Last month we talked about surviving the deep end of an unfamiliar setlist, and a few tools to have in your belt, just in case.
But there’s another deep end we have all experienced at one point or another: gear failure! It could be as simple as the inevitable string breakage, or as complex as a buzz in your rig that drives you nuts. In either case, the middle of a song is not the time to figure out what you’re going to do; you have to make it to the end first!
So, what do you do when and if something unscripted happens?
Unless you have the opportunity to change your strings before you play every time, this will happen to all of us at some point (if it hasn’t already!). The first step is to take an assessment of which string gave out and what you might need it for in the ensuing seconds. On acoustic guitars, it’s unlikely a broken string will change your tuning, but depending on the bridge you have on electric, it is probably going to necessitate an adjustment. Think forward to the next moment in the song where you may have an opportunity to stop and tune. If a verse is coming next, you can drop out dynamically and then re-enter at the next section. If there is a signature part or solo coming up, you will be better positioned to take it somewhere if you are in tune.
While by far the most panic-inducing, string breakage isn’t the only culprit you may encounter on your worship journey!
This isn’t likely to appear in the middle of a song, though it can happen, but user-error failures are usually our own fault and present themselves at a less-stressful time. I once installed a pedal on my pedalboard and didn’t thoroughly test it before I showed up to play with it. Needless to say, when I was turning it on and didn’t hear anything, I got pretty freaked out! I reached out to the manufacturer to see if something was wrong; I reached out to a colleague who tried to help, and spent several panicked minutes worried that I had somehow destroyed this pedal! As it turns out, I had swapped the “In” and “Out” cables.
If everything is hooked up and you don’t hear anything, check the obvious things first. A cable that is run but not plugged in obviously won’t carry audio anywhere.
Things like a tube going out on your amp or a power supply melting down on your pedalboard are rare, but it can happen. If an amp leaves you hanging, think about carrying a digital solution. Positive Grid’s BIAS Amp software runs on an iPhone and does a great job not only emulating classic amps, but also designing your own. This can allow you to simply run your pedalboard as-is into a digital model of the same amp you have and get you back in business. And their BIAS FX software will give you the ability to rebuild your whole pedalboard and amp set-up virtually on your iPad. I’ve personally played through BIAS FX through a large line-array PA and it sounds absolutely amazing.
In the event of a pedalboard meltdown, check those obvious things again: Is there power coming in? Did someone unplug your board in favor of their iPhone charger? If you need to run direct into your amp to make sure, have a cable handy that you can use to test that out.
When Possible, Have A Backup
I remember vividly when I began realizing the need for a backup plan, and I started saving and looking for a way to implement that in my music life. In a string-break scenario, a second guitar is a killer safety net, even if it’s not exactly the same as your main guitar. And now, even when I don’t think I will need it, I always bring a second guitar if possible. And I have the Positive Grid app on my phone that will give me a backup amp and pedalboard too.
Remember, the idea here is to have a plan in case something goes wrong. But the hope – and my encouragement to you – is that we all take the proactive steps to make sure nothing does.