Have Guitar, Will Travel
by Greg Porée
Let me start off by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holiday Season, which ties into something we all do this time of year- travel. As anyone knows who's dealt with planes, trains and automobiles, getting from point A to B can be daunting. This can be especially difficult when, as a musician, you have to continue on to points C and D.
Guitars pose a lot of interesting travel problems, starting with their shape. The neck was not designed to fit neatly in an overhead bin or loaded van where shifting luggage can easily destroy it. Solid body electrics fare a lot better than delicate acoustics that can easily be smashed. Back in the days when I first started touring, I had a beautiful Gretsch that met that fate (courtesy of American Airlines) even though it was in a hardshell case.
A picture is worth a thousand words so I'll relate my dealings with travel so far in this 2005 holiday season. Most importantly, travel light. I'm writing this article around Thanksgiving after having just come back from playing in a backup band at the dedication of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY. I knew I'd have to play for a diverse group of acts including: James Taylor, Kris Kristoffersen, Angelique Kidjo, Elan, Mavis Staples, BeBe and CeCe Winans, and Ruben Studdard.
So what do I take for 5 days? First and foremost I packed the tux, then after that my trusty, sturdy Paul Reed Smith electric and a small pedal board with bare essential stomp boxes to cover the basics. OK 3 pieces (plus briefcase), that's easy, but no- Delta won't let me take the guitar onboard as a carry-on, so I get stuck with excess luggage fees ($75) cha…ching! Even though there's a fragile sticker I watched my PRS unceremoniously dumped onto a conveyor belt and left it to a higher authority that it would be OK. Expect these things and I did get reimbursed the $75.
Fortunately on this gig the instrument needs of the band were met by Center Staging (a great company), so I knew I wouldn't have to bring any acoustic guitars. They brought in two Taylors (very dependable instruments) and a Fender acoustic amp. I wound up using my electric and the Taylor nylon-string going direct because of stage constraints. Ritchie Haven's guitarist wound up using the Fender amp. This is the other essential requirement of travel, learning to be flexible.
The Interscope artist Elan provided a good example of the need for flexibility. Elan's tune "Together as One" featured three guitar tracks, one acoustic and two for overdrive solo work. What do I play? The orchestration for the band by the way consisted of: 2 keyboards, 1 hand percussion, 1 drummer, 1 bass, 1 sax/flute, 1 guitar, and 3 singers. The conductor's name was Harold Wheeler and as a musician and a person they just don't come any better. The predominant part for the tune was acoustic guitar so Harold had me play that and assigned the lead lines to the sax. Everybody was happy.
I'll summarize by saying experience is the best teacher but always approach any travel situation by exercising common sense. Get online and check the weather; when I left LA for this gig the local temperature was in the 80's and Louisville was in the 30's. I'm going to Paris in December for a gig; I've already checked and it's going to be cold so I've got to pack accordingly. I've never flown Air France so I'll have to call to find out what their policy and procedures are regarding musical instruments as carry-ons, since I want to take my very fragile Candelas acoustic.
Know the dimensions of your cases and slightly loosen the strings since it's cold in the hold if you're flying and the strings contract adding stress to your ax. One side note-guitar cases are great for packing dirty underwear, your guitar will appreciate the extra padding and it helps to keep your music funky. But seriously, travel has become a lot more difficult in this post 9/11 world, so do your homework on wherever you're going, be early for load-in, and keep it simple.
All the best,