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 having ‘good gear’ and what that does and does not do for you.
My friends who are electricians buy the best insulated boots for work. My friends who are carpenters buy the best saw and hammer they can. My friend who is a programmer told me he uses Apple computers for the same reasons a plumber would buy the best wrench. Men and women in various trades and crafts buy the best tools they can afford to get the job done. Musicians are no different. But what does having the best gear you can afford get you?
Can You Afford It?
That’s a good question. I know too many young worship leaders who think they need to buy the “legacy” guitar right off the bat. What is a legacy guitar you might ask? It’s the guitar you will pass on to your kids as part of your “legacy”. I will some day pass my Martin acoustic guitar on to my son if decides to play, or to another young worship leader when the time comes that my hands can’t work the strings any more. But that wasn’t my first guitar, it wasn’t even my first nice guitar. My first guitar was a cheap Epiphone Les Paul. My first acoustic guitar was an even cheaper Fender acoustic. Between the Fender and the Martin there was a Yamaha, a Takamine, a Taylor, and 13 years. Buying gear is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time. Don’t go breaking the bank (or into debt) for stuff that you can live without. Jesus was praised just as much by me strumming on my cheap Fender.
So What’s The Point Of Nice Gear?
You’ll Sound Better
The more ‘spiritual’ among us my pass this off as being carnal, but the bible tells us to play with skill and make a joyful noise. You’ll make a more joyful noise with better pickups and a clearer tone, that’s just a practical reality in most cases. You can lead worship on a Casio keyboard but in most cases we would all prefer you find something a little nicer.
You’ll Be Able To Do More
Gear=tools. If you’re church does a “Hillsong” sound then you need one if not two delay pedals to pull it off. If you’re church has a country vibe then a Telecaster may be in order. I’ve written before about your rig, and how with the more gear you have the more versatile you can be.
It’s less likely to break.
Cheap products are usually made a cheap way. Most of my pedals are tanks, I’m pretty sure I could send my Tremolo pedal off to war. A higher end guitar is more likely to stay in tune. Buy a cheap cable and don’t be surprised when it poops out on you in the middle of a church service.
What Good Gear Will Not Get You
You Will NOT Play Better
You can buy all the gear your favorite artist has and you won’t buy their skill. People who use effects to cover bad playing will be able to make a cool sound but be unable to do anything with it. If you can’t make something work with just a guitar plugged into a clean amp, then you probably won’t be able to make it work when you’ve got all the effects and gear you think you need.
You May Not Sound Better
People who try to buy all the gear that the Edge use’s for U2 will eventually try and buy a Vox AC30 (or AC15 if they’re willing to compromise) when the truth is that according to the album’s producer, the main amp on “The Unforgettable Fire” was a Vox solid state practice amp. I can’t tell you how many bands I’ve seen with Epiphone guitars when they could easily afford Gibsons. Skill, talent and anointing as a worship leader do not come from the guitar you play or the amp you own. Put a Gretsch White Falcon in the hands of me at age 15 and I would have sounded just as bad as I did with my cheap Les Paul knock off.
I was reading a forum recently where someone listed all the pedals that Johnny Buckland (Coldplay) had on his rig. He then wrote about all the pedals he would use instead. I’m pretty sure Coldplay is doing just fine with the gear they’ve got.
These Are Just Tools
In the end musical gear and effects are just tools we use to create music so that the church can sing the praise of God together. Don’t let anyone take you down a peg for caring about the tools you use as a craftsman, but also realize that the hammer is only as good as the hand that wields it.