Guitar tech, Pjay Johnson (Busted, McFly, John Newman) walks us through his five top tips every guitar tech should know.
As a guitar tech, it’s your responsibility to ensure the guitarist has everything they need to make their job easier. All they should have to worry about is walking on stage, playing well, and having an amazing show — the rest is on you. From the simple things like remembering to change batteries, to squeezing two full stacks and two full bass stacks onto a stage barely big enough for a drum kit, the onus is on you to ensure the show goes off without a hitch.
With all this in mind, here are five of the biggest things that, in my time on the road, I’ve found help me out and keep the stress levels low.
1. Have a Routine but Be Flexible
There’s an enormous list of tasks to get through when preparing for a show. The best way to accomplish these tasks without overlooking something is to establish a solid routine. Try and set up your equipment and carry out any routine maintenance checks in the same order each day. This way, you’re less likely to miss something critical that could jeopardise the show. No two gigs are the same — even in Arenas when you’re carrying your own staging and everything is in the same place. Things can (and likely will) change, so be prepared to adapt.
2. Tuning Tuning Tuning
Use a tuner that you have experience with and trust. I highly recommend a Peterson (especially for intonation). It helps if all members of the band are using be same tuners too. If you can listen to the guitars you’re tuning through a small amp or headphones, this is even better as it’s all well and good tuning by eye but if the intonation has slipped, tuning with your eyes alone just won’t cut it.
3. Spares Are Your Best Friend
This point seems obvious, but it’s frequently overlooked, often as a matter of budget. You can carry out preventative maintenance and inspect the gear all you like, but at some point in your career, a piece of kit will fail without warning. So no matter whether it’s a brand new string snapping halfway through the first song, or even a valve giving up the ghost before the encore, be sure to expect the unexpected. The fastest fix is to have a spare ready to throw in its place without disrupting to show too much.
4. Stay up to Date with Equipment
This is paramount if you want to stay relevant. There are similarities between a lot of gear: guitars, amps, pedals, wireless systems, etc., but with the introduction of modelling amps being much more akin to programming, it’s important to practice. I try to get my hands on as much equipment as possible — whether that’s buying, borrowing or working on them off tour, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting hands-on experience to make sure you’re ready for whatever new gear is thrown at you.
5. Learn to Read Your Guitarist
I’d argue this point is the most important aspect of a guitar techs duties during a show — particularly if the guitarist you’re looking after is also singing. Sometimes they may not be able to walk over and tell you they have a problem. Often, they’ll signal some other way if there’s something wrong with their setup, their monitors or their in-ears. It’s your job to read these signs and be prepared for any eventuality. One way or another, you need to get it fixed and be off the stage as quickly as possible.