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more... Gigging AdviceHow-TosMay 2012

10 Tips for Summer Gigging

10 Tips for Summer Gigging

This compact Crate PowerBlock amp is no longer in production, but you can get a used one for around $100.

Affordable Backup Amps

It’s easy to get bogged down in tone snobbery. Many of us would rather find a pustulant boil on our genitals than find a solid-state amp as our only source of sound on a big gig. But we’re not talking first choices here, we are talking survival, or getting through a gig when our “A” rig goes belly up. I’m sure there are hundreds of serviceable options for a small, cheap backup amp, but here are a few suggestions.

Electro Harmonix 22 Caliber
22 watts
Stree price: $104

This thing is tiny, about the size of a smallish pedal. It’s cheap as you could hope for and sounded good online. Worth a look.

ZT Lunchbox
200 watts
Street price: $245

This is a “friend of a friend” recommendation. I’ve never even seen this amp, but the size works and I’m told that it sounds great and can keep up with loud drums.

Peavy Bandit 112
80 watts
Street price: #349.99
(find secondhand for as little as $50)

A combo amp but can drive any cabinet. There’s nothing pretty about this amp, but it is cheap and nearly indestructible. Pick a used one up for $50 and leave it in your trunk just in case. I actually saw Keith Urban play through one of these with his old band, The Ranch, and he sounded like… well … Keith Urban.

Traynor Quarterhorse
25 watts
Street price: $239

The size of a largeish stomp box, this amp can plug into a 4x12 cab and rawk. Or run the headphone out directly into a board for a convincing speakersimulated sound.

Diago Little Smasher
5 watts
Street price: $189

Though I’ve not played through this head, the size and simplicity appeals to me. A meager 5 watts may not be able to keep up with the band, but in a pinch, this could get you through.

Fender solidstate Tweed Bronco
15 watts
Street price: No longer in production, around $50 to $120 used

15 watts Street price: No longer in production, around $50 to $120 used A combo amp with a measly 5" speaker, this sounds great when driving a 4x12. Very small and light. I’ve used this for everything from guitar to pedal steel to bass. Sounds great, less filling.

3. Leave your top shelf rig at home
If you read Premier Guitar you probably have stuff … lots and lots of stuff: multiple amps, guitars, stomp boxes, etc. Assuming that’s the case, you may reconsider touring with your best gear. Gear is made to be played, but regrettably, the road is like Ike Turner, constantly handing out a beating. Your “best” stuff will soon become your “okay” stuff, eventually downgrading to your “not working” stuff. I only use my favorite amps for recording and travel with my “B” amps. As abysmal as it is to have your amp die on tour, having your best amp not work at a session is worse.

Guitars aren’t as susceptible to breaking down as amps are, but they are more likely to be stolen. Escaping unnoticed with a hefty amp is difficult, but it’s relatively easy to grab a guitar and run. I’ve never lost a guitar on the road, but I know people who have had their beloved axes stolen right off the stage, out of a van or hotel room, or even taken in the airport. I do bring out some favorite guitars on the road, but I try to never let them leave my sight.

Sinister Sun

For a crowd of bikini clad, cold drink chugging, Frisbee chucking, SPF-50 caked concertgoers, the sun means good times with possible dehydration and burning. For us onstage, the sun is a sinister force that can detune instruments and bake electronics to the point of failure while rendering LEDs useless. Here are some tips to beat the heat.

  • Avoid leaving your guitar in direct sunlight when not playing. Find a shady spot that’s safe and leave it on a stand, if possible, so it can acclimate to the heat. (One bit of warning, if it’s a festival with many acts and a big crew stomping around, your guitar may be in danger of getting smacked off a stand. If that’s the case, leave it in the case.) Avoid carrying your guitar into an air-conditioned backstage area between soundcheck and gig or your sweet 6-string baby will remain hopelessly out of tune for the entire show.
  • Push your pedalboard as close as possible to your monitor so the overhangs of the monitor will shade your pedals. This will hopefully make your pedal’s LEDs and tuner visible. (This is where a small, skinny board comes in handy). Though I’ve never used that clip-on-the-headstock tuner, this could be a big help.
  • Both solid-state and tube amps left in the sun can shut down from the heat. Your best bet is to try to get them in the shade, perhaps in the side stage if need be. This may not be ideal for your performance but it’s better that having your amp crap out mid-show. Though I usually leave a tube amp on standby from soundcheck, I shut her down during hot, sunny shows.

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