I SERIOUSLY LOVE TOURING. BUT I
also have a deep, yearning, painful love
for everything in my gear
world to work right. A full
crew of techs on a big tour
makes that pretty easy, but
this column is about the
kind of tour. There’s
not only no budget for a
tech, there’s not even
room in the car for him.
So I’m doing it myself.
Well, not all by myself.
My wife (singer/songwriter/
keyboardist Kira Small)
and I are in a minivan.
It’s 22 shows and
8,000 miles in
four weeks. Needless
to say, we have precious little spare
time. So it’s imperative to use the kinds
of systems that professional techs use to
maintain their artists’ gear, just on a
scaled-down level. Here’s how
I’m doing it:
BEFORE THE GIG
Bring the little things. These
axe/amp maintenance tools would
include, but aren’t limited to:
• A 9-volt battery tester for maintenance
of active basses and
battery- operated pedals. Cheap
and invaluable, these are available
at Radio Shack. Also bring five to
ten spare batteries.
• A hex key set or very small
screwdriver set so you can adjust the
action on your instrument. Find the sizes
you need before you leave.
• Power extension cords and
power strips. I’ve never wished I had
fewer with me, especially on the gig
when there’s only one outlet 30 feet
• Spare patch cables and instrumentlength
cables. Cables inevitably die or go
bad. If you’re using pedals, make sure
your spare patch cables have right angles
if necessary. Bonus DIY points: bring a
make-your-own-cable kit. You don’t
need a soldering iron nowadays
to make a custom-length cable
in five minutes or less.
• String cutter and/or
winder. They make these
cool combination cutter/
winder tools for fast
• Spare strings and
guitar straps. Only music
stores have them, and they may not be
nearby or open. Keep spares within arm’s
reach during the gig.
• Duct tape. For taping down stray
cable runs. Black, of course—not silver.
We’re pros here.
• Spare fuses. Check your amp for
proper ratings and stock up.
Once you have all the little things,
organize them. Decide where they all
go, and then put them in the same place
every time. This is crucial for the aftergig
load out. It’s easy to get lazy when
friends are around (especially after your
second drink) and just shove stuff into
the nearest zippered pouch. You will lose
stuff this way, I promise.
Organize the vehicle. Your tech would
know exactly how many pieces/bags/
instruments/amps you have, and he or
she would designate specific places in
the gear vehicle for efficient
inventory on the way in
and out of every gig.
You should do the
same, so you know
if you’re missing
you leave the venue, not after. Two tips: 1. Practice the
vehicle pack before you leave for the tour;
2. Always do a final “dummy-check” before
you leave any location (venue, hotel, crash
pad, whatever) to make sure you left
nothing behind. Only dummies don’t
Do a proper soundcheck. First, make
sure you have signal and everything works—
every pedal included. This is your “line
check.” Then, even if you’re just a duo, and
even if you’re hungry and tired, take ten
minutes and soundcheck anyway. Listen
closely to yourself onstage. Go out and listen
to yourself in the room. You’ll probably
hear something that will help you improve
the overall sound. The longer your soundcheck,
the better chance you’ll expose
potential signal chain faults, avoiding embarrassing
moments later onstage.
ON THE GIG
Just before showtime, ideally you plug in,
strike a couple of muted notes to make sure
signal’s present, and then play a technically
flawless gig. All your advance work paid
off. If you had a tech, he’d be standing sidestage,
arms folded, smiling proudly. But
what if that doesn’t happen? What if:
Your signal is crackling or intermittent.
First, wiggle the instrument cable in the
input jack of your bass. If it changes, or
stops the crackle, try and wiggle it into a
place where it behaves, and just survive the
gig. If it still won’t behave, next try swapping
the instrument cable. Same problem?
Swap basses (if you have a spare). If it stops,
it’s the input jack; you’ll need to get it looked
at. If the problem persists and both the cable
and the instrument have been swapped, it’s
either a speaker cable (unlikely in my experience)
or the amp itself (bummer—you’re
going direct for the rest of the night). The
bottom line: This fault is usually the result
of a failed or malformed piece of gear somewhere,
and requires patience and skill to
If you have a pedalboard in front of the
amp and you have crackling/intermittent
signal, bypass it ASAP and go straight into
the amp. Problem solved? Go pedalboardless
for the rest of the gig. And hey, why didn’t you notice this in soundcheck when
you could have gone pedal by pedal and
found the culprit?
Bonus tech ninja points: If your active
bass has one of those slide-out battery compartments
on the back, hit it with your fist.
If you get the offending noise, take the battery
out and use a small flathead screwdriver
to pry the metal contacts up from the bottom
a bit. Sometimes these contacts flatten
out and cause an intermittent connection
with the battery, making the loud crackle.
Tough to do during the gig, but worth looking
Your signal cuts out completely. First
of all, check to make sure your instrument
cable is still in the input jack of your bass—
you never know! If you have a pedalboard
in the chain on AC power, look down and
stomp on something. Did the power cable
get kicked out? If you have any pedals on
batteries, stomp on them—do they work?
Can you see if any cables are halfway hanging
out of any pedals? If the evidence is
inconclusive, bypass it completely. Then
turn around and look at your amp. Is the
power LED on? If not, the power cable
probably got kicked or fell out. (If your AC
plugs are loose in the sockets, and you can’t
find other better sockets in the room, apply
duct tape!) Maybe one of the speaker cables
behind your rig wasn’t in all the way. In
rarer cases, maybe your amp blew a fuse.
There are only so many things that can contribute
to a sudden total signal loss. The
bottom line: This fault is usually the result
of a loose or disconnected cable.
The good news is, unless your amp,
instrument, or a pedal just suddenly died
(possible, but unlikely), this is usually solvable.
Intermittent or crackling signal is a
much tougher nut to crack. Of course, in
the event of catastrophic gear failure during
the show, even the best tech can only
do so much.
Most important: Don’t forget to have fun.
This is the life you’ve chosen. It’s tough
work, but if you’re doing it right, you’ll feel
more alive than you would sitting at home.
Oh, and don’t forget to wear gloves and
bend your knees during heavy lifting. And
try to find a hotel with a Jacuzzi every once
in a while—you deserve it.
Bryan Beller is the touring bassist for
the metal “band” Dethklok from the
Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim show
Metalocalypse, and has played with Steve
Vai, Mike Keneally, Dweezil Zappa, Wayne
Kramer, and more. His most recent solo
album is Thanks in Advance [Onion Boy].
Follow him on Twitter (@bryanbeller)
and find out more at