I try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.
This week we’ll talk about setting up your electric rig for the first time or upgrading it to something better, specifically Effects. This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Part 1 can be found HERE, Part 2 can be found HERE. Part 4 can be found HERE.
THIS PART IS A LITTLE QUIRKY
I’m writing these posts in order of what I think it the most important part of getting a good sound in your guitar rig: Amplifier>Effects Pedals>Guitar. Here’s where it gets a little quirky, because while I think that effects pedals do more for the overall tone of a guitar rig, I wouldn’t buy them before buying a guitar. You can’t play guitar if you don’t own one. So I you have a budget to spend on setting up a guitar rig for worship, put the effects pedals at the bottom of the list (just this one time). This is why I encourage people setting up a rig to get an amp with onboard effects (Vox AC15, Fender Hot Rod Deville, etc) so that you save money on the initial set up costs.
IF I SHOULD BUY THE GUITAR BEFORE EFFECTS THEN WHY ARE EFFECTS PEDALS MORE IMPORTANT TO OVERALL SOUND?
Think about this. You have a good amp, and a good guitar, and when you plug them in they sound great. But what happens if you plug a bunch of cheap, or poor quality effects pedals in between them? It makes all the money you spent on a good guitar/amp pointless since the pedals can suck the soul out of your sound. I’ve seen guitar rigs at churches, shows, and youtube videos where the guitarist has spent a considerable amount of money on the guitar and amp but their tone is cheap and fake sounding because of the effects they used.
WHAT EFFECTS SHOULD I BUY?
This is not going to be a post where I tell you what pedals do buy or do gear reviews. You need to do your own homework and decide what’s best for you, this blog is only meant to be a starting point. That being said, you can basically break effects down into four categories: Gain, Modulation, Delay, and Reverb. Whatever you buy will be based on your playing style, the musical style of your band, and the culture of your church.
This is your overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. Anything that adds gain or drive or dirt to your guitar’s tone. In most churches that have an electric guitar player, you will be allowed to use gain in some way. What type and how much will be up to you. Some people use gain for lead/solo work only, or certain rhythmic parts. This is where you amp can come in handy if it has a two channel clean/hot option. Even if this is the case you may still want to have a gain pedal for dynamics. In fact, pedals like the classic Ibanez Tube Screamer (the pedal that 90% of OD pedals seem to be based on) is meant to take a tube amp that’s already slightly dirty and push it over the hump.
Different types of gain pedals include Clean Boosts, Overdrives, Distortion, and Fuzz. Some very solid ‘go to’ pedals in this category are the Ibanez TS808 or TS9 (or their Maxon equivalent), the Fulltone OCD (or Plimsoul, which I like better), or the Xotic Effects booster series (RC, AC, EP, BB, etc.). There’s no right or wrong here, only what sounds good to your ear, doesn’t break the bank, and will fit in with the sound of your worship band and your church culture. That last part is the most important, because if you’re church does Paul Baloche/Chris Tomlin style stuff, a Boss Metal zone is probably the wrong gain pedal for you.
I think most of us probably understand that sound travels in waves, and you may have seen some sort of representations of these waves on a screen or page. (Click Here to See examples) Waveforms can take different shapes, what modulation does in the most basic form is alter or effect the shape of the sound waves. Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Vibrato, Tremolo, and others would be included in this category. I’m not a big user of modulation, I have a Tremolo pedal on my board and both my delay and reverb pedals have some modulation features that I use from time to time but thats about it.
The thing about Mod pedals to remember is that many are gimmicky. It’s why I’ve gone away from using them, because they’re a lot of fun in practice but limited or “showy” in a worship setting. I really like the Earthquaker Devices Organizer which turns yours guitar into a organ, but how often would I really use it? Its up to you, but weight the cost vs rewards before you buy an effect you’ll rarely use.
