Breaking The Law

Ok, you have a gig next weekend. Your band has enough songs, you and your bandmates have your parts down and rehearsals are sounding great. You’re confident that you’ll pull it off without a sweat, nothing can stop you. Nothing? Nothing except a phenomenon called Murphy’s Law.

In case you don’t know your law: Murphy’s Law says that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong and it will go wrong in a way that it has the worst possible effects. The more electronics and gear are involved, the greater the chance of something not functioning. Granted, this is quite pessimistic, but nonetheless, chances are that at any gig some minor things can and will go wrong: A string can break (nice when it happens on a Floyd Rose equipped guitar in mid-solo), a cable might stop working or a battery is flat. The possibilities are endless. The audience won’t mind as long as the show can go on and it is entertained. And fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to prepare for Murphy’s law to make sure that you can keep going. Some preparation also can reduce the stress potential of a gig tremendously and help you concentrate on your music.

For a start, make sure all your equipment is in good working condition. That means that you check the batteries in the tuner and in the stomp boxes you use and in doubt replace them before the gig. If necessary, put on new strings – on all the guitars you’re going to use. Don’t just replace one or two strings, put on a complete new set. This will give a more balanced sound than four old and two new strings.

It is a matter of taste when to change strings. It depends how long and often you play, how much you sweat and how clean your hands are before you pick up the instrument. There are other factors, too. For example, I don’t like the feeling of completely new strings so I put them on before the last rehearsal to “break them in”. Stretch new strings to make sure they stay in tune and check the intonation. Don’t forget to take a look at your chords and amp, too.

Your band should agree on a set list before the gig and stick to it – no discussions on stage about which song to play now. Also choose a couple of encore songs. If you’re using a lot of different sounds and effects (a programmable multi-effect unit for example), take a long look at that list and program your sounds so that you have only a minimal amount of switching to do on stage and there is no unnecessary delay between songs. Furthermore, write the program number(s) you use next to the song on the set list – stage fright can make you even forget the name of your mother-in-law. Searching for the right program number and sound on stage will not amuse the audience.

I hope your guitar case or gig bag has plenty of room for those things that might save you when Murphy’s Law puts its head through the door at your gig.

Here’s my list:

  • spare strings, preferably two complete sets and maybe one or two extra high e-strings
  • all the tools you need to change strings and set up your guitar (adjust intonation):
  • screwdrivers, allen wrenches, a string winder, a string cutter …
  • a good tuner, preferably one with a needle and lighted display
  • spare batteries: at least one for the tuner, if you use stomp box effects with batteries a couple more – oh, and make sure before the gig that the spare batteries still have power left (Jeff Beck used nearly empty batteries in his distortion boxes to get a certain sound, but I doubt that the majority of your audience would like it today)
  • spare cables: if you plug straight into the amp, one is enough, if you have more cables in your setup (for example because you use the effect loop of your amp), two or three
  • if you have a tube amp, some replacement tubes
  • some extra fuses for your amp
  • a torchlight – ever tried to replace an amp fuse on a dark stage?
  • duct tape: if you use a lot of effects or have a lot of cables lying around the stage, tape them down so nobody trips over them and pulls them out by accident
  • a knife: cutting duct tape without one is difficult at best
  • pen and paper: there’s always something to write down, maybe even your phone number for the record company exec who saw your gig
  • a multiple adaptor

Do I take all those things with me? To be honest, no I don’t and here’s why: When I play a gig, I take at least two guitars with me for sound variations. That means, I probably can get by with less spare strings – changing guitars in mid-set is also faster than replacing a string. Ever since the day my tube amp stopped working in mid-gig, I’ve brought a solid state replacement amp to every gig. Yes, it’s more to carry, but it also saves time (no need to replace tubes or a fuse in the middle of your gig). Thus, I get by without replacement tubes or extra fuses.

Remember: Even if you are fine and have no problems, your second guitar player or the bassist might be less well-prepared and then one of your extra instrument cords might come in handy.

Preparing for a gig does not start or end with the gear, nor with rehearsing your set list until you can play it in your sleep. If you’re interested, there’s a very interesting article on (under articles) called “Preparing for the gig” that deals a bit with time-management before the gig. And there’s also the field of getting ready for the gig mentally, but that’s for maybe another time.

About the Author

Stefan has been playing guitar on and off for about 20 years, with 10 years of teaching privately and one year in the professional program of the “Future Music School” in Aschaffenburg, Germany. When playing guitar Stefan usually plays a lot of blues and blues-influenced (classic) rock, but when writing songs, he ends up writing rock and even pop songs.