Behind The Scenes: Life As A Guitar Tech
Posted Jun 14, 2017
If you're a high-level musician on the road, you've probably come to realize that a good guitar tech is an invaluable asset. They have the skills to keep your guitars, amps, & pedals working to their full capacity and they make sure you can focus on performing your best. In this blog we interviewed a few of these professionals to learn about their life on the road and get their tips on keeping your gear in tip-top shape!
Featured Guitar Techs:
Ed Adair – Carlos Santana
Eddie Beckley – Cole Swindell (@ebguitar)
Mike “Sparky” Aldrich – Shinedown (@sparkyzgtr)
PRS: What led to your career as a guitar tech?
Ed Adair: After I graduated from college in 1983, I wanted to take what I had learned about music and electronics in school, and become a live sound mixer.
I moved to San Franciso when a friend of mine got a record deal with 415/CBS records. I mixed for them and a ton of other bands in venues all around San Francisco. I had always played guitar but that was definitely on the back burner by this time. I figured I had a better chance to earn a living in live sound. One night I was working at the Fillmore in San Francisco mixing an opening act and Carlos Santana comes into the sound booth and sits by me. A couple of days later Carlos' production manager (who was also our production manager at the Fillmore) asked me if I could tune a guitar. I was headed to Europe with Carlos and the "Santana / Shorter" tour a few weeks later! Lucky I guess. Worked my butt off, but caught a break for sure.
Eddie Beckley: I first moved to Nashville as the guitarist for a Christian band. To supplement my income, I worked for several companies and bands doing sound on the side. One of the bands I worked for asked if I could do some guitar tech work as well. So I started learning as much as I could, and had some tremendous support from a few industry veterans who took me under their wing. After a while, most of the calls I would get were for Guitar Tech work instead of Audio gigs, or Tour Management. I have fully invested myself in that side of the touring industry for several years now, and I really enjoy it. I still have several of those same mentors who got me started, and I have been fortunate enough to help out a few other guys who were just starting out. It’s all part of how this business keeps moving.
Sparky: Honestly it all just kinda happened. When I first started in this business it was with SR-71. I was the Merch guy and bands step n fetch. I just was so in awe of the stage and that limelight. I asked a million questions like a 5 year old would. How and why? Next thing you know I was doing drums, bass etc. My first guitar tech gig was Liz Phair, which I was the only stage guy doing it all. It was something like 12 guitars, 4 basses, keyboards and drums. It all just went from there forward.
PRS: What does your pre-show routine look like?
Ed Adair: It depends a little on whether there is an act before us. It's a lot more relaxed without a set change! Tune all the guitars one last time, make sure the amps are all on and the switches are set correctly for the signal routing. Check on artist amenities, set lists, incense, etc. 95% of my tasks are done before sound check. Once sound check starts, I need to be in a position mentally to devote my focus to Carlos and the sound.
^Ed Adair's workspace with Carlos Santana.
Eddie Beckley: Typically, once we get all of the gear off the semi-truck, I start taking lids off of all of my cases, and inspecting equipment and instruments for any damage that may have occurred in transit the night before. It is very rare that anything ever happens, but this is the time of day that you want to find those problems. While inspecting the instruments, I am looking for specific things; Are the strings in good shape? Do I need to address any issues related to temperature and humidity changes? Do any of my wireless units need batteries? Have any screws rattled loose (Pickup Screws tend to rattle loose from time to time, and you don’t want to find out when you are handing the guitar to your player for the first time that day).
After I have checked all of my racks, amps, and guitars, I move on to any repairs, cleaning, and re-stringing that needs to be done. I keep notes on adjustments that I make to the guitars, and basic measurements. This allows me to keep the guitars as consistent as possible from day to day.
Our band usually does not sound check unless they feel something went rough the night before, or they are working up a new song or arrangement, so we typically line check everything on stage. (This is when the technicians for each musician check their instrument for them, to make sure nothing has changed from the night before). If all goes well, this is done fairly quickly, and we have a couple of hours before show time to take care of any last minute tasks. About 30 minutes before show time, I start letting my amps warm up, and do a quick pre-tune and wipe down of all of my guitars. As soon as the last note is played by the opening act, we start a secondary line-check, to ensure that everything is still working perfectly, and its show time!
Another great @prsguitars DGT on my bench getting some fresh strings from @daddarioandco .
A post shared by Eddie Beckley (@ebguitar) on
Sparky: Um, really just setting things up to knock them down. Set list management, batteries, picks on headstocks of guitars and wireless frequency to each pack on guitars. Always checking signal flow from wireless packs to wireless unit.
PRS: What is the best part about your job? What’s the hardest?
Ed Adair: The best part of my job is that I get to listen to Carlos pour his heart out every night through his guitar. Also, I am constantly trying to improve the guitar rig. I enjoy the thought process involved, developing a plan to get to a goal, assembling the pieces and listening to the final result in his hands on stage. The hardest part is being away from my family for long periods of time.
