The Electric: Simplicity

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 being Simplicity in playing.

I love effects pedals. I have a few of them. I’d like more of them. In my free time I read blogs, forums and articles about them. But am I any good without them?

A lot of poor playing and sloppy technique can be covered by effects. It’s part of musical culture now? Can’t sing? Don’t worry, we can fix that, we have effects.

What would happen if you showed up one Sunday sans pedalboard with only your guitar and amp? Could you still do the job required?

Do you know the different sounds you can get from using the pick up selector on your guitar or adjusting your volume? What about your amp?

Maybe the next time you practice, go without the pedals and see what you can do. You may find that it stretches you as a player and that you enjoy the creativity that the simplicity enforces.

The Electric: Be Versatile.

One Trick Ponies & Swiss Army Knives

I saw a really good blues/rock band the other day. They were really good and looked like they were having a lot of fun doing it. I noticed how simple the guitar set up was: Fender Stratocaster into an Orange Tube amp. No effects besides a compressor and the amps gain or “dirty” channel. I was really impressed and kind of ashamed at the size of my rig, until I realized… He’s only set up to do one thing. Church bands don’t work that way.

Even if your church is solely CCM (Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, David Crowder, Mercy Me, etc) that is a wide range of sound. Playing electric guitar would be a little bit different for each of those bands.

The point I’m making is that we don’t have the luxury of being set up for one thing like the blues band. If we want to serve better we need to be set up for variety both short term and long term.

The Short Term

This is nothing more than being aware of versatility. I’ve got more than one guitar playing friend who say they can only do one thing. I know thats not true. I know they are immensely talented and gifted by God.

The issue for my friends is to mentally move past being a one trick pony and become a Swiss army knife: yes I can rock, but I also know how to fill in or learn a new chord past AC/DC power chords.

The short term answer is nothing more than a mental decision to see the world in a little bit bigger way

The Long Term

In an earlier edition of “The Electric” I talked about the 3 overdrive pedals I use. But the truth is that for a long time, I only had 1: the Fulltone Plimsoul. The Plimsoul is by far one of the most versatile pedals I’ve ever owned. It represents my desire for versatility. I want to be set up to play country, modern rock, classic rock, indie rock, pop, U2, and ambient/experimental. I want to be able to come in a create whatever sound is needed by the song and by the worship leader.

This is a long term thing. I’ve built up my rig over the years. That’s why you start short term and work long term.

Working It Out

Guitar
One of the great myths is that you have to have a Fender Telecaster to play country. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great. I have a ’98 American Standard Tele as my primary guitar. But I’ve gotten country tone out of Gretsch’s, Les Paul, and Strats. What a lot of folks don’t realize about the Tele is what a great blues/jazz guitar it is. That being said, for jazz, a Rickenbacker or Jackson might not work out for you so well.

The point I’m making is that some guitars are very specific (Rickenbackers, metal/shredders, etc) in their sound. Some guitars are very versatile. When picking your guitar, look for one that can pull off a lot of sounds. For my money this would be a Telecaster, Les Paul or Stratocaster type guitar. You can get a Tele or Strat with hum-buckers or a Les Paul with tap coils so it can be single coil as well or a Tele or Strat with humbuckers installed.

Pedals

You know the needs of your band and church, but some pedals do one thing really well, some can do a lot of things. I use the TC Electronics Toneprint series for my reverb and delay and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the sounds I can get. I have 3 OD pedals for 3 different “levels” of gain/overdrive. Other great options: The DL4 delay from Line6. The GT-500 distortion/clean boost from Fulltone. King of Tone OD by Analogman (if you can get it). The point isn’t for me to have more toys, but for me to have more tools.

Amps
Most of the tube amps out there have their own sounds but will all work. Fender, Vox, Orange, Marshall, they are all used by musicians in all different genres. I’ve used Ashdown, Marshall, Fender and Vox amps. As a general rule I always go with tube amps, although I’ve seen some solid state amps that sounded just fine. currently I use a Egnater Tweaker 15 that is capable of getting Marshall, Fender, and Vox voicings while being all analog.

Digital
If you want to be versatile, then there is no easier way than going digital. I used a POD XT Live and Variax digital modeling guitar for several years, and it was VERY versatile. It also didn’t sound right. It was 70% at best. Digital can be a great short term solution. You can get a lot of sounds and options for a great price. But in the long run (with a few exceptions, mostly delay) you will get better quality and flexibility by staying analog.

The Point

As electric guitar players in a church band, we are musical servants. If we show up just doing “our thing”, we aren’t serving. learning about these different aspects of guitar playing help us Serve better. Have any thoughts? Better ideas? Disagreements? Chime in down in the comments section.

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.