So tune up and dial in to the following tips, tricks and trends from talented guitar players from across the country.
What are some of the new toys out on the market that guitar players should watch out for?
Paul Clark: I’m probably the wrong person to ask because I mainly use pedals only if I can add a memorable sound to a song. For the life of me, and I don’t want to sound negative, but I can’t figure out why so many Christian musicians use the same sound set to different tempo delays for nearly every song.
Hanz Ives: I’m very interested in the new front end pedal from Line-6 called the M13 Stompbox Modeler. I don’t have one, but if I were in the market for a start up stompbox effect, I would for sure look into this. It does lots of things and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Also here’s a shout out for the AC+ by Xotic, I love that pedal, use it 80% of the time when I play.
Joshua Thomson: Line 6 M13, AxeTrak Isolated Speaker Cabinet, Divided by 13 Amplifiers, James Tyler Guitars.
Jonathan MacIntosh: The “Tap-A-Whirl” tremolo pedal by Cusack Music… the only tremolo pedal you’ll ever need!
Rich Severson: I like the all in one pedal boards like the Roland (BOSS) GT8 or the Line 6. You’ve got so many sounds at your fingertips (or should I say, toes) you are ready for any situation. Most of the patches need to be edited to my personal taste but at least I have a starting point.
Tim Neinhaus: The new Line 6 M13 is one of the latest things that is turning heads. So many guitar players use their modeler stompboxes and the M13 has all of them built in. You can also save settings. It’s a very cool all-in-one answer for guitar players.
Glenn Pearce: All the custom pedal makers are great – I pretty much like everything I hear these days. I like the ZVex gear because it’s a little different than the norm. While I have always been using pedals, I think technology has been improving with multi effects boxes like the Line 6 M13. That said, there is no substitute for a good tube amp and a well-made guitar. What you put in between them is entirely up to individual preference.
What are some recommended tips for improving guitar technique, in practice and performance?
John Chevalier: I started playing semi-pro when I was 16 years old. The best advice I’ve ever received is to know your instrument and to keep listening for new sounds. I spend a lot of time just trying new things on my own. I love going to clubs and just watching the guitar players. YouTube is a great free resource if you don’t have live music in your area. Don’t let yourself get stuck in a rut. Watch, listen and be learning new things. Take the time to learn the RIGHT WAY to play your instrument. The old line “Practice Makes Perfect” is a half truth… it’s only true if you are practicing the right things in the right way. “Practice Makes Permanent”. Learn correctly.
Paul Clark: My best advice is the same answer that I tell people who say they’re going to join a gym and get in shape, which is, attack the most challenging piece of equipment. “START”. After you develop that discipline, practice good stuff. Avoid practicing the same old stuff the same wrong way. In golfer’s terms, quit playing your slice and learn to hit all of the shots.
I am a big fan of open tunings. I use about five different ones on any given night. It forces two things immediately.
- Memorization. It demands me to pay attention to where I am on the fretboard. It is also a great discipline to keep the mind working diligently.
- It opens up chordal voices that are impossible to play in standard tuning. In doing so, I open up melodies that I would probably never go to in standard tuning. It also stands out as “unique,” which in turn demands the listener to say, “Hey, what’s that sound?” That raises the bar on the ability for me to tell “His story” in a unique, artful fashion. Lastly, that helps me to break away from sounding like everyone else. Authenticity will always rise above copy-cats.
Hans Ives: Most of what we do as live players is playing rhythm guitar. I have a pet peeve about guitar players playing notes that aren’t in the chord. (ie, playing the A string open and the E string open when you are playing a D chord) Practice just playing a certain number of strings. You don’t even have to be playing a chord. Mute the guitar with your left hand and the pick the B, G, D strings, and practice only hitting those three strings when you strum. Then do the same thing for the G, D, A strings, etc. It will open up a whole new approach to your right hand strumming. For Electric guitar, it’s essential.
Joshua Thomson: Practice Practice Practice, practice dry with no effects, and practice while you are watching TV.
Jonathan MacIntosh: Confidence is the most important thing. If you feel confident in your playing, it shows, and people can hear a difference. Knowing your fretboard is a great way to feel confident. You can improvise on the fly and not worry about hitting bum notes. When practicing, do the exercises that help you learn your fretboard.