Eddie Beckley: The best part is that I get paid to mess around with guitars all day. I am not sure that there can be a better way to make money. I really enjoy people, and serving their needs. That is exactly what my role is. It is more than just tuning guitars, and making repairs. During the show, I am the direct support system for my guys. Often times, the first song they play in the show, is the first time they have heard their guitar rig that day. It takes a lot of trust to allow someone else to do all of that for you, and to know that when something goes wrong, they are there to be on top of it.
The hardest part of my job has nothing to do with my actual job, and everything to do with living out of a suitcase. It is inevitable that I will forget something that I really need, like toothpaste, or baby wipes (these are a crucial part of touring).
^A look at some of the equipment Eddie Beckley manages for Cole Swindell.
Sparky: The best part is that I work with my second family, my brothers. I've been with Shinedown for 8 years and when I say family, I'm blessed to work for them. Zach would argue with me on that actually. He would say "work with". That is a pretty rare thing to find in this business to be honest and when you do find that, stay loyal. The hardest, being away from family and friends. I spend more time with your road buddies than the loved ones at home. Technology definitely helps make it a little more easy to do these days. Especially those with wives and kids. When you first start in this in business; the birthdays, BBQs and the like don't really bother you much. As time goes, it really starts to bum you out. "Man, I wish I could be there".
PRS: How many guitars, amplifiers, and effects are you typically maintaining during a tour?
Ed Adair: Currently we are carrying 9 guitars, three amps plus spare for each, 4 x 12 cabinet with spare, pedal board with a wah and a few other items, and then a rack with routing, switching, reverb and tape delay.
Eddie Beckley: Prior to this year, I was taking care of both guitarists, and the bassist. This meant three pedalboards of varying sizes, 13-15 guitars/basses, depending on the day, and four guitar amps, as well as all of the rack gear that goes along with them.
This year, I am taking care of just stage left, so I have six or seven guitars at a time, two amps, and the guitar player I take care of has a whopping FOUR pedals on his pedalboard, which includes a tuner! In addition to that, I have a keyboard player with two keyboards, and five pedals. Overall, we have kept it fairly simple, and easy to maintain.
Sparky: I have 12 to 13 electric guitars and 2 acoustics. Zach does stage played guitars so if he sells one, I have to do a setup for that. The rig is very simple these days, we use a fractal (sorry Paul), power amp and basic pedals. He uses a Dunlop volume, Digitech whammy and Buddy Guy wah.
PRS: Do you have a favorite moment where your help was needed in the middle of a song or set?
Ed Adair: Not that I can think of. It's like I tell my friends if they ask "where will you be for the show?" or "will we see you on TV?" - Answer: "If you see me on TV I'm probably not having a good day!"
Eddie Beckley: One night, the guitar player I tech for had a crucial pedal die on him during the show. In most situations he can get by with just a solid amp tone, and no effects, but it was right before a song, typically soaked in reverb. The amp he was using just so happened to have onboard reverb that we choose not to use, and cannot trigger remotely, so for this song, I was crouched back by his amps, manually working the reverb in the amp to get the response he needed. We made it through, laughed about it, and swapped out the pedal the next day.
Sparky: Obviously moments where or when you have had issues and have they been sorted make you feel good. But that is your job, why you're there in the first place. My mind goes more in the direction or how did that happen so it will again. There are things we can't control and they do just happen.
^Sparky stands off to the side of the stage waiting to swap guitars with Zach Myers / Shinedown.
PRS: In your experience working with PRS instruments, is there anything about them that makes your job easier?
Ed Adair: The PRS guitars are super stable in humidity, heat, cold, dry, etc. The quality of the instruments is really high. The locking tuners are great. String changes are expedited and the guitars really stay in tune well. They look great onstage and the finishes are easy to care for and keep looking great.
Eddie Beckley: Absolutely. The treatment PRS does to their woods to provide stability really does make a difference. For example, in the last year of touring, we have seen everything from summers in California and Florida (which are both very warm, but one tends to be more humid than the other), all the way to winters in Canada (sometimes as low as -30 degrees), and everything in between. In that time, I have only needed to make significant truss rod adjustments to my PRS guitars a couple of times. I have other guitars out from another manufacture, that are beautiful guitars, that truly play wonderfully, but it is commonplace to have to adjust the truss rod every time we go through climate change. Not to discredit any other manufacturer, but PRS has truly figured out how to build reliable guitars that are consistent, and absolutely tougher than any other guitar brand I have ever worked with.
The attention to detail in all of the little nuances that make a “Magic Guitar” as Paul would say, makes working with these instruments and amplifiers an absolute pleasure! We have been so pleased with the PRS brand of products that all of our guitars on stage left are PRS’ and several guitars stage right are PRS’ and ALL of our amps are PRS amps. (Stage Left we have 2 DG Custom 30’s, and stage right we have 2 DG Custom 50’s).
A happy @prsguitars family down here in Mexico for Crash My Playa! It's so great to have the support of a top notch guitar company like PRS!
A post shared by Eddie Beckley (@ebguitar) on
Sparky: I cannot say this enough about PRS guitars. They are by far the best to have on the road, rock solid and work horses. You will not find a more stable, reliable guitar on the road. Also being said the SE line, you can't beat it. Amazing guitar for the price. You get one heck of a guitar and affordable. I've had so many people argue with me about that. "There is no way an SE is better than an American made one". I just tell to stop using their eyes and use their ears.
