. In no particular order, here’s a list of creature comforts and items that I take to every gig (there are links at the bottom for everything that I reference in this blog):
- Gig bag. I’ll be honest. I’ve never really been a fan of gig bags. They don’t really protect your instrument in a material way. That being said, load-ins are a b. A lot of times musicians are getting to a venue blind. They show up to a city/town they’ve never been before, fight through traffic only to find that the stage is a football field away from the parking area. When trying to reduce the amount of trips into the venue, being able to carry many things at once really helps. While I’m not super impressed with these guys, I’m currently using the Fusion Urban Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Bag, but they no longer sell them near as I can tell. Honestly, I can see why. It looks great, but the main handle fell apart after two years. For light use, it might not however. That being said, listed below is a comparable one, it’s a good place to start your research.
- Spare strings (and string winder). As the rhythm guitarist and, often, the solo performer, new crisp strings are super important if you want to be in tune, sound your best, and reduce finger fatigue. You don’t want to get caught at a show without spare strings. Aside from that, it’s a good idea to change your strings before every show, if not at least every couple shows. I used to spend a lot of money on strings. The verdict is out on what sounds the best. After all these years, I really can’t tell the difference between the sound of a $30 set versus a $10 set. I do know that coated strings tend to play the best, but, in my experience, they are also more expensive and break quicker. With that in mind, I tend to find the cheapest 10 pack of either Martin light strings or D’addario light strings, despite preferring D’addario.
- Tuner. This is a no-brainer. One out of tune instrument in an orchestra will poop on the whole performance in my opinion. As well, no one wants to here a musician fussing with an instrument to get it in tune. Sure, it’s a good sign if a performer can deftly tune an offending string, and tell a story all the while, but it’s even better when the tuning is done quickly and silently. That in mind, as of late, I’ve fallen in love with my on-board tuner as it mutes the signal to the crowd and is easy to read due to proximity, however, I probably wouldn’t get the type of on-board electronics in future guitars that I have now (it’s old school and requires a hole in the side of the guitar). So, that notwithstanding, I find that you can’t go wrong with the old stand-by, the Boss TU-3. This is third generation, and not much has changed. It’s just a solid tuner that takes a stomp and doesn’t color the signal from the guitar.
- Music player. When playing a three hour gig, it is customary to take a fifteen minute break now and then. What I’ve learned playing the bar circuit is that bartenders and servers are too busy to be bothered with turning the house music on or off. There’s nothing worse than playing a beautiful ballad and getting to a quiet section, only to realize that Foghat is still playing over the house speakers. In addition, and maybe I’m a control freak, I prefer to be able to set the tone of the evening, so I like to bring a playlist of my own to pipe through the PA during down time. In addition, the staff will appreciate not having to mess with turn the house music on and off during a busy shift. Currently, I’m using a re-purposed Iphone to for house music, but mp3 players are ubiquitous at this point. The only thing I’d recommend is having a cheap easy to use and power one that can live with your stage gear. If you don’t want to re-purpose an old iphone (cracked face ones are the best for this type of thing…just get a case so the face doesn’t totally disintegrate). SanDisk makes a cheap one…don’t break the bank; really..anything will work.
- Capo. I’ll admit it. I’m a lazy guitarist, but the old adage stands, “work smarter, not harder”. As a singer / songwriter, the ability to change keys with minimal effort is very important. For a number of reasons, I will change the key of a song so that I can sing it in the most natural way. Additionally, they allow for open voicing where normal chord positions don’t sans capo. Notwithstanding, while I like the convenience of clip on capos like the Keyser brand, I prefer the adjustable capos like the Schubb for sound. That being said, for my work horse guitar I married those two aspects in a capo that lives on the guitar. I need things to be stupid proof because, if I can lose a capo, I will. So lately, I’ve been using the Paige Capos. Tony Rice, master of the bluegrass guitar uses Elliott Capos, but at a $100+ price range, they are a little too rich for my blood.
