Do you really need a backup to gig?

Average Joe

It's something that is often stated round here - if you gig, always bring a backup. It's considered self evident. And I do bring one. otoh, if I'm honest with myself, the last time I actually needed my backup, as opposed to it being fun to have around, was some time in the mid 90s. I can't remember the last time either of the guitarists I play with needed theirs either. And I see local pros young and old all the time show up with just one, gig, then pack things down and head for the subway.

So, how necessary do you find a backup guitar to be? I live by the rule that it's better to have and not need, but it is another piece of gear to drag around.

Disclaimer: I'm talking about straight backups, not guitars in different tunings, 6 vs 12 strings, acoustics vs electrics etc.


Silver Supporting Member
For two years I was in two bands and played weekly with a tele, a couple pedals in a little tweed case and a 60s Sears Silvertone combo. Never once had a problem. Before and after every gig I usually gave my gear a thorough once over just to ensure it was all in good working order but it wasn't ever an issue. At the time I only owned the one guitar. Never once broke a string at a gig.

These days I'm playing in one band and I bring two 70s SGs, a small pedalboard and a half-stack. I've had one incident where I had a toggle switch crap out in me mid set. It sure was nice having the backup.


Silver Supporting Member
I don't bring a backup and just use one guitar at my gigs. (I currently only own one electric guitar.)

I used to bring two, having a second tuned for slide, but realized I never played the second guitar otherwise and can just tune/retune. (I decided to combine two Gibson USA guitars into one Gibson Historic. I've always been a one-guitar guy, anyway.)

I've only broken one string on stage, in years (decades) of gigging.


Back up amp? Hell no. That is a PITA. If my amp fails at one out of a thousand gigs, I would rather plug my pedals straight into the board for 1 gig, than drag an unnecessary amp to the other 999. I keep a few fuses and a pre-amp tube gorilla taped to the chassis of my amp. Spare cable lives in my truck. I have a double gig bag, so I always bring two guitars. I've probably done 2500 gigs like this, and have yet to be screwed. The fetish that some (generally inexperienced) guys have with spare amps cracks me up. I break a lot of strings. Always two guitars.


Silver Supporting Member
I compare the worst case scenario of not having a back up during a gig against the hardship of bringing one. As a result, I bring a backup vritually every gig. I bought a mono double case a while back and it doesn't mean an extra trip.

If I am a second guitar player in a band doing one 45 minute set...maybe I'll bring just the one guitar. For a string change...I can manage that off to the side of the stage relatively quickly.

I bring a second amp where I am doing multiple sets (or when I was getting paid decent $$ to play weddings) mainly because playing in stereo is awesome! If I were gigging 5nights a week, no way. 1 amp and a Tech 21 Character pedal. Or maybe just the Character pedal.


I have needed a backup twice in the past 5 years. Once a power tube failed. Once the new tube did not make good contact with the socket.

Both times I was caught without my backup and had to borrow.

I always have two guitars. I can switch guitars quicker than strings.

Edit: I remembered a third time when a tube failed. The preamp section was SS, so I ender up using a line out into the board.

So, yeah I bring a backup every time now. My back up is a super champ. Miced, it sounds fine. Its light and easy to grab and fit into the car.
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I usually bring 2 guitars to a gig although sometimes I leave one cased. And I keep a Mesa Mini Rec head with me just in case our other guitarist or myself need it.


I always bring a backup because .....well you never know what might decide to malfunction 5 minutes into a set, I have had it happen once before. Same thing as the above poster, my toggle switch crapped out. I think its a good thing to bring a backup for this reason alone but also not having to restring during a set if broken strings occur. Sometimes I use my backup just for the hell of it, mix it up. I own quite a few guitars and they deserve a little lime light too! lol
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Silver Supporting Member
always two guitars
lots of spare cables and batteries
sometimes a spare amp, usually a little combo, usually stays in the car
FlyRig in my pedal/cable case

I can and have switched out any of the above mid song and my band never even knew, "Hey...weren't you playing the red guitar? Yeah, broke a string/switch cut out."

And that spare combo really paid off the night the monitor amp died, at least we had SOMETHING to listen to

If it was a one set gig, I'd probably bring less

Bottom line, no one cares WHY there's no guitar.
I used to always bring a backup, even though I rarely break strings. The last time I actually needed my backup was a string break in the first song of a 40 minute set. I quickly set my Strat down and picked up my Tele backup. Three songs later, I broke a string on the Tele. We had to take an unscheduled break so that I could change a string. Since then, I don't bother bringing a backup, and have never broken another string on stage. I know it's illogical. But I can change a string and retune in under 5 minutes if necessary. And like I said, I rarely break strings.


Cantankerous Luddite
Gold Supporting Member
I usually like to bring a backup guitar.

Amp... only on a big gig. Which is like 1% of the gigs I've played, so literally less than one handful of times in 20 years.


The one time I didn't bring a backup guitar I broke a new string on a Suhr Standard with OFR. We were supposed to play just a 40 min set. What could go wrong? We've had some pretty bad luck. My SLO100 went flaky at one gig, the bassist Mesa 400+ started cutting out at another. Band is on hiatus while we work with a new singer. I'm looking at buying a Yamaha TH100 amp or Mini Mesa Mark V25 and backup guitar like a Yamaha Revstar (my Historic R0 is my current backup).


Silver Supporting Member
No backup, per se, but always 2 or 3 guitars - Tele and a Ric 12 always for the Byrds, Beatles, Petty songs. Sometimes my other Tele in open G if needed.


I usually don't need a backup - or bring one. But the time I played half a set without a D string it would've been nice to have one.



I play a strat. I would carry a backup when I had one. I break strings from time to time and float, so it was handy. Plus my backup would have some kind of "noiseless" pickups for those rooms that were, well, awful.
But if it is a local bar gig, these days, I don't usually bring one, unless I plan on playing it. I can change an E string pretty quick.

In the olden days, lol, I only HAD one guitar. It was pretty fancy if you had more than one. I only started carrying one in the late 80s.

I never carried a backup amp. I did have an amp blow up on stage once. It really was pretty amazing to see. Smoke got out. I had a reverb unit with a speaker sim, put that on, plugged the pedals into it, then to the board. I had played direct before. Got through the gig, no one got hurt and we got paid. So, once out of 3-4000 gigs, I had an amp issue. Yea, not going to load an extra in the car, even if I had one, which, for most of my life, I only had one amp as well.

I do carry one of those amp in the box pedals in my gig bag these days, just in case. It is small. it takes up no space and I already own it.

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