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, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

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  1. an extra strap, a small towel and a spare shirt…..nothing looks worse than a sweat stained shirt.

  2. Excellent list, here’s a few items I’ve found very helpful: in addition to duct tape, a roll of electrician’s tape (for any electrical or cord repairs) and the blue painter’s tape which is surprisingly durable and doesn’t leave adhesive residue behind. I just used this to keep my 9V battery compartment on my Pedulla from jiggling and disconnecting the preamp circuit during a rehearsal (compartment was replaced this week). Keep a handful of plastic zip ties in your bag, also – great for holding parts & pieces together temporarily.

  3. You forgot the all-important flask of bourbon.

  4. Hilarious and so true. Although I would suggest gaffer tape instead of duct tape. It doesn’t leave a sticky residue behind on cables.

  5. Very nice. That reminds me, I need to buy 5 drum keys since my drummer constantly forgets his. But I always keep a multi tool with me and a power strip as well.

  6. did you forget your tuner and your guitar stand? A piece of carpet is also a great thing, especially for bar gigs where the stage floor is, well, rather cruddy. Well worn cotton dish towels are also great for wiping up sweat or spills from your guitar and amp. And if you run your amp through the PA, don’t forget your XLR cables.

  7. Great list. Few more things I’ve found useful:
    – Direct Box: If your amp goes belly-up, you can play through the PA in a pinch (or better yet, an extra amp!)
    – Backup instrument (probably assumed).
    – An iPod (if you’re in a cover band) – in case someone forgets a part (Phones usually cover this nowadays).
    – Extra hand towels – someone always forgets theirs.
    – Extra strap (believe this was mentioned).
    – Extra Tuner.

    I probably have even more stuff, have to check.

  8. I actually have all of the list and a spare strap and eye-drops…. and a bunch of picks with my bands name and logo on it. All in a nice sized gym bag.

  9. Deoderent, for the drummer!

  10. a spare bass is handly if your like me and broke the 1st one over a drunk heckler’s head and I find a leatherman is useful to cause it also gives you pliers and a knife witch can be used as wire strippers if needed (don’t slice your fingers open trying this) and you can leave your screw drivers at home and rubber bands as werid as that sounds cause they can be used to tie things up or (for those of us with long hair) tie your hiar back if your hair elastic breaks or go’s missing.

  11. I would add to your list spare strings (just in case), a small/portable soldering iron and some solder, a utility or pocket knife, and a spare speaker cable (in case the one between my amp head and the speaker cabinet dies or shorts-out). I carry all of my “emergency stuff” — along with my small set of tools, spare instrument cables, a microfiber polishing cloth, and other items in what looks a lot like an aluminum briefcase. You cannot imagine how many times these things have come in extremely handy on a gig…. or even at a rehearsal!

  12. Andy – I also subscribe to your suggestion to have electrical tape and painter’s tape, plus plastic zip ties on-hand (I also keep a few small velcro wraps for the same reason).

  13. for string players, always wash your hands bofore yes play, towel yer strings(and hands).

  14. Hey Ryan, thanks! That was fun to read. It’s amazing how many things we sometimes need and always want to have on hand. Have you done much international travel for music? I’m curious about what you might say is essential for taking with you when you have so little space in your suitcase. I am always torn when packing. Pay an extra $50-100 for over weight, or leave it behind? I’m curious about your views on it. :)

  15. Great list, Ryan. I don’t know if anyone already mentioned this but I typically keep some sort of recording device (usually my Zoom H2 – I just use my phone if I forget it) especially for rehearsals.

  16. A small towel, finger ease, and eventually you will need a direct box, because sooner or later your amp is going to crap out.

  17. what I do is get an algine water bottle and wrap duct tape around the water bottle and you have some water and duct tape and it does not take up as much space.

  18. BC (powdered aspirin, get’s into blood stream faster) and Imodium (if you get food poisoning) are standard Rx items for me. Nail clippers and a small Phillips are the only tools I carry anymore (usually never enough time to fix something at a gig and the PA dudes have everything else anyway). Duct tape is a no-no, gaffers or stage tape is better. 2nd bass (no time for string change) with array of back-up cables and a DI box in the pedal board. $5 in coins (for vending machines).

  19. umm and a fat joint for when your high wears off in the middle of the set.

    • Yeah, you don’t want to sound as bad to yourself as you will to the crowd when you just HAVE to be buzzed.

    • Tom Susala hey man first of all why all the bad vibes? you dont have to toke if you dont want to. if you dont like it thats cool man i can dig it but dont harsh on me for smoking. secondly im a really good bassist but i do play in a three piece grunge band and we dont need to sound like the fucking mothers of invention. were just having fun

    • Alex Cribb, I’m fine with you smoking, by all means, but since you bring it up, I’d rather you sound like the Mothers of Invention. Whenever I leave the stage I always wonder… Would Zappa be proud?

    • Xakari Nostram idk if zappa would be proud but king buzzo might be or krist novaselic

  20. I recommend a few toothpicks. If a strap button comes loose you can break off a piece and place it in the hole. It will keep the screw in place long enough to get you though until you have the time to properly fix it.

