A gigging guitarist’s emergency kit should include extra cables, tools, fuses, a simple-to-build
There’s a scene in the film It Might Get
Loud that encapsulates the magic of
being inspired to play. The setting is Jimmy
Page’s music room, and the elder statesman
of the low-slung Les Paul is discussing a
recording he loved growing up. He carefully
takes the 45 and places it on the turntable.
As he drops the needle, his eyes close and
a giant grin spreads across his face while he
plays air guitar along to “Rumble” by Link
Wray and his Linkmen. Page then enthusiastically
explains how Wray adjusted the
tremolo level mid-song to become more
intense, before leaning back to adjust the
tremolo control on his air amplifier, his left
hand still on the neck of his air guitar.
This moment in the film confirmed
something I’d always known: There’s a thread
that connects every single one of us who has
ever picked up the guitar and invested real
time and effort into it ... the childlike enthusiasm,
the joy and wonder that hearing song
X by band Y elicits from our hearts.
For me, song X was the live version of
“Since I’ve Been Loving You” and band Y
was Led Zeppelin performing it at Madison
Square Garden. Over the years, I’ve lived
out the scene from It Might Get Loud a
thousand times, except it was always me
grinning gleefully over Page’s delicate adjustment
of the volume and tone controls,
hearing his variation of pick attack delivered
with eyes closed and Les Paul dragging on
the floor. The gorgeous, emotional outpouring
resonated like a bell in my young heart.
I’ve witnessed the same scene many
times and watched many different players—
often internationally revered for their
aptitude and achievement—suddenly lose
all trappings of the aloof, cool rock star and
unveil the bashfully star-struck fan, gushing
about how utterly incredible they find
player X on song Y by band Z.
We’re all on the same page (no pun
intended). Something lit the fire in every one
of us, from mere mortals right through to
those deemed guitar gods. We’re all part of a
very special fraternity. It’s good to be reminded
of that wonderful connection that exists
between us all. Cosmically splendid indeed.
But inspiration alone won’t get us
through a gig. We need to dedicate time to
keeping our instruments and gear in top
shape—ready to serve our muse at the drop
of a hat. Supporting our passion requires
lots of practical consideration and planning,
and this includes creating a guitar-gear
medic bag. I have one and you should too.
What is it? Simply put, it’s the smallest
possible collection of tools and resources that
will enable you to rectify the largest number
of technical tribulations that could possibly
occur out there in gig land. Or, short-term
solutions for problems that will occur.
Item 1: Backup power supply. This
is a device any of you can make at home.
Simply buy a 9V battery snap clip, a 2.1
mm barrel plug, and a 9V battery. Solder
the red wire of the battery clip to the plug’s
barrel tag and the clip’s negative wire to the
plug’s center tag. Attach the 9V battery and
voilà! A backup power supply.
This device is wonderful on the fly: You
can use it if a pedal’s battery dies in the
middle of the gig and you don’t have time
to remove the back and install a new one.
Or if the power supply goes down and you
need to restore power to the most crucial
pedal in your chain. Or when a power cable
goes faulty. Perfect for providing an immediate
quick-fix for power issues.
Item 2: Two spare patch cables.
Simple. Obvious. But the number of times
Item 3: Two spare guitar cables. Same
Item 4: Phillips-head screwdriver and
insulation tape. Frequently, an issue with
a pedal comes down to a loose wire. Maybe
the input jack comes loose and the wire
breaks off. If you have a Phillips head on
hand to open the pedal and insulation tape
to temporarily tape the errant wire back in
place, you’ll make it through the gig.
Item 5: Spare fuses for valve amp.
Same reason as items 2 and 3.
Item 6: Knowing which preamp
valves are critical to operation. If you
accidentally trash a preamp valve, knowing
which valves are for channel 1 (that
you don’t use) and which are for channel 2
(that you do use) can be a lifesaver. With
the power turned off, remove the damaged
valve and replace it with a functioning,
So there we go: backup power supply,
spare patch cables, leads, fuses, insulation
tape, Phillips-head screwdriver, and a spot
of valve layout knowledge. The medic bag
won’t solve all problems, but should go
some way into patching things up enough
to enable you to finish the gig and then
get to your nearest MASH outfit (Musical
Accessory Service Haven). Till next time,
rock on sisters and brothers!
designs Red Witch analog pedals, which are heard in arenas, studios, and bedrooms around the world. Andy Summers and Reeves Gabrels are pleased he ended up doing this instead of going to prison. His mum is relieved about this, too.