Ben Stowe’s DJ Toolbox Essentials

March 31, 2015 by Ben Stowe

[ The following is an excerpt from the current DJ Toolbox feature in issue #162. For the rest of the DJs’ featured, get a copy of MB #162, or check it out online. ]

DJToolboxThey say the only tool you will miss is the one you don’t bring. Of course, bringing everything simply isn’t practical, so a reasonable balance must be found to be well equipped, and yet portable. I understand the struggle. I am frequently traveling to places that I am not intimately familiar with to work with a variety of different technologies, and more often than not I am flying there. I have a predefined limitation on the size and weight of my toolbox due to the airlines rules.

You are only limited by your own circumstance, so you may find my recommended list to be incomplete, or excessive. I’ve put together a list of what I feel is essential for a DJ to have in their toolbox at a show, but it is by no means carved in stone.

A multi-meter. As the name implies, it’s good for a multitude of things. It can very quickly and accurately identify AC or DC voltage, resistance and continuity. The information from those four basic tests will answer 99% of your electronic questions in the field. Many multi-meters are also capable of other measurements such as capacitance, transistor checking, temperature and more, but those are often more advanced issues than you would care to tackle at a show.

Screwdrivers. I carry a number of sizes of both Phillips and straight blade screwdrivers. (Or, as I learned while working in Tokyo, “plus” and “minus” as the Japanese brilliantly refer to them.) Mine have insulated shafts. You could easily get away with a 4-in-1 unit. You just need the ability to tighten what is loose, or open what is closed. It’s a good idea to have some precision screwdrivers as well. Sometimes small screws can create big problems.

Wire cutter. A good wire cutter is worth its weight in gold. It will make clean, precise cuts on a wide variety of materials.

Cable tester. There’s an old adage about the weakest link. Cables are the backbone of every system. They endure the most abuse, but a failure brings the system down. A cable tester will quickly identify an issue and set you on the course to a solution.

Soldering pencil. If your cable tester identifies a broken cable, you either need a spare (which is always a good idea) or you need the means to fix it. Solder is one of the leading ways of making electrical connections in our equipment, so we should have the proper tool to repair them. Keep a small amount lead-free solder and a cleaning wireball in your solder kit as well.

Wire stripper. Absolutely essential for repairing wire connections. Be certain that you have a model that will strip sufficiently small gauges (at least down to 24).

Utility knife. A good sharp utility knife can be essential for a variety of repairs and fabrications. I’ve seen a donut for a framing spot made out of cardboard on more than one occasion.

Pliers. Anything is better than nothing, but I carry a few different sizes and styles. Each addresses a specific need. I know some who simply travel with a multi-tool like a Leatherman® but I prefer to have more specialized tools and they don’t take up much space.

Electrical tape. This can be very essential for a variety of emergency repairs at a show.

Spare connectors. I recommend keeping a few replacement connectors in your kit. The exact ones will depend on your show, but it’s always a good idea to have XLR, Speakon, NEMA 5-15P and 5-15R (common electrical plug and receptacle) as well as maybe a 1/4” and Powercon if your system uses any of those too.

Fuses. These are small and cheap, but they can create major headaches when you don’t have a replacement. Always keep an assortment of replacement fuses handy. Know what type and amperage value fuses you should have on hand for your equipment.

Cable ties. These may be the greatest invention known to humankind, maybe right behind the wheel. The uses for these are nearly limitless. Recently I witnessed a cable tie being used to fix a broken button and zipper on a performer’s pants. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it, but once again my respect for the lowly cable tie was affirmed.

Tape measure. It’s such a simple thing, yet the times it comes in handy are innumerable. I carry a small one in my laptop bag as well as a 30’ in my toolbox.

Batteries. Ok, technically, a battery is not a tool, but neither is a fuse. A friend recently turned me onto using rifle cartridge cases to keep them organized. Keep replacement batteries for anything in your show that relies on them, including the testers mentioned above. Be certain to protect the terminals on a 9V battery with something non-conductive. If they short out they can present a fire risk.

