Full Gig Rig in a Bag

Small scale gear for making large scale noise

There’s been a definite trend over recent years to shrink down amps, pedals and other bits of musical equipment. Whether it’s advances in technology – i.e. being able to use fewer components to achieve the same result – or increased portability, certain items do lend themselves to this attack on proportion.

The obvious side benefit of this is that you don’t need to use as much gear as before. With the way modelling amps in particular have advanced, you can now realistically access hundreds of perfectly usable tones from a box the size of a pedal. This in turn opens up the opportunity to perform without having to lug around heavy, expensive equipment.

It got us thinking here at Dawsons. Is it possible, therefore, to put together a guitar live rig that could fit inside a normal-sized backpack? Of course it is. Let’s take a look at how you could do it.

The challenge

First thing to mention – a caveat, if you will – is that we’re not talking about the guitar itself. Finding a guitar you could fit inside a backpack would either require a tiny guitar or a huge backpack. That would render the entire challenge moot, so we’ll assume your guitar is carried in its own case or protective bag. Many cases offer a couple of straps – this Armourdillo case being an excellent example – meaning they can be worn on your shoulders easily enough.

Instead we’ll focus on the two elements which you’ll need to plug your guitar into: amplification and effects. Both are crucial when it comes to performing, allowing you to control your tone and be heard within your band’s mix.

Traditionally, a touring band will favour large, cumbersome amplification devices. This could mean separate amp heads and cabinets, containing as many as four 12″ speakers per cabinet. Try shifting them up four flights of stairs every night and you’ll soon understand why a more portable option is preferable. Alternatively, there might be a combo amp used. Some of these are indeed so heavy that your back and shoulders pray for mercy when they see them.

The challenge here is to find a device that can fit in a backpack, yet can be used to amplify your sound to a reasonably standard sized gig venue.

For effects, again, a traditionalist will favour a plethora of individual stompboxes. These could be numerous too; once you’ve accounted for overdrive, delay, reverb, modulation and volume pedals, you’ve still got things like a tuner, an amp channel switcher etc to think about.

So the challenge here is to find decent quality effects which don’t weigh (or cost) the earth. Challenge accepted.

image of guitar amplifier head

The solution

To solve the problem, we have a few things to suggest. Firstly however, we need to look at a couple of variables. Gigging law suggests a venue will have a PA system for microphones, so it makes sense that one option would be to find a device which can also connect to the PA. Another variable is the chance that you’re not the only act on the bill. Particularly if you’re not headlining, there’s the option to potentially connect to one of the other band’s speaker cabinets. We’ll work on those assumptions…

Perhaps the best all round option for an amplifier is the Yamaha THR100. Weighing in at only 4kg, the THR100 has everything you could need. It’s a solid state, 100w head with no fragile valves to break. It features multiple options for connectivity too. On one hand, you could connect to a regular speaker cabinet. On the other, you could connect directly to the PA system using the on-board XLR DI connector.

Alternatively, working on the assumption that you’ll have a speaker cab to connect to, you might consider one of the frankly adorable micro heads from Orange. These things are pretty amazing. The Orange Micro Terror and Orange Micro Dark fit in the palm of your hand, yet can quite comfortably spew out molten lava from a monstrous 4×12 cabinet.

image of guitar switching unitFor effects, it stands to reason we’re looking at a decent, yet compact, multi-fx unit. There are plenty of options to choose from, so we’ve lined up a few for you to consider.

If it’s quality you’re after, you’ll need to check out the Boss MS-3. This unit is a comprehensive switching tool by day, but also features in-built effects directly from Boss’ stable of quality sounds. It’s small enough to fit in a bag, yet contains more than enough sounds to work with.

Even smaller than that is the superb Zoom MS-50G. This regular stomp-sized box comes packed with 55 decent quality effects, an onboard tuner and the ability to save your own presets. Bingo. Everything you’ll need in one small box.


The short answer is that yes, it is indeed perfectly easy to create a fully-fledged, gig-ready setup which can be carried around in your bag. So next time your arms are aching from carrying around enormous amplifiers and the like, remember; there is an alternative. And your poor arms will thank you for it.