It’s your first tour, you might be wondering what you can do to make it go easier and how to cope when things go wrong. It did not take long to come up with this list to be honest, some of these might well be obvious but it needs to be said.
Ask any seasoned musician about their tour hacks and they will probably produce a wry smile with a few carefully chosen words. You can get loads of travel tips on the internet about what to pack or how to pack or what suitcase to buy etc. I am not mentioning those here, I am talking about stuff that only happens when you go on the road with a band.
I’ve broken this list down into roughly three sections, your gear, you the musician, and some key advice for the tour bus experience.
Equipment for Tour
- Make sure your amplifier is serviced before you go away. If you have a valve amplifier make sure you have a full set of replacement valves and ensure that they are packed carefully in a foam padded flight case or metal case.
- Look at the back of the amp see if there is a fuse holder that you can unscrew. Find out what fuse is there and make sure you buy spares for all fuses. A hack here is to gaffer (heavy-duty tape) them to the back of the amplifier inside the cabinet. If a fuse blows in the middle of the gig the fuses should be accessible and quickly on hand.
- Spare sets of strings!
- Spare leads, plectrums. Take the opportunity to look over your existing leads and test them by plugging them into the amp, tap the end of them to see if you get a signal. Run your hand over your leads to see if there are any obvious kinks or splits in the casing. To test the leads bow the lead into a loop using both hands see the photograph below.
A damaged or broken lead will not loop like this but will kink where the break is. Unfortunately I do not have a broken lead to show you but you can imagine the lead will buckle in half as you flex the loop through the lead. .
What to Pack Continued..
- Batteries, check what types you need (pick-ups and foot pedals) for all your gear and get spares. Buy good quality ones. Check whether they need to be stowed in the hold if going on an aircraft.
- It is a good idea to build a small tool kit of essential stuff eg small soldering iron, roll of solder, wire stripper players, maybe a letterman / swiss army knife. Obviously not to be taken as carry-on if flying. Set of allen keys, insulation tape, a roll of gaffer tape.
- Small spray tins of WD40 and some switch cleaner. The switch cleaner is useful if switches such as volume, graphics or tone have a ‘crackle’ when used, often they just need a spritz of switch cleaner. WD40 can be used on machine heads, for example in case they get jammed. WD40 is also good for cleaning equipment surfaces such as amps, guitar and acts as a water repellent.
- A small bottle of wood glue, just in case you have an accident and bash some beading off your bass.
- Superglue can be used on the tips of sore fingers or blistered fingers in an emergency.
For the Touring Musician
- Many pack of earplugs of a decent quality as well as an eye mask. You could go as far as a neck collar/travel pillow if you are not going to be in a touring bus with beds. We have all hear the quote “no sleeping on tour,” however sleep at some point becomes very important.
- Medical kit, paracetamol, diarrhea/hangover/multivitamin/rehydrate drink sachets.
- 2 x travel plugs, one for stage and one for the hotel. The ‘stage’ version stays with the leads.
- Travel plug for sink, I have too many times tried to have a shave with a faulty or absent sink plug.
- A small bottle of surgical spirit for toughening up your fingers. Dipping fingers into the surgical spirit every now and then and letting the spirit air dry will harden up the skin. If you get cuts in the skin it is also a good sterilizer.
- Bottle opener, say no more.
- If it is a big tour you will need a big suitcase and a smaller bag to carry the daily essentials. Your road manager will get fed up if you need to keep offloading a large suitcase into the hotel every time you decamp. Therefore you need a smaller overnight bag to take a day’s worth of clothes etc into the hotel. A hanging suit bag is also useful for stage clothes.
- Laundry bag, preferably waterproof and airproof such as a zip lock bag. Sometimes it is 3 or 4 days before you can get clothes laundered. Sweaty stinky stage clothes in the back of the coach, need to be isolated and contained.
Road Touring Advice
- If you are on a sleeper bus, choose a bunk in the quiet part of the bus if sleep is a priority or you are a light sleeper. If you sleep when the is moving, sleep with your feet to the front of the bus, just in case the coach breaks.
- Get sleep when you can, eat when you can.
- Listen to your road manager.
- Do not trust the itinerary, otherwise known as “the book of lies.” The itinerary is usually written far in advance of the start of the tour therefore it rarely runs to plan. Double-check with the road manager as it is normal for things to change day by day, hour by hour or even minute by minute. Repeat listen to your road manager.
- When on the road you have to think tactically whether you are going to sleep or eat. You do not always get both. For example, you can get in from a gig at 5 am but then the hotel breakfast is at 8 am almost certainly you have to leave the hotel at 10 am. You have to choose whether you sleep or whether you are going to eat. If you sleep easy you can perhaps plan to sleep later on the bus. Plan ahead is the key.
- Try and look after your diet and wellbeing.
- Always double check your room before you check out for your phone, mains adaptors/travel plugs/toilet bag.
- Take a picture of your passport and keep it on your phone or back up somewhere on the cloud/internet.
- Get travel insurance. On the topic of insurance make sure that there is specific insurance for the instruments.
Have fun and remember: “Tis only guidelines”
Enjoy yourself. Don’t get uptight as no-one will enjoy that.