On forums, on blogs, on Facebook, on Instagram. Worship guitarist posts pic after pic of their pedalboards, or their amps, or their guitars. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. Then every so often a “really spiritual” person writes a blog post or a thread forum on how we need to remember that none of it matters… and then we go on posting our pics.
How much does “good tone” really matter? Does it make a difference to the bar band but not the worship band? Am I less Spiritual if I care about how my guitar sounds? Am I more spiritual if I don’t?
Let’s talk about it.
TONE DOES NOT MATTER
Here’s the truth. If you switched from a DD7 to a TC Flashback delay, not only will no one in the church notice, but you probably wouldn’t notice it if another guitarist did it. The people in my church had no idea when I was using my Klone and when I was using my Tube Screamer, and if I had spent the money on a real Klon, no one would probably notice that either.
The goal is serving the Jesus and his church by providing a platform by which the church can engage their hearts, minds and voices in praise and worship.
TONE DOES MATTER
I want to make music that connects with people. Some of those people are the band I’m playing with. If the worship leader wants a very CCM/Radio sound and I’m pulling out blues riffs, then I’m the one who’s off. If the worship leader wants a bluesy sound and I’m trying to do ambient sounds with delay and reverb, then I’m the one who’s off.
I also believe in the idea of “familiar sounds”. A vast majority of people don’t know what a tube screamer is, but they’ve heard one. The same can’t be said of a “bit crusher” type Fuzz pedal or even certain type of delays. The sound of a really wacked out tape delay is foreign to the average music listener let alone the average church goer. My fuzz pedal has a “havoc” switch which would be awesome in certain bands, but be completely lost on just about every church I’ve ever played at.
Familiar sounds also come into play with musical expression in worship. Highly digital tones in a very clean amp tells everyone “hello, it’s 1989 soft rock.” A highly compressed tone from a Telecaster’s bridge pickup into a tube amp on the edge of break up screams Southern Rock/Country whether you want it to or not. The right tone for the right moment really can make a difference.
SO WHAT DO I DO WITH MY TONE?
Personally, I try to have good tone. I’m sure there’s someone out there who read that and thought “well, duh. Really, you try to have good tone? What an original thought.” I will admit that I had a similar thought when I wrote it, but it’s a simple truth that’s important to state. There is no virtue in bad tone. If your tone is bad, you should make the changes needed to fix that. Whether it’s better cables or a nicer amp or different pedals. Do what you gotta do.
But more than having good tone is having Correct Tone. You could have really, really good tone… for a Radiohead Cover band… but it would be the wrong tone for a traditional style church. You could have awesome blues tone, but it won’t be right for a Hillsong-esque worship band. My goal beyond having good tone is to have the correct tone for the moment. What fits with the music we’re playing and how do I achieve that sound are the questions we should all be asking.
The goal for me is to have tone that doesn’t distract, inspires me to play more and fits the sound we as a worship band are trying to achieve.