Equipment for Professional Songleading - Part 2

This is Part 2 out of 3 of my Equipment for Professional Songleading blog where I delve into my arsenal of songleading gear, why it works for me, and other important considerations when choosing each piece of gear. 

In Part 1, I introduced the topic and gave some tips that I’ve come up with that are important for any gear like how to save money when purchasing, how to save thousands of minutes each year and how to never forget or lose any of your equipment, at home or at the venue. 

Part 3 is devoted entirely to my wireless microphone and guitar setup.

If you have questions, feedback, other recommendations, or a question about your specific needs, please leave a note in the comments section below.


So now that Part 1 is out of the way, time to dive into my list of gear for songleading.  I don't necessarily bring all of this each time, and sometimes I add things not on this list, but this is always my starting point when I'm packing.  If you like this list, hate it, or have an idea for how to improve it, please share it with everyone in the comments section.   

Cases – I know, I know.  Could I start with a more boring item?  You want to know which mic and wireless unit I’m using, right???  I promise to get there but the truth is, what good is your wireless mic system if you open your bag and it's smashed to bits?  Sometimes, the equipment comes with it’s own handy and highly portable case.  But more often than not, just like with your cell phone, the case is an expensive but necessary afterthought.  If you enjoy replacing costly equipment regularly, by all means, forego the case, but otherwise, build it into the budget.  Also, take care when packing your equipment.  If it can move in transport, it will move in transport and that’s where you’re likely to run into trouble.  I usually pack heavy un-breakables like shoes on the wheel side of my suitcase so they don’t mash down my more fragile items which go on top. 

  • 22 inch Suitcase by Pathfinder -  It’s a running joke amongst my high school buddies how much my family spends on luggage.  And to be honest my mom bought my first one for me in college and the only reason I don’t still use that one is because she bought me and my sisters a newer version a few years ago.  It has a lifetime warranty that I’ve never had to use except for wearing out the wheels on my old one.  This thing just doesn’t break, even when packed with 50 lbs of equipment and tossed around by the airlines.  This 22 inch version is the largest one that still fits in almost all overhead bins (unexpanded) and I like the two-wheel version (rather than those spinners) so it doesn’t roll away on uneven ground.  It expands, has zipper protectors, and comes with a folding garment bag inside which is perfect for protecting my nicer threads.
     
  • Guitar Case by Calton Cases – I know a lot of people bring their guitars on planes these days, but I’m too non-confrontational to argue with the occasional uninformed gate agent and I don’t love the idea of someone shoving their bag or coat in next to my guitar in the overhead bin or flight attendant coat closet.  Years ago while they were still fighting out the federal instrument-allowed-in-the-cabin-of-a-plane-argument, I bought this Calton.  It is custom fiberglass fitted to my instrument with an identifiable serial code etched into the side, and aside from sending it in to be refitted for my new guitar, I have never had a problem with it.  There are other companies out there, making lighter if not cheaper alternatives, but it’s a costly investment and it ain’t broke so…I believe the new ones come with a microchip so in addition to damage protection, they can help you in case of theft.  This is a great one-time investment if you fly a lot! 
     
  • Flight case cover by Small Dog - Unfortunately it looks like the company I purchased from is no longer in business so my link just goes to a google image search.  I know other options exist so do your research because no matter what case you do purchase, and certainly in the case of Calton, I strongly recommend getting a bag to cover the case.  Besides offering even more thermal and wetness protection to your baby, it can protect the latches.  I’d rather replace a $200 bag, than a $1000 dollar case because the latches all broke off.  My bag looks pretty beat up, but aside from some patches and having the zipper fixed, I’ve never replaced it.  The other benefit of the bag is it gives you some additional room to pack things like cables or tennis shoes.  But this case is WAY too heavy to use outside of gigs I’m flying to.  So I also have:
     
  • Taylor Hard Bag by Taylor Guitars– Again, I live in NYC, and I’m walking, taking the subway, or a cab to most of my gigs.  I want something I can throw on my back and still have hands for my backpack and/or rollerboard.  I got the hard-bag which provides some bump protection, but this thing doesn’t do much for thermal, humidity, or wetness protection.  I still use it in the dead of winter and heat of summer walking around the city, but I’m always conscious and try to limit that as much as possible.  When I get home I always put my guitar in a real case with the humidifier.  Unfortunately, the zippers don’t have zipper protectors so I’ve had to have the zipper repaired a few times…shop around and find one you like.  My wife, Hadar uses a cheap one she bought at guitar center.  She loves how light it is but I don’t like how little protection it offers, I don’t like the way it’s balanced when I carry it in my arms, and on my back, it sits too high on my shoulders forcing me to do one of the Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks to enter the subway or walk through doorways…point is, shop around and bring your guitar to try it out if you can. 