Now, to be fair, chorus pedals are a very popular mod pedal in worship settings. I’m not a big fan, but here’s my two cents. Fans of chorus need to be careful because you can turn your tone “old” really quick. It’s not the 80’s and grunge is dead. So unless you’re a new wave worship band like The Modern Post, be thoughtful in your use. That being said, if you’re a chorus hater like me, you have to be careful that you don’t limit an effect to a certain genre, a lot of older players do this with reverb and miss out on a lot of fresh sounds. Just my opinion, so take it for what its worth.
Delay effects are the bread and butter of Hillsong style worship guitarist, but they are by no means limited to that style of worship expression.
Slapback delay can be used for country. Reverse delays can be used to add atmosphere to a slow song when you don’t have a keyboard player. There’s a lot you can do.
I think most worship guitarist would benefit from having a delay pedal on their board, and like Gain effects, there is a lot of value in buying Delay pedals.
If you bought a decent guitar and amp with onboard reverb or tremolo plus hot/clean channels then you could throw in a basic delay pedal and be set for Sunday morning.
Why do I say there is a lot of value in delay pedals? Because most people don’t need a lot to get a lot. You can buy a very good delay pedal for under $100. For example, the boss DD-5 delay pedal is a very, very good unit. It’s no longer made but it can be bought on craigslist for somewhere around $85. You could probably find a TC electronics flashback delay for around $100-$115 on Craigslist and be set. To get a good modulation or reverb pedal, and I mean a decent to good one, you’re going to have to spend more. To get a good gain or delay pedal you don’t have to spend nearly as much which frees you up on the budget.
The only thing I would caution you, is to watch out for bells and whistles. Things like presets, loopers, etc. all may sound nice but do you really need them? Maybe you do, my TC nova delay has a lot of features and I use most of them. But honestly when I first started out a Boss DD3 delay pedal was all I needed.
Remember that I’m not talking about people that have been playing for a long time, this is meant as a guide for the worship leader or worship guitar player who is just setting up a rig or is upgrading from a very basic set up to something that can be used every Sunday.
I love Reverb!!! It is my favorite effect out there. What is reverb? Imagine that you’re standing in a large cathedral and you yell “echo”. This sounds you hear reverberating back at you is reverb.
Many amplifiers will come with a spring reverb installed. What that is is basically running your signal through a set of springs to create the effect. You may also heard of a plate reverb, which is a studio trick where they run the signal three giant steel plate to create that echo effect. Some rooms naturally give off a reverb effect and so producers will bring an artist into that room or that chamber to create that sound for a record. This is called a hall or room Reverb.
I think reverb adds a lot to your sound, this is my personal opinion and I’m being honest about that fact. If you don’t like it, and there are people who don’t, that’s fine. But the truth is that a lot of sounds the people attribute to chorus or delay, or other effects are actually reverb. For example, reverb is a way bigger part of Coldplay’s sound than delay is in my opinion.
As I’ve said before, if you like reverb the good news is that many amps come with it on board so you don’t have to spend the money upfront on a reverb unit. Now even if your amp comes with reverb (most amp reverb is a ‘spring’ unit), you may still want the hall or plate or other digital sounding reverbs to add to your rig. There is value in gain pedals, there is value in delay pedals. But, in my opinion, and this is just my opinion, there isn’t the same value in reverb pedals.
There are certain effects that are just hard to re-create digitally. They require higher end processors, microchips and algorithms. Tape delay emulation is another example of this fact. Save money on other effects to invest in ones like reverb.
OTHER TYPES OF PEDALS
There are other types of pedals not covered such as volume, tuning, wah, and compression. All of them are just fine, and in the case of a tuning pedal very, very helpful. Wah-Wah pedals have their place, just remember that it may not be in the style of music your band plays. Volume pedals are great, they can act as a kill switch to you sound when you walk off stage or can be used for swells to add atmosphere to a slow song. Tuner pedals like the Boss TU-2 or the TC Polytune are not “cool”, who wants to spend that much money on something that doesn’t effect your sound? But how much does out of tune strings change the sound of your guitar? When you are budgeting for a guitar rig, include a spot for a decent tuner of some kind. I recommend a tuner stompbox because they are more durable and will save you money in the long run on batteries as they can be powered off a power supply.
