It happens to us all at some point. We’ve showed up at the venue, set up to play, hit the sound check and find that our amp has somehow died. I’m a firm believer in being prepared for gigs but for most of us carrying a spare head, combo amp, or some other small refrigerator sized back up isn’t feasible either due to space in our vehicle or the expense involved. I tend to go with a minimalist’s attitude that less is better, between my aging back, smaller car and narrower wallet, but if my amp dies during a show I’ve got to come up with a solution, otherwise the show is blown, my bandmates are less than happy, the venue owner is even less happy, and everyone involved loses cash. Often there’s a written contract involved as well, and there aren’t provisions built in for a night with faulty equipment, or missing equipment.
Sometimes it’s an effects pedal, and for something that simple it’s not a crisis, but when it’s an amp or instrument, then there’s a real problem. For bass players it’s actually less of a problem than for other instruments, particularly if there is a good PA system at the venue or being supplied to the venue. In this case the bassist can simply go direct, get a good mix in the monitors and mains, and away you go. It does really help, however if the bass player happens to have a good direct box to run through in the event of an amp failure. Tech 21 and Radial make excellent DIs for bass players that fit in a gig bag pocket, can run on batteries, and can bridge that gap really well. It’s not quite the same as your actual rig, but if you’re in a jam they will do the trick in a pinch. I have a Tech 21 DI that I’ve used for this type of situation, as well as when I’ve had to fly somewhere else without my gear after playing a gig elsewhere. You can get a decent tone and response from them with a little tweaking between the sound guy and the bass player.
Acoustic instruments are also easy fixes. In fact most acoustic players are pretty flexible and are used to dealing with mics vs. on board electronics, vs. DIs or amplifiers. Acoustic players more often than not are running into the board of the PA system, either through a direct box or just plugging in. The instrument that usually can cause the most consternation is the electric guitar. There are some companies, like Tech 21, who do make a DI designed specifically for the electric guitar. Some guitarists use them or something like the Line 6 Pod. These will do in a pinch, but for most guitarists it yields less than satisfying results. I haven’t found a way that I’m satisfied with when trying to run my electric guitars directly into a mixing board regardless of whether I have been using a solid state or tube amp. The instrument’s tone seems to lack body, but that’s just my take on it and perhaps I simply haven’t found the right combination for me.
Small things are usually no big deal. We bring extra strings, batteries, cables, patch cords, and a plethora of other items as well as the tools we need for changing strings and taking care of other minor maintenance issues that might arise. Bass players tend to go lighter in some ways. It’s extraordinarily rare for a bass player to break a string, and it’s not at all unusual for a bass player to bring a single instrument for local gigging. For touring purposes there’s usually a back up, but not so much for the local warriors. Guitarists usually bring more than one guitar, particularly rock guitarists. Sometimes it’s for tonal reasons, but let’s face it, some types of music are more conducive to string breakage than others. Plus there’s the amount of time required to change a string. Some guitars are designed in such a way that it’s fairly quick, but when there’s a Floyd Rose tremolo involved it’s a much more complicated process where a back up guitar really makes a ton of sense.
Regardless of what instrument one plays there are always considerations to be taken into account when it comes to choosing what to bring and what to leave behind on the gig. When you’re relying on a piece of equipment the size of a refrigerator to produce your sound, your amp, it’s a good idea to take into account that at some point that appliance is going to fail and have a plan for what to do if it does so on a gig. Spend some time exploring options like those mentioned above before buying a bigger vehicle to haul around twice the amount of equipment than you need. Look into some direct boxes at your local music stores and see if they’ll let you run them into a PA to check the tonal response possible through them. They might save you some cash and wear on your back as well!