I find that my gig bag contents can vary with the types of bands that are currently dominating my gig schedule. And since I'm playing a lot of electric gigs as well as URB, you're going to find a few items that might not apply to URB gig needs... but then I'd rather be overprepared than underequipped.

Let's start at the beginning. What is a gig bag?

It's what holds all the stuff you schlep to the gig that will help you get through the night (day?) as well as goodies that will help you survive if something goes wrong. I have to admit my Boy Scoutishness when it comes to contents: My practices are definitely a little (ok, a lot) over the top, but occasionally it pays off. Not long ago I split my single bag to two separate ones: one that I carry to the stage and a second one I leave in my vehicle for those infrequent emergencies.

The first one contains my immediate needs, which are gig dependent, as well as a handful of reserve items. I find that a small and lightweight laptop or similar softsided canvas business bag (watch for closeouts at Staples, Home Goods, etc.) can easily handle most of my immediate needs, and if they have multiple sections you can split out gig needs vs. extra backup items, only necessary if something fails.

Here's what you'll find in my Stage Gig Bag:
  • instrument cables, those I need for the gig and one spare, two if one is unusual
  • tuner, with short cable to plug into amp if needed
  • short multiple outlet extension (the ones with surge protection are even better)
  • small flashlight
  • bass cloth to wipe down bass and/or hands
  • a bottle of water
  • stomp box(es), if needed
  • nail clippers!
  • throat lozenges
  • small multi-tool
  • paper and pen for notes and for creating or editing set lists; pencil if I need to mark charts
  • band and/or personal business cards
  • Gollihur Music BASS stickers!
The Stage Gig Bag gets stuffed behind my amp after I remove the stuff I need. The Emergency/Supplementary Gig Bag I keep in the car has all sorts of goodies, some of which I'll seldom, if ever, need. You'll have to edit this list, because you'll note that I am Responsible Guy, that nutjob in the band that always has to have a Plan B.

However, I remember how Plan B saved the day when one of our drummer's toms (electronic set) stopped working. We tried a different patch cord but that didn't help. I produced my VOM (multimeter) and the zero ohms reading indicated that the transducer inside was no longer working. I then pulled a screwdriver and multi-tool kit from my Emergency/Supplementary Gig Bag, so we could disassemble it, and found a cracked solder joint on the 1/4 inch jack. Oh no, we're done for! But it was no problem — I pulled a small soldering iron from the bag, like a rabbit from a hat, and proceeded to heal the wound and save the day! Yes, I've carried a soldering iron around almost forever, and this was only the second time I used it in over thirty five years, but it was a satisfying experience both times. It took two sets for me to wipe the satisfied grin off my face.

Here's what you'll usually find in my Emergency/Supplementary Gig Bag
  • a replacement string set (the ones I replaced at the last string change) usually live in my bass case, but I'll have another set in my Emergency/Supplementary Gig Bag in the car in case I switch off and forget.
  • extra batteries
  • 15 foot heavy duty extension cord with three outlets at the end
  • extra power cable, the kind used by most amps these days
  • instrument cable, long ¼ to ¼ inch
  • three short patch cables, ¼ to ¼ inch
  • short speaker cable, ¼ to ¼ inch; an extra long one if I'm bringing my PA
  • mini phone plug to stereo RCA jack set, if I'm carrying my PA, so I can plug a MP3 player into it if necessary
  • short speaker cable for my amp, speakon to speakon
  • speaker adaptor, ¼ (input) to speakon
  • bass EQ pedal (Boss GEB-7 clone) - this may be in my main gig bag if I'm gigging an unknown place with my Acoustic Image Contra or Doubler. They both have three band EQ, which is usually sufficient, but if I end up on the Stage From Hell I can use the seven band graphic equalizer to further hone my tone.
  • old beat up microphone and cable, new mic clip. Not for myself, since I no longer can sing, it's just for emergencies
  • multi-tool, leatherman style
  • multi-tool, adjustable wrench with other tools
  • hex wrench set, SAE and metric, for emergency truss rod moves
  • long nose pliers
  • small screwdrivers, phillips and regular
  • contact cleaner, Deoxit or a less expensive equivalent. This is a must for us along the Jersey Shore, where the salt air corrodes jacks, especially ¼ inch jacks. Ultrahigh impedance amp inputs also seem to be more susceptible to noise from corrosion. Hit all your jacks with a dose at least once a year.
  • handkerchief
  • soldering iron, solder
  • headache/sinus meds, especially in the summer
  • electrical tape
  • earplugs
  • compact VOM (a multi-meter that measures voltage, impedance (and therefore continuity), has a battery tester, and more)
  • outlet polarity tester- a little electrical plug with lights that show if a plug is wired properly or could potentially kill you. This used to be a bigger problem, but as a result of being zapped many times (especially outdoors), I still get nervous when the electrical system on stage was obviously done by an amateur.
  • multi-voltage AC adaptor (not that I need it, but guitar players often forget or break one of theirs), and yes, sometimes even a few picks. This is Guitar Player Dependent. During one brief experience in a band with a particularly spacey player I carried a set of guitar strings, too.
  • This gig bag has been one of those heavy duty Sears tool bags with little pockets for more than ten years.

I hope this inspires you to put together a personal gig bag that will help save you if you run into problems on your gigs.