For most of the 20-plus years I’ve been gigging, I have dealt with the hassle of making multiple trips when loading and unloading my gear. If you’re a blues guitarist, or for some other reason only carry a guitar and a small combo amp, you might not relate. But specializing in rock and variety shows in venues of varying sizes requires that I carry a pretty sizable amount of equipment.
For years, I was playing through an eight-space rack system and 2×12″ cabinet, with a MIDI foot controller and a couple pedals on the floor. This meant I was making three trips from the car — once to carry the rack, once for the speaker, and once more for the small stuff. I eventually decided to simplify my setup by replacing the multiple components in the rack with a combo amp, but this caused me to bring more effects into the pedalboard. In spite of having one less component, I still had to deal with at least two trips.
Sometime recently, I finally settled into a “one-trip” system. Here’s a picture of what I’m hauling to shows.
From left to right, you’re looking at the following:
- Soft-shell guitar case. I usually place more faith in a hardshell; but because I’ve usually got my hands and eyes on the guitar (as opposed to checking it on a flight or storing it in a trailer), the soft shell proves more convenient from show to show. I can sling it over my shoulder, and the pockets are safer than a hardshell case’s storage compartment for items like an iPad.
- Hardshell pedalboard case. You can invest hundreds in pedalboards, or you can build one yourself (mine is sort of half-and-half, another topic for later). Either way, having a means of carrying it by a handle makes the one-trip rig possible.
- Combo amp with slip cover. I prefer 2×12″ combos, but that’s the biggest I’d go unless you’re a hard rocker that plays large venues. My preferred amp cover is custom-built by Studio Slips. I opted for a wrap-around cover which protects the bottom, and is reinforced by leather under the amp’s rubber feet. Protect your knobs and grill!
- Accessory Bag. This holds my amp stand, music stand, and guitar stand, along with cables (including extras just in case), extension cords of two different lengths, tools, chargers, a flashlight, fingernail clippers, lip balm, and just about anything else that may come in handy before, during, and after a show. You can’t keep too much in here; what’s important is to eliminate clutter on your passenger-side seat. At first, I shopped for hardware bags in the drum department at my local music store, but then found a $30 duffel bag at Wal-Mart that does just fine. It even has wheels. You can’t see it in the picture, but every cable is tied using reusable zip-ties. Velcro cable wraps will also work. During the show, stuff I don’t need, like the amp slip cover, car keys, etc. are stored in the bag.
- Hand Cart. Just as with the accessory bag, I started looking at music retailers for hand carts, then found one with a 150-lb. capacity at Menard’s for only $20. Between the bag and the cart, I saved enough to buy my next foot pedal.
When it’s time to roll, I just sling the guitar over my shoulder, stack the duffel bag and amp on the cart, and wheel the cart with one hand while carrying the pedalboard with the other hand.
What are the advantages of being a one-tripper? Let’s count:
- Quicker setup and tear-down. Get to that after-party, or home to your wife faster than ever.
- Peace of mind. Because I now have a very specific routine for the placement of items in their dedicated containers, I can leave for and from every show confident that I didn’t leave anything behind, and knowing that I will find everything in the same place over and over.
- Professional appearance. Wheeling this gear into a venue in one single pass, with everything in neat black bags, looks way better than hauling a bare amp, followed by a grocery bag containing strings and other miscellany. This looks good to club owners; and for those of us who play weddings and corporate functions, it is a stress reducer for guests of honor. It makes you look a little more like you’ve been doing this a while.
- Better for the back. Whether 24 or 42, we’re not getting any younger. Rolling is far preferable to lifting. And one slow roll to the car is less taxing than multiple smaller loads.
- Consistency. Because having places to put things has helped me establish a routine, I can better budget my time. I know now that I can set up or tear down in about 15 minutes, every night.
- Protection. Cables, power adapters, and other delicate items want to be carried in containers. My pedalboard is lined with thick foam that I acquired from the shipping & receiving guys at my place of work. The side pocket on the duffel bag always rides on the top when I’m carrying the bag vertically. A good pack job minimizes the little collisions that can stress your gear.
- Stress relief. Having extra power cables and instrument cables, tools and accessories in the bag, and a well-protected pedalboard and amp, eases my mind. Everything sits in the corner of my office between shows, so I know exactly what to grab when it’s time to leave.
- Accessibility. Venues vary with regard to the route from car to stage. At festivals and other sites where I can drive up to the stage, the cart becomes unnecessary; but usually, I’m negotiating ramps, elevators, and parking garages. Wheels can often be just as important before and after a show as your musical gear is during the show.
If you’re not a one-tripper, see what you can do to establish a one-trip system. If you’re the type who plays through a head and 4×12″ cabinet, effects rack, and pedalboard, then you might not be able to accomplish the one-trip solution; but most of us don’t fall into that category.