In this week's installment of 'Make It Monday' we are journeying to the other side of the stage to meet up with Hoogie Donias, guitar tech for Shinedown. Hoogie takes us through the ins and outs of his day to day as a professional guitar tech.
How did you get into being a guitar tech and how long have you been doing it?
I started doing this around 1997; I fell into it. I had a friend who was in a band, and they started touring and what not. Out of high school I thought that’d be a cool thing to do, and so they brought me on the road. I didn’t really know much about anything at the time. I started helping him set up his amp, I learned how to restring guitars, and from there it snowballed over 22 years.
Do you do any amp tech'ing as well?
I do minor amp tech work. I can change tubes, and bias an amp. If it was diving into a rebuild situation, that’s when I would leave it to the pros at Mojotone to help me.
How does a guitar tech go from doing repairs in a shop to tech'ing for a touring artist?
I never did the shop thing or anything like that. I literally just had a good friend who signed a record deal. Not gonna lie, I thought it was great to be underage and get into a bar and all the cliches, when i was young. I stumbled into this world by accident. Networking is key in this business. Taking the time to shake hands and kiss babies, so to speak. If you’re outta sight you’re outta mind in this business. It’s always good to make yourself and your presence known.
Do you tech during recording sessions as well?
You know what, to be honest with you, in all of my career I’d never done a recording session until the latest Shinedown record, “Attention Attention.” Honestly it was one of the highlights of my career. Watching them create and, you know, basically seeing those songs formed from nothing was quite the experience. It was amazing. They even gave me credit on the record. I feel more a part of it than I have ever before. The biggest reason I got pulled into the studio was the guy I tech for, Eric Bass, produced the record. He owns a studio in Charleston, South Carolina. He asked me to come for 2 weeks and I ended up coming down for three months.
How many months are you on the road each year?
Man, we’re on the road quite a bit. I would say in the last year we were probably out eight months.
Any favorite guitar shops that you like to visit when you can?
There’s always the cool cliche ones like House of Guitars in Rochester, Chicago Music Exchange, etc. There’s always those places you go, and drool, and look at the instruments that are far too much money. When I’m home In Chatham ON Canada I love to visit The mom-and-pop shops local, Franks Music & Tony’s one stop!
Can you tell us about what an average day is like for a tech before, during, and after a show?
Well, I would say for backline we load in around 11ish. I’ll set up my rigs, get everything wired up, make sure the rig is in a working fashion. Then I’ll usually go step away and have a quick lunch. After lunch I’ll start working my way through all the instruments; I’ll go through them and check the string heights, check the necks, check any moving parts, make sure everything is tight what not. Usually around 3 o’clock we’ll do a line check; depending on the day, maybe we’ll have a band, maybe we won’t. From there, I’ll usually grab dinner, and then after dinner I’ll head back to my world and start re-tuning instruments and getting ready for the show. When it comes to show time, it’s non-stop. With Eric, I have a bass change every song. I’ll run an acoustic out on a stand, or he even plays keys for parts of the song. He can focus on playing whatever instruments while I can mute the bass rig when he’s on another instrument. When the show is done, it takes us about 40 minutes to break down with backline. Then we load it out into our truck and that’s a wrap for the night. We’ll do that about five nights a week.
What challenges do guitar players face with their rig while on the road? Does traveling to different climates present any problems?
Climates usually mess with the instruments. Wood is always moving, so just making sure the guitars are in tip-top shape every night; to Eric’s liking. With all the traveling and the rig bouncing around in trucks, sometimes maybe a tube will come loose. I have to always go through the rig and make sure the connections are well-made. Like I said, we are doing five shows a week, so we cover a lot of miles out here.
What’s the biggest guitar emergency you've had to handle during a show?
During a show, nothing crazy maybe like an amp going down or anything. It’s been a while since a string popped...knock on wood. I always have a back-up of everything; back-ups are key in this world, especially in new bands. I always say that. These are the tools to your craft. If you were a mechanic you would have the right tools for the job. If you don’t have something important to your rig or your sound, it’s hard to get through a show, so back-ups are key. When an artist introduces a new pedal to his rig I’ll always buy two. Especially with the amount of traveling, you don’t always find everything in the shop. I can’t always walk into the store and find a Mojotone Deacon.
What’s your most important tool while traveling?
Man there’s so many. Jeez. I mean like, I enjoy my work box with everything in it. Right now, I’m really digging the new Peterson tuner that just came out StroboStomp HD. MusicNomad makes a lot of great products these days. There’s just so many different things that I utilize, to pick just one would be hard.
Tell us about your set up - your bench. Are there any signature elements that you take with you on every gig? A mascot that you travel with?
All my cases are made by Mental Case. I’ve got an ‘A-rig,’ a ‘B-rig,’ and a fly kit. All my cases are outfitted with the same stuff; the Peterson tuner, etc. I also utilize a Boss TU-3W. I always run two tuners at the same time so if one goes wrong, I can look at both. MusicNomad; a lot of their products, cleaners, some of their specialty tools they keep coming out with, they are all amazing. They’ve really been a company that has come to the forefront as of late. Obviously StewMac is something you find in a work bench, but their products are a little more money compared to the MusicNomad stuff; you’ve really gotta invest into their [StewMac’s] stuff.
Can you share a classic guitar tech moment that all guitar techs will experience?
I mean there’s always the weird things your artists throw at you, like weird requests on stage; beverages and stuff like that. For me, I guess it’s all about consistency in giving him [Eric] the same thing every night. I want him to be able to go to the same spot every night and his water is there so he doesn’t have to think about it while he’s up there. He can just think about performing. Making it as easy as possible for him to do his job.
Are you an artist as well? Anything you’d like to share about the projects that you work on personally?
I’ve never been an artist, in all this time. However, I do have a company called WBGear and I do artist relations and outside sales. I work with 10 different companies right now. My biggest is SIT Strings; I do AR with them, InTune Guitar Picks, Mental Case, BTPA, Prestige Guitars, Neat Audio and a couple other companies. You can find everything at WBGear.com. It’s been great, over time, to help the artists I tour with build their gear arsenal with a signature string from SIT, or getting custom picks, or wiring up their entire rig with BTPA Cables and stuff like that. I’ve been doing WBGear since about 2006; just trying to make a one-stop shop for artists and their needs. Artists can sign up at WBGear.com; there’s a spot at the top with an application. Fill out the form and, from there, we work on taking care of you.
Who are you out with next and when do you go out?
To be honest, I’ve been basically with Shinedown, or back with Shinedown, for the last five years. I went out with Lamb Of God for about five years and I’ve been back with these guys [Shinedown] now and haven’t found the need to go work for another band. We got about three months off coming up; I’m gonna go home and be a dad, and catch up with things. Then April and May we head out on the Deep Dive Tour. I could foresee them recording a new record or writing a new record in the next year and then in 2021 doing it all over again for another two years.