So, you started a band, practiced non-stop, got a set together, and booked a show. You’ve got your guitar, your amp, your pedalboard, and you’re all loaded in on the stage. You start, and it’s going great! Everyone’s digging your sound and really getting into it, when all of a sudden, something happens. Your whole rig sounds wrong (or there’s no sound at all!). Panic sets in. “What do I do?” you think to yourself. Well, don’t worry.  Today we have five tips to help you get everything up and running, and get your set rolling once again. 

(Note: If any of these tips gets you back to normal (or semi-normal) sounds, just keep playing. The audience would likely prefer the music to continue without your $450 transparent overdrive than for you to stop playing entirely. Just remember: The Show Must Go On.)

1) Take a Deep Breath!

You may scoff at something so simple in such a stressful moment, but really. Take a deep breath. Studies have long shown that deep breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) invokes what is known as the “relaxation response”, which can combat anxiety, reduce stress and increase focus. And you could really use all of those things right about now. So, take a deep breath, in through the nose, letting your abdomen expand fully. Then, slowly breathe out through the mouth. Feel better? Good. Let’s fix this problem.

2) Listen.

In order to properly (and quickly) diagnose what’s going on with your rig, it’s important to take a moment (possibly while taking a deep breath) to listen. If there’s no sound coming from your amp, it should be fairly obvious. But, if your guitar sounds distorted (well, more distorted than normal), there’s a few things that could be wrong. A fizzy distortion at the beginning of the note’s attack could indicate one of your preamp tubes is microphonic. If you have an amp with channel switching, try seeing if you can make it through the set on a different channel. A constant, static-y distortion could indicate one of your speakers are blown. If you’re using a cabinet or combo with multiple speakers, see if you can move the microphone on your amp (if there is one) to a working speaker. If they’re all shot, try your best to trudge through the show. If there’s no sound, well…

3) Is it plugged in? 

Most of the problems that happen onstage are due to an oft-overlooked component of the guitar rig: the cable. So, quickly, take a look at your points of contact. Is the guitar plugged in? Are you plugged in to the pedalboard? Is the cable to the amp plugged in? This may seem silly, but if you can check these things in a timely manner, you will quickly solve 75% of the problems you run into on stage. If you turn on your tuner, and it works, you know that your guitar, your cable to the board, and whatever may be in front of your tuner is working. I keep my tuner at the end of the pedalboard for this reason. Feel free to wiggle any cable. If moving the cable elicits a sound, then that cable may be intermittent, . See if you can get by with fewer pedals. Finishing the show with just a tuner and your amp is better than nothing. Finally, plug straight into your amp with a cable you know works. If there’s still no sound, well…

4) Check your amp.

Go over to your amp. Is it on? If it’s turned off, check if the power is still plugged in. If it is, a fuse may have blown, and you might have to skip to step five if you didn’t bring spare fuses. Have any of the knobs been moved? Everyone’s a critic, make sure nobody just turned you down. Is the amp hot to the touch? Is there smoke, or a peculiar smell? Did someone just yell “Your amp is on fire!” (this has happened to the author). If so, you may have an overheating amp. Turn it off (ASAP!), and let it cool down. To be safe, again, skip to step five. Now would be the time to let the bass player try out his stand-up routine. (Note: only let that happen if all else has failed. Nobody really wants to hear those jokes.)

5) Bring a backup (or be nice to the other bands!).

This may truly be the most important step out of all of them. The Boy Scouts really had it right with their motto: “Be Prepared”. Always try to bring backup cables, a backup guitar, and if you can, a backup amp. If your band is going on tour, you should likely leave home with two backup amps, a spare instrument for everyone (well, not the drummer), and lots and lots of strings, picks and cables. This way, when all else fails, you can run and grab your backup. Leave figuring things out further until after the set. If you’re caught without a backup, you can (politely) ask another band to lend you an instrument or amp to finish your set. If you treat your gear with respect, others will take notice, and feel more secure lending something to you. Put simply, if you just smashed your guitar, don’t expect anyone to lend you theirs. This is one of many reasons it pays to show up on time, watch the other bands on your bill, and ultimately, to be a nice person to others.

After all is said and done, if you need to pick up a new cable, grab that backup you now know you desperately need, or to just commiserate with someone who understands what you just went through, come by McBride Music and Pawn.  We’ve got an experienced sales staff that can guide you to what you need most.