What I Learned From A Wedding Gig
I recently took a one-off gig to help out an old friend. It was a wedding gig, in a hotel in a remote place with direct access to the beach and the sea. It was a beautiful hotel, an old period mansion that’s been converted.
27 songs for 2 sets – first set 13, second set 14. Working with a completely new band. Some of the songs are set to a click track – so that supporting tracks could be used.
I had two weeks!
Looking Through The Charts
So where did I start? Well, the singer gave me a head start by giving me a copy of the sheet music for all the songs, from handwritten charts to simple chord charts.
The first thing I did was to go through all of the music listening to the songs on YouTube. I started by counting bars, listening and looking for written mistakes. At this point I realised that most of them had been written by keyboard players. While there’s nothing wrong with that, most keyboardist don’t write music in the way you or I play it on guitar. So, some bends were missing, most of the chord voicings were wrong and some guitar tones hadn’t been written in. So, from the get go, it was a challenge.
Some of the arrangements had been written, so that the song lasted exactly 3 ½ minutes, so that supporting tracks could be used. Supporting tracks are things like backing vocals, percussion, guitar harmonies, horn parts, strings etc. It means you sound closer to the CD without having to charge the client the earth and a need an area the size of a football pitch for the band to use as a stage!
We all had in-ears with just the click running into them. We all could hear the click when playing with supporting tracks. That said, I prefer to play off the drummer and therefore only used in-ears for the introduction of 3 songs – all of which I started (I generally pulled the click in-ear out by the verse and went back to playing off the drummer).
Prioritize The Songs
I mentally sorted the material by: (1) needs to be looked at as there is a lot of guitar or a solo. (2) Could do with looking at. (3) Are so well known and quite simple, I think I can just read them on the night. This is the most important step as I had to be able to size up songs in terms of the amount of time they needed. Then quickly get down to business. Yes, time management was critical.
Rolled Up My Selves
I started to listen to the songs I didn’t know and had a lot of guitar in them. After a few listens, I grabbed a guitar and started working though the chart. Like I’ve said, a lot of them were wrong, so I had to work that bit harder to learn and work out what was being played. Some of the songs with the most guitar in them, actually were the easiest to learn as the parts on the CD were easy to hear and therefore copy. I’ve gotten quite good at hearing, learning and remembering after hearing a track a few times.
Finding The Right Guitar Chords
I ran though most of the songs, mentally noting down the type of chords I heard, in order that I could get as close to the original as possible. I kept asking myself, is it small triads here? Or full open chords? Is it small chords as the rhythm is tight and percussive? Do I need to find nice big open voicing using open strings? Do I need to transpose the chart and use a capo to get close to the original?
One of the difficulty I encountered was not learning the guitar solos, although a few did test me but trying to get the feel right. This is the difference between sounding like a professional and an amateur. While, I’m not saying I got it exactly right. I tried to get close to the feel, sound and expression of the original guitar solo as possible.
Finding the right vibe
I then spent a large chunk of my time working on just playing through the chart with the CD. I’m working on, trying to get the right feel of the song. And also trying to make it sound like i’ve been playing it for years.
Next up was guitar gear, I made some interesting choices. Firstly guitars, most people would just bring one Strat and do the whole thing on that. I decided to bring my Epiphone Les Paul Goldtop, which thanks to it 90s can get really funky on the bridge pick-up, more hollow sounding when in the middle (which is great for that Paul Jackson Jr’s muted single note lines) and jazzy sound on the front pick-up. It covers a lot of ground and I personally prefer it to a Strat, and I used the Goldtop for around 23 songs.
The other guitar I brought was my Gretsch Duo Jet. This is a softer sounding guitar and was just perfect for some of the songs. Plus if I had broken a string on the Goldtop, I could always use the Duo Jet as my main guitar until I could re-string. Luckily, no strings broke!
I used my good old trusty pedalboard. It has a few overdrives (one custom which has a dirty channel and an independent boost, a Timmy pedal and an Expandora). A Boss DD-6 delay (with tap tempo pedal). A cheap delay which has analogue voiced repeats – thanks eBay! Also on the pedalboard is a compressor, a Danelectro tremolo pedal and a Boss TU-2 tuner. I also had a chorus pedal (for those manky 80s tones!) and Crybaby 535Q Wah (shall we get funky?!) off the board.
I decided to daisy chain my amps together rather than using a splitter. I’ve never done that before, but it worked well. So on the first amp, a VOX pathfinder 15 amp, I used the line out to feed the input of the other one. The second amp was a Laney VC-15. I also tried just using the return (as in send return loop) on the second amp, but decided against that as it gave me no controls over the volume or the EQ – as it’s a non-master volume amp. On the subject of amps, I used two 15 watts amps and still had plenty of room to push the volume up; you don’t need big amps to get a HUGE guitar tone!
Tip: if you’re going to use two amps, EQ them differently to bring out the best natural sound of that amp. If it’s a Voxy amp with lots of mid-range, set the EQ on the other amp to be darker and without any mid-range. Doing so, will give you a fuller sounding guitar tone.
The Wedding Gig
On the night we had plenty of time to get set up, sound check and then relax for a few hours before playing. It’s important to pace yourself. To allow more time than you need to set up in order to fully relax. If you have extra time, then you can run through a chorus or bridge or solo that you messed up in the last rehearsal.
I’m more excited than nervous these days. Excited to be playing and happy because I’m doing something I love. Nerves, comes from a place of doubt, like you’re nervous you might mess up. If you are then you need to work on keeping going after a mistake. It’s an essential skill you need as a guitarist.
Was it note perfect? Nope, I messed up some pretty obvious stuff but I was able to cover it. For most gigs in my opinion: I want to look like I’m having a great time. Which most of the time, I am! So, I’m smiling, laughing, engaging with the audience and other band members, while on the whole playing the right part at the correct time.
I don’t want to look bored or that I’m only focusing on the music. The singer actually changed a few of the arrangements on the fly and we just followed him! I also don’t want to look pre-occupied.
All in all, good gig, great hang with the other guys. There are still lots of little things for me to work on guitar playing wise. So that is how I prepared for a tough gig with very little time. How do you prepare for tough gigs?