Q: For the last couple months, I have been doing weekend warrior gigs with a pop artist who tours all over the country. The venues we play have been everything from large hotel ballrooms to amphitheaters to large concert halls, and we mainly rely on backline gear. Here’s my issue: we fly a lot, and we are very limited in what we can bring in terms of gear and personal items. I typically bring one bass, a few cables, and one personal carry on bag. I was wondering, in this kind of situation, what is your bare minimum travel rig in terms of what kind of bass you bring and any thing else you need to get your sound?
A: Generally speaking, I leave most everything up to the backline gods (and pray for a decent rig, at least). Everything really depends on the band I’m touring with.
With Gino Vannelli, as I’ve mentioned in previous columns, there are no amps and we use in-ear monitors (IEMs). In that situation, it’s all about my pedalboard with a good quality DI as well as an amp simulator to help sweeten the direct sound. This is mostly for me and the way it sounds to me. Front of house loves my direct sound, but I had to make it just a little juicier in order to not be aware of my tone.
With many tours, I’ll bring my Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 in a solid Pelican case. I can carry it on or check it. That way, regardless of the cab, I know that I can at least control and predict what my power amp situation will be, and that has way more to do with your tone than the cab, in my experience.
More often than not, though, I don’t bring any gear beyond my bass(es), cords, tuner and usually an iRiff Port Pro for hotel shedding with my iPad.
There is no telling what kind of backline you’ll get on the road, but I have yet to come across a rig that I couldn’t make work for the situation (although some took a little more tweaking than others). The worst case scenario is that you get a blown head or cab with no replacement available. When that happens, it’s pretty much going to be a rough night as you try and get a good tone through your monitor. It will feel funny because your tone will be way different and you will not feel the bass like you normally would standing in front of your rig.
If you’re playing bigger halls, chances are you will have decent gear, good front of house sound and engineer, and a good monitor guy.
With regard to what gear you do decide to take, I would simply suggest that you bring spares of anything that you have room for (batteries, cables, strings). I would also make sure to bring any tools you have for working on your instrument, but check them in your suitcase. Otherwise, they may get confiscated by an overzealous TSA agent.
I also carry my bass with me on the plane with me. I have to gate check it sometimes on smaller planes, but it’s always been fine. Because I want to maximize my chances at getting on board with my gig bag, I always make sure to keep my carry on bag as small as possible. I usually cram everything into a laptop-style briefcase shoulder bag. I also use the smallest, protractive case that I can to keep the size down. I use a leather Reunion Blues gig bag. The “Aero” is also a nice choice or GruvGear’s up and coming gig-blade. Anything that keeps it small but will protect the bass well if you have to gate check it. I sling that on my back and carry my bass upright and tucked against my body to make it appear as innocuous as possible when handing my ticket to the agent at the gate. In my experience, it’s the agent at the gate that is much more likely to refuse you entry than the hosts on the plane. If you can get by the gatekeeper, you’re usually good!
The basic rule of traveling remains the same whether you are a musician or not. Bring as little as possible, be nice to the people in charge and keep cool when things go wrong.
You also mentioned “what kind of bass” I bring when flying. The answer to that is the right bass for the gig. I bring the same basses with me when flying as I do when driving. Unless you get something specially made for traveling (small body, custom case, etc.) just use what you use. In the end, it’s about the gig and you need the right tool for the job.
Which brings me to one last piece of advice.
Insure the gear you travel with!! I’ve written about this before… check this out.
Readers, how about you? What’s your advice/routine for striking the balance between keeping it light and having what you need on the road? Please share in the comments.