Early in my pro audio career, I was working a touring show as part of the local crew, unloading a truck. Inside it was a beat-up red Craftsman tool chest drawer unit on wheels, strapped to the wall.
A member of the sound crew yelled into the truck that this “workbox” went over in monitor world. I unstrapped it and pushed it to the stage, but not before peeking into the many drawers. One was loaded with tools as you might expect in a tool chest, but most were loaded with audio adapters, interface boxes, cables and gaff tape.
During setup, the monitor engineer reached into that old workbox more times than I could count, getting adapters to interface his PA with the house system, grabbing tools or a flashlight to fix something or getting gaff for us local hands so we could tape down his cables. Even though I’d worked a lot of local gigs, I’d never seen or even thought of a workbox before, but I really liked how all the bits and pieces that make a show happen could be organized in one place.
A Go-To Resource
Today, more than three decades later, there are many styles of workboxes, ranging from touring boxes built out of wood to ATA flight cases that offer a lot of drawers, but they all basically do the same job: keeping the key tools and components that make a show happen organized.
My company has a multi-drawer show workbox that’s full of everything we can think of that might be needed at gigs, as well as a few specialized workboxes that are intended to be used with a specific department like lighting or backline on larger gigs.
While most technicians carry a few personal tools or items to shows, a workbox is more of a company supplied item that holds more stuff than a stage tech could carry. Like that monitor engineer with the red Craftsman box, we reach into our workboxes multiple times when setting up. Here are some of the key items they carry.
Adapters and Turnarounds – There can never be enough adapters at a gig. They’re always needed for interfacing with rental gear, the house PA or a client’s playback equipment. The ones I use the most are XLR Turnarounds (a.k.a., XLR male to male and female to female connectors), 1/4-inch TRS to XLR, and 1/8-inch TRS (3.5 mm) to everything (1/4-inch TRS, RCA and XLR).
Cables – We carry several long 1/4-inch to 1/4-inch signal cords for musicians who don’t have (meaning they forgot it at the last gig) one for their electronic instruments, and we also include a short “head-to-cabinet” 1/4-inch loudspeaker cable in the workbox.
Speaking of musicians, we also carry a few other items that always seem needed, including drum keys, a set of sticks (so we can do a drum mic check before the drummer gets onstage), and an assortment of picks because guitar players always seem to need them.
Note, when my company is providing the backline for a band, we also take out a 4-drawer Calzone workbox loaded with strings, cleaners, tubes, pedals, sticks, and even an assortment of drum heads to service the band and our equipment.
Short Cat (Ethernet) Cables – Jumpers about 5 to 6 feet long with standard RJ45 connectors always come in handy these days. We have a few around to implement (Audinate) Dante networking, connect gear to network switches, and the odd times when can actually connect a laptop to the internet.
Spare Power Cords – Sometimes cords don’t make it back to the right case so a handful of standard IEC and PowerCon cables always come along just in case.
Switches and Routers – A few basic NetGear gigabit switches travel in a drawer for Dante networking and a Linksys router that we can use to connect an iPad to a console for remote mixing.
Test Gear and Meters – My favorite test tool, the Whirlwind Q Box, can verify a signal is present; just send a test tone down the line. Every workbox should also have a VOM meter (volt-ohm-millimeter) to check AC power and verify that it’s correct (or not).
If we’ve never worked in a venue before, we check the voltage of every outlet. If a house electrician has hooked up our tails or feeder, we double check it with a Fluke 321 clamp meter before plugging anything into our distro. And, a non-contact voltage tester comes in handy to verify that power is present in an outlet or cable. (We use the GT-11 from Greenlee.)
A “Fox and Hound” (wire tracer) can tell us how a building is wired and which outlets are connected to a specific breaker. To use one, simply plug the Fox sender into an outlet and run the Hound receiver across the face of the breakers – you don’t even have to take off the cover of the breaker box. The Hound will alert you when you are at the correct circuit. (Sperry Instruments makes the units we utilize.)
Radios – We bring several 2-way radios loaded with our licensed business frequencies, chargers and remote microphones just in case the crew or clients need radios at the event site.
Headphones – They’re famous for “growing legs” and walking away at the end of gigs, so we keep a pair in the workbox in case the ones that live in the audio racks decide to take a stroll.
Batteries and Battery Tester – A variety of AA, AAA, C, D and 9-volt batteries are available in the workbox, along with a tester. While we don’t have any gear that uses C or D cells, we still have clients who need them on occasion.
Desk Lamps – They come in handy for reading a script at front of house during a show when the house lights are down, as well as for clients working backstage. We like JANSJO 24-inch gooseneck desk lamps, available from IKEA.
Clip-On Lights – The type we prefer have metal reflectors can take standard or LED Edison base bulbs – they come in handy for lighting up backstage areas, especially stage steps. One trick we employ is to tape a blue or red lighting gel over the light so it’s not so bright. A few music stand lights and thin brown extension cords round out the light fixture inventory, and also onboard is a box of 60-watt Edison bulbs and “T” shaped bulbs for the music stand lights.
Flashlights and Area Lights – While every tech should always carry a personal flashlight, we also keep a few Harbor Freight 63601 LED lights around. They offer a choice of a compact flashlight beam or an area light and can be mounted via a fold-out in hook or with the built-in magnet.
