Minimize Options For Misconnecting Stage Gear

Unless your band is performing at a very high-level venue, you are usually lucky to get a brief line check – you jump on stage, plug into the sound system for the first time at the start of your set, and the sound person give you a thumbs-up that he has a signal from you – before you start to play, let alone a full sound check.

So if you don’t get that thumbs-up, your band starts losing time from your set while you and the engineer try to figure out the problem in your signal chain! While you can’t always prevent an issue caused by sudden gear failure, you can avoid issues caused by misconnections…

1. Get a roll of black gaffer tape. This looks like duct tape, but the glue it uses is less intense and designed to leave less residue. It’s used for many temporary purposes on stage, such as taping down cables to reduce the chance of tripping.

2. Use bits of the gaffer tape to cover over every input & output jack on your gear that should NOT be used by you or by the sound person!

This may sound silly, but look at the back panel of this two-channel Fishman amp:

Of the three XLR and seven 1/4″ jacks present, for this gig I only want two available: the post-effects both-channels mix DI out XLR to send my signal to the PA, and the 1/4″ tuner out jack to go to my tuning pedal (the instrument input jacks for each channel are on the amp’s front panel).

Now imagine you’ve just dragged everything onstage in the semi-dark between sets and are connecting your gear to the amp while the sound person is running around with XLR cables hooking everyone’s amp or DI box into the PA snake. You tell them “there’s a DI out on the back of my amp”… and they have a 66% chance of choosing the wrong one if all are available.

Then you reach around and feel for the jack to connect your tuning pedal… and even knowing the layout you have a 66% chance of choosing the wrong one.

I’ve had BOTH of these misconnections happen at a gig before I started blocking off all unnecessary jacks. If you don’t keep all of your effects pedals hooked up on a pedal board, also tape off any extra jacks on them that you don’t want to use by mistake (e.g., if one jack is for mono signal use, tape over the 2nd one that’s only for stereo use).


[A tip of the hat to harpist/storyteller Deborah Henson-Conant, who taught me this trick at a workshop!]

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