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The Guitaristís Tour Survival Guide

By Scott Masson

When asked how he got his inimitable tone, Eddie Van Halen responded that his tone is in his fingers. Wiser words have rarely been spoken, as a great guitarist can make even the shoddiest gear sound amazing, while a mediocre guitarist can be plugged into the most expensive rig available and still sound mediocre. That said, while you donít need to have the most expensive gear to sound great, knowing your way around your own rig and knowing how to get the most out of it live are crucial parts of being a gigging musician. In this guide weíre going to talk you through the vital things you need to have sorted out before you step out on stage, so that you can play confidently and to the very best of your ability.


1. Spare Strings

Sodís law dictates that a string will break during the soundcheck with just minutes before you need to play. Make sure that you have a couple of sets spare, in case of emergency. Personally, I always carry a spare packet for the spare packet as you can never be too careful!

2. Tools

Touring can be pretty hard work for your guitar. When itís not being played on stage every night, itís going to be sitting in a variety of different temperatures or getting bumped around in the back of the tour van. Packing pliers, allen keys, screwdrivers and any other tools you might to make last minute adjustments to your action, bridge, vibrato system or electronics could make all the difference if something goes wrong and youíre unable to get to a repair shop in time.

3. A Spare Guitar

On the first night of a month long tour of Scotland, we arrived at a venue to find that the cold had snapped my Les Paul right at the nut. As a result, I spent the whole run playing a £50 Telecaster copy that I used as my spare. Sure, the guitar was pretty much falling apart and sounded pretty terrible, but it was still a great alternative to being unable to play or having to rely on other bandsí gear (a sure way to annoy them).

4. Gaffer Tape

Tours run on gaffer tape. Itís instrumental (pun intended) in everything from securing loose cables to fixing your van - Iíd say gaffer tape is more important part of your band than your lead singer!

5. Spare Cables

Bring spare cables - and lots of them too. They take a real beating on tour, and no matter how good the quality your cables are, they will always break at the most inopportune moment.

6. Mains Extension Cables

Nothing about a gig is certain; except for the knowledge that there will never be enough power outlets on stage. Donít get caught out, make sure that you have everything you need to plug all your gear in every night.

7. Cleaning Stuff

If youíre doing your job properly, youíre going to be sweating all over your guitar night after night, which can quickly make your strings and bridge rusty. Make sure you bring some cloths and cleaning fluid with you and give your guitar a quick wipe down after every show.

8. Picks

No amount of picks is unreasonable to bring with you on tour. They will disappear quicker than a fart in a hurricane on tour.

Dos and Doníts DoÖ

Get to the soundcheck early. Treat the sound engineer with respect and take the time to learn their name. Let your amp warm up before you start playing, to avoid sudden volume swells as the valves warm up. Make sure that you can hear yourself and your rhythm section in the monitor mix. Take the time to check as many different pedals/sounds as you can. If you switch between two channels, make sure that the levels are set up correctly. Tune up before you go on stage and make sure you check your tuning between songs. For the love of God and all that is Holy, buy a bypass guitar tuner. Your audience donít want to hear you doing it by ear! Support the other bands on the bill. Stay and watch their set and get friendly with them. There are so many bands out there with bad attitudes, so a bit of decency goes a long way. You never know who will be able to give you a live slot in the future.


Treat the soundcheck like a practise session. Get on, get checked and get off quickly, so that everyone else has a chance to soundcheck as well. Play whilst the sound guy is trying to get your bandmateís levels sorted. Intentionally ramp up your volume on stage. The sound engineerís priority is making it sound good out front, for the audience. If the monitor mix is terrible and the sound engineer canít do anything about it, deal with it. If you canít play a decent set without good onstage sound, then you arenít ready to be on stage yet. Take forever to pack up your gear after your gig. Multi-band nights usually have very quick change overs Ė sometimes as little as 10 minutes. Donít eat into the next bandís set time by being slow about shifting your gear.

Money Saving Tour Hacks

Strap locks are essential, but a good pair can be costly, and if they break you can be left in a tricky situation. For decades, guitarists have been using rubber bottle stops from beer bottles to secure their straps. This works just as well as expensive options and gives you a good excuse to buy a beer. Instructions here. (Empty) toilet rolls are a fantastic way to keep your cables organised, especially if you run pedals through the FX loop and therefore have lots of cables running across the stage. Buying your accessories in bulk with discount codes can save you a lot of money. Picks, cables, capos and guitar strings can quickly add up and leave quite the hole in your wallet, so it pays off to keep an eye on discount sites like this and stock up when good discounts come up.
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