We caught up with Trace Foster whilst he was on the road with AC/DC. Yeah, big names such as AC/DC can be found all over Foster’s impressive career as a guitar tech. From the Rolling Stones to Aerosmith, he has helped to keep the show on the road for a whole lineup of impressive names. So, we thought it would be a great opportunity to get some insight from a man who has made his living from teaching for legendary bands over the past three decades. In this article, we break down four of our favourite things that we learned from Trace Foster.
This might not be the answer you would expect, but it is certainly a good one. Trace declares, “I don’t look for anything”, which, as you can imagine, quickly spiked our curiosity. He goes on to say, “just pick up a guitar, and if it feels good, it usually is good”. We like this advice, and it undoubtedly rings true, but it requires some prior knowledge to fully understand what a good guitar feels like. However, even if you are just starting your journey as a guitar player and are not entirely sure what a good guitar feels like, you can still utilise this tip. Our answer in this scenario is to find a good guitarist to help you out. Many guitar teachers will happily accompany you to a guitar store. After all, who doesn’t love a trip to a guitar store? And if you don’t have a guitar teacher to hand, then guitar stores often come pre-loaded with a bunch of guitar enthusiasts eager to help you find the right guitar. So maybe start the conversation in your local guitar store by asking one of the staff to try out a few guitars for you and get their opinion on which feels the best.
Trace also touches on the point that no two guitars are the same. Even if the guitar is the exact same brand and model, it will still be different. Guitars are predominately made of wood, and no two trees are the same. So, it makes sense that every guitar is going to weigh and resonate differently. Again, the more experience you have playing the guitar, the more you will pick up on these little nuances.
Trace exclaims that a good guitar tech requires more than just a good knowledge of guitars. He elaborates by saying that good guitar techs have an almost sixth-sense ability to sniff out problems before they even become problems. We have to say this would be an amazing superpower in everyday life, let alone in the guitar world. One interesting point he falls on is his mindset during shows “During the show, I’ll be sitting here, and in my mind, I’m going ok if this stops working, what do I do”. This ability to be constantly prepared and ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice is an exceptional talent in and of itself. No one wants to be derailed by an inconveniently timed string break, but having a guitar tech quickly react to that situation can prevent the show from derailing. Plus, you are bound to get the sack if the guitarist is flailing around on stage, trying to get your attention as you scroll through Facebook. Trace sums it up perfectly by saying, “It’s really important to be one step ahead”.
He also touches on this vital point “understand what your artist is looking for”. He gives a brilliant example when Carlos Santana told him his amplifier sounded a little too Orange. Most people might have met that comment with a confused smile, but Trace realised he was speaking in colours, and Orange meant his amp was a little too bright.
When asked if you ever change the frets whilst on the road, Trace explains, “That is something that is a little bit deeper than you want to go on the road”. He clarifies that the primary role of a guitar tech is to keep the show on the road, and the amount of downtime during a tour is not enough to undertake such large tasks. He claims in his three-decades-long career that, this task has yet to be required on the road and that anything more involved, such as a refret, can often wait until he returns home. He even states that it could be a job for someone with more time. It is clear that life on the road is hectic and fast-paced. We are just glad he had the time to talk to us and impart some wisdom. For that, we must be grateful!
There are a few things that you can do regularly to help prevent a world of headaches during your live performances. Trace lists three main things he does to all of the guitars in his care daily. First, he puts a fresh set of strings on each guitar every single day. That is a lot of strings! There are probably a few of you reading this thinking, “I haven’t changed my strings this month, let alone every day”. Well, when working with colossal rock bands, a pack of strings is most likely a minor expense, if it’s even an expense at all. After all, we all know the dream sponsor for a guitarist is a string manufacturer. His second task is a little more down and dirty as it involves cleaning the sweat off each instrument after every performance. We know some people would probably pay for the privilege of wiping Rockstar sweat off a guitar, but this one, though essential, is not the most glamorous. Lastly, Trace talks about the importance of tightening everything up. If it can be tightened, it will most likely overtime become loosened. Tightening things such as tuners can help prevent unwanted issues when bending strings, for example. In short, tighten it, or after a while, it might come off.
Watch the full interview with Trace Foster, filmed on stage during the AC/DC tour