The Electric: Less is More

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 Isolating Your Guitar Amplifier.

Less Is More.

When it comes to playing music in general, less is often more. When it comes to playing 2nd guitar in a church band. Less is almost ALWAYS more.

The reality is that this post could apply to both electric and acoustic guitar. The idea of 1st or 2nd anything comes from an orchestra, where if you have 3 violins you have the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd chairs. Usually, in a church worship band the rhythm guitar is the 1st guitar, then you could have a 2nd guitar (lead guitar) or a 2nd acoustic and lead guitar (electric).

How does “less is more” apply here? Well, if you have two acoustic guitars and an electric do you really need all three doing the same thing? Most church bands are either driven by the leader playing a piano/keyboard or a guitar. The leader will be doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. Our job in that 2nd guitar roll is fill in the sound. If the 1st guitar is strumming a lot, then I’m going to strum less. If we are playing in E and he or she isn’t using a Capo, then I’m going to throw a capo on 2nd fret and play in D.

If I’m the 2nd guitar and the 1st is playing rhythm then I’ll strum whole note chords, pick a little etc, but if I’m the 3rd guy in the mix then I’ll probably play even less.

The More Effects, the Less I Play

I have 9 pedals on my board, 8 of them can affect the sound (The other is a tuning pedal). The more pedals I have switched on, the less I play. This a mistake that is pretty common for younger players and one that I made for a long time. If you play the same with effects on as you do with a “clean” signal it’s not going to sound muddy.

If my delay is on then that means my guitar will now produce more sounds then I’m actually playing, this needs to be taken into account. If my tremolo is on a slower setting and I strum at a faster tempo it will sound discordant.

Learning restraint with effects is one of the greatest skills a musician can master.

When in Doubt, Don’t Play

This is easier said than done. One of my mantras is that “the hardest thing for a musician to do is not play their instrument”. This is true for me as much as anyone. I lead 80% of the time at Calvary:Arlington, but when I don’t I often find myself playing electric. It is really hard to not play. I’ll be posting a thought on dynamics in the coming weeks which applies here, but not only that, when you don’t play, the notes you do play become that much more
powerful.

This Isn’t a Rock Concert

I hear this every so often, and in reality there are churches where it feels like worship has been turned into a performance. But often I hear this from people who, in my opinion, wrongly associate simplicity with holiness. This is a whole post unto itself but the short version is that I disagree. I want to get better at what I do. I want to be able to serve Jesus and His church better through my music. I want to encourage people to do the same. We aren’t a rock concert, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know how to rock.

Disagree? Have a different take? Lets talk, chime in with a comment.

The Electric: Pedals

Each Week I’ll try and address different practical aspects of playing the electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about Effects Pedals.

The electric guitar can be an amazingly versatile tool. You could spend years perfecting the sounds you can get just from messing with the volume and tone knobs and pickup selectors. Then you add pedals to the mix and you basically have a stringed synthesizer at your disposal. I will say it again, the electric guitar is an amazing tool.

What Pedals Do I Need?

Tuner

If you’re not in tune then you’re not in business. I use the Boss TU-2 Pedal because it’s fairly accurate and you get a lot bang for you’re buck.  The TC Polytune, Korg Pitchblack, and Peterson Strobe Tuners are also very popular and you’d probably do ok with any of them. (I also have the Peterson strobe App for my iphone which is a great tool for the guitarist on the go). If you are just starting out you should probably have (in addition to an electric guitar and amp) a tuner, volume pedal and overdrive. That would be a good start, especially since a lot of amps have effects like reverb built in.

Overdrive/Distortion/Fuzz

Something to give you that “edge” or dirty sound for Rhythm parts on up beat songs, lead worship or to give atmosphere to a song in a minor key. I have several all set to different settings depending on what I need. I’ve been building up my pedal collection over many years so if you’re just starting out I would recommend the Fulltone Plimsoul because it’s incredibly versatile or the Ibanez TS9 because 1. EVERYONE, every guitar player you’ve ever heard of seems to have one and use it. 2. You can get them at a good (cheap) price on Craigslist (which is where i got mine).

Compression

Evens things out, keeps the louds from being too loud, and the quiet from being too quiet. I leave my compression on 99% of the time.

Delay

Get that U2 Rhythem or that Coldplay effect. I use a TC Electronics Flashback but any of the Boss series (DD-3, 5, or 7) would do just fine. Note: some of the delays with all the bells and whistles are also the most time consuming to dial in… take that into account before you buy.

Tremolo

Great effect to fill in the sound of a song, give it atmosphere or just sound cool. Several amps I’ve had over the years (VOX AC15, Fender Vibro Champ) have had this effect built in so you may not need the pedal. I use a Fulltone Supa-Trem and love it but a Boss TR-2 would work just fine for a lot less (another great Craigslist option)

Reverb

Again, many amps come with this build in. Reverb is basically that sound you get when you’re in a room so big the echos start to bounce off each other. I usually leave mine on all the time. I just fills the sound in nicely. I use a TC Electronics Hall of Fame. For the money there isn’t much better.

Other options

I don’t use Flanger, chorus, rotary speaker, or phaser but I could see uses for any or all of these pedals in a church band. Just because I don’t use them doesn’t mean you wouldn’t or that they wouldn’t serve the music you play. Did I miss one?

What Pedals Should I Avoid?

For a church band I try to avoid any pedal that is distracting, performance based, not useful or doesn’t fit the sound. A pedal that makes crazy sounds is not only distracting but not practical, and while it may be fun to mess around with, it’s probably a waste of money for what you’re trying to accomplish. If the band I serve with plays CCM, then a heavy distortion is probably not the best call. If you’re playing folk/country hymns do you really need a ‘pulsing filter’ effect?

I have my pedal board set up for versatility (I can do rock, pop, CCM, country, and indie rock) and I’ve gotten rid of pedals that were great but I would never use in a worship setting (Adrennalinn III to name one)

What Makes This Worship and Not Preformance?

That’s up to you. I see my guitar and my pedalboard as a tool to shape a sound that helps people express their love, praise, reverence, adoration, and worship to Jesus through song. I try not to be center of attention, but just another part of the whole. I pick my effects to that end (as talked about above) and use my tools to serve Jesus and His church to the best of my ability. When I’m leading the band on electric or acoustic, I do as little as possible because enough attention is on me as it is. When I’m just part of the band I prefer to hang in the back. It’s starts in the heart, is worked out in practice, and lived in how I play and comport myself.

What’s the Point?

The point as always is to glorify Jesus, serve His church and make good music. These pedals and effects are just tools for that purpose.