Easy Guitar Gig Tips
Advice and tips for the Gigging Guitarist.
Less is more
Keep it simple! There’s a wealth of very complicated equipment available on the market today. Multi-channel amps, multi-effects units with their own effects loops using the four cable method (4CM). But ask yourself, are the thousands of sounds available any good? would you use them? Do you need them? Personally I’ve found I’ve only ever needed 3 core sounds. 70% of the time in a one guitar band I’m playing overdriven rhythm, 25% of the time I need to boost this for leads and the other 5% is when I need a pristine clean tone that I can’t achieve by rolling of the guitar volume (see below). I only occasionally use effects so I have a dedicated pedal for that (a Zoom G3), my main overdrive (a proco RAT), and the lead boost (Danelectro Coolcat Transparent Overdrive v2). This runs into a clean Fender Blues Junior III amp, meaning I can run everything through the front of the amp without distorting the delays. I only need 2 guitar cables and I can also take advantage of the Fender’s fantastic clean sounds.
Of course you may like the overdriven sound of your amp, not many people would run a Marshall clean with an overdrive pedal (it sort of defeats the object). In this scenario, any time based effects sound pretty dreadful in front, so you’ll need to run them through the FX loop, complicating matters.
To sum up figure out the sounds you need and work towards the simplest way of getting you there. The nightmare scenario for me is having patches setup in a multi-fx unit and flicking between them constantly during a gig. You need to be concentrating on your playing, not wrestling with equipment.
Buy a suitable amp
Gone are the days of 100w Marshall stacks. Even after lugging it in, you’d never be able to hear the monster at full power in a band situation. It’s a much better idea to get the lowest power amp you can get away with doing a gig with. Not only will it be lighter and more manageable, you can really push the power amp valves to make it sing. For me the 15w (yes 15w!) Fender Blues Junior is perfect. Light, small, great cleans and able to easily keep up with the band. Remember that you can always mic the amp through the pa if you need more volume and spread. Taking things to the extreme and using less then 15 watt amps, you’ll definitely need to go through the pa, but you’ll also need decent monitoring as less than 15 watts won’t be enough use the amp itself for monitoring purposes.
Invest in quality guitar leads.
15 years ago I invested in two whirlwind ‘Leader’ guitar cables. They come with a lifetime guarantee, have never failed me once and I also noticed they maintained more of the high end of the guitar tone when I compared them against other cables. If your serious about your playing, save yourself money and time by sorting out quality cables early on.
Use your guitar volume control
The guitar volume controls (and tone controls for that matter) are there for a reason, so use them! In my current band scenario, I set up a basic overdriven/distorted tone which covers the most ground for the material we play. For more heavily distorted parts I leave the volume control wide open, most of the time, for lighter overdriven rhythm tones, I back off the volume to about 6 or 7. For cleaner parts I back off the volume even further, say to 3 or 4. Of course when you need to really stand out for a lead part where the cymbals are going mental too, the guitar volume wont give you enough of a volume boost, so that’s where the boost (or additional overdrive pedal comes in). Similarly, if you need crystal clean, simply disengage the overdrive pedal to run through your clean amp.
Using this method, I’ve found that during the vast majority of the set, I’m not stomping on anything at all, controlling everything through the guitar. It’s simple, organic sounding and fun.
Find you place in the mix
In a word. MIDS! .When eq-ing your guitar sound. Don’t concern yourself too much with bass and treble. The bass player dominates the low end while the drummer dominates both (bass drum and cymbals). What helps you punch through the mix is your middle control. The treble control is often the easiest to dial-in, just reduce it to remove any shrillness or buzziness, but not so far as to cause a muddiness. Cutting the bass will also clear up your sound but don’t take it too far as it’ll end up sounding too thin. Lastly crank the middle up to the point where the guitar is cutting through but not starting to sound too unnatural.
Capo, strings, plectrums, guitar hard case and amp cover (for protection), pedal-board, cable storage, A place for everything and everything in it’s place. Sort this out early and you’ll worry less about forgetting equipment and breakages. You’ll be setting up and pulling down in no time. You can concentrate more on playing.
Practice makes perfect
I always make a habit of running through the whole set at least once before a practice or a gig. You never know what you may have forgotten, that crucial little lead fill, a middle section, an intro, so be prepared if you don’t want to come unstuck in-front of your audience. Practicing before a practice will also add value to it. You want to make the most of the rehearsal time so going over licks and runs you could have learned at home will just waste time.
Always have a backup plan
At one time, I had a backup guitar and amp head, which was fine when the band had a van. These days all I take is a set of strings. If I snap a string, it’s a case of getting to the end of the song and replacing it. If my amp goes down, my backup is the amp-modelling of my Zoom G3 through the p.a. It’s highly unlikely that both amp and multi-fx will fail at the same time. It’s also highly unlikely anything will break on your guitar, if you keep it maintained. They are fairly durable objects.
It’s good to have peace of mind when you’re gigging. You don’t want to be worrying about a power valve popping in your expensive valve amp mid-song.