Proper instrument maintenance is arguably one of the most important things for a performing musician to keep in mind. It’s impossible to sound your best if your gear isn’t up to par, and giving an underwhelming performance can be pretty disastrous if you’re just starting out your career.
These days everyone has a camera capable of perfectly capturing your show. Until you build up a really dedicated fan base you will live or die off the reputation that you get from your performances. So don’t let your instrument get in the way of your dreams. If you follow the tips below your gear will be an asset to your career, and if you don’t you’ll find that it will quickly become a liability.
1. Invest In A Quality Case
Not all instrument cases are created equal, and if you want to protect your gear you’ll want to find a good one. This holds doubly true if you’re flying with an instrument. Airlines are notorious for destroying guitars in pretty much every way imaginable, and if you’re like most musicians you probably can’t afford to replace your main gigging guitar.
Generally, there are a few features you should look for in a touring quality case. The first is a arched top. An arched top on a guitar case helps distribute force more evenly across the front of the case, so if something happens to fall on your case or it accidentally gets bumped the force from the blow will be distributed around the case instead of going right into the top of your guitar.
You should also try to find a case with a rubber seal. This is generally done to keep water from entering the case, but it also has the added benefit of helping to insulate your instrument, making it less sensitive to changes in temperature.
Touring quality cases may come in at around $300, but that’s a pretty minor expense compared to having to replace a $1000+ guitar with no warning.
2. Slack Your Strings When You’re Traveling Long Distances Or To Different Climates
If you’re taking your instrument to a different climate, or if you’re going to be passing through one on your way to a gig, make sure that you remove the tension from your strings. Instruments are very sensitive to humidity, and it’s important that they have an adequate ability to their new location. If there’s tension on the instrument this contraction or expansion (depending on where you’re going) can be hampered by string tension. This could lead to changes in the action of stringed instruments if not more severe problems like cracks in an instrument’s body.
3. Let Your Instrument Adjust To Temperature Gradually
Just like humidity, temperature can have a pretty dramatic effect on your instrument. I actually heard a pretty funny story about this from the owner of a guitar shop down in Longmont, Colorado that illustrates the havoc that changes in temperature can have on an instrument. Him and some of his buddies are jazz guys, so they’ve all got these really nice Gibson acoustic archtops. His friends came over in this old van with no heat or AC, which I imagine was pretty uncomfortable considering it was the middle of winter. But they all get there just fine, cold but alive.
The come in, set their guitars down by this guy’s old space heater and they all go into the kitchen to have a pre-jam session cup of coffee. About thirty minutes later they hear this loud popping coming from the entryway. So they go out and check on it only to discover that everything’s fine. This happens a couple of more times until they finally realize that it was actually the guitars making that noise.
It turns out that the change in temperature had caused the finish on their guitars to rapidly expand, and that loud popping noise they heard was the finish on their guitars cracking. This caused a spiderweb pattern to appear on the instruments, which irreversibly damaged the finish on some pretty expensive guitars. They were actually pretty lucky that it was just the finish that cracked, because it could easily have been the top, back, or side, all of which would have completely ruined the playability of their instruments and necessitated some outrageously expensive repairs.
So the moral of the story is be aware of the temperature changes your instrument will be experiencing in a venue or on a car ride. If your guitar got to cold sitting out in the car, bring it into the venue and let it set in its case for awhile. And for the love of God do not try to warm it up with a space heater.
4. Bring The Necessary Tools
The last tip you’ll really need to know to keep your instruments in good shape should be pretty obvious, but it seems to be one of those things that people forget pretty frequently. If you’re going out on the road, make sure that you bring the tools you need to make minor repairs on your instrument.
This includes but is not limited to: hex keys (or Allen wrenches), a jeweler’s screwdriver set, pliers, wire cutters, string winder, and super glue. While the repairs you’ll make with the toolkit above may not be luthier quality, they will help you make it through a gig. Be sure to really think long and hard about your instrument and your needs while you prepare a list of your own. A drummer’s list of tools will look vastly different from what a guitar player would need, and vice versa.
Wrapping It All Up
Maintaining your gear is incredibly important, but once you’re aware of how is should be done it really is not very difficult. A few minutes of preparation and a little bit of forethought will ensure that you’re gear is always in a playable state.
Do you have any tips on maintaining an instrument on the road? If so, let us know in the comments section below!