Office Supplies – Sharpies, pens, highlighters, pads of paper, cellophane tape and Post-It notes live in a box in a drawer. In addition to the standard black ink Sharpies, gold and/or silver ink ones allow writing on black gaff tape. Highlighters and colored pencils come in handy for marking cues on scripts.
First Aid Kit – While all of our trucks have a comprehensive kit, we also keep a basic kit in the box that has adhesive bandages (Band-Aids), 4 x 4 pads, gauze, antiseptic, splinter tweezers, aspirin and other pain relievers (Aleve, to be specific).
Basic Hand Tools – Sometimes we need more than a multitool or pocketknife, so a basic set of full-size hand tools can save the day. At a minimum we bring full-size and stubby screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, pliers, channel locks, needle-nose pliers, diagonal cutters, wire strippers, scissors, utility knife, torpedo level and a 25-foot tape measure.
Sockets and Wrench Set – Every few gigs we find the need for a socket or would prefer to use a sized wrench instead of an adjustable one, so we started carrying both a basic 3/8-inch drive socket set and wrench kit in SAE and Metric. A pair of 1/2-inch drive ratchet with 15/16-inch deep sockets are available for truss bolts.
Saws – Specifically, a Stanley hacksaw and short wood saw from Buck Bros are available for cutting duty.
Distance Measuring — Also along for every show is a 100-foot measuring tape as well as a Fluke 414D laser distance measure. Both come in handy for laying out stages, positioning rigging and setting trim heights.
Soldering Kit – A basic iron, stand and a roll of solder can save the day in helping to get a piece of gear or cable back up and running right. In fact, we just added a cordless battery powered iron from Ryobi to the box. Before that, we carried a small butane-powered unit.
Assorted Hardware – Finish nails (perfect for wedging between the top door trim and the wall to secure cables that have to go over doorways), various sizes of drywall screws, small washers, rack screws – dozens of times every year, at least one of these items save the day.
Shims and Plywood – In addition to our “Acoustic Aiming Devices” box of black painted wood that allows positioning loudspeakers (and are perfect for getting cabinets off the ground outdoors in the rain), we also have a few wood shims and some plywood squares to help level or position loudspeakers, stands and staging.
Clamps – A few 6-inch bar clamps and “C” clamps come in handy fixing wobbly stages, propping open doors, securing a piece of wood you’re cutting, etc.
Gaff and Spike Tape – We carry numerous rolls of black gaff tape in 2- and 3-inch widths, as well as a few other colors in 2-inch rolls. In addition, 1/2-inch rolls of colored gaff called “Spike Tape” are used to mark the position of items onstage that need to be moved then put back in the same place.
Other Tape – A few rolls of black electrical tape are also useful, as well as a roll each of red, white, blue, and green tape that we use to mark the legs of feeder cable. A few rolls of silicone tape also reside in a drawer. This tape provides electrical insulation and only sticks to itself. Silicone (a.k.a., “Rescue Tape”) is great for making power connections water resistant by wrapping over and around the connected plugs.
Drop Cloths – Plastic 9- x 12-inch drop cloths make excellent rain covers over loudspeakers, backline, etc.
Personal Protective Devices – Every workbox in our inventory carries numerous pairs of disposable ear plugs. Several pairs of safety glasses, goggles, gloves and some dust masks are also available for those using tools.
Phone and Tablet Chargers – These might be the most used items in our workboxes, both by us as well as our clients.
Computer Security Cables and Locks – We can leave any computers set up at front of house when we leave the room for a meal break.
Thumb Drives – Likely the second-most used items in the box. We always seem to need to transfer a file from a client’s computer to one of ours or hand the client a show recording at the end of the gig. We also have a few thumb drives with manuals for our gear in case we need to reference a manual at the job site.
Wire, Line and Cable Ties – An assortment of nylon cable ties as well as some small-gauge wire and fishing line fulfill certain duties. The fishing line comes in handy to help suspend and position overhead chorus microphones. A roll of black braided cord called “Tie Line” (a.k.a., Trick Line) is used to position flown loudspeakers so they stay pointed in the desired direction or for securing plastic drops over gear when it rains on an outside gig.
Cleaning Supplies – We carry Deoxit spray along with swabs for electronic cleaning of faders and connectors, as well as Windex and Simple Green cleaning fluids with paper towels and rags for general cleaning. A few large plastic trash bags are in the box as well; they can be used for their intended purpose or as rain covers in a pinch.
Spray Paint – A can of black spray paint is available for touchups on cabinets and cases.
Lubricants – They say the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” so we carry oil and WD40 to reduce squeaks and lubricate things as needed.
Power Tools — While they live in a tool bag and not the workbox itself, we still consider them a part of the kit. We pack cordless drills and a reciprocating saw with an assortment of blades.
We also like the Ryobi 18-volt One+ Series of tools because there are a bunch (125 unique tools last time I checked) that all use the same batteries and chargers. We just added a Ryobi battery-powered 40-watt soldering iron to our workboxes so we can still get things done even if there’s not a power outlet nearby.
What I love about show business are solving the various challenges we face when setting up complex audio systems in different venues. A workbox loaded with the tools inventoried here goes a long way in helping to solve any problem that may arise.