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Essential Items for the Gigging Bassist: A Gig Survival Checklist

No matter how prepared someone usually is, most gigging bassists will find themselves at a gig, searching through their bag of “stuff” and saying: “hey, where’d my _____ go?”

It happens to everyone at least once. If this has happened to you, you’ve probably experienced one of three outcomes:

  1. You get extremely lucky since you happen to be gigging five minutes away from Guitar Center
  2. You figure out how to manage without it or…
  3. Someone in the band helps you out. If a band mate can help out, they just saved your butt and you should be forever grateful and offer to buy them coffee.

That said, I always try to be the person that has all of the necessary items on hand, plus a few other things that can be useful depending upon the playing situation. I’m reminded of old episodes of Barney, where the kids want to make some kind of artistic creation and Barney pulls out his “Barney Bag” that magically has everything needed for the project. Perhaps it’s my maternal instinct that kicks in, or my OCD, but every item listed below has come in handy on more than one occasion. Plus, if I’m the one that can share these things with band members when they need something, my stock rises in the band, people know that they can count on me, and I can expect a free cup of coffee.

Gig Bag Essentials Checklist:

  1. A long instrument cable… for when the stage is bigger than you expected and you don’t feel like standing next to your amp
  2. A short instrument cable… this can come in handy for using pedals or tuners
  3. A power strip
  4. An extra power cable for your amp, an extra speaker cable, a mic cable, and extra strings
  5. An extension cord
  6. Duct Tape… for fixing the drummer’s cymbal stand, taping a set list to the ground on a windy day, or taping wires to the floor so you don’t trip
  7. Pain relievers (Advil, Tylenol, Aleve)
  8. Two granola bars… a lifesaver when you’re running from your day gig to your night gig. It’s also the easiest way to get a fellow band member to become your best friend, especially if they skipped dinner as well.
  9. Bug spray… Because there’s nothing worse than swiping at mosquitoes on an out door gig. Sunscreen can also come in handy.
  10. Tea bags and cough drops… because someone in the band is always sick or you blew your voice out by singing along with Zeppelin in the car
  11. Band-aids, Neosporin, moisturizing lotion, and hand sanitizer… the travel sized packs are small, lightweight, and very cute!
  12. A pen, pencil, sharpie, and some paper… essential for writing out a quick chart, set lists, forgotten lyrics, phone numbers, or signing autographs ;-)
  13. Tools and toiletries… Small flathead and Philips screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, a small flashlight, 9 volt batteries, string winders/cutters, and nail clippers
  14. Picks… guitar players never seem to have any and if you’re a pick player, you’ll want to have extras as well.
  15. A drum key… trust me, the drummer will need it.
  16. Ear plugs… probably the most essential (and the most requested) item
  17. Business cards

By now you’re probably thinking, “how can you take that much stuff?” The list seems quite long, but aside from the cables, everything on the list takes up little space. I do my best to keep my bag as light as possible, so depending upon the season, some of these things come and go (there’s no need for bug spray in January). I also use the smallest versions I can find, especially of the tools and toiletries (Target or Bed Bath and Beyond have an incredible selection of travel size items). One of the heaviest items can be duct tape, so I try to keep a half-used roll with me instead of a full one.

Once you have all of these items, organize them in a way that is easily accessible. Try combining the smaller items in a separate bag, such as a Ziploc or toiletry case. For instance, I have a small make-up case for all of my first-aid and food-related things, and I’m less likely to have loose band-aids in the bottom of my bag.

I also suggest keeping the most essential items in your actual gig bag (specifically the tools/batteries, earplugs, and paper/pencil) so that you have them with you at all times. If you often play gigs that have backline and you don’t need to bring your “bag-o-stuff,” you still want to have an extra set of strings on you, just in case.

If you drive to most of your gigs, I also suggest having a small, portable, inexpensive amp head that can hide out in your car. Although this seems a bit superfluous, you never know when you (or someone else) may need it. Plus, if you find yourself in a bind and your equipment fails or disappears, you don’t have to play through something great, just something that works.

So there’s my list. What do you suggest? Share your list in the comments!

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and playing sessions, she fronts an original music project, The Interludes and teaches private lessons. Visit her website to learn more about her music or to inquire about lessons.

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