So you’re about to go on tour with a band, and you’re unsure what you might need for the job. Well you’ve come to the right place if you’re wondering “how do I become a roadie?” or “what do I need to be a roadie?”. Aside from infinite patience, the ability to work harder than anyone else 24hrs a day and a winning attitude (as well as the ability to lift heavy objects) you’ll need a few accessories to make sure you’re prepared when things go wrong, and trust me on this; they WILL go wrong.
But first, a little about the roadies themselves. These are some of the nicest, most hard working people you’ll ever meet. Treat them well, and like all employees/friends/humans they’ll go the extra mile for you, but just like people who prepare your food, if you’re horrible to them, they may just forget to plug a lead in, or forget to change the strings on your guitar, so beware. As someone who has been on both sides of the stage – a musician performing and a roadie, I’ve seen how both elements interact with each other and the better relationship you have, the smoother the operation. If something goes wrong, they’re there to help, so make sure you respect each other! For those who want to start their journey as a roadie, I’ve put together this blog on some of the essential things you’ll need to be effective on the job, and more specifically a guitar/bass tech.
Here’s 12 (of the many) things you’ll need if you want to be a roadie.
1. The ability to work harder than anyone else
As I said before, the roadie is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. They set up long before you arrive, tune your guitars, make sure your drums are in the right place, keep crowd surfers from damaging your stuff and generally make sure things go smoothly. They’re also the ones who pack up your gear and ensure everything is accounted for at the end of a gig. If you’re starting out as a roadie, chances are you’re just out with your mates, but don’t forget you’re there to do a job, and other bands will be watching to see if you might be their next touring partner. So work hard, change the strings when the guitarist needs them, and keep a watchful eye on everything happening on stage – the same way the band are there to play a gig, you’re there to ensure it runs smoothly.
2. A hardcase
You’re going to need a few tools for the trade and probably the most important thing you could get hold of is a good solid hard case or flight case for your gear to protect it all. Just like guitar/drum cases it’s going to get knocked about a bit so you need something that’s built to last and that can fit all your spare strings, guitar leads, String Cutters and tuners in. just like the rest of the band, you need an array of “instruments” to do your job, so make sure you have a good solid case like the Skeleton Case range to store them in. Which brings me to my next point…
3. Spare strings
As a guitar tech, this is non-optional. You need a selection of guitar strings in your case so you can swap out a set of strings when they need changing. It’s also a good idea to have a wide array of singles at hand too. Pro tip: don’t change a full set unless asked. If you can get away with just changing the broken string, do it. You don’t necessarily have to change a full set every gig unless you’re asked to. It’s also a good idea to invoice the band for any strings that they use too!
4. Guitar leads
You’ll need a couple of guitar leads in your case. Don’t ever rely on or use the guitarists leads as they’ll need them for the gig and if you break/damage/lose them you’ll be held responsible. You need your own guitar leads and patch leads, that way you can take responsibility for your own gear and if something goes wrong, you’re only damaging your equipment, not the band’s. There’s also the chance that a guitar lead will break on stage, so in that case you can run on and swap it around.
You need a selection of tuners to be a good guitar tech. I recommend the good old BOSS TU-3 or more compact version the TU-3S, but you’ll also need some smaller tuning options for acoustic sessions and, if for some reason your main tuner decides to die on the road, you’ll have a spare. A large part of your job will be tuning spare guitars and basses before and during a set so make sure you grab some reliable options.
6. Guitar rack
If you’re on tour, chances are your guitarists/bass player will have spare guitars. You’ll need to keep these all close to hand during a set in the event someone snaps a string, the guitar cuts out or if the guitarist uses a different tuning for a particular song and needs to swap it out. A guitar rack helps make sure all guitars are easily accessible at all times. It’s almost impossible to get a guitar out of a case, attach the strap and tune it in the same time it takes to unhook a guitar from a rack and swap it with the guitarist. It takes too long and you’re wasting valuable stage time by messing about with cases. A guitar rack should be a major priority and one of the most important tools a roadie can have.
7. Guitar stands
Guitar stands are a good idea to pack for a tour. You may not want to run across a stage to swap guitars, so leaving your guitarists spare guitar behind them where they can grab it easily is a good option, especially when you’re the supporting act and stage times are tight. The band might want to walk on stage without guitars in their hand too, so leaving them set up ready to go is quite common. Having a few guitar stands in your kit is invaluable.
8. Spare plectrums
Having a full collection of plectrums at hand is a pretty good idea if you want to make sure you’re doing your job as a guitar tech. Yes it should be the guitarists responsibility to have a few spare plectrums in their pockets, but still it’s inevitable that they’re going to turn around and say “Oh hey, do you have a spare plec?”. If the band you’re working for goes through a lot of plectrums in a show, a plectrum holder is a good idea too, that way they have access to plectrums if they drop one or it goes blunt.
9. String winder
Speed is the name of the game when it comes to changing strings, whether between songs, before a gig or in the hotel room, so a string winder is a great tool to have on you. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one at all, but you’ll find changing strings is super quick when you use one – ideal for when the guitarist snaps a string mid-song and needs the same guitar back before the next tune starts.
Noise related hearing loss is a serious risk if you work in the music industry, especially where there’s loud music being played. The best thing you can do to fend off that horrible tinnitus is get a good set of earplugs with attenuating capabilities, that way you cut out all the harsh frequencies and can still hear what’s going on. You need to be alert to any changes in sound that aren’t supposed to be there – a crackling amp, an out of tune guitar etc. So earplugs that don’t drown out the music are the best choice here. You’ll also be thankful of not having that horrible ringing in your ears while you’re trying to sleep in the van/hotel/tent that night.
11. Fast Fret/Polish
Depending on the guitarist or bass player you’re working with, they’re going to want their guitar looking and feeling good at all times. Fast fret really helps preserve the neck and the strings after relentless gigging and the polish will help get off any horrible, blood, beer or sweat from the night before. No one want’s to play a gig with a guitar covered in gunge, so get that cleaned up and feeling good as new for your band.
12. The ability to network
Being a roadie is a tough job, and the really good ones are few and far between. Bands know that the best roadies are the ones recommended through friends/other bands. So make sure you’re A. doing a good job and B. occasionally helping out the other bands if they need it. Remember, you’re there for your band first and foremost, but the occasional help with the gear for the supporting act or helping out the headliner crew will open up doors for you. You’d be surprised how many bands one roadie will work with in a year, all because they’re good at the job and of course good at networking.
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.