Distortion in Worship | Crafting that Perfect Guitar Tone

Hitting that distortion button may be tricky business if you’re afraid it may be ‘too heavy’ or

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: dominic bartolini)

‘too loud’ for your congregation; especially playing in a band that is highly improvisatory & dependent on the Holy Spirit. Here are some things I try to develop in my guitar tone to best suit the needs of the band & congregation.

  • Clarity – Can you distinguish all 6 strings in a bar chord? If not, your distortion may be either too heavy, grainy, or saturated. Get it to that point where it sounds clear & resonant at the hardest you’ll be playing.
  • Sustain – How well do your single notes carry? In other words, how long does the note last after you’ve picked it and you’re still depressing the string to the neck? If you have trouble keeping your gain/distortion low enough for clarity, yet maintaining a decent sustain, try pairing your distortion with a good-sounding reverb or tape-delay.
  • Warmth – As a preference – I like warm guitar tones better – and it will vary between your amp + whatever effects/distortion you’re using. Be aware of those ‘low,’ ‘mid,’ and ‘high’ knobs; they do work in crafting the tone that suits your needs.
  • Versatility For getting the most out of a distortion – I like to use velocity as a variable. Velocity is more of a synthesizer/midi term meaning how hard you attack/pick/articulate the note. In this instance, playing with more velocity will create a heavier distortion & less velocity will yield a cleaner sound (less distortion)  I feel having this characteristic in a distortion to be favorable because of the following;      1). I’m not pressing so many stomp boxes for every song section.                                2). I can easily adapt to the improvisation & fluctuation of dynamics during worship just by changing how hard I’m playing.                                                                        3). I can focus on changing effects (chorus, delay, phaser) for subtle changes instead of the abrupt & sometimes awkward & unfitting heavy/soft distortion.
  • Buzzless – Stay away from distortion units/effects that cause a buzz whenever you
    SWR BASS 350 RedFace

    SWR BASS 350 RedFace (Photo credit: jovino)

    stop playing. There’s no better way to sound like an amateur or distract others from worship than with an annoying buzz. Also, in regards to this – other causes of such buzz may be your amplifier, pickups, occasionally bad cables, and even cellphones (a la, Blackberry often causes radio interference near cables, amps, & other audio equipment).

In terms of what distortions I really enjoy, check out the below couple of links for some really good & favorable examples.

Jesus Culture – Rooftops

Michael Ketterer – You’re Beautiful

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10 Guitar Effects & Tricks to Augment Your Worship Service

Mastro EBow

Mastro EBow (Photo credit: pmonaghan)

Over the years of playing guitar for worship services/bands, I’ve come across a number of effects and techniques that I’ve incorporated into worship that have proven very effective musically. If you play guitar for your church, even if it’s acoustic, you’re sure to find some goodies here!

  1. Looping – I am the biggest advocate of incorporating this into a guitarist’s repertoire. Loops machines are especially useful with how repetitive the chord progressions are in worship music, it’s super effective to build upon yourself, especially if you’re part of a smaller worship band. But, you have to be tight & stay on that beat!
  2. Phaser – While you shouldn’t turn it completely up in your mix OR make it oscillate  too fast, it’s a great way to change the dynamic between a verse and bridge. Personally, I put it at about 50% mix and have it move just above the slowest setting to kinda get that HP (high pass) filter swirly effect.
  3. Say…Wah – The Wah Pedal can be so cliche sometimes BUT, if you use it to simply  to change the filter without pushing the pedal up & down so often – it offers a great texture change, especially in combination with a delay. Zakk Wylde has been known to keep the wah completely forward to give his solos more presence.
  4. Swell – There are single effect units that accomplish this, but I’ve found using a delay & a volume pedal (or even your volume knobs) works great. This is great during response times while the pastor is still speaking or even above a slow but solid bass & drum foundation.
  5. Tremelo like a Rhodes – If you’ve ever heard a Rhodes Piano using tremelo, you know what I’m talking about. It’s very easy to make a clean guitar sound like this using a Bias tremelo effect. – Probably one of the most unique & accessible things you can do to help bring people to the intimate place in worship. – Here’s an audio reference of a Rhodes – ‘Portishead – “Roads
  6. Harmony – One of two ways you can do this. Harmony FX are manufactured as single pedals and are even part of multi-fx pedals like my POD HD300. You can change the key and should be able to seamlessly perform melodies with automated 3rds, 4ths, octaves..whatever.  Another way to do is – refer back to #1 –   Play a melody – loop – play its harmony & booyah!
  7. E-Bow – A wonderful invention. Period. The E-Bow is a device you use, almost like a pick; however, only above the strings over the pickups to create a controlled-feedback of sorts. The result is almost like a synthesized string sound. Indeed, it’s a cool tool for the guitarist seeking a wider palette. Here’s a video reference – Phil Keaggy – Amazing Grace
  8. Sonar Style Delay – It’s hard for us guitarist to simplify things sometimes… perhaps only playing one note every 2 measures? Achhh-  BUT it’s effective, especially using a delay that’s in sync with the tempo. Minimalism has its advantages – and gives you a lot of room to grow. Check out the use of the single note delay used above the band’s texture in Hillsong Live’s – Love Like Fire
  9. Octave Displacement – What? Oh, A Whammy Pedal – Very similar to a wah pedal in its physical feel, it controls pitch. Oftentimes, the pedal/effect will allow you to choose the range, such as octaves, 5ths, sub-octave. It isn’t all that practical for chords, but it sings so well and is a game changer for single-note melodies and solos!
  10. Slide it! – I most certainly don’t hear enough guitarists implement this into their playing, and you don’t have to play country or blues to appreciate it. What other way can you totally negate the fact that you have frets? That’s a huge texture change & it can be implemented with any number of effects. In fact, John Mark McMillan’s ‘How He Loves‘ often features a slide.

Do you have effects or techniques you use to switch things up in praise of the King? Even if it isn’t for guitarists explicitly, Don’t forget to share it!