As with every profession, people have their tools. Plumbers have their pipe wrenches, sports stars have their cleats and compression shorts, Candy down at the local strip club has her… well, maybe that’s not a good example, but you get the point I’m trying to get across. Anyone who wants to be not only successful at guitar, but self-sufficient, needs a basic set of equipment that will put them ahead in the world.
The plausibility of gear-laden belts and compartments strapped around your waist and chest Batman-style might pail slightly in comparison to a good toolkit, but it brings us to an interesting idea: How much of what do I actually need? This will be a brief compilation of the things that I’ve found absolutely essential over the last few years. Keep in mind, this article is meant for gigging musicians, but can definitely be adapted to bedroom and studio needs. Without further ado, Jake’s list of essentials.
Duct Tape: Perhaps the most important of anything I’ll write about is duct tape. Why? Simply because you never know. No matter what you plan for at a gig, something will surprise you. I used to tell my guitarist back with my old touring back that, “there is no such thing as a perfect gig,” whenever he got frustrated with how things might have been going that night. We’ve affixed microphones, lights, output jacks, groupies… the list goes on. Something, at some point, will fall apart, and you’ll have to put it back together in a quick fix.
Another use I’ve always loved Duct Tape for is marking. I always have a roll of bright green and bright pink tape with me whenever I transport my gear. My cases, my cables, my boxes, my hard cases, etc. Everything gets a big ol’ slap of brightly colored ugly tape to let everyone know what’s mine is mine. This especially works wonders for deciphering which cables belong to you, another band, or the house. I put a big green tab on one end of my chords, and a big pink one on the other just to make it easy to trace them and identify where they’re going to/from.
This brings us to our next item: Sharpies! I usually use them for labeling upon my tape. It comes in great use if you’ve got boxes of stuff here or there, or hodgepodged. I used to throw a few strips of tape up on the wall where my band was throwing our gear while waiting and write our band name upon them so that everyone knew to keep their gear out of our area. Being selfish and self-preserving is a skill you learn quickly when gigging.
Needle Nose Pliers: You can never, ever, ever have enough pairs of Needle Nosed Pliers. Just about every ailment with a guitar can be fixed with a clever application of this tool. Most common is repairing small output jack problems, but I’ve fandangled a tuning machine or two in my day with this handy tool. Having a few different sizes really beats carrying around a case of small metric wrenches, and they’re likewise used as grips, or pinchers. Just a great overall tool.
Screwdrivers: Both Phillips-head and Flat-head. While the only guitars that use flat-heads are mostly older Fenders and Gibsons, you’ll find an application. Almost everything on a guitar is taken apart with a P-head screwdriver. Given one, and a Stratocaster, I could probably take every last bit down to its smallest component with some thought and time.
Pedal/Headstock Tuner: This might seem like a given, but I can’t tell you how many bands I’ve had ask to borrow my tuner. While I was playing bass in bands regularly I used to keep an LED light-up headstock tuner. It allowed me to keep in tune, even mid-song, and was easy to use. Plus, it made my bass look cool to have giant green and red lights constantly flashing on them. In addition, I also had a pedal tuner. This was simply so I could kill the sound between songs when I was playing. Playing in tune is absolutely essential, as we all know. Don’t skimp out on this. Don’t think that tuning at the beginning of the gig will last you. Don’t think that, “Aw hell, it’s close enough,” will get you by. Buy a tuner. Use it.
If you have merch, you NEED signs. Yes, you need signs. This will tell people right away if they’re going to buy or not. I’ve been told by many people who’ve ran our merch booth how frustrated they became telling people our CD was $10 only to have them walk away. Which reminds me, you NEED someone to watch the merch booth. This usually isn’t hard to find if you have a friend of the band. We used to gig a lot with a buddy band of ours, and while one played, the other watched the booth. It worked out pretty well, otherwise, someone in the band always had a girlfriend who was happy to help out for free stuff. People absolutely will steal stuff if given the chance. Invariably. They will steal the hell out of it.
Lastly for our list, power strips and extension cords. You never know exactly what the power situation at a place will be unless you’ve played it before, and even then it’s not a definite. Always keep at least one extension cord per piece that needs powered. Have at least one power strip for every member in the band (yes, even the drummer). This will keep everyone powered up with outlets to spare. Almost nothing sucks more than coming to a gig to find that most of the outlets are taken by the light display and sound board.
In conclusion, the biggest factor is you. Just stay flexible and adaptive. The above materials should be the basics you need to deal with any situation or gig that will arise and still put on the show you came to put on. If you have any questions I’d be happy to discuss them with you. Add/PM me or just comment below.
Thanks for reading, and happy axe-slaying!