A few weeks ago I had a gig with The Divided, the little league band I coach. During the second song, the guitar solo seemed a little off. I wasn't sure what was happening at first, but then I saw the high E string dangling from the tuning peg. I immediately became very nervous. When I play live, I have 2 or 3 guitars with me, plus the rhythm player has a couple. A broken string ruins the solo, but then you pick another one up and keep going. These kids don't bring multiple guitar, mostly because they don't own multiple guitars.
As a teenager I drove a lot of Corvairs. Whenever we would change the fan belt or spark plug wires, my dad would always tell me to keep the old one in case I am stranded somewhere and need it. Especially since the air-cooled Corvair depended on that belt driven fan.
I applied the same advice to guitar strings. "When you change your strings", I would begin, "Keep the old set in your guitar case, should you need them later".
I ran back stage hoping to find an old set of strings in his case. This got me thinking. What do I bring with me that is critical to my survival on stage? As I peer into my gig bag (which is tweed, of course), here is what I have:
3 Cables: A 20' for the guitar to the pedals, a 10' between pedals and the amp, and an extra cable just in case.
Picks: Not required? Not in my case. Adam always has some, so I just steal his.
Polish and Polishing Cloths: Great use of downtime between a soundcheck and the first song.
Old Set Lists: In case you want to recreate the past
Chord book: As a rule I don't play with music, but sometimes a quick refresher of that tricky bridge before you go on is very helpful.
A black tie: For those formal gigs
Extra of everything: Extra picks, strings, cables, you can never have enough.
Bottle of water: Why is every gig 100 degrees? I can only remember one time I was too cold at a show.
Guitar slide: To show up Adam if he pulls out his spark plug socket again.
There is a glimpse into what I keep around. What am I missing?
I reached into his guitar case and felt a set of used guitar strings, wrapped up nicely. Before the finish the song I had them unraveled and almost ready to go- except, where is the high E? It's gone. Shoot.
About this time the guitar player comes off stage. "Lets try the B string". SRV played a heavier string in the high E position than this B string, right? No go. The B is too short.
This is when I started sweating. Did I mention is is always hot at gigs?
So I pull out the G. It is long enough. I string it up, it holds.... for now. The poor 12 year old guitar player can bend this string all of about 1/8", but it is holding. He goes back on, and I send a neighbor to my house for my trusty Tele and a spare set of strings. "When (not if) that string breaks, you will be on your way with my guitar, so it won't be too much of a wait".
They had 5 more songs to play, and the G held the whole time. My Tele arrived right as they were wrapping up.
And in a truly American reaction of preventing only what has already happened (a la shoe bomb style), the next gig we had 3 guitars and 2 extra sets of strings.