Business Cards - This entry is titled Equipment for PROFESSIONAL songleading.  True, business cards aren't technically equipment, but if you don't have business cards, don't expect to get enough gigs to be able to call yourself a professional songleader.  I think it's safe to say that most of my clients reach out to me because they saw me perform or songlead somewhere else first and having a business card handy indicates your level of professionalism behind the scenes as well as on the stage, Bimah, etc.  As attention spans get shorter and shorter, don't expect someone to be able to remember your name, let alone how to spell it.  In addition to your contact info, put what you do and even a photo of yourself on the card.  When you hand them to people, consider writing where they met you and something memorable from your conversation on the card you hand them. 

The Equipment (Finally) 

  • Shure PGX-D14 Wireless System - See Part 3 for more detail
     
  • Countryman E6 Over ear/cheek vocal microphone - See Part 3 for more detail
     
  • Strap Locks by Schaller - Let's be honest, guitars used in songleading take a real beating.  And they get passed around.  And even though you know to NEVER HOLD A GUITAR BY ITS STRAP ALONE, it happens and guitars get dropped and broken.  I've seen it happen too many times.  In fact, my very first performance, I put my hands up to get the crowd clapping and somehow my strap simultaneously disconnected from both ends of my guitar.  I caught it before it hit the deck, but I'm sure my face and posture reaching for the falling guitar right at the top of my performance killed any chance of me appearing in any way cool.  These are cheap and will save you lots of heartache.  My dad also got me one of these Cinchfits by D'Addario which locks my strap to the 1/4" jack on my guitar since the strap lock doesn't fit there on my Taylor. 
     
  • Batteries - Most guitar pickups and a considerable amount of other audio gear uses 9V batteries, or otherwise they use AA.  Always have some spare batteries within reach during your songsession.  Alkaline last much longer than Heavy Duty batteries.  I have recently been testing the newest rechargeable batteries which are nickel–metal hydride (NiMH).  I'm using the Panasonic Eneloops.  It used to be that rechargeable batteries had to be run completely empty before recharging or they would develop a memory and never hold a charge.  They would also discharge on their own pretty quickly if you didn't use them.  This new generation of NiMH has neither of those problems, and in fact will stay charged on a shelf for years.  Within a few uses, these batteries pay for themselves and given that they can be recharged thousands of times, not only are you saving a tremendous amount of money (and time and gas going to the store) they significantly reduce your impact on the environment. 
    • A couple important caveats:
      • I haven't used them long enough to fully recommend them as a replacement my disposable alkalines
      • To my knowledge they don't come in 9V size
      • It's important to know that these batteries give a fairly constant voltage throughout each discharge, as opposed to disposable whose voltage output decreases over the discharge.  This is important to know because many devices (such as my wireless bodypacks) have battery level meters, which apparently read voltage as the indicator of battery life remaining.  As I learned the hard way this past weekend, that means my battery meter reads fully charged up until right before the battery dies.  So just be sure to charge up before each session.
         
  • Gaff Tape - This is the black tape used by all professional A/V crews.  The tape and glue are strong, but won't leave a residue or damage any properly constructed walls.  It's expensive but incredibly useful especially for taping cables down to the floor to prevent tripping hazards, or for example, taping power cables to loose electrical outlets.
     
  • Scotch Tape - I tape my songlists and keys to my guitar so having a roll in each case makes life super easy.  Get Scotch or some other good brand that won't leave glue or residue on your guitar.
     
