10 First Gig Essentials For Guitarists

You will definitely need these…

Band playing on stage

When the time comes for you to move out of your practice room/garage/mums front room (we’ve all been there) and on to a stage for the first time wielding your guitar, chances are you’re going to be feeling a little anxious, a little excited and probably a little bit sick.

Nerves are fine, in fact, you need them to keep you sharp, however a lack of preparation is really not a good thing.

We’ve covered a few really handy do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when taking the stage for the first time in a previous blog, but today we are listing the essential equipment that every gigging guitarist needs in a little more detail to stop you turning up on the day and getting that horrible sinking feeling when you realise you’ve forgotten something.

Here’s a list of essential items you’ll need to ensure you’re gig ready – the hard part, practicing and actually nailing it on the night, is up to you.

1. Spare Guitar

A spare guitar is not a luxury item – it’s an essential. Things can, and WILL go wrong at some point during a gig, it’s just a fact. Amps will break, leads will cut out and strings will snap when you really don’t want them to, like while you’re tuning up before your first song or in the middle of a solo.

If you’re the support act, you’ll have a 20-30 minute slot to fill and time will be tight. If a guitar string snaps, you don’t have the time to sit and change a string before the set starts, or worse, mid set. This is when a spare guitar comes in handy – just swap guitars and you’re good to go. No one is left waiting around and you look like a consummate professional by seamlessly carrying on.

You don’t have to go out and buy a new guitar, just borrow your friend’s. However, I would advise getting used to it first as everything will sound and feel unfamiliar. A few practice runs in the rehearsal room will get your hands and ears used to playing a different guitar.

If you feel more comfortable bringing your own, here are some quality affordable guitars that work as a backup.

Guitar-on-stage

2. Tuner Pedal

Don’t be that guy tuning up by ear onstage, it’s the worst crime next to using someone’s gear without asking. Invest in a good tuner pedal such as the Boss TU-3 or a Rowin LT-920 Tuner PSU Pedal – both industry standard pedals that are extremely reliable and won’t break the bank.

You’ll need to tune up before your set and mid set, so do it quickly with a pedal that you can rely on for accuracy and speed.

boss tuner

3. Your Own Guitar Amp

In my experience, using someone else’s equipment for the first time is an absolute nightmare. When coupled with the added stress of playing your first gig, any change to the sound of your equipment is going to completely throw you and make you feel really uneasy when a crowd of people are watching, no matter how supportive they are.

If you have a guitar amp and you’ve been practicing with it, bring it along with you and play with that. Of course the headliner band may offer you use of their equipment (which is a very nice thing to do), but if you’re using a Vox AC15 and then try and plug into a Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb everything is going to sound very, very different.

Bringing your own equipment is not only better for your sound, but it’s professional to do so. Never turn up to a gig and just expect to use another band’s gear, as you risk annoying the other band and ruining your reputation before you’ve built one.

blackstar amp

4. Guitar Leads

A set of good quality guitar leads are essential. They’re the connection between your amp, pedal board and guitar, so don’t let anything go wrong along the chain. Invest in some good quality leads and ditch those budget ones that crackle when you move them around.

A good lead will improve your tone and make sure a clean and uninhibited signal travels to your amp. If you’re running a few pedals, dodgy patch leads will invariably break down on you, so again, invest in good quality options such as Planet Waves, Monster, Boss or even Fender.

Most leads have a lifetime warranty, so take advantage of this and buy quality leads that can be replaced free of charge should they break down.

Read our article on 5 of the best leads here.

5. Gaffa/Duct tape

Any touring musician or roadie will tell you, “there is nothing that duct tape cannot fix”. While this is not completely true (don’t try and fix your snapped headstock with a roll), it is very, very handy.

If you’ve got a loose guitar strap and you can’t afford straplocks, duct tape the life out of it so your guitar won’t fall off your shoulder. If you’re playing outdoors and your set list is flying all over the place, tape that bad boy down!

If you can’t see your frets under the lights during soundcheck, place a little tape over the markers to help you see where you are. It’s cheap and extremely useful so always keep some in your pedal board or gig bag. Which leads me to my next point…

6. Gig Bag/ Hard case

Leaving your guitar out in the open in your bedroom or living room and risking the dog knocking it over is one thing, but leaving a guitar exposed in a storage room or green room is a completely different ball game. Once you’re on the touring circuit or even playing a few gigs a week, your equipment will pick up a few knocks and scratches – it’s inevitable and it actually makes your gear look cooler, so don’t get too disheartened by this.

