10 Gear Choices You Shouldn’t Skimp On
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly buzzkill, there are many players out there who don't put enough consideration into the unpredictable situations that come with owning nice gear. It's good to be prepared for those maddening moments when your gear breaks down suddenly -- and it's especially wise to have a backup plan just in case they failure occurs in the middle of a gig or jam session.
Our 10 Gear Choices You Shouldn't Skimp On is meant to be a basic guide for players to follow to help prevent or resolve these types of disasters. Many of these tips will help you save money on repairs, and they're also rules that countless touring musicians live by while on the road.
Your cables are the lifeline of your rig. Cheap cables are often suseptible to fraying and breaking, in addition to adding a lot of background noise and hiss. Spring for good cables made by companies such as Planet Waves, Fulltone and Monster, and they'll last you for decades if you take good care of them. If you can afford it, purchase spare cables in the event that one fails at that all-important gig, practice or jam session.
Breaking a string in the middle of a gig is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to a player -- and without any spares, you'll be forced limp through the set without it. Try to get into the habit of keeping a spare set of strings in your case at all times. If you find yourself breaking strings quite often, have a tech check your string saddles for string burrs, and make sure that all of the areas that your strings come in contact with are properly lubricated.
Keep a spare set of tubes handy in case of failure. They're fragile and aren't designed to last forever. If you're getting a ton of feedback and background hiss, you might have a preamp tube that's become microphonic, which will need a replacement. Generally, power tubes need to be replaced more often than preamp tubes, and if you play out at least once a week it's a good idea to replace your power tubes once every six months to a year.
Some tone purists will debate endlessly about how certain power cables deliver better power regulation than others, but generally, you want to use the thickest and most well-constructed shielded power cable that you can find. Computer accessory aisles at places such as Best Buy are good places to look, but you'll find better ones from Fender, Live Wire and Monster at places such as Guitar Center. These cables are usually built to resist fraying and splitting, which is a major concern when thinking about protecting your prized amplifier.
So you've finally acquired your dream amp head, and because of the excitement and anticipation, you've unfortunately forgotten about the other half of the equation: the extension cabinet. While there are some really great cabs out there with excellent prices, you generally get what you pay for in this department. Cabinets from companies such as Orange, Mesa/Boogie, and Bogner are all built with choice wooden materials, precise internal baffling for exceptional projection, and high-quality speakers.
Even the sturdiest equipment breaks down every now and then. Packing a small emergency toolkit with a basic set of screwdrivers, a string cutter, pliers, allen wrenches, finish cleaner and cloth is a great idea for carting to jam sessions, and essential if you're heading out to a gig or small tour. American Recorder makes a really great multi-tool that also includes an LED flashlight for working in dark areas.
Sometimes there just isn't any time to perform a quick string or tube change -- especially in the middle of a live set. For those stressful situations, having a backup amp and guitar is a lifesaver. Schecter, Epiphone and Squier all make solid, budget-priced guitars that can be had for around a couple hundred dollars. Likewise, Peavey's less expensive amps are excellent choices for backup amplification.
If you've got a relatively nice guitar you frequently play at gigs and jam sessions, do yourself a solid and drop the cash for a nice hardshell case. Gig bags are usually sufficient for protecting your guitars at home, but hardshell cases from SKB and Gator can bear the brunt of being banged around in the back of a van, falling over after being propped against a wall, and other butterfingers moments that often happen.
Power supplies from One Spot and Voodoo Lab are sound investments that will save you a ton of money in replacement batteries. The ones from Voodoo Lab in particular have isolated outputs which cut down a ton on background noise. If you still insist on living life by the 9-volt however, it's a good idea to have a stash of Duracell or Energizer alkaline batteries at the ready, just in case one suddenly loses its juice.
It only takes a few seconds for someone to swipe a pedal board or a guitar while you're grabbing a beer or chatting with friends. Type down the makes, models, years, colors, and serial numbers of your amps, guitars, cabinets, and pedals, and save the document in a place that you can remember. Better yet, make a copy of that and email it to yourself, so you can pull it up from any computer with internet access. If you've got the info, you can easily file a police report and also give it to as many music stores and pawn shops as you can contact.