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Gaff Without Gaffes
Why Gaffers' tape rules the world.
By Melissa McDowell

Yesterday my husband looked up from a copy of another audio oriented publication and said something disturbing. “This article suggests using duct tape!”

Now, I had known the world was going to heck in a handbasket for a long time, but this just put the whole nature of the problem into perspective. It is not the fault of duct tape that it is used inappropriately, any more than it is the fault of WD-40 that it is, or that my husband uses our gas range on heatshrink tubing.

But there it is. People use whatever they have to hand even if it isn’t the right and proper tool.

The misguided writer of that other article may not have known Gaffers’ tape exists, in which case it is the bound duty of all right-thinking people to write in and tell him about it. Better yet, billboards should be posted on every highway, posters in every high school auditorium, and childrens’ books extolling the virtue of a tape that doesn’t leave a sticky residue behind on your cables should be freely available in every library. There are tribute web sites to Gaffers’ tape; perhaps someone will write a popular song and win American Idol singing it.

Gaffers’ tape, or Gaff (“Gaffa” in the UK, as immortalized in Kate Bush’s 1982 hit single “Suspended in Gaffa”), is simply the best way to stick something to something else if you’ve got any possibility of needing them un-stuck. It is a cloth based tape with a strong adhesive that likes best of all to stick to itself. Cables can be run using it, along the floor, carpet, wood or tile, up lighting stands, along trusses. Leave a service tab on the end and it will come right back off, and leave your cables, or whatever you’ve stuck, clean and non-gooey. The cloth matrix tears easily both length- and width-wise so you can improvise little skinny pieces of tape out of a roll that’s wider than you need.

Gaffer’s tape (where does that apostrophe go, anyway?) is more expensive than duct tape and is not commonly found in the hardware store. But folks who want to do things properly should have no trouble getting it from the local A/V supply store, or from an online vendor. All volunteer festival and convention staff know about Gaff Tape. How does it make a “professional” person look when he runs his cables down your church’s center aisle using duct tape, thereby damning your custodian to hours of labor and a permanent headache from Goo-Gone fumes? Or worse, when your custodian reminds you whose fault it was and you have to do it yourself?

Gaff tape commonly has a matte finish, and will not glisten and gleam in a place you don’t want people looking. It also comes in colors other than black if you need it to be noticeable for safety reasons. Hot pink Gaff tape, safety orange or yellow Gaff, black and yellow stripey Gaff; I’ve even seen it in purple.

Gaffers’ tapes come in all widths, colors and grades. Some tape styles even have an adhesive-free strip down the center that lets you stick cables down without tape sticking to your cables, for those folks who don’t even like Gaff’s mild adhesive on their cables.

Gaffers’ tape can be purchased from many vendors under many names. For instance, “Tunnel Tape” and “Cable Path” tape are pretty much the same thing from different makers. Tapes can also be bought in varying adhesive strengths, so if you don’t need hundred-mile/hour tape you don’t have to buy it. You can buy five-mile/hour tape.

Gaff tape doesn’t just stick things to other things. It is used extensively to mark locations. Spike Tape is a skinny gaff tape that mostly gets used to X-mark where amps or mic-stands are to be placed. It even comes in glow-in-the-dark. Of course you can still use skinny (half-inch) Spike Tape to secure things, and you can improvise Spike Tape from regular two-inch Gaff. Put a good array of Gaff tapes in your kit and a ready explanation to a curious customer will do wonders for your reputation.

I keep a roll of Gaff in the car for emergency auto repairs. Radiator hoses? No problem. Got a big pile of cat-hair on your pants? No problem. Have a piece of trim fall off? I’ve fixed that too. It masks better than masking tape, but I can’t afford to use it that way. I’ve used it to seal heavy boxes for shipping or moving. I’ve used it for an impromptu wrist support and for buddy taping a broken toe, but this is probably also not recommended.

Spike tape, tunnel tape, water proof, camouflage... OK, I think camo Gaff is a little silly, myself. But that aside, Gaffers’ tape ought to be everybody’s best friend even if they aren’t in the audio business. I work in the resort industry and to my everlasting horror all our A/V is handled by the banquet staff. It has taken me a year and a half, but now they have accepted the salvation of Gaffers’ tape.

Why wait? Get Gaff! And use duct tape for its intended and proper purpose: permanent seals on your air-handling ducts.


Melissa McDowell ( is married to Scott Dorsey. Need we say more?


Kef America

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