Rich Severson: Guitar playing is more than just learning a song. Everyone who has the desire to play in church should also have the desire to improve. A successful Christian musician is one who is better this month than last month, that’s the yardstick. Strive to improve and be better on your instrument. That means wood-shedding scales, learning new chord inversions, practicing improvisation, learning chord melodies, learning to read and write music or learning music theory. It really doesn’t matter which one you choose to work on, as long as you are growing in some direction. Your playing will either get better or get worse; it never just stays the same. Some things you practice might not have a practical application to church but that’s not the point, grow as a musician and it will show up in your playing in church. Here is a question I hear often, “I play acoustic rhythm guitar in church, why should I waste time by playing scales?’ Scales will make you stronger, they’ll improve your skill and technique and someday you’ll learn how to use them in your playing. A helpful hint to improve whatever you do is to record yourself.
You find as soon as you hit the record button your hands will sweat and you’ll be nervous. That’s performance under pressure which is what you want to become accustomed to. Also, you have the self evaluation of the playback. Work until you can play things well.
Tim Neinhaus: Play as much as you can, in as many situations as you can. You’ll learn something new every time you do.
Glenn Pearce: Listening is probably the most important tool to develop. The best training I got was by going to hundreds of shows and listening to how other people approach playing music. In a live situation, the most critical component is listening to what the other musicians are doing – then you will know what to play – or not play. There are a lot of good instructional DVDs out there now. That is a great way to learn concepts that players are using.
What considerations should guitar players have when they switch from using an amp to using a DI or in-ear monitor solution?
John Chevalier: Take your time and tweak until you are happy. One of the reasons that the whole in-ear thing gets a bad rap is the belief that you cannot always produce the same tone through a DI as you can with a live amp. The reality is that there are a number of processors out there with pretty realistic amp/speaker simulators. It’s definitely extra work, but if you patiently take the time to make it sound good direct out, you’ll be a much happier performer and the switch from live amp to in-ears will be less painful. It’s pretty hard to overcome a bad in-ear experience, so take the time and tweak your sounds direct from your processor with headphones before even attempting perform live with in-ears.
Paul Clark: If it is mandatory to use the in-ears, keep one out so you can hear what’s happening on the stage. However, my advice for an electric guitarist in a band is to do everything in your power to avoid playing with D.I.’s and in-ear monitors. These devices are beneficial on large sound stages for professionals, but I believe they are an enemy to building a worship community sound. The Beatles and other epic bands are great for a reason… they harvested their skills by setting up in close quarters, paying close attention to what the other guys were playing. It’s called “composition” for a reason. For solo acoustic guitarists, I advise carrying a mic-tube pre-amp before you plug into a D.I. Also, place a live mic in front of you, and if possible, another mic on the floor to capture the ambience.
Take advantage of anything you have available to fatten up that “tinny transducer, non-wood guitar sound.” Why buy an expensive, exotic guitar and make it sound like a cheap radio?
Hans Ives: I use an Amp and an In-Ear monitor. I don’t turn the Amp up very loud (although it does sound better loud) and then get plenty from the monitor mix. For the DI mix if you are using something like a POD XT or something like that. Remember that you need to compensate for no speakers when you are setting EQ’s on your patches. Consult with your FOH sound guy and get his thoughts and then make sure to tell them to turn you up in the mix!!!
Joshua Thomson: Develop an understanding of the system in use and its functionality. Spend a lot of time on your own mix, experiment with panning and sound separation. Purchase the best in-ears money can buy.
Jonathan MacIntosh: They should consider switching back to the amp.
Rich Severson: It’s not about you! If stage volume is too loud, then lose the amp. If it’s good for the house mix then it’s good for you. I personally still use an amp pointed toward the floor, with foam over the speaker and miked in the back. But I’m ready to walk away from it if it becomes a problem. If you’ve heard Lincoln Brewster talk on this subject he pretty much dispels the myth that a good sound can only come from a miked amp. He uses the Line 6 modeling pedal board and even cuts his albums with it. Even in concert the stage amp is only for his monitor and isn’t miked. He is going direct to the house. My only suggestion is, leave yourself some headroom so you can turn up for a solo and it will be heard. The sound person is too busy to ride your fader to boost a fill or lead.
Tim Neinhaus: Well, if your switching from using an amp to a direct situation like a Pod or something like that, it’s going to take some tweaking to get things to sound more amp-like. Things can tend to be real bright so I usually roll off some top end to give it more warmth like an amp.
Glenn Pearce: If you can directly control your own mix, then you will be fine – otherwise you need a professional mix engineer who really knows how to work with in-ear monitor mixes. I still prefer using a tube amp rather than going direct, even with in-ears.