  • GS-1000 Guitar Stand by Ultimate Support – Not only are these extremely handy during the soundcheck and service or songsession, they can protect your guitar, all the while making you look like a pro.  Sure, you can put it in your case, but unless you have a really large case (that probably doesn’t protect your guitar) you might have remove the strap and capo to actually fit the guitar into the case and put them back on each time.  And you don’t have time for that in the middle of a service or songsession.  This document is titled “Equipment for PROFESSIONAL Songleading”…so get a stand.  I like this one because it’s sturdy and weighted enough to protect the guitar on the most unsteady stages, but when folded up, it still fits in my rollerboard.  Yes, there are stands without a neck support that fold up even smaller, but I’d rather that my most personal and most expensive tool (my GUITAR) is as safe as possible from any harmful possibility.  I also prefer the ones without the body support fold outs…it’s easier and faster to get the guitar on and off.  Just watch out and don’t force the red locking cap at the end or you’ll be buying another stand. 
     
  • Aura Spectrum DI Preamp by Fishman (AKA Direct box, DI box, or simply DI)– Ever notice that guitar cables usually only go up to about 25’?  What if you need to be further from the board?  25' sounds like a lot, but if you measure it out in the room you're songleading in, you'll see it's not.  Without going too much into the science, ¼” guitar cables are high-impedance (sort of like high-friction) cables so they can only be so long (~25’) before you start getting some signal quality degradation.  XLR cables, sometimes referred to casually as mic cables, are low impedance (like low friction) so signal can travel much further without any degradation.  The DI box simply turns that high impedance signal into a low impedance signal.  So you plug your ¼” from your guitar into this box and an XLR from the box to your soundboard and voila, you can get much further than 25'.  This Fishman has a built in pre-amp, 3 band EQ, trim knob, tuner/mute, anti-feedback, ground lift and some sound modeling software.  I purchased this in part because I was able to replace my Boss Tu-2 Tuner Mute and DI with just one piece of hardware with a pre-amp and EQ but it's a little expensive and if you don't want to use a battery, you have to purchase the power cable separately (LAME!).  There are lots of other good options with all kinds of features but I started off and still sometimes use an inexpensive GrooveTubes (out of business now) passive DI (no battery necessary) nearly identical to this one which I think I purchased for about $40 new.  It has a ground lift which you click to get rid of the buzz caused by a ground loop.  It's hard to go wrong here but do some research and find one that meets your budget and needs. 
     
  • ¼ inch cable – Again, there are different ones at different price points based on materials, length, brand name, warranties…do your own research.  The important thing to know is that as a guitar player, it is generally understood that you will bring your own cable.  In fact, I carry two in case one of mine goes bad.  I have experienced when a live sound engineer, rehearsal studio, or venue does by some miracle have an extra 1/4” cable, but you can’t expect it.  That’s your responsibility. 
     
  • XLR cables – Contrary to guitar cables, almost every community building I’ve ever worked in has an extra XLR in varying forms of conditions, lengths, and ages.  Still, I carry two 3’ long XLR cables for my wireless units because they’re small enough to guarantee I’ll have what I need, and they’re also short and therefore tidy on stage or wherever they go.  It can also save me the time of having to find the person who knows where they might have seen an XLR last year in a red bucket if only they could remember where that red bucket was when…you get the point.  And sometimes (say if a plane is delayed) being able to plug in and be ready within minutes can make all the difference. 
     
  • Ungrounded (2 prong) household power extension cord, black - Light, takes up no room, and sometimes gives you the extra distance you need.
  • Snark Tuner – Tiny. Cheap. Works great. Warranty. ‘Nuff said.  (Amazon has great deals on extra batteries for these, btw.) 
     
  • Kyser Capos – Quick clamp on and clamp off.  Inexpensive.  Warranty.  
     
  • Acoustic Coated Strings by Elixir Strings – I used John Pearse strings for years.  Then I got curious and switched to D’Addario for years.  Then I got curious again and tried some Elixir strings to see if after all these years they were worth the price.  In short, yes, I think they are.  I love both the bright sound and sustain of new strings and back when I was using the John Pearse and D’Addario I’d put new strings on the guitar almost every week.  Now I’d say I change my strings at most once per month so even at 2-3X the price, I’m actually saving money and a lot of time.  
     
  • Peg Winder – get one with a string cutter.
     
  • Water Bottle - Rest and hydration are the two most important ways to protect your voice.
  • Mechanical Pencil with eraser - Always useful.

Ok, I think that about covers it...anything else you use that should be added to this list?  Leave a comment!  Otherwise, check out Part 3 for an in depth look at my wireless setup.

 

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