  21. Flip videocam (or the like) on a mini-tripod called a gorillapod. Extra batteries.

  22. I always have my trusty Sansamp DI…never know when your amp might die…and I never go to a gig with less than 2 basses…never know when a string will pop. and yep drum keys are essential as drummer always forget them! Shawn is right though…a flask of your fave booze always helps when the venue charges far too much for a mixed drink!

  23. Breath mints/gum when you get a chance to talk to the hottie that’s been checking you out!

  24. One cable? I carry 5-6 of them at all times. I’ve had mine die, I’ve had the guitar player need one… I also carry a couple XLRs, and – I can’t believe you didn’t put this on the list! – a direct box. Depending on the type of gigging you do, you should also have a stand light (and an extra bulb or batteries, depending on what kind you use). Also, the number of a bail bondsman for when the drummer gets arrested.

  25. : Regarding bug spray…Be careful not to spray it on your bass, it will soften and possibly ruin the finish. The solvents in the spray that cools the skin to keep bugs from seeing you (Mosquitoes can see in the infra-red part if the spectrum) can also soften and distort pick guards.

  26. If you don’t carry most of that, then you don’t deserve to play out. Drum key: check. Tape: always and several kinds. Fuses: duh. Cables: you’re a player of an amplified, stringed instrument. You better have back up. Same with strings. And since you really always wanted to be a guitar player (don’t lie, and we all know that we have at least one at home), have some of your guitar players strings. They’re too busy trying to be “rad” to remember that they break strings because of poor technique. Guyliner since you play in a Hot Topic band? Priceless.

  27. A couple not yet mentioned:
    Door wedges, so you can keep a clear path while loading/unloading.
    Toilet roll! Latrine facilities at some gigs are er… “Basic” at best, you don’t want to be caught short!
    And one not for the gigbag, a plastic milk/beer crate to put your amp on. Sound will project lots better.

  28. a spare bass is always nice. something to drink on stage and GUITAR STRINGS. You never know when the guitar player will break his/her strings and not have any.

  29. You mentioned a small amp head, another mentioned a direct box. I keep a zoom B2.1u as a backup. It has a direct out, it’s inexpensive, light and decent amp simulations in a pinch. I had a high end amp crap out on me 2x that little unit saved my a$$. Speaking of lights, a small flashlight and music light for sheet music stand and as I get older some cheater glasses for when I’m doing all the rest of the bands cable hookups to the board in a dimly lit club.

  30. I absolutely love no. 6 and 7 ;).

  31. I’d switch out the duct tape for gaffers tape. It unsticls easierand doesnt leave nasty glue marks on the stage.

  32. Not sure if anybody mentioned it…but a small LED flashlight for those gigs where it’s so dark that without it none of your other “band first aid kit” items can be used!
    Of course….plenty of spare batteries (AA, AAA, 9 volt).

  33. Leatherman multi-tool, electrical tape, roll of quarters for parking meters, preamp tube and flashlight. I also carry a 3′ XLR cable for my Aguilar Tone Hammer DI.

  34. strings, tools, paper and pen. ok. extrashirt, highly recommendable.
    but hey man, better go and get your coffee by yourself=).

  35. Great article. Here’s an article I did years ago on the same subject: along with a video on what I carry in each bass’s bag. Keep Thumpin’! ~ Lane on Bass.

  36. I call it my bag of tricks and it has the same stuff!

  37. Condoms! In case the guitarist or singer has ran out again.

  38. White medical tape. Multiple uses, both as a labeling tool and as a quick cover up for finger cuts and blisters.

  39. Great list! I’m a touring pro with over 30 years on the road and you hit every essential. One thing I found handy for just about everything on your list was a medium sized fishing tackle box with 3 pull out trays and a “pop top”. Got it at a SC Wal Mart for about $20. Lightweight, keeps everything separate, dry, and fresh. Bandmate gave me one of those tiny backpacks for a birthday – about 12 inches long with 3 pockets. It’s perfect for the cables and tape. Got it down to 4 items and I’m ready to gig: the 2 items I noted and my amp and thumper. Makes me feel like a logistics genius when loading out at 2:00 AM. And, I’ve made a lot of quick friends on stage who keep me drowning in free coffee, diet soda, and, well, herbal medicine from CA. DrBassman

    • Thanks for the add. You can always tell an experienced musician from the newbies. The experienced ones carry absolutely the bare minimum they need. The newbies carry and set up every single last piece of gear they own for each and every gig. While they are still breaking down and packing everything up and carrying it to the car, the experienced guys are already two beers in at the bar after the gig.

      • Templeton

        Bare bones is lazy in my opinion.I call them paychecks that’s all they care about.
        Two beers deep I see where the priorities are.

    • You have that right Steve! I have a couple of very good guitarists that still want to roll in Marshall Half Stacks at every venue! Although in their mid40’s, they’re just getting into the top-tier of performance artists. Great guys but any advice on smaller loads falls on deaf ears. We have a lot of shows through the end of the year so I think I’ll just let experience (and their sore backs and fatigue) do the teaching. Marko

  40. A flashlight of course! Stages and backstages are always dark.

  41. I could include a towel and a clean t-shirt. Why? In my case, I sweat a lot.

  42. Templeton

    Don’t forget the prophylactics ( rubbers)