Author: Jerry Mathis
Notes: Find out the top ten items you need to have in YOUR gig bag to survive as a guitar player!

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Jerry Mathis has 25 years of guitar experience - playing, teaching, recording and performing live. Visit his website to get all of your guitar tablatures, articles, reviews, accessories and more all in one place!

...Nothing like being prepared...

It would serve you well to keep that in mind. Whether or not you going to play your gig, your recording session, or just jam with the band, the list below comprises (in my honest, humble opinion) ten of the most important accessories you need to have in your gig bag. They are not necessarily listed in order of importance; I think they all are equally necessary...

1. Strings

Ok...DUHHH!! Of course you need strings. Kinda hard to play without them. The thing is that you would not believe how many times people are just unprepared...and then they break one. Nothing more embarassing than having to take a break during your gig to change a string. There could be a little bit of a double-whammy would be best if you had a backup guitar (strung up and tuned, of course), but if you don't have one, having a few sets of strings in your bag can save you.

2. Picks

Umm...Double DUHHH. This one comes from personal experience. I never really thought about keeping extra picks in my bag, but there was one time in particular that I found I needed one and I didn't have any! I had to try and do the Billy Gibbons/Brian May deal and use a quarter (yeah, I know...Billy uses a peso and Brian uses some sort of British coin...but you get the point). If you have never tried to play with a quarter and then have to, it can be quite a different experience when compared to picks that you are used to.

3. Cords

Triple DUHHH. No question about that. The deal here is make sure your cords are in good shape. I've had them go out on me in the middle of a gig (thank God for having a back-up). The cheaper ones with the molded plastic ends can cause you problems because if you develop a short-circuit in the plug you are pretty much done. I prefer the cords that have ends you can unscrew to get to the actual solder connection to the plug. Like #1 and #2 this may seem to be a no-brainer...but you really do need all three.

4. Tuner

No more DUHHH's here (well...maybe there is one later on). I'm sure we have all been in situations where we tune to everyone else by ear, and for the most part that might be OK for practice. For live and recording situations, however, a tuner is a must-have item. Especially for recording. I was hired out to play on this one fellow's demo, and I didn't have a tuner with me - "no big deal..." I thought. "They will have one at the studio." Guess what? No tuner. We spent at least a half-hour trying to tune up by ear to this guy's keyboard.

I have found that chromatic tuners are the best. One band I was in tuned down 1/2 step to give a little edge in the vocal department, and being able to tune exactly down was great. The "needle" tuners of old can be touchy, so I would go for ones with some sort of LED or digital display.

(By the way, there is a BIG difference between tuning down 1/2 step and tuning to A430Hz (?). We were the house band during jam night one time, and this crusty guy comes up and asks how we are tuned. I said "1/2 step down"...and he looked at me like I had lobsters crawing out of my ears. "What the ?!@# is 1/2 step? Do you mean A430Hz?" Whew...what a jerk. 'A' is actually pitched at A440Hz.)

Pedal tuners are an excellent way to be able to keep in tune while not having to undo your cords to plug in to an "offline" tuner (and this will keep the sound man from kicking your butt when you pull the cord and send a great sounding "POP" through the PA).

Do youself a favor. If you don't have a tuner - get one! 

5. Strap Locks

It makes me shudder just to think about it. Get in your way-back machine and go to 1984 (mmm...mullets...). I was jamming in my cousin's garage with my very first band. The guy we had for a singer was a guitar player as well. The problem was he thought he was Paul Stanley and was jumping around in front of the mike with both arms in the air. I'm sure you can figure out what happened next...

He had a Les Paul copy. Not expensive, but it was his only guitar. The strap came off and the guitar landed - face first - onto the cold, hard, concrete floor. Makes me nauseous even now. Cracked the neck, chipped the headstock, smashed in the volume and tone controls...what a mess.

All I can say is - get some strap locks. For the uninformed, strap locks are nifty little devices that have a ball-lock system. The pins on the guitar have a large hole in the end of them , and the other piece (which is affixed to your strap so it won't pull through the hole) plugs in and locks - it can't come undone unless you push the release button on the piece mounted to the strap.

Strap locks wil help you to make sure your most prized possession (your guitar...what else?!?) won't have to same fate as my old singer's.

6. Surge Protector

Man, we were fired up. A new club had opened in town and was getting the rep for being "the place to play" - and we managed to get a gig!

We came in, checked out the stage, made sure that we had enough power sources, and went to town setting up.

I plugged my wireless unit, my footpedal effects unit, and my amp in...and turned the power on. POP!! My wireless was, well, DEAD. Same with the amp. Somehow my pedal unit made it through and I had to run a line-out direct from the unit to the PA. Sounded OK, but I had no stage volume (we were too cheap to get monitors back then). I couldn't hear myself that well that night...

I ended up "paying" my bass player with a bottle of his favorite tequila to rip the amp apart (this guy was an electronics whiz) and see what was wrong. Luckily it was only a blown fuse, but it could have been a lot worse. Sadly, the wireless receiver did not meet with the same fate.

I never - repeat, NEVER - have plugged in anywhere without using my own power strip with a surge protector after that. Period. Lesson learned.

7. Guitar Stand

Nothing can look more unprofessional than having to lean your guitar against something when you are taking your breaks. Not to mention, you don't want your guitar to fall over. Trust need a stand. Also, it looks pretty cool to have your guitar arsenal displayed in front of the crowd...

8. Capo

This one really depends on your playing style, so I don't know if it is "required"...but it a capo can come in handy.

For the uninitiated, a capo is a device that clamps around your guitar neck to "change" the position of the nut. It allows you to use the same chord fingerings in different keys, and there for get different voicings. For example, play an open 'D' chord. Now place your capo between the first and second frets and play the same is now an 'E'. Pretty simple, and some songs (especially some acoustic numbers) are downright impossible to play without one.

Cheap...simple...and used by millions.

9. String Cleaner

I don't know about you but I can get pretty sweaty after playing four sets in a seedy little dive on the edge of town. The eventual result of this if you don't use some sort of string cleaner is having to take a chisel to scrape out the crud that builds up on your fretboard (ok - a chisel may be exaggerating a bit).

Your guitar is an investment. Clean it and take care if it!

10. Batteries

This goes in the "may be needed" section. If you use a wireless, you use batteries. If you use foot pedals, you may use batteries (unless you use an AC adaptor). If you use a wireless microphone, you use batteries.

I think this goes without saying anything more. You can tell when your battery in your wireless is going dead - bad quality, bad sounding signal - then nothing. Make sure you have plenty of back ups. I had to get myself in the habit of remembering to get some before every gig.

11. Gig Bag


You get your money's worth here at, I'll tell you what...

DUHHH (I told you there may be another one)!!! It's hard to put all of this stuff in your gig bag if you don't have one. 'Nuff said.

12. Your head


Anytime you play, you need to remain focused. Sure, there are other things going on in your life. Letting your mind wander can lead to mistakes...been there, done that. Try to clear your mind before you play and just "let it flow, dude".

13. Fun

To quote The Beatles in "She's Leaving Home" from "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band":

"Fun is the one thing that money can't buy".

You can't put this in your gig bag, but remember - it's GOT to be fun!!

Well, that's about it. Obviously I wanted to have a little fun (see item #13) here, but the points made and lessons learned are real.

And remember:

...Nothing like being prepared...