Being Prepared for Unforeseen Technical Problems at Gigs

Updated on October 18, 2019
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Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

Introduction

If you play out regularly, you will definitely come across some technical issues from time to time. It’s important to be able to resolve those issues in a timely manner and make sure that the negative impact of those technical failures are minimal. It might also be a good idea to do what you can to prevent problems from occurring. In this article, I will give you some scenarios that I have seen and have either dealt with or have since prepared myself for, in the event that they might occur once again.

The Failing Instrument or Speaker Cable

First off, to avoid a failing instrument cable or speaker cable, you should start out by buying quality cables. It’s actually cheaper in the long run to buy better quality cables because you won’t need to replace them nearly as often as the cheap ones. I have some cables that have literally lasted decades. I have known some musicians who have opted for buying the cheap ones and they are the people you usually see fiddling around with their cables trying to troubleshoot a problem when they fail.

Always make sure you have extra cables too. I you use 3 or 4 cables, don’t just bring along 3 or 4 cables. Always bring a couple of extra cables. Even if you won’t need that extra cable, one of your band members might. Then you can loan it to him for the gig and tell him to make sure he buys the good stuff and have a couple of extra cables on hand for himself, for future gigs.

Failing Power Supplies and Batteries and Other Power Issues

I went to play a gig one time and as I was setting up, I discovered that the 9 volt battery in my acoustic/electric guitar was dead. I checked my guitar case to see if I had a spare battery and I did not. Luckily, the venue was right next to a gas station convenience store and I was able to get a 9 volt battery and be back in less than ten minutes. If the venue was nowhere near a place where I could go get a replacement battery, I would have had to travel further and possibly run the risk of starting the show late. Venue owners and establishment managers generally don’t like it when you start later than the agreed-upon starting time. So now I make sure I have at least one spare 9 volt battery on hand.

I have a couple of pedal boards full of effects. Each pedal board has its own power supply that powers all of the effects on the pedal board. I make sure I carry one spare power supply in case one of them fails. You never know when one will fail. It’s not like they announce to you in advance that they plan on failing you at a specific date and time.

At one gig, the power went completely out. Apparently, someone ran their car into a utility pole down the road a ways and the venue, as well as everyone else in the area, lost all power. It was at a time when I did acoustic solo gigs. So, I sat at the bar and played and sang by candle light. Most of the audience actually stayed. The venue was still able to sell bottled beverages. The venue owner was very pleased with me continuing to play even without power. But I was able to do so because much of my repertoire can be performed with just an acoustic guitar. So I was able to wing it without a sound system.

There was one outdoor gig that I did where I discovered at the last moment that I needed a very long extension cord to run from the building to where I was playing outside. I did not have one. Luckily, I was able to borrow one but if I was not able to borrow one, I would have been out of luck. So now I make sure I have a couple of very long extension cords with me. One is 100 feet and the other is 50 feet long. Most of the time I won’t need to use either and I have never had to use both at the same time. But who knows what may happen in the future.

Always make sure you have at least one six outlet power strip. It makes setting up so much easier than trying to use multiple wall outlets. Besides, if you have to run an extension cord, you will need it anyway, unless you get one of those fancy extension cords with multiple outlets. But I use the power strip because it is a good one and it provides some surge protection. You never know what power issues you may face and it's nice to have that extra bit of protection that surge suppression provides. Power surges are not good for electronics, and I have played at places that had them regularly.

Take Care of Your Equipment

One thing that can help you to avoid technical issues at a gig is to actually take good care of the equipment you have. Never push your speakers to the limits or you may just very well blow a speaker at a show. It’s best to make sure that your speakers can actually handle more power than will be going into them. And never plug in or unplug a cable from your mixer or amplifier without making sure that the volume is down first. That’s also a good way to blow a speaker.

Don’t just throw your equipment around. Gently place it into your vehicle for transportation and be gentle when you take it out and place it anywhere. And never transport a guitar unless it is in some sort of a case. At least use a gig bag for your guitar. I prefer a hard case but at least make sure you have a gig bag. And if it is in either a hard case or a gig bag, never sit anything heavy on top of your guitar.

Make sure you have a decent guitar stand for your guitar. I have seen some bands do shows and would not have a guitar stand. Then when they would go on break, they would prop the guitar against the wall and it would fall over while they would be at the bar ordering a drink. Not only does it knock a guitar out of tune, but it has the potential to do serious damage that may make it unplayable.

When you wrap up all of your cables at the end of the night, take extra care not to get them all kinked up and knotted. They last much longer when you take that extra time to wrap them up right. That not only prevents problems but it will also save you money by not having to replace them all of the time.

Make Sure You Have Extra Guitar Strings and Picks

I like to make sure that my guitar has fairly new strings when I play a gig, just to reduce the likelihood of one of them popping at the gig. But I also make sure I have at least one spare set of strings in case one does pop. You never know.

Also, if you use a guitar pick, always carry extras. I keep spare guitar picks in my guitar case, along with the spare set of strings. I also keep a spare capo. You never know when even a capo can fail. They often use springs and the springs in those capos do sometimes break after years of use.

Sometimes you may discover that the guitar picks you put in your pocket are very worn. It’s always best to keep spare new ones in your guitar case. Some songs could potentially be difficult to pull off with a very worn guitar pick.

I also try to make sure that my guitar strings are well stretched out before a gig. It makes it so I won't have to tune up numerous times throughout the night. In fact, most times I just have to tune up once and that is at the beginning of the night, before the gig even starts. When I put new strings on my guitar, I really give each one a good, hard tug or two to stretch them. It seems to work well for me.

To Sum It All Up

So, basically there are two ways of preventing or dealing with technical problems at a gig. One is to make sure you have extras of some of the things that may fail (cables, power supplies, guitar strings and picks), in the event of a failure. The other lies with buying decent quality equipment and taking good care of the equipment after you buy it. I hope my suggestions help.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Bob Craypoe

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