Casting the Guitars for a Club Tour

We’re in rehearsals for a month-long club tour, which will be followed by several weeks of rehearsal for an arena, shed and stadium tour this Summer.  With a new album coming out, there are four new songs in the set, and the rest is made up of hits from previous albums. We started out rehearsals with all of the gear still in last year’s stadium format – lots of racks, lots of amps, lots of guitars. With smaller venues, especially clubs, come smaller space to fit our gear into. Therefore, some things are going to have to wait for the Summer tour.

This means trimming down the choices for what guitar to play, from the ideal to the practical. It’s great to have a different guitar for every song…it’s fun for the player and ensures that every guitar is in tune (at least for the downbeat!) But with four guitar techs trying to get on a small stage to swap out instruments after every song, it gets too crowded.

The solution to this is listening closely to the songs and finding a few guitars to fill the several roles that are needed. One place to start is to see what the main guitarist is playing. If that is you, no worries. If it is not, it might be wise to grab a Fender when he is playing a Gibson, or a humbucker to his single-coil. Using the album version or a previous live arrangement as a guide, try to think ahead to the next song in the set and see if you can keep a guitar on for an extended period.

A Strat with a coil-tapped humbucker and a vibrato tailpiece is a safe bet, and it’s a good guitar to have around regardless of the gig you have. I have a Mexican-made Strat with the EMG “Gilmour” pickup harness that allows me to roll in a mid or treble boost…very versatile. A Gibson with a brighter tone, like a Les Paul with mini-humbuckers or an SG with P-90s can cover a lot of bases, too.

Various special tunings are often the reason for a plethora of guitars at a big show. Having a tech in the clubs helps, since we can re-tune the guitars for the player as needed, and with a little luck in regards to the order of the set list, we can keep him from having to tweak his own strings on stage. Odd-ball instruments like mandolins, banjos, ganjos, baritone and the like can be mimicked somewhat with creative capo positions, tunings and pitch shifting pedals.

Everyone has a pedalboard these days, and a club gig can limit the space on stage enough to warrant getting rid of the monster board into something more foot-print friendly. When I do a club gig on a crowded stage, I use a Boss 3-pedal pedal case stocked with a Blues Driver, Tremolo and Delay. I use the TU-12 tuner because it fits into the case by laying across the top of the other three pedals. A OneSpot 9v supply provides the power, and I can do most any gig with that minimal rig. The Tremolo could be swapped for a Chorus, Compressor, whatever you might prefer depending on the music. None of the Boss pedals are necessarily my very favorites, but they do the job well enough to make me happy.

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