We all know the intense struggle of snapping a string during a rehearsal, and not having a spare set of strings with you. Or forgetting your capo when you’re about to go on stage with your acoustic folk band.
It’s absolutely essential to have all the tools of the trade with you when you’re about to go on stage. This means making sure you’re prepared for any situation that might me thrown your way. One thing I learned from playing gigs is that you never know what might go wrong, and whether it’s your fault or not, it’s better to be prepared.
Step one in making sure your gig happens the way it should is by stuffing your gigbag with everything you might need. This ranges from spare batteries to food. In this article I’ll show you a list of things you should have in your gig bag, as well as some creative solutions for storing everything.
What do I absolutely need?
First of all: extra strings. Not just for your own instrument, but for the other instruments in your band as well. I know it’s not your responsibility to provide the other band members with strings, but it’s better to play a show than to be right. Spare strings could be the difference between a gig happening and not happening.
Second on the list: Batteries. Whether it’s 9 volt batteries for your effect pedals or active pickups, or AAA batteries for anything else, at some point you’re gonna need ‘em. They usually only cost a few bucks and can save your ass when you’re about to play a gig.
Third: Everything you need to play. Make sure you have your slides, capos, fingerpicks, picks, business cards, merch, setlist, ear protection or whatever you need to use. This seems obvious, but the amount of times I’ve witnessed musicians forget the most essential of things in their rig is staggering.
Fourth: Food. No one likes to play on an empty stomach. It can be distracting and uncomfortable at best, and down right dangerous at worst. Gigs are often combined with a lot of nerves and very hot stages, which both don’t go well with an empty stomach. Not eating enough could result in a sugar-dip which can make you faint and possibly hurt yourself or someone else. Packing a few granola bars and some crackers can save you in a pinch.
Lastly but certainly not least: money. Having some spare cash can save you if you don’t have all the tools you need. It doesn’t have to be enormous amounts of money, just enough to buy a pack of strings or set of tools. Having some cash on you is always a good idea in case of an emergency, not just when playing a gig.
What’s good to have?
Tools. Make sure you have the right tools for your equipment. If you’re a drummer, make sure you’ve got your tuning keys and plenty of moongel on you. If you’re a guitarist, a set of allen keys is essential. If you don’t already have any, check out our list of the best toolkits and multitools for guitarists.
Tape. Whether it’s for taping cables to the floor or fixing your instrument, bringing a roll of tape can never hurt. We recommend gaffers tape as it’s sturdier than duct tape. It also sticks less so it doesn’t leave any annoying residue. Gaffer tape costs a bit more than duct tape, but the difference is only a few bucks.
Cables. Cables, cables, and more cables. You’re gonna need ‘em. Bringing spare guitar, instrument and power cables can be vital. Cables are probably the first thing to break in your rig, and considering that getting quality cables doesn’t hurt the wallet that much, there’s really no reason not to have plenty of spares.
Power strip. Usually, the venue you’re performing at will make sure there’s enough power available, but if there’s not, or if the cables don’t reach far enough, bringing an extra power strip can really help everybody out. Make sure you check what power the country uses if you’re traveling abroad. It’s often overlooked, but making sure you plug into a supply anywhere in the world is vital for gigging.
Maintenance kits. You want your instrument to look great when on stage right? The last thing you want is for a bright light to shine directly onto your beautiful Gibson Les Paul Custom and have everyone see all the fingerprints, right? Dunlop and D’Addario both sell very affordable kits for making your instrument look and play as good as it can. We also have a rundown of the best guitar maintenance kits if you don’t already have one.
Flashlights. Stages are dark, and it’s hard to patch or fix something when you can’t see anything. Getting a bright battery-powered flashlight form the hardware store can be an absolute help in making sure everything goes smooth. Cheap lights tend to break easily, so investing in something of a little more quality can be a great idea.
Markers. It’s good to know which stuff is yours, so marking it with a bright colour can make things much clearer. This also prevents anyone from walking off with your expensive cables, as you’ll recognise your stuff instantly. I recommend some cheap industrial paint markers from the hardware store. This stuff sticks to virtually any surface and is hard to get off.
WD-40. Everybody knows this stuff. Along with tape it’s the stuff that technicians worship. Scratch pots? WD-40. Bad connection? WD-40. Any moving parts on the instrument stuck? WD-40. You can never go wrong with taking a can or two of this stuff with you whenever you go out to play a show.
Soldering Iron. If something inside your guitar or cables breaks, a bit of soldering could be what saves you. Soldering is one of those skill that every guitarist should have, and it can come in very handy in specific situations.
I know the article’s title implies you should put everything into your gig bag, but you can get really creative with this. Plus, it’s just good old fun to have a dedicated box or bag for your equipment.
My first tip would be to get a cheap hardware box (see picture below) from your local hardware store. These usually don’t cost more than 10-15 bucks and are perfect for the job. These boxes have all kinds of compartments for your stuff. These boxes are compact and sturdy. I found a video of Glenn Fricker from SMG Studios showcasing this exact idea.
All Purpose Backpack
Another alternative for if you’re packing some larger stuff: a backpack. Having a dedicated backpack for stuff you might need for a gig is a great way to make sure you’re prepared. You can just fill it with what you need and add on to it whenever you find something yo might also need. This applies to the hardware box as well. Backpacks are made to carry a lot of stuff. Just throw it in the back of your trunk, or carry it on your back and you’re set.
If you wanna go the extra mile, you can even get a proper flightcase for your tools. This is definitely not a cheap solution, but if you’ve got the need, cash, and space for it, there’s no better way to go. These cases are made to withstand plane crashes, and are indestructible. If you’ve got expensive and fragile tools then getting a flightcase can save you a lot of pain in the long run. It’s also less likely to get stolen, as it’s not so easy to just walk off with a huge black case.
D’Addario Backline Gear Transport Pack
If you really wanna go the extra mile, D’Addario makes a luxurious backpack, with all the space for tools and knick knacks you might need. It’s relatively affordable (around $200, this sounds like much, but a quality backpack can run you as much). This pack is super spacious and has dedicated compartments for everything. From cable holders to pick-pouches, this thing is made for gigging. The bag is absolutely genius, as it has multiple semi-hidden compartments for optimal use of the available space. It’s great for any gigging musician wanting to make sure they have everything. Not to mention it looks pretty good as well. It doesn’t look goofy at all, which a full-backpack might.
To conclude, it’s a good idea to make sure you have absolutely everything you might need. This is partially trial and error, as you’ll learn what you need and what not by experience. Eventually you’re gonna notice what you use a lot and what breaks a lot. And to quickly add to this, it’s always a good idea to buy things that are a little more expensive than you might wanna spend. I always tell people to get whatever their budget allows, meaning that you should get the most expensive stuff you can afford. Cheap cables can sound bad and break easily, but paying just maybe 10-20 bucks more can maken your whole situation so much more pleasant. Same with strings, tools, and to be frank, even food.
So, pack your bag with all the essentials and play the gig of your life.