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A Guitarist's Guide to Playing Festival Gigs: Part 2

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In the previous tutorial I showed you the pros and cons of accepting a festival gig slot. In this tutorial I’ll show you how to consider equipment requirements and offer possible solutions.

You Have Too Much Gear

You have. I have. We all have. As such, the usual gigging rig could prove unsuitable for a festival. Here’s why:

Sharing Transport

The loadspace you usually require may now not be available.

Going by Train and/or Plane

You’ll have at least two stations and/or airports to navigate. Physical strain aside, you’ll be deeply unpopular with other travellers if you're bumping into them and blocking escalators.

Then there’s luggage space. Neither form of transport is friendly to the travelling musician.

Long Walk to the Stage

Parking and offloading next to the stage is unusual, so that means several long trips to and from your vehicle. You’ll be exhausted before you even set up and you’ll have to do it all again in reverse when you've finished performing.

Set Up/Break Down

You’ll need to set up from scratch in under ten minutes, and vacate in around five minutes.

Guitars

For transportation, you’d think flight case every time, particularly if you’re an acoustic guitarist. It’s a robust solution if the gear’s going by truck or aircraft. 

If you’re responsible for them consider gig bags. They’re obviously not as strong, but they’re lighter and can be slung over one shoulder.

I take two guitars to gigs—one to use, one as backup. As such, I use a dual electric gig bag that costs around £40. It carries two solid body, non-archtop instruments, plus leads, straps and other paraphernalia. It’s obviously heavy once loaded but still more convenient.

Backline Supplied

This term means the event is providing the basics for your band. That's basics such as amps and drums. This is good news–less gear to bring, you'd think. But you'd be wrong.

If it’s a high-profile event sponsored by a major amp manufacturer, great. You’re more likely, however, to be presented with a collection of ancient and ruined horrors that even the best guitarist would sound appalling through.

I’d therefore recommend taking your own amp. The only reasons for using their backline is if the organisers give you no choice or if taking your own gear’s logistically impractical.

Balance of Power

The size of amp can often be inversely proportional to that of the event. The larger the event, the more likely the amp will be mic’d, monitors will determine onstage sound and thus, volume levels. 

Your all-conquering rig of many watts may therefore not be welcome, especially if it needs cranking up to achieve that sound.

By contrast, smaller events may rely on your amp to project across the audience, so an amp with single-figure wattage will struggle.

Contact the organisers, therefore, before the event and find out how the stage is likely to be run.

Portability

Wattage aside, consider its physical size; that hulking Marshall stack will be less attractive when you’re dragging it across a muddy field.

Small is Beautiful

The last decade has seen a boom in lunchbox amps—small, powerful amp heads. 

Almost every major manufacturer produces them and some of the better ones haven’t sacrificed features for a smaller footprint. 

I’ve used the Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 18 (£420) in the last year and it’s brilliant. Plus, it lights up blue, which makes everyone smile.

You do need a speaker cabinet but even a 1x10” or 1x12” is fine, and can be carried in a single hand. You might even be able to use or borrow one at the event, so it’s worth asking.

Combo

A possible solution, though size and weight will increase if it’s valve and contains more than one speaker. 

Solid state is lighter and better than ever; indeed, Roland’s Blues Cube (under £500) has been praised for its valve-like response. Alternatively, Boss’s Katana (under £200) uses COSM digital modelling to deliver five amp types plus effects and presets.

Pedalboard Amp

Consider the amp being the last pedal on the board. All you’d then need separately is a speaker cabinet. What started with simple one-knob pedals like EHX’s Magnum 44 (£144) has blossomed into more versatile offerings, such as the Quilter 101 (£315), a 100w amp with EQ, different gain stages, an effects loop and two speaker outputs.

The Need for Amps

The past five years has seen the rise of high-end digital modelling from the likes of Kemper, Fractal Audio, Line6, and Avid. Used by professional musicians, they come with professional price tags. If you can afford it, great, but if you’re just starting out, consider…

iOS

Cheaper and really compact, you can use an iPad for everything. For tips on how to do this, read my tutorial, The Portable Guitarist—Using iOS as a Live Rig

Effects

Some amps—especially digital ones—have effects built-in. But if you need a pedalboard, consider something small, portable and simple. 

Board

As with guitars and amps, I’d favour anything with a shoulder bag. As such, offerings by Pedaltrain or Palmer are ideal.

Power

There are lots of pedalboard power supplies, but they need  leads and power sockets, plus can create ground loop hum issues. 

I use Warwick’s Rockboard LT XL (under £45), a lithium ion battery. It’ll easily see you through the gig, and can even charge a smartphone.

Micro Pedals

These are ideal for assembling an impressive board that’s small in both dimensions and cost. I can recommend Ibanez, Mooer, and Tone City in particular.

Whatever your requirements, include a tuner and an EQ pedal; everyone should be in tune, and an EQ pedal is vital, especially if you’re using the supplied backline.

Conclusion

A festival rig is all about simplicity, portability, and speed of use. Bear in mind the following:

  • Keep it compact; the more hands-free, the better
  • Gig bags can be more practical than flight cases
  • Try to use your own amp
  • Go for the smallest amp with sufficient power
  • Solid-state and digital amps are worth considering
  • Micro pedals can provide a lot of options cheaply

In the next tutorial I’ll show you how to get the best from your performance.

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