Ladies and gents, meet "Ellie" newest addition @prsguitars @zmyersofficial
A post shared by Sparky (@sparkyzgtr) on
PRS: Name one thing a person might not think of as a way to care for their gear while on tour.
Ed Adair: Keep everything as clean as possible. On your guitars, clean out the output jack once in a while with a Q-tip and some electronics cleaner. You would be surprised at how dirty that particular connection can get. It gets plugged in and out more than any other connection in the system and is just as critical as any other, so keep it clean
Eddie Beckley: Keep a soft paintbrush, a can of compressed air, and a can of D-Ox-It around. Lots of gear problems are caused by dust and debris getting into connections, or into contact points in hardware. A quick cleanup on a regular basis can remove surface dust and debris on your guitars, amps, and pedalboards (which get the brunt of the debris). I use these on a daily basis to keep everything looking clean and functioning well.
I've always had this rule in my head; if it can happen, it will happen. Use strain reliefs on cabling, give yourself some wiggle room. I was raised on a work ethic by my father; do a job 99 % and it will be the 1 % remembered. So when you take the trash out and don't put a bag in, that is what’s remembered.
PRS: What environmental factors (temperature/humidity) can affect your gear and how do you handle them?
Ed Adair: Heat is a big one, so is direct sunlight. Keep you guitars in the shade if you can and build some shade if you can't find it. Carry some reflective "space blankets" they'll come in handy in the sun and can protect things in case of rain as well. Don't even leave the guitar in its case in direct sunlight. Keep your power connections grounded and out of any water that might have puddled up on the stage. Everything sounds a little brighter when it's cold and a little darker in a humid environment.
Eddie Beckley: We play shows everywhere from Arenas and Stadiums, to Clubs, and outdoor festivals. We are often exposed to the elements; this includes, rain, humidity changes, temperature spikes, etc. I always try to let my guitars acclimate to the environment, inside their vault (or case) for as long as I can before taking them out and adjusting them. This helps ensure that the guitar won’t have to be adjusted twice that day, but it also allows the wood to settle before I start cranking on it.
The other big issue is sweat! This is sort of environmental. Sweat can be a real problem when combined with the electronics in a guitar rig. Your wireless packs, pickups, and pedals can all short out if too much sweat gets in them. In addition, sweat can corrode screws and hardware. Make sure to wipe down your guitars regularly to ensure a long and happy life for all of your components!
Sparky: Obviously heat and cold are not great. Most of the times, you can’t do anything about it. But you need to think about that load out door, AC vents.
PRS: Do you have any general tips for life on the road?
Ed Adair: Eat right and get plenty of sleep! You'll need it to enjoy your work and your days off. Be happy, work as hard as you can, but always with a goal in mind, and if you make a mistake, learn from it! Above all "have a good time all the time".
Eddie Beckley: Learn to build quality relationships. The people you meet out on the road, are often around more than your family is. Treat these people well, and look after each other. These are the relationships that get you calls for future gigs, and ultimately, these people become a second family.
Learn to manage expectations. Not every guitar tech does the same job, and not every player has the same needs. Find out what things are the most crucial for your player to feel comfortable and inspired, and make that your top priority. Everything else matters, but none of it matters, if the player isn’t happy and comfortable. Learn to manage personalities. You will not be everyone’s best friend. However, you still need to live together, and not want to kill each other. Often times, this simply comes down to personality differences. I am a big, loud personality. I am very friendly, and love to talk. Not everyone on the road has this personality, and even more importantly, not everyone loves this personality. Learning how to manage my interactions with the people who don’t love my kind of personality, was just as important for my gig as knowing how to do my job. Remember, we only do a show for a few hours a day, we live together the rest of the time. Be a good roommate, and have some consideration for the people you are living with!
Constantly pursue growth! To be the best in any field, you have to constantly evaluate and adjust. Analyze your weakness and build on it. Without this constant pursuit of excellence, you become stagnant, and that will bleed into all aspects of your work. Allow veterans to pour into you, and keep pursuing excellence in all you do. The PRS Brand did not become synonymous with precision craftsmanship overnight. It took years of development and dedication to put out a product that they STILL choose to seek improvement on.
Sparky: I've always tried to be aware of all the things going on around me. This business is a big picture thing as a tech. Understanding how it all happens is very key. It's not just about what you have to do; everyone has a job to do. No job is more or less important. Some of the egos I've seen are bigger than the artists worked for, it's crazy to me. Is your picture on the album or concert t-shirt? Do the job because you love it is my advice. Don't become the bitter angry person on the road.
Sound of madness @shinedown @zmyersofficial @bkerchofficial @thebrentsmith @ebassprod @ironmaiden
A post shared by Sparky (@sparkyzgtr) on
Behind The Scenes Rig Rundown: Carlos Santana / Ed Adair
Behind The Scenes Rig Rundown: Shinedown / Zach Myers & Sparky
*Guitar walk-through at 12:11