Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In the Gig Bag

Photo by Matsuyuki

As long as you're carting equipment to a venue, the stash of stuff is every bit as important as your keyboard. No power? No audio? No music.

There's plenty that can go wrong when you're trying to plug yourself in to a system, be it friendly or foreign. My gig bag is full of spares, strange adaptors, tape, and other weird stuff. Here's what's in it, and why.


My keyboard uses a 12 volt power adapter, one of those bricks that plugs in to the wall. To me, aside from losing the whole keyboard, the power adapter is the one thing that can go wrong that no one will be able to help you with. I always keep a spare. And I've had to use it, too! I've seen helpful crew at a theatre drop it and smash it; I've seen the little polarity-adjusting tip fall off and disappear in to darkness. Good thing I had a spare.

Generally audio leads take a bit of a beating, and it's good to have redundancies there too. Now and again you'll set up for a show, plug in, and get a good dose of hum or static. Worse, the bad stuff might start during the show. When that happens, I'm a fan of quickly laying a replacement cable, and swapping over. Leave the "so where did it fail exactly?" detective work until after the show. If I have a lead that I suspect is a dud, I'll put a very loose knot in one end to mark it as suspect, so I know which one to investigate later.

Adapters and leads

I always have a variety of leads for setting up. My keyboard like most has a 1/4-inch jack output. My amp (when I use it) has a 1/4-inch jack input. When I'm in unfamiliar territory and using a strange PA, you never know what strange kind of setup you'll have.

Here's what I have available to me.

  • Jack - jack: Good for a desk that is close by and takes 1/4" jacks. I pack a few of these.
  • Jack - Female XLR: The poor-man's DI box. Combine with one or more normal mic leads and you can run it a fair distance.
  • Mic lead (Male XLR - Female XLR): Useful for a bunch of situations.
  • Female jack - Male RCA: Yep, RCA, like on your home stereo. On occasion, setting up at schools or other unusual venues, that's all they had to work with.
  • Male 1/8-inch stereo to twin Male RCA; twin female RCA to male jack. Now and again the ipod comes in handy for pre/post show music, and it's nice if you can actually plug it in.
  • Male XLR - Male XLR: If all your leads die, and you're at a venue where they have some normal mic leads, and some that terminate in a jack, one of these adapters will come in quite handy.
  • Extension cords - You never know how far away from power you'll be. I pack a few different sized cords, including the Longest Single Power Cable Known To Man.
  • Power board - You may have more than one piece of equipment, or you may find the only power outlet you can use is already taken.
  • Adaptors a plenty - I have a host of little adaptors, to convert between 1/8-inch stereo, 1/4-inch jack, XLR, RCA, males and females... You just never know.
  • DI Box - Not an absolute necessity for a keyboard setup, but very handy when you have ground loop issues and need to lift your earth.

The stuff I use all the time (Jack-jack, Jack-Female XLR) lives in the gig bag 24/7; the other stuff stays in the car unless I need it.

Coiling technique

A long time ago, I was taught the over-under technique for coiling cables. It's a technique that means your cables won't get twisted, or acquire permanent bumps or lumps. It also minimises trauma to the innards of your cables. It's a pretty strange technique at first, but becomes automatic when you get used to it. Rather than a clumsy explanation by me, there are plenty of online resources showing you how to do this.


If you don't travel with a roll of gaffer tape, you're crazy. Gaffer tape (or Gaff for short) is the black cloth tape every respectable musician uses travels with for... well, for everything really.

Primarily I use gaff to tape leads down at venues where I have no choice but to run leads where people can step and potentially trip. Please, if you are running cables where the public might be walking, you must make yourself aware of what the Workplace Health and Safety regulations are in your part of the world. You don't want to be personally responsible for injury taking place in the course of your work.

If you swear by your roll of silver duct tape, you should try some gaff. Gaff tape is easier to tear than duct tape, and the adhesive removes much more cleanly. And gaff makes a much better Charlie Chaplin moustache in a costume emergency.

Clean power

When you're set up, you may hear a low hum, at 50 Hz or 60 Hz depending on where you live. That can be an indication that you're taking your power from an unclean source (perhaps you are sharing power with a lighting rig), or that there are ground loop problems. Ask the venue for power that isn't shared, or you can try and EQ that hum out. My keyboard power adaptor is of the unearthed variety, so usually I don't get any hum like this; I know of people with earthed keyboards who have fashioned devices to lift the earth, which seems to help, but sounds dangerous to me. Use at your own risk. I'd much rather just use a DI to achieve the same effect.

The bit where I get your comments

What in your gig bag do you find indispensable?


Tom Tollenaere said...

Your list is pretty complete. I have 2 extra things that I always pack: a little clamp-on keyboard light, and batteries for light & DI boxes.


Nathan said...

I always carry in my gig bag:
- batteries (9v)
- Leatherman (or toolkit)
- torch
- ear plugs (you never know!)
- Extension lead (with piggy back adapter)
- pegs (for holding down music or set list)
- spare set of strings (if I play guit or bass)
- double adapter (the old pyramid kind) with earth pin removed so that you can lift the earth on your gear if it is plugged into a different circuit than the PA and it is causing some hum because of the earth loop being caused by the lack of a floating earth).

Nathan said...

ok ... so that last one you can also solve with a DI box, which I also carry :-)

Jill said...

And a granola bar.

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