Saturday, April 30, 2011

Backup Gear: Two of Everything... at Least


If you end up playing with either bleeding-edge technology or vintage gear - I have some of each - you figure out pretty fast that to be a confident and dependable performer, you need backup gear. For most devices that are not overly prone to failure, that means two, but for some critical things, it may be three, and for loudspeakers, it could just be one extra unit.

For example, when I leave for a road trip, I must have at least two guitars, two rack systems, and three PA speakers (I usually take four). In town, I usually just take an extra guitar if it's a background music gig, but if it's something major - for which I'm being paid a significant amount of money - I'll take an extra rack and speaker too.

This policy of having backup gear along has saved my bacon - and made me look like a hero - at several gigs. When that eight-year-old data backup battery dies and all of your programs vanish, there's nothing like being able to laugh it off and grab the backup rack out of your car or truck. Or, when that darned D-string breaks, it's sure a lot quicker and easier to just grab a backup guitar rather than changing the string. Of course, I learned this, like I learn everything in life, the hard way: I once travelled over 100 miles one-way for a gig and arrived with no 1/4" to Speakon adapters. Since I put speaker cables in each rack when I pack them up, a backup would have saved me that gig, the money... and just a ton of embarrassment: It's hard to forget to pack something twice.

That was my, "Never again" moment.

So, make a list, check it twice, and all your gigs will be very, very nice. Naughty waitresses are cool, but naughty amps are not.

The catch for me is - there's always a catch - I have two guitars that look exactly the same but that are in fact entirely different.

The Rider Nylon on the left has a high classical action, and the one on the right has a low flamenco action. I have decided that the classical action Rider is not a suitable backup guitar, because it's way to hard to play tap technique on it... so I need a third, of course.

But there's more to it than that. I love practicing tap tech on the classical Rider because it makes the pieces so much easier to play on the flamenco Rider, and I play gigs without playing Spanish Fly and A Day at the Beach all the time. So, I'm glad I got the classical setup, and I wouldn't want to be without it, but two is not enough in any case. Why?

Because, the real problem is with the RMC Acoustic Gold saddles, or perhaps just my less than stellar luck with them. Back when I was playing Godin guitars with these saddles, I had one go entirely dead on me - the G string on that guitar - which is where I got the idea to always have two guitars along. Well, these pickup elements are by far the best in the world, but to be so sensitive and clear, they evidently also have to be quite fragile. Lummox that I am, I've managed to break two of them while changing strings! Fortunately, both on the classical backup ax, and I managed to fix the second one myself.

So, you see where this is going: I imagine the scenario where I'm changing strings in anticipation of a road trip and I break one of the RMC saddles. I don't have time to get it repaired before I leave, so I have to hit the road with just one guitar. This is not acceptable, so I'm going to order a third Rider Nylon/RMC - my second in the flamenco setup - before the end of the year. I'm also going to order some extra saddles so I can repair them here myself, rather than having to ship them off to get the work done. Yes, having extras of things like that often means you'll never, ever need another one again. lol.

The good news is that I'm getting all of these ducks in a row because I'm again free to get on the road and do some serious performing now that my mom is being looked after. I've worked up to some six and seven hour practice days over the past 5 months, which will be the subject of some upcoming posts, and some problematic pieces I've been working on for years have suddenly come into focus. It's a great feeling.

She bears an almost uncanny resemblance to my high school sweetheart.