Musical Magic and the Guitar-Gear Medic Bag
A gigging guitarist’s emergency kit should include extra cables, tools, fuses, a simple-to-build battery supply.
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 people forget!
Item 3: Two spare guitar cables. Same as above.
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, unused valve.
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!
Ben Fulton 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.