Ambience | A New Role For Guitar in Worship

I’m a huge fan of ambient textures and their use in post rock, progressive, & experimental genres.  I’ve found that these textures are functional in worship; however, the content of the ambience can’t be the same.

English: Close-up of the Transducer inside a S...

English: Close-up of the Transducer inside a Spring Reverb Tank. Català: Detall del Transductor a un contenidor de Reverberació de molles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When using a guitar ambience, or any effect during worship, you don’t want the focus to be on you or your crafty sound, but rather the prayer, meditation, or sermon you’re augmenting. The ambience serves as a foundation & often a transition point for worship no matter where it occurs in the service.

In this setting, to not take any glory away from the Holy Spirit – I keep my ambience settings to not much more than reverb & delay in conjunction with a volume pedal. In my settings below, you’ll notice I do use a mod delay as well as a light, slow oscillating, phaser; however, it’s barely noticeable in the video clip below.

Here is a sum of the settings I use to achieve this effect.

  • Light Crunch – About 11 o’clock on Drive & Bass, Mid & Treble at 12 o’clock
  • Spring Reverb – 100% mix, 80% decay, pre-delay about 150ms
  • Analog Chorus – Speed about 0 or 1 (an extremely low setting), 70% deep, about 50% mix
  • Analog Delay + Mod about 670ms decay, feed back about 80% (definitely keep high), mod setting (if available) very low 0 or 1, 75% depth, mix 80%
  • Reverb (not totally necessary) – 0 pre-delay, decay – 50%, mix – 42%

All the above used in conjunction of a Volume Pedal

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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

Man on Fire | Ars Nova of Recorded Worship

As a composer, performer, & recording artist – the goal is simple: Write, Record, Sell

Jesus Culture

Jesus Culture (Photo credit: AdamRozanas)

And even after you put the word ‘Christian into the mix, ‘Christian, composer, performer, recording artist‘ – I feel the goal is still percieved the same – ‘Write, Record, Sell‘ only with a different target market. This is due largely to

  1. the enormity of the Christian music market & its vast sub markets & genres
  2. the oft luke-warm & negative connotations of the word Christian.

When one is on fire for Jesus – or
when one’s only concern is furthering His kingdom – or
when one’s upmost desire is attaining the presence of God – or
whatever word or phrase that represents this choice in life combined with ‘composer, performer, & recording artist‘ do you get a different goal.

Yes, you still write, record, and sell your music, BUT, the goal is the above list. The goal is in

  • Jesus & sharing Him, and
  • longing for His presence & advancing His kingdom. It’s in
  • capturing the Holy Spirit in the recording.

This goal is the pinnacle of the Ars Nova (new art, if you will) of Worship. And it is this pinnacle that’s behind why I enjoy & connect with live worship albums so much.

Just the other day, it was blazing hot – in the upper 90’s if not 100’s – I was driving with the windows down listening to one of Jesus Culture’s live recordings of ‘You Are My Passion,’ getting cold chills all over my body (mind you how hot it was) hearing the words ‘I belong to Jesus’ being sang with so many in His presence.

The Holy Spirit is not something so much captured in the studio, the old art, but in real live worship captured, recorded, in front of the King; shared with oh so many more.

There’s something so much more right and much more biblical in including those worshiping, and not just the ones leading, in recorded ‘praise & worship’ music.