Just like any instrument a band uses, it is critical to care of the guitars. For independent artists, it is particularly important to have personal guitar know-how because until you make it big you will likely not have the budget for a guitar tech.
To Thine Own Guitar Be True
As independent artists, if something goes wrong with your guitar on the road then it can be very difficult to scrounge up the time or money to get it properly fixed by a professional. For this reason, it is critical that you understand your guitar well and understand how it works. This will enable you do most fixes yourself.
Earnie Bailey, former guitar tech for the Foo Fighters and Nirvana recently gave the advice in an interview to, “Go out and get a cheap guitar and dismantle it, go at it with a chisel, just get a really good idea of how it’s constructed. Once you have that in the back of your mind, you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re dealing with when problems pop up.” This is the old tried and true method of breaking it down to see how it works. Taking out the frets, digging into the electronics, and learning how all the parts come together can take a broken guitar into the “simple fix” department. Also there’s a wealth of knowledge in books and on the internet on the topic of guitar maintenance and repairs.
The other advice given by Bailey is that it helps to have, “. . .conversations with other people about repairs. It’s nice to know what they’re talking about when they describe ‘the inside lining of a trust rod cavity,’ you know.” Being knowledgeable about your guitar and having conversation with others about guitars is critical to keep your guitar in tip top shape.
Once you have this understanding of how all the components work in your guitar you can play mad scientist and fix your guitar by turning it into a Frankenstein Guitar. I like to think of the Frankenstein guitar as the various guitar parts that you put together to fix a guitar.
Bailey went on to say, “If some repairs are really expensive, like if half the guitar is unusable, you save the other half and mix and match parts until you have a complete guitar again. . . It looked like Kurt had a lot of guitars, but a good number of them were just the same ones recycled over and over from different components—just the same ones rebuilt and reconstituted.” Being able to resurrect your guitar can extend the life of a guitar and reduce the cost of repairs.
Its Electric, Boogie-oogie-oogie
Having electrical issues with your equipment in the middle of the show can give the most seasoned musician heart palpitations. However, taking special care of your instrument and keeping in mind that it is an electrical piece of hardware can prevent these problems. Bailey commented that, “Whenever you get a band that sweats a lot, those electronics are prone to a short lifespan.” Also, electric hardware in general is not designed for the wear and tear of a crazy rock show. Being conscious of the moisture and the strain you put on cords and inputs can help to extend the life of your instrument.
Doing the Tuning
The best fixes can all be undone by forgetting to properly tune your guitar during sound checks. Bailey explains that, “Tuning issues are critical . . . There’s an art to winding strings, putting them on, stretching strings, and intonating a guitar to eliminate problems.” Tuning the guitar before and during every performance is crucial to maintain that optimal sound.
Following these fundamentals can help to maintain the quality of your guitar on the road. However, keep this disclaimer in mind, if you’re going to pull a Jimmy Hendrix and slam your guitar in the ground, drench it in lighter fluid, and then light it on fire these tips can only help you so much. Also, if you pull the Hendrix and you’re trying to reduce touring costs, wait until the last night of the tour to set it on fire. Just a suggestion.