Every musician has been there: You’re playing a gig mid-tour in a distant town and your amp blows a tube. Or your guitar - which you were forced to check on an airplane against your will - ends up in Kansas City, while you’re in Minneapolis.
You need a last minute replacement, so you start texting friends, tweeting, scouring Craigslist, and posting on Facebook to try borrowing or renting music equipment from a friend, or friend of a friend, or a complete stranger.
But whether you’re renting music equipment through an online marketplace or going the old-fashioned route and giving your ex-girlfriend’s brother’s college roommate $50 cash to use his bass for a night - or on the flip side, if you’re approached to do a favor for a fellow musician in a bind - here are 5 things you must always do to have a successful experience.
How to rent or share music gear
1. Suss out the other person and trust your gut.
First rule of renting/loaning/borrowing: You can say no.
If you’re the owner, get a sense of the person you’re renting or loaning your gear to. If you’re doing it via Craigslist, maybe get a copy of their ID or some other form of security. Even more important, get some basic info about what their plans are for your gear (and make sure you’re cool with it). Your workhorse Marshall amp may be perfect for a hard rock show at a bar downtown, but you may not want your vintage ‘59 Fender Tweed Bassman going on the road for a month of gigs. Only agree to what feels right for you and your gear.
If you’re the renter/borrower, make sure that this gear will actual suit your purposes. With marketplaces, you may have more selection, so you don’t have to take the first option that comes your way. Having a good feeling about the owner doesn’t hurt. This is a business transaction, so trust your gut about who you work with.
2. Check out the gear thoroughly before and after the hand-off.
Just like you’d do a walk around of a rental car to make sure there isn’t damage before you pick it up (or at least to know what scrapes were already there), do the same thing with the gear. This is helpful for both sides of the transaction. Don’t hesitate to take some pictures so you can remember the condition of the items before the hand off, regardless of if it’s pristine or had a rough life on the road.
After it’s returned, before you part ways and ride off to the next gig, do the same “walk around” together, so both of you know that it’s in the same condition. If it’s not in the same condition or if all items weren’t returned (maybe a cable was lost in the mix by accident), deal with it soon and be up front. If the renter has insurance for the show or a general policy, that may cover the damage or loss. If the owner has taken a security deposit (or if you’re using Sparkplug), you can use funds from that. Or, figure out the cost owed and shell out the cash.
And if it’s electronic, don’t forget to plug it in and make sure it works, both before you pick it up and after it’s dropped of. There’s nothing worse than picking up a full stack SVT, taking it in an Uber to the venue, then finding out that it doesn’t work during soundcheck.
3. Treat the gear as if it’s your own.
This tip applies to the borrower/renter mainly. You’re using someone else’s gear. They love this gear and have memories with it. They’ve toured with it, written songs about break ups on it, used it to record their their first album. So treat it with respect, just like you treat your own gear or would want your gear to be treated by someone else.
4. Always be professional when renting music equipment.
Regardless of if it’s a friend doing you a favor, handle the transaction like you handle the other aspects of your career (hopefully), with courtesy and professionalism. This means communicating with the other person about expectations, sticking to the pick up and drop off times (or, if you have to be late, at least calling/texting to let them know in advance), and being courteous and respectful of their time. This goes for both sides. If you’re letting someone borrow or rent your gear, be straightforward about your expectations and be prepared when they arrive.
Being prepared also can help make sure the experience goes smoothly. For example, tape masking tape strips on the case of the gear and write on each strip what’s enclosed in the case. This is an easy way for the person to do an inventory check when they pack up at the end of the day. It’s also an easy reference to make sure everything is there when the gear is returned.
5. Don’t be afraid to make a connection.
You’re renting from a peer, someone else in your musical community. You never know who they are, where they’ve been, who they know and have played with, or what kind of music collaboration opportunities are in store. Plus, if you’re renting out your gear to a musician from out of town, you just made a connection in a foreign city where you might want to play someday. Don’t be too busy or shy to make some small talk, geek out about the gear, and share some anecdotes about life on the road or your band. If the other person isn’t receptive, you’ll know quickly and can move on, but you could have just found a new pen pal, co-writer, or couch to crash on.
Hopefully these pointers will help you have a smooth and successful experience renting from another musician. And if you do find yourself with rental needs, don’t forget to check out Sparkplug. If it isn’t yet on the site, Sparkplug will find the items for you.
Or, if you’re an owner of instruments or gear, and you want to make some extra cash renting it out, consider listing them for rent on Sparkplug so that payments, deposits, and communications are all handled for you. It’s completely free to sign up, search their inventory, and list your items for rent.