This article is part 3 of a 3-part series by Nathan Whitney, who spent 6 years working on cruise ships all over the world. Please also visit parts 1 & 2 of this series, which discuss the choice of guitar and amplifier/effects for the gig:
After my last article, I had quite a few questions regarding mulit-effect units vs. individual pedals. There are many advantages and disadvantages to both of these systems. Let me list a few:
- One unit contains all effects, no extra cables/power needed
- Individual patches can be customized and saved
- If required, it is possible to go direct to the board
- Quick set up/tear down time
- If unit breaks, no access to any effects
- Tone’s must be programmed for each room/situation and deep editing of patches on the fly may not be quick
- Quality of individual effects sometimes not equal to that of individual pedal
- One pedal = one job = no confusion of that pedals function
- Quality of effects usual fairly high (depending on brand/pedal design)
- Quick set up/tear down time (if mounted on pedal board)
- Easy access to changes, one knob affects one aspect of tone
- Can be time consuming when resolving issues (having to trouble-shoot all pedals/patch cords)
- If required to go direct, tone may not be very good.
- Requires individual power supplies to each pedal (can be avoided with the use of a dedicated multi power supply)
Although not a full list of advantages and disadvantages, you can see that each option has their own strengths and weaknesses. No matter which route you choose to take, always, always have a back up plan. It could be as simple as an extra overdrive pedal available to use with an amp in case your multi-effects unit goes down. Or in the case of individual pedals, having extra patch cords and power supplies available.
One pedal that either group could use as a back up is an amp-modeling pedal, such as the SansAmp GT2 or one of SansAmp Character Series pedals, like the Liverpool or Blonde. These pedals emulate an amp type response and could be used to go direct to the PA system, in case a multi-effect unit goes down or an amplifier is not available.
Use what you are comfortable with and within your budget. Always have a backup for your backup plan. As long as you have the basics covered one way or another, most ship gigs are fairly flexible tone wise and you can always build your arsenal of effects and gear while on board the ship if you really need to.
A list of some essentials that any professional guitarist should have with them:
Strings – Bring extra. Extra’s for your extra’s. You’re going to use them up at some point so it’s better to have extra left at the end of the contract then to have to search for them when you have time off the ship. Bring a string winder/cutter combination tool as well. Wiping down your strings with a cloth or using a string cleaner, such as GHS Fast Fret, will also help extend the life and sound of your strings.
Picks – While as guitarists we tend to gravitate to one type of pick that fits our playing style, often the easiest (and cheapest) tonal change we can make is by using a different pick. I myself am a religious user of the Dunlop Jazz III picks, but for jazz I would use an even thicker, rounded pick like the Dunlop 208. For funk, R’n’B and faux-acoustic sounds, I use Fender Medium style picks. You can purchase picks by the bag and have the bags last for years.
Capos – While I’ve only used a capo once on a ship gig, you should have one available to you. You never know when someone is going to want to transpose “Honky-Tonk Woman” up a minor third and want the open string licks played exactly the same as the original.
Slides – Slides come in all different shapes and materials. I recommend a metal slide, not for tone so much as for functionality. I broke two glass slides while on one ship (I brought one for backup) then I wised up and purchased two brass slides. Brass gives you a slightly different sound, not that noticeable to anyone in the audience, and if you drop them, they won’t break.
Cables – Instrument cables and the small individual cables that you will use for effect pedals have a habit of breaking at the worst possible moment. Always have at least one instrument cable and a few small pedal patch cables available.
Flashlight – Stages can be dark. A small LED type is all you need.
Headphones – As most ships are heading towards in-ear monitoring and many shows you will play use click track, make sure you bring your own headphones. Bring ones that fit well and are not obvious looking (don’t wear your iPod headphones on stage). Make sure to bring an extension for your headphone cable and a few of the various headphone adaptor combinations, as the ship will not usually have extras.
Hearing Protection – Your ears are your greatest assets so protect them! Whether custom molds or the standard foam type, make sure you have them available. You never know when you are going to be the guy positioned directly next to the drummers crash cymbal. If you are using foam earplugs, try to find a bag of the flesh/skin tone color variety (not the florescent green type) so that they blend a little more. As with headphones, you don’t want to be a distraction for the audience. And you would be surprised at what audiences will notice.
Practice amplifier/mp3 player – One of the main complaints of musicians on board ships is the lack of space to practice. As electric guitarists we have an advantage of having an instrument that does not generate a lot of sound. This is great for practicing, as we can go pretty much anywhere available, but at the same time makes it difficult if we are in a noisy environment.
I have been using the Tascam MP-GT1 for the last few years. Not only does it allow me to hear myself, but it also has a built in MP3 player and can slow down (in pitch) and loop MP3’s. It also has a metronome and effects built in. The Korg PX5D Pandora is another similar device. Batteries can be expensive and unreliable, so make sure you have the appropriate power adapter for your unit. If you are still using CD’s, there are units that do the same job, but use audio CD’s rather than MP3 files.
9 volt batteries – Bring a few along.
Footstool – Depending on your practice position and the height at which you wear your guitar strap, I would bring along a footstool for my practice sessions.
Pencils, Erasers, Manuscript, Notepaper – Always bring a pencil to rehearsals. You will need to make notes about the show and there will always be corrections to be made on the score. Make sure your notes are in pencil and ask the act if they would like your notes erased after the show is finished. Manuscript and notepaper is for your own personal use. You never know when a hit song idea will strike or when you need to write down some settings or reminders for yourself.
This brings us to the end of this series. I hope it has been informative and helped in making the transition from ship to shore easier. Above all, remember to bring your positive attitude and your willingness to learn. Cruise ship gigs are a great experience that will push you as a musician and in other non-musical ways. Keep that smile on your face and enjoy your time at sea!