The Electric: U2 and Modern Worship

Each Week I’ll try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about worship bands, U2 and Ripping off The Edge.

The Edge

David Evans more widely known at “The Edge” is the guitar player from the band U2. If you don’t know who U2 is you have my permission to crawl out of the rock you’ve been living under for the last 30 years and download “Where the Streets Have No Name”,”Desire”, “Bad”, “With or Without You” and “Crumbs From Your Table” as a sample of the different eras of the Edge’s playing. Also watch the music video for “Streets have no Name” because its awesome.

Modern Worship Music: Just Rip Off U2?

Ever hear someone make a statement like that? Ever make that statement yourself? The reason that people make the comparison is that many worship bands, most notably Hillsong United use the “dotted 8th note” effect that the Edge pioneered (see example at the bottom of the post). And since Hillsong and other worship bands use the guitar effect associated with The Edge and U2, people associate modern praise and worship music with that band.

Does Modern Worship Music Rip Off U2?

I wish. I wish it did. I would buy that worship band’s record.

First off, “Modern worship” is bigger than just Hillsong or a handful of other artists. 2nd, Hillsong doesn’t rip off U2, not really. They may use dotted 8th note delay, but so have A Flock of Seagulls (80’s New Wave) and The Devil Wears Prada (Metal). People who think that delay is all The Edge ever did haven’t heard the simplicity and angst of songs like “Desire” or the energy  and tension of “No Line on the Horizon”. Plus, The Edge is 1/4th of U2. So while some guitar players in some worship bands may be using dotted 8th and channeling the Edge, they aren’t really ripping off U2, just part of their sound.

Should You Rip Off U2?

Why Not? I accept the idea that everyone is ripping off someone to a certain extent. If you’re gonna rip off a band’s sound then why not rip off the biggest band in the world? U2 has a timeless sound that, as a worship leader in a demographically diverse church, appeals to me. But if you’re gonna do it, then recognize that their sound is more than a delay pedal (Reverb, tube amps, overdrives and clean boosts) and more than his sound, try ripping off the Edge’s restraint.

Think about the intro “Streets have No Name” where he builds the guitar riff until it gets huge and you expect something big, but then he backs off and just blends in with the rest of the band. Think about the end of “With Or Without You” where the Edge is comfortable picking a delayed arpeggio instead of a big ending solo because that soft picking perfectly fit the tension of the song and not his own ego.

Who The Edge is as a guitar player is who I want to be as a Worship Guitar Player

If you haven’t seen the movie “It Might Get Loud” then watch it right after you crawl out from under your rock and download the songs I told you to at the beginning of the post. The Edge, Jimmy Paige (Led Zeppelin) and Jack White (the White Stripes) get together, play guitar and talk about music. In the movie the Edge talks about two different types of guitar players. Lone Guns and Side men. To him Lone Guns were all about what was best for them to play, or basically were selfish players. The side men played what was best for the song and worked with the band.  That’s the kind of electric guitar player I want to be in a worship band. I want to figure out what is best for the song and not for me to play. I want to work well with my band and be part of the sound not dominate the whole thing. Finally, like the Edge I want to use effects and gear as a tool to create a sound not a cover for bad playing.

Dotted 8th Delay

The Edge talks about Guitars and Effects

8 thoughts on “The Electric: U2 and Modern Worship

  1. U2fan

    U2 is one of my favorite bands and although I know nothing about guitar chords, after listening to Hillsong’s “Love Like Fire” I noticed the guitar effect almost immediately and had this feeling I had heard it somewhere else before. That’s when I loaded a couple of U2 songs into the playlist & realized exactly where the feeling came from.

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  5. guitarplayerforgod

    yeah. oftentimes electric guitar players in worship can become Edge clones. However you don’t have to be! Yes, the Edge is a great player and I listen to U2, but I think it’s important and encourage other palyers to develop your own style by listening to other players that you enjoy (which I realize, no matter what, will be a ripoff of whoever you listen to and are influenced by). For example, other than the Edge, I’ve been greatly influenced by the playing of Andy Summers (the Police), Stu G (Delirious?), Ty Tabor (King’s X), Jason Truby (ex-P.O.D/Living Sacrifice), Phil Keaggy, Todd Nichols (Toad the Wet Sprocket), etc. just to name a few. However even more important than how you play, is making sure that the way you play is the way that best leads people into the worship of our God. If the guitar is detracting from the worship experience of the people in front of me, than I’d rather put my guitar down and walk off-stage. It’s all about Jesus, not me.

    1. good points and thanks for commenting.

      I think its good to recognize that a lot of worship players are (purposely or not) ripping off a sound, and when you look at the full body of work, there are some really good things to learn from the Edge beyond dotted 8th delay.

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