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 4 of a 4 part series. Part 1 can be found HERE, Part 2 can be found HERE. Part 3 can be found HERE.
SO NOW IT’S TIME
Now that you have your amp and effects squared away you need to look at your guitar. As with all of the post in this series, this is not a buying guide where I tell you what to buy. It’s meant to be a starting point from where you go on to do your own research and make your own informed choices.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
Note: I’m writing this with a Worship Band guitar player in mind. Suggestions I make may not be as suited for other styles (classic rock, jazz, blues, metal).
-Versatility: By and Large, church band’s are essentially a cover band. My set up can cover modern rock, pop, indie rock, country, neo-folk, CCM, ambient soundscapes, classic rock, and though I’ve never been asked for it in a church setting, jazz and metal. This set up is by design. If you’re buying a “shredder guitar” because you personally like to play metal, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t sound right with a church band that has a country feel or is still playing old Maranatha/Vineyard stuff. Some guitars translate to a variety of styles (Strat, Telecaster, Les Paul) and some are meant for a particular thing, metal and jazz being the most common. I bought a guitar once that had a great sound but when I played with the band I found it didn’t do any other sound well. I traded it soon after because it would have sat in the case otherwise. My mistake and one that I hope to avoid in the future, and hopefully you will avoid all together.
-Pick Ups: Part of this is versatility, as most electric guitars have at least two picks ups (neck and bridge) What kind of sounds and variety can you get out them? On some guitars I’ve tried, the neck pick up was wonderful while the bridge was flat and dull sounding, or visa versa. Part of this is preference, for example I tend to prefer fat sounding single coil pick ups, but someone else in my band prefers humbuckers. Try to figure out which pick up you prefer, and if there is a sound that would work better for you. Some guitars will have a combination of humbuckers in one position and a single coil in the other and some hum buckers have “coil taps” which let you turn them into a single coil guitar. There are a lot of options out there so test drive as many as you can.
-The Neck: When I’m deciding whether I like a guitar or not, a lot depends on the neck. Is the neck too wide or too thin. Is the neck too thick? Does it feel comfortable in my hands? Some necks are fine for strumming but any lead work is difficult. What about the frets? Do the frets rub against my hand when I move up and down the neck?
-The Electronics: This is a small test but I always check all the control knobs (potts), pick up selector switches and input jacks to make sure nothing is loose or crackling in the amp when you adjust them. Sometimes something just needs to be tightened or cleaned and once or twice the shop has replaced the pott or connection before I took the guitar home.
-Tuning: Does the guitar stay in tune? If the guitar is out of tune after you’ve played it for 10 minutes in the shop, then you’ve got a problem, because you’ll be tuning after every song on a Sunday Morning.
WHAT ARE SOME GOOD BRANDS?
Brand names are just a guide. When I was first setting up my guitar rig I got a Vox AC15 based on the brand’s name and reputation. I didn’t do my research to find out that that particular run of AC15 had all kind of “cost cutting” done to it and it had a lot of issues. The next amp I bought was a Vox AC4 that was awesome. I have friends who swear by their AC15’s and AC30’s. The point is that while something has a brand name on it it doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a good instrument. Gibson has been known to have quality control problems the last 5-10 years with their guitars. I was in a shop recently and tried a $1600 Fender Jaguar that played only ok, but the neck felt horrible and the pick ups didn’t seem set in right. I then grabbed the $600 made in Mexico version and loved it. Great sound, great feel, all for $1000 less.
Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, PRS are all good brands in general but that doesn’t mean that you should buy one online sight unseen because there’s a respected brand name on the label.
American made ain’t what it used to be in the world of guitars. The Fender Jaguar I mentioned is one example. Currently I play a American made Fender Telecaster and a Japanese made Fender Jaguar. The two are very comparable guitars and I would say there is very little difference in quality.
NEW OR USED?
That’s a good question. Buying new means that if you don’t like it within a certain timeframe you can take it back. If you notice something wrong a week or two later that shop should fix it for free. There’s a certain piece of mind that comes with buying new.
Now, you knew this was coming… BUT!
Like a car, the moment you take that guitar home it looses value. Spent $500 on that new guitar. You’ll be able to sell it 6 months later for 350, now matter how little it’s been played. Every few months on Craigslist I see people who didn’t realize this, and they have to lower their price after realizing that no one was going to pay $50 less than new because ” it has only been played a few times”. If you buy a guitar used then chances are you’ll be able to sell it for the same price used. Figure it this way. If you sell something back to a guitar shop you’ll probably get 50% of retail. 60-70% on Craigslist and 70% on eBay.
So, if you buy new you have to realize that you’ll now loose equity in that guitar. You may get it back in 30 years but who can say for sure. If you buy new you get a little more coverage and safety. If you buy used you have less guarantees but more value. It’s your call.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I SPEND?
How much do you have? Seriously, figure out your total budget for setting up your rig (amps, cables, guitars, etc) and that will give you a good indication.
You get what you pay for. I would say $300 is a low mark for something decent (although I’ve seen a few guitars for $250 here and there that I’ve loved). $500 should get you a real work horse of a guitar. But remember its not what you pay so much as what you get. Remember that unlike the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar is not the be all and end all of your guitar rig for worship.
IT COMES WITH A CASE RIGHT?
You’d think so but not always. High end guitars ($1,000) should always come with a hardshell case. Guitars over $500 might come with a hardshell case or a gig bag. Anything less and you’ll probably have to pay extra for it new. Gig bags and cases are entirely negotiable when it comes to buying things used. This is just something to be aware of.
SUM IT ALL UP
These are just guide points. As I’ve said, you need to do your own research. You need to get out there and play, play a lot, play a lot of different stuff, and find out what you like.