As for compression pedals, when I was first setting up my rig, a friend of mine who has done sound professionally for bands you’ve heard of told me to buy one. I only half understood what they did at the time but I did understand that they were some how important. Needless to say, I heeded my friends advice and picked one up. Compression pedals can be used in a lot of different ways (including as a mild overdrive on a tube amp) but if you’re starting out, you should use them to balance out your sound in a really mild setting. It’s a subtle effect and it’s “cool”. But I’m so glad I listened to my friend because a compressor is now an invaluable part of my guitar tone, so much so that I recently shelled out a sizable bit of cash for a high end one because I value it that much. If you are just starting out, a Boss CS-3 or MXR Dynacomp would be a really good way to go.
POWER AND BOARDS
Eventually, when you acquire more than one or two pedals you’ll realize that it’s a pain to take them from your house, to practice, to church, or wherever. Thus the pedalboard was born. There’s no right or wrong set up, just some that are better than others. If you only have a couple of pedals and you’re some what handy, then there are really great ideas on youtube and other guitar forums on DIY pedal boards using everything from a kitchen cutting board to IKEA shelves. My current board was made last year by my brother-in-law with my help and it’s based on the Pedaltrain Pro design, with a soft cover that my wife made. It works just fine and since I only take it to church on Sundays it’s great, if I were moving it around more I’d probably shell out for a real pedaltrain because they are very well built. I use velcro to hold my pedals to the board, but others use zip-ties, whatever works for you is just fine.
So now you’ve got effects pedals and a board to put them on, how do you power them? Going cheap is a bad idea here. You can go out and get a “One Shot” power supply, and daisy chain your effect’s power thru that, but you’re power is not isolated and you’ll more than likely get a buzz in your sound from it. Powered Pre made pedalboards like the ones made by Furman and SKB claim to have isolated power, but my first pedal board was a Furman SPB-8 and I had to stop using it’s patch bay because it buzzed from the power supply. I’m a big fan Voodoo Labs stuff, they are the gold standard right now and I have two of their power supplies for my board. I highly recommend them. But whatever you choose from pedalboards, to power, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Look for value, but don’t go cheap, because you get what you pay for.
Brand names are just a guide. Yes boss pedals are cheap and mass produced and guitar effect snobs like to knock them, but they put out some really quality stuff and just because some of their stuff isn’t the best doesn’t mean you ignore what’s good. Their DD-3,5,6 and 7 delays, TU-2/3 tuners, RE-20 delay/reverb, are all good pedals. Brand names are just a guide. I’ve played Taylor and Gibson guitars that sounded horrible, and I have a Yamaha acoustic I was given for free that sounds great.
WHAT’S OLD IS NEW
There are guitar players of a certain age who can’t get past the idea of spring reverb as only being used for “surf music”. I’m guilty of associating chorus effects with grunge. One of the best things about electric guitar music is that just because someone used an effect for something doesn’t mean that you can’t find a totally different way to use that effect. Play around, have fun, figure out how these pedals can be a tool to shape the sound you want.
WATCH OUT FOR THE MONEY PIT
Because effects pedals are relatively inexpensive they can become a money pit. I know guys who spend $150 on one and then sell it 6 months later at a loss to buy a new pedal that they’ll just sell in another 6 moths at a total loss of $100 for the year. Unless your pedal goes out of production and becomes sought after (happened to me once) you’ll never make money selling them, so be careful buying them. As a rule (after learning an expensive lesson several years ago) I don’t buy an effect unless I’ve played it in the shop more than once, and then I sit on it to see if it “sticks in my brain”. DO YOUR RESEARCH : )
It’s a marathon not a sprint. Most of us are on a budget and setting up a rig takes time. Remember that these are just tools and if you can’t make something work with just a guitar and an amp, then you’ll be a lesser guitarist when you have all the pedals you think you need.