One of the best ways to get your name
around town as a musician is to get out and
play whenever you can, or sit in with other
bands on the nights you’re not giggin’.
Personally, I have always found sitting in to
be a difficult venture.
Musicians talk a lot about gear and tone.
Gear starts out broad with amps, speaker
cabinets, and guitars, and comes down
to the very finest of details: strings, picks
and even cables. They all have their place,
and once you choose one it becomes a
part of your personal sound. Players sometimes spend hours and hours adjusting and
tweaking every point of connection, including pickups and volume pots, to get their
personal sound. What works for me may
not be right for you—all of these modifications are specific to us.
With all of that attention to detail in creating
music, it’s no wonder I never feel comfortable sitting in on someone else’s rig. Don’t
get me wrong—it’s a great honor to be asked
to play in a club or bar anytime I go out.
However, rarely will I find a little of my own
comfort zone and have one of my own picks
in my pocket. Short of that, I’m charting open
waters without a compass! I’ve never played
through anyone else’s guitar rig that sounded
anything like mine. I’m not saying that mine
is better or worse—it’s just always different.
We’ve all made distinctive choices on our
rigs. We like our guitars set up to specific
string heights with various gauges of strings.
We prefer different effects pedals, and so on.
I think in my entire career I’ve only felt good
about sitting in maybe three times, and in all
three of those instances I never would have
expected to get anything decent out of the
guitar that I had in my hand—so go figure. In
spite of the gratuitous, “Man, you sounded
great up there” compliments from other players and members of the audience, I generally
feel it could have been better if I’d had all
my own stuff and was able to give them
my “personal sound.”
It sounded great
when he was
playing it, so why
did it sound like I
was playing with
my feet when I
got up there?
I’ve been on both ends of the sit in. There
have been occasions where I’m the guy
with the club gig and someone is sitting in
on my stuff. I’m sure they walk away thinking much the same thing: It sounded great
when he was playing it, so why did it sound
like I was playing with my feet when I got up
there? I imagine that will never change. It’s
not practical to go out every night dragging
a Marshall half-stack and Les Paul around
with you from club to club, hoping that
somebody might ask you to play a couple of
tunes, so you just have to deal with the gear
that they have and understand that it’s probably not as bad as you think it is.
I can, however, give some advice for when
you do sit in. Treat the other guy’s gear with
respect. I had a guy once sit in on a club date,
and he started playing slide with a beer bottle.
I’m sure it made the appropriate impression
on his hottie gal pal, but I spent the next break
cleaning sticky beer residue out of the pickups
of my vintage strat. Even though you want it
to sound as good as it can, any time you pick
up another player’s six-string, don’t make any
drastic changes to his setup. It’s his gig. You’re
only gonna be up there for two songs, so don’t
start tweakin’ knobs like you’re sound-checking
for a big arena gig. And finally, leave them
wanting more. Don’t overstay your welcome.
It was great that they asked you to come up,
but don’t take over the stage for the rest of
the night—or even the rest of the set. I actually got a couple of paying gigs doing just
that. I did my two songs, I never touched a
knob, and I returned that axe safely back to the
guitar stand, just as if it were one of my own
high-dollar guitars. On the break, the guitar’s
owner commented that he not only enjoyed my
playing, but appreciated how much respect I
showed his equipment. He then asked if I was
working the following weekend because he was
doing a gig across town and needed a second
lead guitarist to fill out the band.
So, always be a pro and try to play your best.
You never know who’s listening.
Rich Eckhardt is one of the most sought after guitarists
in Nashville. His ability to cover multiple styles has put
him on stage with singers ranging from Steven Tyler
of Aerosmith to Shania Twain. Rich is currently playing
lead guitar with Toby Keith. His album Soundcheck is
available now, with another due this summer.