Adaptors. You just never know what the night might bring. I recommend having a variety of audio adaptors to allow for some interconnect flexibility.

Gaff tape. A DJ’s duct tape, only better. Gaff tape is primarily designed to secure cables without leaving residue, but its uses are nearly limitless. On more than one occasion I’ve seen black gaff tape used to temporarily hide an embarrassing rip in black dress pants. With cable ties and gaff tape, who needs tailors?

That said, if you know how to sew, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to carrry a basic garment repair kit complete with replacement buttons. That’s something that’s not in my toolkit, so the unfortunate souls mentioned above had to rely on me for cable ties and gaff tape. It didn’t matter to me, I was comfortably hiding in the shadows off stage.

Work gloves and safety glasses. I’ve saved the best for last. While most of the items above are essential for field repairs, they can also put your personal safety at risk. Always properly use personal protective equipment. The show is no good without you.

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Ben Stowe Ben Stowe (8 Posts)

Ben’s love for electronics began when as a very young through the inspiration of a neighbor he often visited. The neighbor ran the small town’s TV repair shop out of his home, and in order to occupy the energetic Ben, allowed him to play with the brightly colored electronic components. At first Ben was simply using diagonal side cutters to strip circuit boards and sort the parts, then at the age of 5 his persistent nagging was rewarded with a few soldering lessons. Having previously taught high school electronics, the neighbor recognized Ben’s enthusiasm and began to teach him the principals of electronics. Ben’s love of electronics and technology led to years of schooling in Electricity, Electronics, Robotics and Lasers. Ben supported himself through school by building and selling strobe lights and other electronic devices. He built his first DJ show largely from scratch and scrap, often repairing broken items others had thrown away because he could not afford to buy new equipment. He holds a Minnesota electrical license, and his AV installs have been featured in almost every major industry trade magazine. His relentless passion for education has led to a number of other certifications and accreditations, including the most widely recognized one in the AV industry, the InfoComm CTS. His love for education inspired him to begin the ProAcademy educational sessions, focused on increasing understanding of AV technologies within the industry. Ben has been involved in a number of technical writings, lectures, presentations, as well as research and development assistance with a number of manufacturers for products, industry wide. He is also a regular contributing author to industry magazines in the United States and Europe. Ben’s presentations have been featured across the world both as a part of industry leading trade shows, and as a presenter for various groups and functions. Some of these events include BPM in the United Kingdom, Mobile Beat, the ADJA National Convention, Wedding MBA, and a national tour as a headlining presenter for an industry magazine. The United States Armed Forces branches have also called upon Ben to provide engineering and training assistance. His highly informational, slightly nerdy and always funny presentation style have made him a favorite at events, while his sincere desire to help people with their application of technology have made him a favorite with them after the event. These presentations have recently led to the production of a ProAcademy Series of DVDs. The first of which, “Event Lighting” was released with much anticipation and with great reviews. A few industry leaders commented: “Ben Stowe knows his stuff. He is friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about this business. He also has a rare ability to not only understand technology, but be able to explain it in simple terms. You’ll learn a lot and it won’t hurt a bit!” — Jim Cerone, Author, “The Perfect Host” “Finally, there is a product that offers useful information for lighting design that is equivalent to the many products that offer instruction for sound equipment, business management and talent based education. I can easily see this DVD tutorial as being the Rosetta Stone or Video Professor equivalent in our industry for those who are seeking to gain valuable insight into the technology surrounding lighting design” – Larry Williams, Author, “Mind Your Own Business” “Ben Stowe an the ProAcademy team have really done it this time. After providing seminars and training sessions at local and national events for everyone to know their gear and what works best, they have now created an awesome DVD on Event Lighting.” — Scott Faver, Author, “The Game Master” “Finally, a training video that’s made for real working mobile entertainers. Easy to understand, easy to follow and easy to find exactly what you’re looking for, and long overdue.” — Randy Bartlett, Author, “The 1% Solution” Ben serves the industry as the President of NLFX Professional, an industry leading supplier of sound, lighting and video systems, a role he has maintained since founding the company in 1993.


Filed Under: Issue #162, Lighting, Sound