8 ways $20 can save your life on tour

What is the best $20 you have ever spent? Go ahead and think about it, I’ll wait. A few months back I talked about spending money on your gear, and not going cheap for pro gear and great tone. Now let’s slide down to the other end of the economic spectrum. I have put together a list, in no particular order, of things you can buy for under $20 that will come in handy, probably save the day, and make you say, “That was the best $20 I ever spent.” Grab Andrew Jackson, and let’s go shopping.

A Tuner I can’t tell you how priceless this really is, especially since someone in the band will forget theirs. You can get one for way under twenty bucks almost anywhere (even Target and Best Buy now), and they are so small you can have one on your keychain. For you iPhone users, there are several apps for under $5.

Spares Rather than bullet these individually, I’ll just put them all together, because you really should have extras. If money is tight, then don’t get top-of-the-line spares, but enough to get you through the gig. You should have a spare strap, cable, and set of strings. The one time you don’t pack any of these, you’ll need them. Thanks, Murphy, and your cursed (and sagacious) laws.

Batteries If you have an active bass, then you’ll need a 9V. If you are running a tuning pedal, well, you get the point. Make sure you have back-up batteries for whatever you need batteries for. Even if you changed them before you left the house. Are you going to let a $5 9V battery ruin your $1000 paying gig? I’m no economist, but my Magic 8-ball says no. Make the small investment today, and get the return call later.

Gaffers Tape OK, duct tape users, listen up. There’s a new kid in town, and his name is Gaffers Tape. It’s actually not new; it’s been the choice of pros for years. It’s strong, comes in many colors, and doesn’t leave a sticky residue behind. You can secure cables on the floor and there’s no mess when you tear down. And it’s about $9 a roll. You may have to dig a little deeper than your local music store for this one, but I promise you, spend the couple extra dollars, and you’ll leave the duct tape for, well, duct work.

A Flash Drive In this wonderful age of technology, you can select a flash drive in the checkout lane of a grocery store. For those of you that don’t know what it is, a flash drive is a small, USB storage device that’s about the size of a stick of gum. I use it when I transfer files from my Mac to my PC, and save a ton on burning discs. No more making tapes of songs for the band to learn. Throw them on a flash drive and get them to everyone that way. The flash can hold lots of songs, set lists, back issues of Premier Guitar, etc, and can be had for about 8–15 bucks, depending on the memory size.

A Pocket Tape Recorder I can’t leave out my songwriting friends. How many times have you been driving along and had an idea for a song, and lost the idea before you got home? I have, and of course, I thought they were all hits and would have made me a fortune. So I went and bought a pocket tape recorder. These are a little more than $20 new, but any pawnshop has them for about $20, and used is not a bad way to go for these. I keep it with me all the time, and any idea, whether a melody or just a title, goes on tape. It’s also the perfect tool for songwriting sessions, the obligatory “note to self,” and for getting creative while recording.

A Guitar Stand Back to the stage now. This really goes without saying. If you have a guitar (or several) you are going to need a place to rest them. I am not a fan of “Catch the Slowly Falling Tele” as it slides off the front edge of the amp because someone thought the angle would hold. Next thing you know, you are replacing a tuning peg when a simple $12 stand would have saved the day.

And now the coolest way to spend $20: Craigslist! Today, right now, in your town, there is someone cleaning out his music room, and you can get just about anything you need to round out your rig. I have seen everything from gig bags to microphones to anvil briefcases (great for cables!) for under twenty dollars. Make a list of what you need, and get to craigslist.com for your next cool used-gear purchase.

So, there’s your economic help for the months ahead. Hopefully, you’ll get to the point where you have techs to worry about all these things, but for the rest of us, keep these items in mind when you’re out bargain hunting. It could be the best $20 you ever spent.

Steve Cook
Steve has performed and recorded with a diverse range of artists, from Edwin McCain to Randy Brecker to Course of Nature. Steve is also an alumnus of Woodstock ‘99, performing with his band King Konga. His current projects include extensive touring and video production with Bucky Covington (Lyric Street) and writing a popular weekly tour journal on his website: shinybass.com.

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