Guitar Tech

  • Guitar Tech

When a band graduates from headlining birthday parties to Bonnaroo, they can’t let a broken string or busted neck stop the rock. Above a certain level, every musician employs a dedicated tech to maintain, repair, and set up his or her instruments—not just any roadie can be trusted to load in Slash’s custom Les Paul Signature or Kim Gordon’s Gibson Thunderbird bass. 


Duties

A guitar tech cares for the instruments like his or her own children—maybe better. When the truck arrives at the venue, the guitar tech directs the load-in of his equipment, including the instruments, amps, and effects pedals, and sets up in the wings of the stage. While the deck, lighting and backline are going in, the tech is running power and signal for the amps, pedal boards, and wireless systems; he or she may also set up mics for the guitar position. Before sound check, the guitar tech performs routine maintenance and repair on the cache of instruments, replacing strings, adjusting intonation, and making modifications based on the musician’s notes from the night before. This is also the time to replace speakers, make new cables, and track down local vendors for new parts. During sound check, the guitar tech works with the front of house engineer to perform a line check, and with the monitor engineer and musician to set levels and make any last tuning adjustments.

While the musician is on stage, the guitar tech is focused on the performer. Players may switch guitars several times during a set, and the guitar tech is the person in black running out to trade the Fender Strat for a Gibson acoustic. It is also common for a musician to break a string mid-song or for a guitar to go out of tune at a humid outdoor show; the tech must be ready to make a quick trade when needed. Most musicians travel with several primary and backup instruments. After the show, the tech packs up the instruments, amps, and pedals, and directs the load-out of the guitar gear.

Skills & Education

A guitar tech must be a musician, electrical engineer, and bench technician. You will be responsible not only for tuning the guitar, but also replacing components, rewiring drivers, and working with the performer to pull the best possible sound out of the gear. A guitar tech should know the difference between the sound of Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio humbuckers, but also be able to solder and reset a neck. You need to have a good ear, be a proficient troubleshooter, and be capable of making a quick fix. Besides guitar lessons, an education in show production is useful for getting hands-on experience with the gear and a firm foundation in audio theory. Manufacturers like Yamaha also offer training courses specific to their products.

What to Expect

Most veteran guitar techs began their career as roadies for a friend’s band or small local group. To move up from local bars to a national tour, a guitar tech needs to gain tour experience wherever possible. From there, your reputation and client list is your greatest asset. Rarely will you find an advertisement seeking a guitar tech; word of mouth and recommendations are how jobs are snagged. You have to network and get your name out there to stay busy as a freelancer. A guitar tech who works hard, is pleasant to have around and is a team player will have the most luck finding gigs. This is predominantly a touring role, which means months spent on the road living in close quarters. Successful guitar techs like Alan Rogan (The Who, Pete Townshend) may work for a particular band for many years and grow with the increasing popularity of the artist. These techs can pick and choose which jobs to take and which groups to work with. As your reputation grows, so will the salary that you command. 

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