When Technology Breaks: A Survival Guide for Bassists

SurvivalTechnology is a wonderful thing. Compared to a century ago, our day-to-day lives are completely different; we no longer need to hand wash our clothes, build a fire to eat, or take a horse and buggy to visit friends in an adjacent state. Instead, we can simply purchase magical devices such as washing machines, microwaves, and Toyota Corollas.

While all of these things are incredible advancements for society, the greatest of all may happen to be the electric bass. This instrument has provided us with a new sound, a stronger role in a variety of musical genres, and greater mobility. Combined with our amplifiers and pedals, there’s no limit to what or where we can play. This is a unique and liberating advancement that has provided us with hobbies, occupations, and creative outlets. Everything about the bass is great… until something breaks.

Conceptually, we all know that things can falter every now and then. Strings break, input jacks become loose, we drop our basses and the tuning pegs snap off, or maybe the neck warps just enough to create a buzz on a few frets. Although we know that these things happen, we can’t help but ask “why me?” when it actually does. After the initial sting, we need to figure out what our options are in terms of fixing the problem. Here are a few tips on how to deal with a gear malfunction and some useful things to keep in mind.

First off, certain things are easy to fix or replace, such as a string or a battery. The easiest way to deal with these scenarios is to simply be prepared. Have extra strings, an extra cable, an extra battery, and make sure you have a few tools (string cutters, a mini screw driver). If your tuner happens to break, make sure you can tune by ear. No matter where you live or where you gig, get familiar with the local (or not-so-local) music stores. Thankfully, Google and Yelp makes this exceptionally easy, especially if you find yourself out of town. I highly suggest frequenting your local stores as often as possible, both to familiarize yourself with their products and services and to develop relationships with the employees or owners.

Let’s say something breaks and the situation is a bit more complicated. You’ve basically got three options: fix it yourself, call a repairman, or phone a friend. If you’re particularly handy, you may be able to take care of the repair by yourself… many people know how to solder a broken cable or tweak a warped neck. If you’re not as maintenance-minded, or you’re faced with an issue that should be handled by a professional, you should have a few numbers handy.

Important #1: A good friend. It’s easy to freak out if something suddenly breaks. Your reaction may include crying, screaming, venting, ranting, and questioning. Friends help you make it through.

Important #2: Your “guitar guy.” Most players have a special “guy” that they trust with their instrument. This may be a friend of a friend, or someone highly recommended by a music store. If you take your bass to him regularly, he’ll be familiar with your instrument and will be able to assess and fix the problem. If you don’t have a “guy,” talk to some of your music buddies or visit a music store and ask about where they send their repairs (or if they do them in house). You can also try posting on Facebook about it… you may be surprised by some of the helpful responses you receive from your friends. Try to have a few options in your rolodex; some of the best “guys” can get exceptionally busy or take a two week vacation.

Important #3: Local bass player buddies. If you’re stuck in a bind and need an instrument, amp, or crucial piece of gear, you may need to call in a favor. Hopefully, you have friendly relationships with some other bass players in town and can ask to borrow a piece of gear in the case of an emergency.

Important #4: Local music store. Let’s say your amp spontaneously combusts and you need something to rumble the floors. If you’ve built relationships with sales people, managers, or owners of a music store, they may lend or rent you some gear (even if they don’t do that on a regular basis). As long as they know that you’re a good customer and a player who respects the gear they use, you may be able to work out a deal until you can fix your rig.

And finally, remember that many things can go wrong with your gear… your bass is just one link in the gear chain. Amps, speaker cables, tuners, PA gear, DI’s, iPads, etc. can mysteriously lose power, break, or be left behind on your way to a gig. Trust me, it happens. I’ve forgotten to load mic stands before a gig, so I’ve called a bass player buddy in the area to see if I could borrow some. I was the one who dropped my bass on the floor and broke two tuning pegs (that were discontinued long ago), so I called my favorite bass store. My neck started to warp and a few frets needed some love, so I called my guitar guy. My washing machine broke and after hand washing, rinsing, and wringing, I had to call a repairman. These things happen, no one is immune, but everyone can have a few numbers handy.

What’s on your survival checklist? Tell us about it in the comments.

Photo by Marcel Hol

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. Learning to do most of the maintenance work on my basses myself has proven to be huge and a money saver for me and my friends.

  2. I once decided to change a battery just before a gig (at the venue). Should be no problem, right? Wrong. The 9v connector broke as I pulled it off the old battery. Unusable. BUT… I actually carried a spare (Radio Shack) connector. Probably cost a few cents and weighed nothing; I just had it in my bag of tricks. I pulled it out, spliced it to the existing wires, and was back in business. It pays to carry spares of almost everything.

  3. I’ve had to do that favor calling thing when my amp was down for two months.

  4. The main point that has been missed here is that you should learn to set your instrument up yourself as well. If you give your bass to guitar guy and ask for a set up meaning dressing the frets a little, he may do that and change truss rod tensions, string heights and in some cases, string spacing. I’ve had it before and have now taken it upon myself to know how to change everything from the truss rod, string heights, intonation to fixing jack sockets and cleaning noisy pots. Really helps, and for the price of a few tools saves a lot too.

  5. Thanks for the helpful hints, I agree, learn to do the (bass)ics yourself. And…..a Toyota Corrolla is not a magical thing!

  6. Some basic electronics can be made with a stove and a kitchen knife. Got away with a messed up input jack or cable more than once back when I was poor as hell. Now I can carry back ups =D.

  7. The best bet for me is to carry backups – although this is not always possible for everyone. But having 2 of everything has saved my butt a few times.

  8. Sometimes you just have to leap in. I have a Washburn T14 fretless, not an expensive bass. after a very small bump on the end pin the finger board popped off, all the way off. Even though it’s cheep its a decent bass but the repair would be the same as buying a new bass. what the heck lets try to fix it. (I was told not to try this).
    I scraped all the old glue off both the neck and the fingerboard. using an entire small bottle of yellow carpenters glue I covered every centimeter of the fingerboard and then used a squeegee to even it out. when it was even I pressed the neck and fingerboard together firmly. the secret to getting a good bond is to then pull them apart creating thousands of fine hairlike tendrils. after a few seconds I once again bonded the neck and FB. here’s the real trick. Luthiers have special clamps to evenly press the two long parts together. I’m no Luthier, no fancy clamp. I took about 20 feet of rope and firmly wound it (coiled it) from the bottom of the neck all the way to the nut and let it set for two days.
    That was a year ago and the neck is straight, flat and solid. cost about 4 bucks.