Any quick tips on how certain electric guitar models sound/behave differently in certain situations, and do you have tips on getting great tone, chords vs. lead settings?
Paul Clark: Here’s a quick tip for improving your tone: work hard practicing and play as much as possible. Beyond church activities, seek out secular venues. If your playing can hold an audience of “unbelievers”, it should stand up anywhere. In 1973, I began what has now been a 35 year friendship, as well as recording and concert ministry, with Phil Keaggy.
During the sound check of the first concert we did together, I was completely blown away with Phil’s tones. He turned his volume knob down and went to the bathroom. Once he was out of sight, I picked up his sunburst, 1973 Les Paul Deluxe and started playing. SURPRISE!!!!!!!!! It didn’t resemble anything close too what was screaming from Fender Deluxe 60 seconds earlier. So my closing tip is, find your authentic gifting that He gave only to you and develop it unto the glory of the Lord.
Hans Ives: If that was easy, then Guitar Center would be out of business. It’s like the search for the perfect wave as a surfer. The guitar player’s search for the perfect tone is an ongoing thing. That being said, for guitars remember: Les Paul type guitars eat up lots of bandwidth in the sound spectrum (cool). They are great for rock bands. A Tele is a great guitar to use especially if another guitar player in your band is using a Les Paul. Tele’s are VERY present. Lots of treble. The neck pick-up on a Tele is golden. Great for if you are leading with an electric guitar. For me, the most versatile guitar is the Strat style. If it has good pick-ups, it can do it all. Play mellow, play funky, play loud and proud. That’s my current fave.
Joshua Thomson: The current climate in most house of worship sound settings is oppositional to the fundamentals and practice of good tone, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Most mega churches that want modern worship are essentially asking for a traditional rock band to perform worship music live. Although most do not realize what they are asking for, and then proceed in trying to eliminate typical “rock band” tendencies- like volume- from the equation.
The best way to avoid any “leadership entanglements” is to design as system that is as quiet or as silent as possible. My current system is a low wattage boutique tube amplifier (head) with an Axe-Trak(r) isolated silent speaker cabinet that puts out almost no detectable stage volume whatsoever. Of course this only works if the PA system of the church has a very nice monitoring system. If not, I always carry around a 2 x12 speaker cabinet for such an occasion.
As far as great tone is concerned: A good general rule is the standard “less is more” mantra. I have had huge systems in the past and am now down to my smallest rig in years and getting the best tone of my life. Nobody needs more than four or five pedals to create some really interesting tones. I recommend for pedal boards: COMP, OD, DIST, MOD FX, VOL PEDAL, DLY, in that order.
Jonathan MacIntosh: A humbucker at the bridge and single coil at the neck can give you everything you need in one guitar for live performance. I always strive for a more classic tone, and play modern parts. Classic tone will always be classic, but modern tone will NOT always be modern. Keep your playing modern and let your tone stick to the tried and true.
Rich Severson: I like a semi-hollow body. They have a warmer sound for the intimate lower volume sounds and they can still get that “bite” too. I play a Gibson 347 which has humbuckers and also a coil splitter, so I can thin out the sounds when needed. Hofner makes a nice guitar for the worship team, the Very Thin Contemporary; it can be warm and still cut through- and it’s priced right too.
Tim Neinhaus: I think something important to remember with getting good sounds is the chain in how it works, starting from the basics. It starts with the player and how they play/attack the guitar. I’ve heard a lot of guys play through different rigs and they always have their unique sound because they attack the strings in a certain way that no one else does. Having a good sounding guitar is next in line. You can have all the best pedals, but if your guitar doesn’t sound good then you’re not going to get “that sound”. From there, it’s having a good sounding amp, and THEN it’s the pedals. A lot of guys focus on having all the latest pedals, but to me it has got to start with a good sounding guitar into a good sounding amp. Anything on top of that is going to sound good if you have that foundation.
Glenn Pearce: Play the right guitar for the right situation, or use a guitar that has tonal options. This is why most players have a number of guitars, like surfers will have different boards for different conditions.
Also, find out what the players you like are using. This is where everyone starts in developing tone. Every time I hear Jeff Beck I am blown away, and he uses minimal gear. More gear is usually not better.
Unity gain is also an important concept, no matter what gear you use. The volume should be the same with the gear on, as with the guitar plugged directly into the amp. This keeps the noise floor to a minimum and everything sounding right.