I try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.
This week we’ll talk things that aren’t cool but are necessary in creating and maintaining a good electric guitar rig.
This post is basically about the electric guitar equivalent of going to the dentist or getting your oil changed. Who likes to do either? But it needs to be done from time to time. So in no particular order are things that aren’t cool but are good to have, good to do, or good to think about when it comes to your rig and set up. Some of these things will be applicable to leaders who play acoustic guitar as well.
Change your strings!!!
I don’t know how many young worship leaders I’ve met who show up with an acoustic guitar sounding horrible only to find out they haven’t bothered to change strings in 6 months. They have a new set at home, they just “haven’t had the time”. Change your strings! I hate changing strings, but it has to be done.
Now with an electric guitar its a little different. Neil Young for example won’t play with new strings. His guitar tech has a cheap electric that he put strings on and plays to “break them in” and then switches them over to Neil’s guitar. I’m not saying you need to or should be Neil, just that it’s not as simple with the electric. Personally I don’t change strings on my electric as much. I usually leave strings on for about 6 month or until they just feel or sound like its time. But they do need to be changed here and there.
Also, what size or gauge of string you use matters. If you think your sound is too thin you may not need some pedal to fatten up your sound, you may just want to stop using extra light strings and try regular lights or mediums. Strings are just about the most important thing on your guitar. Take care of them.
What kind of strings should you use? Do your research. Research in this case isn’t so much reading (a lot of what is written on forums on this subject is questionable in my opinion) as it is playing. I’ve tried a lot of the different strings out there. I’ve gotten recommends from players and local guitar shops. What I’ve come to is this:
For my acoustic guitar I use D’Addario light gauge strings. I find that they sound great after about two days and go for about two weeks before the sound quality starts to lag, it’s really bad after a month.
For my electric I use D’Addario Lights as well but not with the same conviction. D’s are my go to for acoustic but for electric I’ve been happy with Ernie Ball’s as well over the years.
What about Elixir’s? Elixir strings (or other coated strings on the market) use different kinds of coating to give the strings a longer life span. Some people love them, some people hate them. I don’t think they mess with the tone like some people say but I also don’t think they sound as good. This is just personal opinion, you should try them for yourself. Where I would put Elixir’s on a guitar is if you have a 2nd guitar that you don’t play as often or if you primarily play electric and only touch your acoustic every few months (or visa versa) then it makes more sense to have strings that will last a lot longer and make any tone sacrifices that come with it.
A lot of guitar shops offer deals and discounts if you buy more than one pack so see if you can get a couple of different kinds to try them out and no matter which string you use, change them from time to time.
A basic set up involves but is not limited to things like action or how close your strings are to the neck of your guitar. How high or low your bridge sits. Adjustments to things like the truss rod in your guitars neck, and general cleaning of things like pots and connection points.
Most guitars only need this done once every few years or so at the most. The exception would be if you want to try changing the gauge of your strings. Basically Heavy strings will have a different tension from lights. It would ruin your guitar if you put a set of heavy’s on with your guitar set up for lights, but it’s not good if you leave it that way. If you are thinking about changing your string gauge then try out the strings you want and when you settle on it, get your guitar set up by someone you trust. Don’t know who to trust? Talk to a guitarist or three that you trust.
I was talking to a friend who’d had his guitar for over 10 years and never had any set up done on it. It explained why his strings buzzed and the notes high up on the neck were off.
Take care of your guitar. When you think about it, a set up every 7 years compared to changing your oil every 5,000 miles isn’t that big of a deal.
You need to be in tune. I recommend tuning every time you play so that your ear is used to the real thing about being out of tune will be really obvious to you.
My advice is to never, ever show up to worship practice or to a worship service w/o a tuner at the ready.
I don’t like the Boss Tu 12 or cheaper knock off because it’s not great on stage. The kind you clip on to the headstock of your guitar are great because they require no sound to tune your guitar. Foot pedals also work great because they integrate well onto your pedal board. I use a Boss TU-2 that is always on, it’s looped out of my volume pedal so I can kill the volume going to the amp if I don’t want people to hear me tuning (like during announcements or a part of the song where I’m not playing.
Be in tune and have the ability to stay in tune.
Have decent cables. I’m the worst about this. I’ll have a cable forever and hate to spend the money on a new one, but when I do I find that the annoying hum I was hearing went away or some other problem was solved.
Take stock of your cables every so often, including your patch cables. I had a patch cable go out on me during a worship practice at 8 am on a Sunday morning. There was no running to Guitar Center, I just didn’t have one of my pedals available.
Have you had your amp for a while? 5 years? 10 years? Did you buy it used off Ebay or Craigslist? Get it checked out every so often to makes sure that the tubes are good, etc. Sadly, a lot of the new amps are coming with tubes that are lower quality. I bought a brand new VOX AC15 5 years ago and 4 years ago I replaced the Tubes because they were buzzing. Take care of your amp and it will take care of you.
Have a lot of picks and bring them with you. I don’t know how many times in my younger days I’d show up to church and realize that I didn’t have any picks. I’ve since vowed to not be that guy any more.
I make it a habit to buy picks every couple of months whether I need them or not (5 for $1 isn’t gonna break the bank). I put a pick holder on my pedal board and as a general rule you’ll always find one or two in my pocket cause you never know.
It’s not cool but it’s worth it
None of these things are really fun or cool. It’s more fun to talk about technique or effects pedals or amps. But the care and maintenance of your gear is part of being responsible as a guitar player and making sure that your rig is ready to go for Sunday morning and any other time you play out.