However, there’s also a difference between a slightly worn down body and a broken neck/dented fretboard so always store your equipment in gig bags or hard cases.

When your equipment is left backstage completely covered, you run less of a risk of seriously damaging something should it fall off a bench, someone throws their gear onto it or spills something on it.

There are a lot of different choices available, with some different options covered in this article.

gig-bag

7. Set list

Bring a handful of setlists. You’re going to be onstage, no doubt panicking a little bit, so there is a good chance your mind will go blank if you have to concentrate on what’s happening next. When that 4 count starts you need to know what song you’re about to go into, so keep a setlist close by.

Plus, you’re going to want to keep that set list for your scrapbook and look back on it before you step out onstage at Wembley one day.

set-list

8. Spares

I’ve talked at length about how important a spare guitar is, but it’s also a good idea to bring along a selection of spare accessories. The law of averages dictates that if you turn up to a gig with one plectrum you will lose it, so bring a few along and keep them in your pocket.

Also make sure you have at least one set of strings tucked away in your hardcase or gig bag, so if you do snap a string on the day you can change them before the gig.

Many guitarists and musicians will try to collect doubles of everything they have, including pedals, in case something goes wrong.

You’re not at this stage yet, so don’t worry about buying two tuner pedals or two identical amps, just try to accumulate a selection of spare leads, capos, patch leads, strings, kettle leads, plectrums etc.

9. Power supply

If you’re using guitar pedals, you’ll need a reliable power source. 9 volt batteries are NOT reliable. Let me repeat that, they are NOT reliable. If you forget to take a lead out of a guitar pedal and you’re powering them with 9V batteries, you’ll have a flat battery and an unresponsive guitar pedal onstage, which is about as useful as plugging a Mars bar in.

Making the upgrade from batteries to a power supply is the best thing you can do for your sound. There are many budget “no name” lines on the market, but before you’re tempted to go for the cheaper option consider what you’re doing to your tone.

A low quality power supply will impede sound quality, so make the change to something simple yet extremely reliable at first such as a Dr Tone PSU10 power supply – a very good power supply from a trusted name in guitar pedals. They’re inexpensive and extremely useful. After a few years you can make the jump to a Jim Dunlop DC Brick or Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2.

Power-supply

10. A good attitude

No matter how good you might be at playing your instrument, this is irrelevant at your first gig. The promoter, sound engineer and bar staff have more important things to worry about than whether your dressing room is big enough or your beer is at optimal temperature (if you have beer, count yourself lucky).

Your first gig is your chance to make an impression on the other bands and the venue, so make it a good one. If you walk in, learn everyone’s names, be polite and ask nicely for extra guitar in your monitor or bottles of water, chances are your friendliness will be reciprocated and you’ll be asked back.

If you walk in and complain that the sound engineer is making your backing vocals sound terrible and there is a severe lack of fresh fruit and salad options in your dressing room, you’ll find there will be a severe lack of effort on anyone’s part to help you out.

Remember – the sound engineer is God. You’re putting your sound in their hands – be nice and they’ll work hard for you, be an idiot and they might just “accidentally” ruin your evening.

The rest is up to you. Yes, you’ll be nervous, but follow the above tips you’ll be prepared for everything.

girls on stage

Bonus tips

  • Bring a torch – Not essential, but can be handy when setting up gear.
  • Guitar stand – This will save you from balancing your guitar precariously against an amp.
  • Practice – Seriously though, make sure you’re ready for this gig.
  • If in doubt, don’t solo – If you can’t nail that solo yet, don’t be a hero, this is not the time to try and bust out that two hand tapping technique you’ve never been able to do. Stick to the basics and throw in a pentatonic lick.
  • Enjoy it – You’re doing something millions of people will never have the courage to do, so take the time to enjoy your first gig and remember; you’re there to have fun.

About Lee Glynn

Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns.
After releasing two albums, a myriad of EP’s/singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.

Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.

Here are some fun facts:

  • Before moving to the UK, Lee used to host a radio show in Australia at the age of 18. Lee presented the unsigned bands segment at Twin Cities FM in Perth, WA.
  • Sound Of Guns enjoyed a short but successful career in music with many of their songs being used in television adverts, sports channels and the extremely successful videos Road Bike Party and We are Not Crazy We are Amazing.
  • He also can’t play bar chords due to an accident so learned to play power chords by studying Black Sabbath songs and Tony Iommi’s playing style.

Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns. After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery. Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.

Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns. After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery. Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.