After your guitar, amp and signal chain, there’s only one absolutely essential item that should be in your gig bag: duct tape. From making quick repairs to gagging the drummer during long drives, duct tape is irreplaceable for its versatility and crisis solving powers.
It’s not surprising that duct tape, despite its name, initially had a military application. The stuff’s that good! This cloth-backed pressure sensitive tape coated with polyethylene was first used to seal ammo cases, keeping the gunpowder dry, during World War II.
This wondrous tool’s name actually comes from the duct or “duck” cloth originally used in its manufacture, not because of any HVAC applications. So if it can keep ammo dry, be transformed into prom couture and assist in auto customizing, this list of 10 ways that duct tape can help keep you and your band firing on all cylinders on the road just scratches the surface.
• Accident prevention: This one’s basic, but, if you’ve got the time, tape down all the cables you need to traverse on stage. Taping your guitar and amp cables on either side of your pedal board can prevent embarrassing unplugging incidents, but, more important, if your cables are taped to the floor you’re not going to get the top of your foot under them and trip. Falling down on stage never looks cool, especially if you come up bloody.
• Anchoring accessories and amps: If you put a few stomp boxes down sans pedal board, tape them in place front and back so they don’t slide and or disconnect when you step on them. Also, there are times when your gear could use the additional stability that DT can provide. Once, while playing a party boat on Boston Harbor, rough waters were making my band’s gear slide around on stage. Between sets I liberally applied duct tape to the wheels under my amp and — turning the tape sticky side out and shaping loops of it into big circles — the bottom of my pedal board. Viola! Thankfully the gig ended just before I needed to fashion a duct tape seasickness bag.
• Covering sharp edges: Beneath the cover of every toggle switch lies a sharp screw or blade. I’ve learned this the hard way on several occasions, when the toggle cover’s fallen off during heated performances and the metal beneath has sliced into the flesh of my picking hand due to a windmill or an effort to make quick volume and tone adjustments. Much bleeding has occurred, which looks great if you’re going for the Pete Townsend thing, but nonetheless sucks. Tearing off a small patch of duct tape and sealing it over the potentially dangerous bare switch temporarily solves the problem.
• Wiring repairs: Chances are you don’t travel with a soldering iron or shrinkable wire casings, let alone a blow dryer (unless you’re in an ’80s tribute band). If a wire comes loose in a stomp box or elsewhere, there’s a good change that duct tape can come to the rescue. I’ve repaired everything from 9-volt battery connectors to amp-to-speaker solder points and amp off-on switches using small bits of duct tape to make the severed connections. This isn’t a permanent fix and it’s not as good as electrical tape, which should also be carried, but it’s gotten me through the gig every time.
• Amp and cabinet customizing: There’s noting more punk rock than having an amp that says “Mars” on its face, and duct tape can get you there. I’ve seen amps adorned with lightning bolts and band logos fashioned from duct tape. Plus, if you’re stuck with a lemon of just don’t feel like giving a free plug to a corporation — hell, I’ve never wear a “Nike “or “Adidas” shirt — DT will do the job. Here’s a sonic use: if you’re recording, a strategically placed layer of duct tape on an amp’s speaker cover can dampen the sound in ways that may be desirable. I also recently did a low rent conversion using duct tape. I removed the electronics from a cheap, dead 1x12 combo, covered up the slot where they were with duct tape and replaced the speaker with a high-end model to create my own 1x12 speaker cab. The duct tape keeps the electronics slot from becoming a baffle, without adding to the wood weight and resonance of the cab. Plus, it looks gnarly and low-rent as hell (save for the vintage Marshall of Mesa-Bogie head perched on top), which I love.
• Case repair: Last year I played a gig in a small dive where slam dancers thought it okay to dance and dive on the band’s road cases, piled up next to the stage. My guitar case was semi-crushed and wouldn’t close, but a band of duct tape around the case kept my guitar safe inside until I could replace the case a few days down the road. I’ve also held torn luggage and gig bags together temporarily with duct tape, and used it to compensate for a broken latch on the keyboard case I keep my main pedal board in. The point is: when something breaks, take a breath and ask the question, “How can duct tape help?”
• Hardware fixes: Club microphone stands have a tendency to get stripped from overuse, allowing mikes to slide toward the floor or spin around as one sings. In most cases, a few bands of duct tape will stop those problems. I also played a road gig with a drummer who thought it would be cool to end the night by kicking over his kit, like Keith Moon. He broke his hi-hat stand. Duct tape put it back in action for the next night.
• Pick holder: This is a bit traditional — we’ve all seen the photos — but nothing keeps picks exactly where they’re needed like a strip of doubled over duct tape on the side of a microphone stand or on top of an amp. Stick the tape in place and apply as many picks to it as you like.
• Auto repair: I have had severe radiator hose leaks in two vans that I’ve patched with duct tape. In both cases I got to the gig and then the service shop sans tow truck without further problems. Just make sure to tape tightly and copiously, and refill the radiator with fluid before turning the ignition.
• Wardrobe malfunctions: One of the pitfalls of wearing pants is that sometimes rips occur. Strategically placed duct tape can prevent a display of the whitey-tighties under the glare of the spotlights. Noble, dependable DT can also tape the bottom of a floppy sneaker or a shoe’s sole back in place for a while. Other fashion options, from coat repair to silvery adornment, abound.