- Spare picks. This is another thing that wouldn’t seem so important, but when you need a pick…you need a pick. No one, save Brian May, wants to use a quarter or chopped up gift card for a three hour gig. If you play the guitar, you know what kind you like. If you use blue chip picks, which I highly recommend, you still need some cheap picks as back up. Unless you’re rich enough to be a few $40 picks (Blue Chip picks are a spicy meatball…). So, find the cheapest deal possible of your pick of choice and keep a bag of them in your guitar case. I use Dunlop Tortex .88mm, but it’s super subjective. Even these are starting to be a little floppy for my taste, so I might buy some thicker ones in ten years when I run out of the bag that I currently have.
- Towels. This is probably just me, and it may mostly be due to being horrifically out of shape. That being said, summertime outdoor gigs make this a necessity. You don’t have to overthink this, just use some old dish towels or a bandana, etc. I prefer white hand towels from a purely aesthetic standpoint, but whatever floats your boat and allows you to keep your hands, forehead, and guitar neck dry.
- Ipad (Ipad holder). Trapper keepers are for kids, and paper song books are for cumbersome. If you must have the words to your songs in front of you (which I do…especially for new songs), then get yourself some sort of tablet. Old Ipads work great; cheap Kindle Fires work as well. Do some research and find your favorite app for storing your song sheets and attach that sucker to your mic stand (Pro-tip*-they even make Bluetooth pedals so you can flip pages with your feet while you’re playing! Technology is a wonderful thing!) Currently, I use a second generation Ipad and a mic stand adapter for it. I’m blind and I don’t like to have to scroll the pages, so the 10 inch screen works for me.
- Drink holder. Hydration is key. When playing for extended periods of time, it makes sense to have access to water or a beer to quench your thirst. There are few options for this must-have. Option 1, which I do, is to use your pedal board case as a makeshift table. Option 2, is to bring a small table with you to the stage…hell…steal a bar stool. However, option 3, which I did for a long time is to attach a drink holder to your stand. This has is benefits and detractors; Proximity is a benefit; my propensity to knock the mic stand and spill my bear all over my pedal board is a definite detractor. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
- Quiet high powered fan. This must have is hand-in-hand with #7. During the summer, playing outdoor gigs can be brutal. If you bring a nice air mover to the stage you will be cool as a cucumber, and the wind in your hair will give you that nice Scott Stapp look that every rock star wannabe is after (#Creed #Jesusrock). Additionally, you will be the envy of every band that didn’t have the forethought to have something of this nature. I promise! The fan needs to be powerful, but small enough to stow away in your vehicle along with the rest of the stuff you lug around venue to venue. Pro-tip*-a fan with a power outlet is a wonderful thing for a small amount of stage power.
*Bonus: Clock for the Stage. While it’s not very interesting to be looking at the clock while you’re playing a gig, it is helpful to know when how much time you have left, so you can decide what songs will make the cut. With that in mind, I’ve taken to keeping a little clock on my pedal board. The one I use is not made anymore, but Zue Engineering has one though the price tag is a bit much. Check the links below.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. What items do you take to every gig?
Amazon Affiliate Links (while nothing below is a paid advertisement, if you click on these links below, I do receive a portion of anything you buy from amazon within the following 24 hours of clicking on the link):
Fusion Urban Double Acoustic/Electric Guitar Bag
D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze Light Acoustic Strings 10-Pack
SanDisk 8GB Clip Jam MP3 Player
Paige 6-String Standard Capo
Dunlop Guitar Picks Tortex 72 Pack .88 MM Green Med
AmazonBasics Quick-Dry Hand Towels
Ipad 2nd Generation
IK Multimedia iKlip 2 iPad Music Stand Adaptor
K & M DRINK HOLDER BLACK KC
STANLEY 655704 High Velocity Blower Fan
On TIMER Pedalboard Clock Timer