The Electric: When You Feel Unwanted

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 Turned Down in the Mix.

I was scrolling through a forum for electric guitar players, I stumbled across a thread for guy who play in church bands. Many of them had similar stories. They had been asked to play but where almost always non-existent in the house mix, or where never able to hear themselves in the monitors because the keyboard player or background singer complained, etc. They were men who wanted to serve and felt unable to do so.

I confess I understood where a lot of them where coming from and it inspired this post.

There were three general situations represented in that forum. I want to look at the causes and give some thoughts on responses.

1. The victims of sound men…

Their band leaders want them heard but the sound guys (for many possible reasons) don’t. I was a sound guy for many years so I know what a thankless job that is. If it all goes perfect then nobody notices, but if one little thing goes wrong it’s all their fault. Over the years I’ve been amazed how many people feel the freedom to go back and complain to the sound guys who are often only doing what they’ve been told to do.

That being said there are sound guys who see themselves as a “check” for the worship band, or who don’t get the vision for what’s going on. That can be rough, I’ve been there. This is where good, honest and open communication comes in. Talk to your band leader. Be honest, have dialogue, and maybe don’t do it during sound check before service ( 🙂 ). It’s possible that this is an issue that your worship leader is unaware of or is trying to work out already. More communication is generally a good thing.

2. We Like Guitars, kinda… 

The guys who’s church wants an electric guitar player, but it’s not the emphasis… Most of the music I listen to is guitar driven, but that doesn’t mean the music your church band does is. A lot of churches are piano driven, many others have acoustic folk in their roots. The is where the “it’s not about you” or “are you here to serve?” comes into play. A lot of worship band players have been told this, especially electric guitar players. This is the situation where it really applies. Maybe you’re not up in the mix because you’re wanted to fill in the sound, but the music isn’t the music you’re used to. If you’re used to driving guitars, you may think it’s a personal thing when really it’s a sound thing.

Like I said earlier. Communication is a good thing. Communication up front to understand our role as guitar players in our church music community, and communication afterwards to head off any misunderstandings.

3. We Just Aren’t That Into You…

Then there’s the 3rd group, those who aren’t wanted… I feel for you guys. I’m not sure how you got in the church band, you may not be sure yourself, but you’re there and you feel like you might as well not be. That sucks, that really sucks.

Should you leave your church over it? Maybe and No.

No because a church should be a family. I still come to christmas dinner even though my mom insists on playing that terrible Josh Groban christmas album. (Haven’t you ever heard of Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, or even Amy Grant Mom? 🙂 ) No because maybe God doesn’t want you to serve (for now) in music at church and maybe you’re supposed to teach kids in the sunday school or help mix the soundboard. Church should be a family and if you leave so quickly over this you weren’t part of the family to begin with. I you just take your amp and go else where, you may be missing out of the great things God has planned for you that you can’t see because all you can see is “your callings” as a musician.

Maybe this is a way for you to see that God is calling you somewhere else. You might that you find that the form and expression of your church doesn’t mesh with yours, and maybe that’s part of the problem in the band experience for you. For example: You come from a Pentecostal background and you’re serving/playing a baptist church, or you only play Classic Rock/John Fogerty style leads and the church you’re at is looking for something more along the lines of John Tesh. I find that a church’s style and expressions of worship and art are often linked (directly or indirectly) with it’s views towards evangelism, discipleship, community, and theology. It’s possible that something like this is God launching you out somewhere new. If that’s the case, then see the above about a church being family and leave in the light of that great truth.

These are just some thoughts. We have the great privilege of serving Jesus and His church through music and creativity, and finding our place in His service is part of our Christian journey. If you find yourself in this situation, as many of us have, know that you are not alone and this is a great chance for you to grow deeper in prayer, God’s grace, and the community God has called you to be a part of in the local church.

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.