The 7 Laws of Borrowing Gear From Other Musicians

Living legend Larry Carlton was spotted on a musicians' message board recently, desperate for help:

Hi friends, panic! I'm in England my amp which is a Bludotone has not shown up. Tomorrow Wednesday I start three nights at Ronnie Scott's and London. Do any of you have friends or know someone in London that wants to loan me a Bludotone or Dumble?

Mr. 335 said his guitar hadn't shown up either, so in addition to needing a $6,000 amplifier, he had been borrowing guitars on his U.K. tour.

"Does anyone have an amp, and a cable?"

This whole scene prompted some reflection on my own spotty history with gear I've loaned or borrowed. The acoustic of mine that a friend took camping, without the case, and crunched in his trunk lid. The OD pedal I lent a friend, which crapped out spectacularly on his big gig. The nylon-string guitar I borrowed and then the lender sort of forgot and then they sort of died.

Mind you, I feel bad about this. I thought we were sharing here.

Check these unofficial ground rules about borrowing gear, and then tell us your own thoughts and stories below. Where do you draw the line? Whether it's Larry Carlton, Larry Mullen Jr., or Larry from the bus stop, would you lend them your gear?

Be selective about what you lend or borrow. As much as I covet my bandmate's Swart Atomic Space Tone, I wouldn't ask to borrow an $1,800 boutique amp any sooner than I'd borrow a friend's Porsche, if I had a friend and he had a Porsche. You have to distinguish a little favor ("Got an extra mic stand?") from a big ask ("Can I take your Neumann?").

Save the settings. When borrowing equipment with hand-adjustable parameters (like a stompbox, amplifier, keyboard, mixer), snap a picture with your phone of the settings before you adjust anything. Then re-set all the parameters as they were before you return the gear. Also, don't write over any presets without permission.

Discuss any issues like scratchy pots or flaky jacks. Take note of any dings as you would the scratches on a rental car. Borrowers don't want to be blamed for a problem that was there before they took possession, and lenders shouldn't set someone up for a problem at a gig. Find a diplomatic way to get any issues out there as shared knowledge.

Do not repair. I once lent my Mexi Tele to a relative. I pointed out a to-the-wood divot on the rear lower bout and happened to mention that it was just killing me. She very sweetly attempted a repair, but botched it completely. Now I don't love her anymore.

Borrowing a guitar is different. I'm not entirely sure why, but a guitar is not a material object. Different standards apply, so think long and hard before you hand over a precious instrument or become responsible for someone else's. If lending a mic stand is like lending an umbrella, and lending an amp is like lending a lawn mower, lending a guitar feels more like lending a car. With your mom still in it.

Acknowledge graciously. Say thanks by returning a loaner with a pack of picks or a set of strings in the case, or gift them with some credit on iTunes (or Reverb gift cards). Buy 'em a sandwich. Something.

Give it back. We don't mean "pay it forward" (though that's nice). We mean return what you borrowed—promptly. Bring it back the next day with a frikkin' bow on it. If someone lends you gear and then has to call asking for it or (worse yet) go out of their way to retrieve it from you, they are legally entitled to kick you in the shins.

Before we go, let's consider that cringeworthy worst-case scenario. You do elect to borrow the $1,800 boutique amp—and something bad happens. It's knocked around and a tube shatters. Or there's a beer spill. Or a cymbal stand tips over and goes through the grill cloth.


At this point, even the best-intentioned borrower is down to two options: (A) Fess up and pay up for repairs or replacement; or (B) Flee the country. Option A is the right and honorable thing to do. If you go with Option B, you might as well take the amp with you. Be sure to select a country with the correct voltage.

Do you have any horror stories from gear you’ve lent or gear you’ve borrowed? Any of your own laws we missed here? Let us know in the comments.

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