I’m going to run you through the 4 key stages of playing guitar live at a show and what gear you might need for each stage: preparing for the show, soundcheck, during the show and after the show.
but ultimately, it comes down to preparing and playing a memorable show for yourself and the audience and having fun whilst doing so. Whether you’re a pro or beginner, these steps will help in some way to make sure your next show is a doozy!
How to prepare for a gig playing guitar
Playing your first gig can be daunting. Playing your 100th gig can be daunting too. The only way you’ll allow yourself to trust in your ability and feel ‘comfortable’ at the show is if you’ve prepared for the songs you’ll be playing.
What to do leading up to the show
- Learn the songs like the back of your hand. And I don’t mean write the chords on the back of your hand. Without sounding preachy, knowing the songs will give you the freedom to perform and enjoy yourself without thinking about that next Bb Diminished chord!
- Dial in the same tones at practice that you’ll be using at the show. This will allow you to play the songs exactly as intended. With the correct delay times, sustain, compression and distortion. Try to rehearse at gig volume at least once before the show – this is so that you’re used to the power and volume of a show.
- Make sure your rig is gig-ready. Check what gear you need to bring. Sometimes a venue will have guitar cabs that you can use which means you can plug your guitar head in and not worry about lugging your own cab around. However, some venues are notoriously low on gear so make sure you have everything that you need to turn up and rock out!
- Practice along to a metronome set to the correct tempo of each song you’re going to perform. Get used to playing in time and staying in time. Pretty much everyone speeds up when playing live so try and get used to how it feels to stay playing at the same speed, in time and in the groove.
- Make sure your gear is set up correctly and at a gigging standard. You should always be playing with good strings – older strings can rust and damage your frets and will generally sound bad and can also lose their tension and tuning!
- Use straplocks to prevent a disaster. This is all down to preference but straplocks will allow you to move about without worrying about the guitar strap slipping and eventually dropping your precious instrument! They’re cheap and effective.
What should a guitarist have in their gigbag?
- Spare Strings – in the same gauge as the set on your guitar.
- Spare Strap – with the correct straplocks!
- Spare guitar picks – because when you drop one, it will disappear into the abyss.
- Guitar tuner – headstock or otherwise, it’s imperative to be in tune and not sound like nails on a chalkboard!
- Guitar tools including wire cutters and Allen Keys to adjust action if needed
- Pen and paper – always handy to make setlists, remember chord changes or pen a new song backstage
- Amp backup – amp sim or multi-fx with built-in amp modelling in case your main rig goes down.
- Batteries – for your pedals or guitar if you have active circuitry.
- Spare cables – an absolute must have! Make sure they’re the same grade as your gigging cables too.
- Spare mains adapter / multiplug adapter – to ensure you have the power options available.
What’s a soundcheck for a guitarist?
The soundcheck exists to allow you to dial in your tones to taste and to allow the engineer to take these tones and make them sound the best that they can out front.
Find a sound that you like and let the engineer do the rest.
If there is no sound engineer, then try to balance the overall level of the band and make sure your guitar is the correct volume in relation to the other band members. Remember your guitar will sound different in the mix amongst the sounds of the drums, bass, vocals and anything else so dial in your tone to sound good with those instruments playing. And then relax and have fun with it!
Tips for playing the guitar live – it’s showtime!
The most important thing about the show is to relax, have fun and perform. All the hard work should be done beforehand so you should just enjoy making music. Let your muscle memory take over and enjoy the moment.
Have some backup strings, a string winder, strap and cables nearby in case of an emergency as well as your replacement amp or modelling amp if you have that luxury but try not think about anything going wrong.
Why not read our article on the top 100 hacks every musician should know before you get ready for your next gig.
After the show
Clean your guitar. After the show you should try to make sure your guitar is wiped down and the strings are cleaned as this might give you a few extra days of string life before they need a re-string.
(above: taking care of your guitar can make all the difference between shows. Click here to read our guide on guitar care!)
Make a checklist of all of your gear that you brought to the gig and everything you need to take away. This is especially important for all of the accessories that might get lost easily.
Pack up neatly and store your equipment safely. If you take care of your gear, your gear will take care of you when it matters most. For example, if you just bunch up your cables and store them, they’ll probably end up breaking at a time when you don’t have time to arrange a replacement – or even mid- show! It’s important to learn how to tie your cables up neatly – perhaps even use velcro cable ties.
Write down notes about the show on your phone or on a piece of paper. Don’t beat yourself about any missed notes or chords and try to be objective about what you can improve. Review those notes when preparing for the next show and try to improve. Remember, it’s not about the notes that you played but how you made the audience feel.
Hope you guys found this piece handy – you should be feeling inspired and stage-ready! If you fancy reading some more about gear and picking up a few tips and tricks along the way, check out the rest of our Learn content while you’re here!