Eight Tips for On-the-Road Guitar and Gear Maintenance from Northlane’s Josh Smith

by Josh Smith
Posted Jan 17, 2014 at 4:48pm

Having worked as a tech on and off tour, as well as touring with my band, I’ve seen how bands use, care for and abuse their gear at all levels.

I often get asked by friends what they should take with them on the road — and what they should know about their gear before they really start touring hard.

It can be difficult to maintain your stuff when you’re just starting to make inroads as a band because you can’t afford a crew, but the schedule is still just as intense.

There are a few tips I always pass on, and a few pitfalls I often see bands getting stuck on. If you need to learn how to fix something, there are plenty of online tutorials, plus online resources such as StewMac.

01. This is probably the most important thing about touring in relation to equipment: INVEST IN GOOD CASES. It breaks my heart to see stuff get knocked around and breaking on the road because the user has spent thousands on their rig with no thought to casing their gear properly. Think of it as insurance against your stuff breaking and your show being ruined. If you can’t afford to case your gear well, you can’t afford your gear. Lightweight is always best. I use Pelican cases for just about everything. This applies even more so when you need to fly.

02. If you take a piece of gear on the road, make sure you can fix it if it breaks, or make sure you have a backup or alternative. If you can do both, even better. The most common problem I see happening is bands are using standalone digital rigs where one unit does everything. This is fine and dandy — until it breaks. Then you’re completely screwed. Make sure you always have a contingency.

03. Things on guitars will break. It happens. The most common ones are also the easiest to fix; it just takes a little bit of research and practice for the average Joe to be able to do the most basic stuff. Don’t be afraid to practice at home. Start by replacing input jacks, volume pots and pickup selectors, re-gluing nuts that have popped off, and, although it's not part of the guitar, knowing how to re-solder a broken lead is useful. Soldering is a great skill to have, and it makes it much easier for you to perform your own electronic mods at home, like a pickup swap.

04. Make sure you’re keeping your guitars clean. Especially important: Clean the hardware after the show. Get some string cleaner and clean them before and after every show. Your strings will last longer, sound better and feel nicer. This will prevent lots of problems due to poor maintenance, especially if you sweat a lot like I do!

05. Take a repair kit if you can. This will make your life a hell of a lot easier. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have the tools for simple repairs. The most essential ones are:

A. Soldering kit
B. Cable tester
C. Screwdriver/allen wrench set
D. Small tube of super glue
E. A few spare lead connectors
F. At least one spare volume pot, jack and toggle switch
G. String cleaner, polish, polish cloth
H. Gaff.

06. When you arrive at the show, un-case your guitars and keep them as close to the stage as possible. Guitars are made of wood. Wood is an organic substance that reacts to humidity and temperature. Especially if you’re playing clubs, it can get super-hot and humid on stage, and if your guitars aren’t acclimatized, they won’t hold tune.

07. Stretch your strings properly when you change them! This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s insane how many people skip this part. If they’re stretched, they’ll hold tune. If they aren’t, you might as well just not play.

08. It's not essential for touring, but it’s good to know a few of the basics when it comes to setup, especially neck relief, action and intonation. On tour, neck relief is something I check every day, it’s good to be able to gauge it and adjust accordingly (And it will change as you travel). This will ensure that your guitar plays and sounds its best, regardless of the climate.

This sums up all of the usual things I recommend. The most important part of touring, though, is to have as much fun as you can, meet as many new friends as you can and pick up as much knowledge as you can from the people you’re on the road with.

Josh Smith plays guitar in Northlane. For more about the band, including their current tour dates, visit the band on Facebook and northlanemerch.com.