Tip 1

When I travel with one guitar I like to use a gig bag rather than a hard shell case. When I have to take multiple instruments I have to use the hard shell cases. Just due to the physical space they take up, the instruments will have to ride in the equipment truck with the amps, speakers and other stuff. Hard cases offer more protection in that environment. With one guitar in a gig bag I can treat my instrument like a piece of carry-on luggage. It can move from vehicle to vehicle with me, on and off elevators, in and out of restaurants and the like. Since it is always in my presence, it keeps my working tools (meal ticket) close at hand and it prevents anything from being damaged, misplaced or, worst of all, stolen. A well stocked gig bag can make traveling and performing, as well as every day guitar playing, in to a much less stressful, more pleasurable, more rewarding experience.

If you don’t have a gig bag yet, there are a few things to consider before you run right out and get one. First is durability. It needs to be made out of a durable, easy to clean material. Gig bags can be made out of anything from thin vinyl/plastic to hand tooled leather and cost anywhere from $20.00 up to $300.00 or more. Oilcloth and Codura Nylon are the two most common materials and fall into the middle price range of $30.00 to $75.00. Heavy Codura gets my vote. Check the straps (especially at stress points) and the zippers — they need to be able to be used over and over without wearing out.

The next thing to consider is how well it fits your guitar. There are several different sizes available. There is nothing worse than a classical guitar in a dreadnaught gig bag. You’d have room for a full change of clothes in there with the guitar! Be sure to check the fit before you buy.

Another thing to think about is how well it protects the guitar versus the physical size. A gig bag should offer at least some protection against the little bumps and bangs that go along with traveling, but four inch padding too much. It defeats the goal of traveling light. A bag of that size would be as big as a hard case and doesn’t provide as much protection.

The last thing to consider is the number of accessory compartments it has. This is a personal thing, but three or four is about right for me. I‘ve seen bags with as many as ten zippered and velcroed pockets….things like a “special” place for your ink pen. They also come with just one big zippered pocket. A single pocket doesn’t carry very much and doesn’t help you organize your accessories. How much you need to carry with you would be the deciding factor.

I have learned what I need to carry in my gig bag through trial and error. I have to play shows that range from completely acoustic sets in a small room to large outdoor festivals with big PA systems and everything in between. I have tailored my equipment to meet the needs of any possible situation I may find myself in. I use an acoustic/electric guitar. It will work equally well either way. If you have an ‘acoustic only’ guitar or an ‘electric only’ guitar you will need to adjust your equipment list accordingly.

What follows is my check list for my gig bag. It does include items that I always have with me, either in my pocket or personal luggage. I consider everything mentioned here to be absolutely essential for me to feel prepared to meet whatever the gig demands.

1. The Guitar (everybody say: duh!)
2. A strap. Although I almost always play sitting down, I always have a strap “just in case”.
3. Picks. (notice the plural? Always carry spares!)
4. Strings. (plural again….I carry two sets)
5. Slide. (optional for some but a must have for me)
6. Capo. Even if you don’t normally use one it’s a good idea to have one with you. I remember I once fell in on a Bluegrass jam session without a capo—it was barre chords all night! Another time I was paired with an old style Gospel pianist—again it was barre chords all night. I could have had a better time and made better sounds and did it all with easy chords if I had brought a capo.
7. A tuning device. An electronic tuner is probably the best choice but a tuning fork will do. I carry both. Being tuned to standard A=440 is essential if you want to be able to play with pre-tuned instruments like keyboards and harmonicas. It’s best to be prepared!
8. Maintenance tools: wire cutters (for changing strings), appropriate screw drivers and allen wrenches (for neck adjustments and bridge saddles),fingernail clippers (if you’ve ever split or broke one on a gig you’ll know why I included this one), fingernail file (mostly for shaping picks but used for the obvious too)
9. The electronic stuff. For me it means spare batteries, a 20’ guitar cord, a 10’ guitar cord (spare) and a high to low impedance transformer (this is a substitute for a direct box. I have found it works as well, takes up less space and costs way less)
10. The music book. Mine is a ½ inch 3 ring binder. It has a song list, any sets lists I plan to use, lyrics I may be learning or am unsure of, some blank paper and an ink pen. There is also room to slide a couple CD’s in the cover if I am actively working on something.
11. A flashlight. This has been a life saver many times. When fuses blow, when you drop your pick back stage, when some one has a flat tire... you name it! This is one thing a guitar player should never be without.

Part of learning to play guitar is learning what tools it takes to do the job. A well stocked gig bag will help you to feel confident in your ability to do that job. It will also bring you closer to the guitar and what it means to be a guitar player.

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