As a guitarist there can be nothing worse than being in the middle of a gig and breaking a string, having a cable fail or losing something and realizing you don’t have a replacement. Being unprepared is a musicians worst nightmare but happens far too often.
You should always have a fully stocked gig bag! There’s no excuse to not have all the essentials.
But you might not be sure what to include or what are the most important items to prioritize. If so then this list is for you.
We will look at the essential items you’ll want to keep in your gig bag at all times as well as a few extras that aren’t necessities but you might want to have anyway, just in case.
Gig Bag Essentials to Pack
This is a no brainer. Breaking a string has to be the most common issue guitarists face when playing live.
And unless you get lucky and break a string that you never use – for example you only play power chords but break the high e string – then it’s going to cause some major problems. You don’t want your set to be interrupted while you try to find another or have to try and play on missing a string.
So keep a spare set of strings with you at all times. Maybe even consider keeping a few in case a band mate needs one too.
If you’ve played guitar for more than 5 minutes you’ll be very aware of how often picks go missing. It’s like they’re trying to escape.
Not to mention the dreaded dropping-it-in-the-sound-hole! You can literally spend days trying to jiggle a pick out of the body of an acoustic guitar, like some sort of nightmarish game.
And that’s just when you’re practising at home. When you’re playing live you can’t really stop to pick up a dropped pick, scrabble around on the floor looking for it or spend who knows how long trying to get it out of your sound hole.
So you need some spares.
Cables break. Maybe it’s never happened to you and you’re thinking”I’ll be fine”.
Well you’ll regret that attitude. As one day you’ll here a crack, hit a string or strum and get no response and feel the pit of despair deep in your soul as you realize your cables gone and you’ve got nothing to replace it with.
Don’t be that guy or girl. Pack a cable.
You might be able to skip this one if you’re playing acoustic with no pedals. But if you’ve got pedals, a tuner, active pickups etc. then a spare 9v battery is a must.
If your current one runs out in the middle of a performance you’re going to be stuck without a spare you can quickly replace it with.
Straps have a variety of ways they can break – tearing, snapping, the strap holes getting worn etc. It might be another occasion where you think it’ll never happen to you.
But when it does and you can’t hold your guitar up you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t have a spare one with you.
Having a spare digital or clip-on tuner is a good idea too. If your tuner pedal dies you want something to cover you.
Also if you want to tune up backstage but your gear is on the stage then a clip-on tuner is the solution.
Ear protection is really important. Playing the guitar live means standing near to a very loud amp.
Studies have found that musicians are twice as likely to develop tinnitus and hearing issues. When music exceeds 85 decibels musicians are access to wear ear protection and the majority of amplified gigs and concerts – especially ones with loud electric guitar amps – are over 100 decibels.
So you shouldn’t ever play live without earplugs. And carrying a spare pair is sensible too.
A live gig can be hot and sweaty. Keeping hydrated is necessary for both your health and playing well.
Your playing won’t be nearly as good if you’re feeling the effects of the heat and need a drink. So having a bottle of water with you is a priority.
Yes, a lot of venues will have water they can provide. But you might be in a rush to setup and not have the chance to get any. If you’ve got your own then it’s one other thing you don’t have to worry about.
Much like water you won’t be able to play well if you’re doing so on an empty stomach. You might have a drop in blood sugar or start to feel weak.
Live gigs can be pretty nerve wracking too, as well as using up a lot of energy. Having a snack you can quickly get to is practical and something you’re going to be glad you had when you need it.
Other Items you might Want
These are a few things you probably should have but aren’t quite as essential as the list above.
This is more dependent on the type of music you’re playing. If you never use a capo then you don’t have any need for a spare.
But if you use one extensively or even on a couple of songs it might be a good idea to have a backup one with you. Capo’s can break and get lost like anything else.
Multi tool / Allen key or wrenches
If at any point you need to adjust something on your guitar then having a set of tools or the necessary allen wrenches is a must.
Pliers, screwdrivers etc. will fix most issues that might happen with your guitar. And allen wrenches are needed if you have locking tuners or a tremolo.
If you break a string and are replacing it you don’t want to spend ages winding or trying to cut the new one. So a combo winder/cutter or one of each is always useful to have close to hand.
Extension Cord/Power Strip
What happens if you turn up to the venue you’re playing and you find there aren’t enough outlets for all your gear? And on top of that it’s so far away your power cables won’t reach.
An extension cord and power strip (maybe surge protector) is going to be a life saver.
Depending on the gear you’re using a USB cable could be an extremely important part of your setup. If so then chuck one in your gig bag and be prepared for any problems you might have with one.
A lot of gigs are pretty intense. You’re probably going to get hot and sweaty.
Having a towel on your amp or somewhere you can grab quickly between songs to wipe yourself down is a good idea.
Duct tape is always useful. It doesn’t matter what breaks or goes wrong some tape will probably help in some way.
Seriously, keep some in your gig bag and it’ll get used a lot more than you expect.
A lot of venues are dark. Think of bars and pubs – the lighting is terrible. Having a flashlight so you can set up your gear properly or make any necessary adjustments to it is a smart move.
Pen and Paper
Definitely not the most important to have but still useful so you change or add to your set list and make any notes. And you never know, you might even get ashes for an autograph!
First Aid Kit
Accidents don’t just happen to your gear, they can happen to you or band mates too. Having a small fist aid kid will deal with any minor injuries or cuts that occur.
You never know when you’re going to need some money. Keeping a bit of cash on or with you is sensible even if you can’t foresee needing it.
An Orange Micro Terror
You read that right – an Orange Micro Terror should be in EVERY gig bag. You might think I’m kidding but take a look:
Excuse my dusty gig bag!
The beauty of these tiny lunchbox amp heads is that you can take them anywhere with you. If you don’t like the Micro Terror then why not the Micro Dark or Terror Stamp?
I’ve seen people making them part of their pedal board as they’re so small and they make the perfect backup amp.
Ok, it’s the last on this list and a bit tongue in cheek but give it some thought. And maybe take a read of my Orange Micro Terror review to help you make up your mind.
Gig Packing Checklist
The checklist below can be printed out and used to make sure you’ve got everything you need before gigs.
Before you go…
For more information about what you need for playing the guitar try this guide: