Hey, where are all the job listings for guitar techs?
Tech Elwood Francis stands at the ready with Billy Gibbons' famous fur guitar as the Rev wows the crowd.
If guitar techs had résumés, one thing they’d all share—whether they work for arena-level acts or enduring the bar circuit—would be a passion for gear and music. “I’m a gearhead at heart, so that part made sense to me,” says Elwood Francis, veteran guitar tech currently with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. “I got paid the first time I ever tech’d… it took me years to any make real money playing guitar.”
Many techs evolve into their position from other music-related gigs. “I’ve been everything from security to horn tech [laughs
],” remembers Henry “Enrique” Trejo, 14-year tech for The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodríguez-López. “I’ve always known that I wanted to be in the music business in some aspect—guitar tech is what has kind of stuck. I have no formal training—just real life road experience.”
“I used to hang around with Mark Synder when he was working the East Coast for Mesa/Boogie and he really got me into working and building racks,” says Buffa. “Then he was double-booked with a Dream Theater tour in Asia and a Living Colour tour in South American in ’94, so he asked me to go to Brazil and close out that tour with Vernon Reid. He showed me the rig and how everything would work the first night and then I did two more shows by myself and had a week to myself in Brazil—I was hooked after that.”
Others have always had a wayfarer’s take on life and just looked for the perfect opportunity and reason not to stay in one spot for longer than 24 hours. “My older brother Lee was a musician and he took me out on the road when I was a kid and I just fell in love with life on the road,” recalls Farmer. “I think I’m part gypsy or something because I hate being in one spot for a very long time.”
Farmer clearly revels in life on the road, making the most of a particularly wet gig with his Gov't Mule poncho
“As a worshiper of the guitar, in the back of my mind, guitar tech was the best job to have on a touring crew escaping from reality,” says Dickson. “The nomadic lifestyle and guitars were job satisfaction maximus.”
And sometimes, it just clicks on a player level. “I’m a player and play in bands in Nashville when I’m not touring,” says Scott Appleton, guitar tech for Phil Collen and Alex Lifeson. “I get to work with two of the world’s best guitarists who give me an incredible insight, perspective, and approach to guitar and tone I would have never gotten if I hadn’t become a tech. [Laughs
] I get to learn from the best.”
One key to landing a teching gig—just like any in any career—is networking. Whether it’s piggybacking with a sibling who already has a foot in the door or simply sparking a conversation with a struggling guitarist in your local watering hole, in techdom everyone knows someone.
“My brother Toby was mixing front of house for the Joe Perry Project in
’83 and I just got to know Joe because we always talked guitars,” says
Francis. “At one point he needed a tech and because we had covered the
topic so much, Joe approached me about teching for him and I’ve been
doing it ever since. [Laughs
] He trained me pretty well.”
Warren Termini's modest beginnings helping set up and tear down shows for high school friends and family eventually grew to a job with one of the biggest acts in metal: Mastodon's Bill Kelliher.
“My family was always active in the arts and I took to helping my high school’s music scene by helping friends set up and tear down shows all over Boston,” says Termini. “It was more of something to do and being active in the hardcore scene than making the big time, but after doing that for a bit things took off and I started landed more and more gigs that were bigger and bigger. Things tended to snowball when I was involved in that early scene.”
And sometimes a random act of kindness gets you a career gig with one of a generation’s biggest guitar heroes.
“I was in El Paso, Texas, watching my friend’s band called At the Drive-In,” recalls Trejo. “I was people one of the five people in the club. I remember seeing Omar flailing onstage and then he broke a string. He grabbed his only backup and broke a string on that one, too. He started to change the string in the middle of the song! [Laughs
] So I decided I had to step in and help him out.” After the show, the thankful guitarist went up the kind bar patron who had helped him out earlier and asked if he’d come to the next show. And he’s been right there for Rodríguez-López ever since.