Friday, June 19, 2009

Murphy's Law As It Applies To Guitar Players

Last Monday, at my usual weekly blues/rock gig, I was reminded of the importance of having a spare for all my essential gear.

I arrived, as usual, about an hour before the gig, hooked up my pedalboard and then proceeded to stretch-tune the new strings on my Suhr Classic.

I saw two of my guitar students in the audience, went up to them to say hello and make some small talk and then went outside with a drink to relax and discuss the set list with my band’s vocalist.

Maybe I was too preoccupied with stretching the strings on my guitar, or perhaps it was the surprise of seeing my two students, but I had neglected a key part of my set up ritual – that of firing up the Marshall JCM900 amp and checking to see if everything was working.

And Murphy knocks when he is least expected.

At 10pm the band was onstage and the house music had been turned off. I did some final tuning on my guitar, hit my volume pedal expecting that familiar roar. And nothing.

I’m usually a pretty cool customer in these circumstances having developed a deductive process for troubleshooting a ‘no sound’ situation. In this case, the amp was powered on, not on standby and the preamp and master volumes on the channel I was using were slightly above the halfway mark. My first thought was that the house guitar cable connected to the amp was faulty.

I pulled the cable from my pedalboard, leaving it connected to the amp. I turned the volume down a little and tapped on the cable end -- and nothing. I knew it was the cable. And 99% of the time I would have been right.

I switched to a different cable. And still nothing. Uh oh.

I tried a third cable with the same result.

Now I was starting to sweat. The club’s workhorse Marshall looked adamant at taking the night off.

I have great guys in my band. They were looking on with much concern and offering suggestions unobtrusively while I scrambled with the troubleshooting. Off to one corner of the stage, my drummer spotted a spare Fender Deluxe 90 amp and my singer helped lug it over, and plug in the power cable.

And we were in business.

The moral of this story is to always get to a gig early and check out all the gear to make sure everything is operating. And always carry a spare if that spare has not already been provided for you.

A guitarist’s checklist of spare equipment should include, at the minimum, spare guitar cables, pedalboard cables, extra packs of strings, and in my case, a spare overdrive pedal on my board. For important shows I also always carry a spare guitar and I ensure that the rental company has an extra amp in the van just in case.

We can’t always keep Murphy at bay, but we can be prepared if he comes knocking.

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