5 Guitar Tips for the Road
Summer is rapidly approaching, which means that touring season is about to be in full force for musicians. Touring is one of the most relentless yet rewarding experiences that any guitar player can partake in. It is also the only way bands are able to build a career out of their live performance. Millions of grueling and beautiful possibilities present themselves on the road. From flat tires, to mobile band arguments, to sold out shows, to unexpected fan reactions, to weathered guitars, to faulty electronics— anything can happen, and it is crucial that everyone is prepared for it.
Guitarists already tend to be perfectionists, and the road is utterly fickle. Here are some tips for string players to consider the next time they venture out to a new destination.
Stock up on strings
Does it seem obvious? It should. Without strings your guitar is pretty much useless. Not every city has a plethora of music stores at your disposal in the midst of a band emergency. Not everyone will be so quick to let you borrow their guitar for a set. Make sure you stock up on quality strings. Not every song will be so easily transposable on the fly, and if you are a seasoned player it will take a short banter break to slap on a new G string before proceeding to the next song.
Use hard cases
Gig bags are inexpensive and convenient, but the reality is that they don’t efficiently protect your instrument. Hard cases are called road cases for a reason. They are designed to withstand road rash and turbulence. A padded gig bag is nice to tote around on your back until you realize that your guitar has suffered a broken neck from some shifted drum hardware.
Have a back up
A favorite guitar is hard to part ways with on stage, but why not have two favorites? Even if you bring a lower quality knock off guitar it will soon become a favorite once there is an actual need for it. Similarly to staying stocked on strings, having a backup guitar will allow for seamless transitions and minimal distraction on stage so you can finish your set— which is the ultimate goal. Backups also enable you to play in alternative tunings without have to break between each song. You might even develop a strange attachment and realize that your Squier is better suited for some sounds than your Gibson!
Keep a tool kit handy
You don’t have to become a luthier or professional guitar tech, but knowing how to make minor adjustments and maintain certain elements of your guitar will go a long way and eliminate some of the stress of gear malfunction. By having a small tool kit on hand comprised of pliers, wire cutters, allen wrenches, screwdrivers, a small soldering iron and polish you can become a guitar guru in your own light and make small repairs to your guitar and amp as well as your bandmates’ instruments. It will save you money in the long run and might even boost your ego a bit.
Check your amp
As a guitarist it can become really easy to bypass issues with your amplifier and assume the problem is with your guitar. It is the thing you hold in your hands on stage and what most people are drawn to, however the amplifier is responsible for producing any sound at all. If something seems funky, fuzzy, crackly or quiet, then examine your amp. Speakers blow, tubes fall out or burn out, wires detach, and shortages occur. Use a flashlight before every gig to run a quick visual diagnostic. The issue could be a lot larger and costly than just a quick soldering fix on your guitar.
While there are so many more things musicians can do to be prepared for life on the road, the instruments on hand are typically the first go go awry. Make sure all elements of your performance are addressed including your guitar, amplifier, pedals, cables, and even your overall power sources. If you are unsure of how to fix something, then don’t fix it. Visit a professional who gets paid to do so. Always consider worst case scenarios and be prepared to call for back up. Lastly, stay safe and buckle up!
Steph Castor is a writer, musician and performance poet currently residing in Kansas City, MO. She attended Columbia College Chicago for Poetry as well as the University of Kansas for Creative Writing and plays guitar for an alternative indie rock band called Vigil and Thieves.
She founded the #LFK Poetry Slam and has written for various publications including Guitar World, Tattoo, Curve Magazine and more. She enjoys indie music, tattoo culture, hip hop, vegan food, whiskey, and east coast beaches.