Tonal Epiphanies

Good news for those of you wanting more gear demo’s…I am currently unhappy with my tone. (Imagine that!) Actually, I’ve been very happy with it for quite a while. But the last few weeks…eh. And yes, I did change the strings! ;) So working super hard right now at getting the tone where it needs to be, and thus are my current epiphanies.

  • There are just so many boutique and otherwise gear companies around now. It’s getting impossible to tell who are the talented builders, and who started a company just because it’d be profitable. So I’m starting to look back at some of the more ‘original’ builders, as well as local ones. I’ve had amazing luck with Matchless, probably my best gear purchase ever, and not only are they one of the original boutique companies from the early ’90′s, but they’re local which has made repairs super easy. So I’m looking right now at Anderson and possibly Suhr.
  • It is amazing how much tone is in the fingers. No matter how many places I play, blogs I write, songs I put on Bandcamp and YouTube, I always feel like I’m a hack. And last night, I think I may…may…have finally found the reason why. When I first picked up a guitar when I was fourteen, I never took lessons. And still haven’t. Some of that is good, as lessons can homogenize you, but some of that is just plain pride. So when I first picked up that guitar, there was no one to tell me how to hold my pick. And I grabbed it with my thumb, forefinger, and freeway finger. I’ve of course gotten used to it, and have of course also noticed that I’m one of the few who holds their pick this way. So last night, after slicing up said freeway finger on a vacuum box (ya…I’m not gonna go into it…haha), I tried holding the pick the normal way between the thumb and the forefinger curved. The ensuing looseness in the pick creates more acoustic, more sustaining, more feeling, better overall tone. You would think I’m kidding. Or crazy. But go try it right now. The difference is very, very noticeable. So now to go re-teach myself to play guitar.
  • Jeff Buckley’s tone kills me. With Fender. May be time to get a tan Tremolux, a ’70′s Japanese Tele, and be done with it. And negate everything on this blog. ;) Nah, can’t be.
  • So…how much do I really need that Timeline?
  • The Ethos is interesting. And expensive. And interesting. Mmmm…
  • Just bought some tubes for the Matchless and the Valvulator. At least this time I’m following my own rules. Unhappy with your tone? Change your strings, change your tubes. Only then are you allowed to buy stuff. Come on tubes, come in the mail quick so I can buy stuff! ;)
  • Trying out Tung Sol tubes in the preamp this time, as JJ seem to have been very inconsistent lately. And Ruby tubes for the power amp, as they are Matchless’ tube of choice, and I figure they might know a little more than me. Although I think right now Ruby’s are relabeled JJ’s. So impossible to keep all with all that bureacratic stuff. And to spell beurocratic.
  • Got a wireless system so that I can go out and listen to the mixes during rehearsal. (Don’t worry, I take it off and hardwire in when we play.) Wow, that is eye-opening. And a little depressing.
  • Weber or Scumback, folks?
  • More EA cables. Matt!!!
  • So sitting in a coffee shop slow-rockin’ out to Give Up the Ghost right now. Seriously, the Coffee Bean in Claremont plays the greatest music mix. If I could sing and write like that, I wouldn’t need guitar tone.

You should never be happy with your tone. It’s just too much fun not to be. ;)

Splendid.
Karl.

A Guitar for Worship Exclusive & Some Housekeeping

So I’m changing the blog. It’s just big and hard to find things, and as long as I put time into this, I want it to be worth it for people. So to the right you’ll see a little poll under the heading of a song that I know for some reason. Please feel free to vote for of what you would like to see more or less.

Also, the ambient pads are now on my Bandcamp site, instead of Soundclick. Soundclick has started to get a ton of of popup ads, and Bandcamp is awesome. For those of you purchasing them, Bandcamp’s rates allow me to make them 99 cents cheaper. (Hooray.) They still remain free for anyone who needs them for church, and their church doesn’t have the budget to pay for them. Ambient pad page here, and ambient pad Bandcamp here.

On gear demo’s, please keep in mind that I do not own my own guitar shop like PGS or GMD. When those guys do pedal demo’s, not only are the pedals free because they charge the expense to the company, but if the demo is good, they sell lots of that pedal. If my demo is good, well, then Strymon sells more pedals. Or, more aptly, Gear Page gets more traffic in the emporiums for used Strymon pedals. ;) I enjoy doing it, but this blog is on a volunteer basis, so my resources are much more limited than the guys who own shops.

My apologies for the constant pingback spam in the recent comments sidebar. I’ve tried many plugins to take care of those, but spam is getting smart. The machines are taking over. I’ve enlisted both Rick Deckard and John Connor to write me some new plugins.

And lastly, I hate housekeeping. And I hate reading about it on other blogs. So as my gift to you for reading through that ultra-boring list, I open, for the first time, the Guitar for Worship vault. Taking you back to a simpler time. A time called, the year 2000. In which I was 16, had a Squire P-Bass, loved MxPx and Metallica, and did this:

It’s time the world heard that.

Splendid.
Karl.

Sixteen of the Simplest Ways Ever to Have Great Worship Music

I’m in no way an authority on this, but here’s a few things that I’ve learned, observed, and failed at, over the last decade or so. (My dad always told me…watch out for when you start measuring things in decades. lol) All pertaining to the small to mid-size churches in which most of us participate. We all usually take our worship leading cues from the big guys, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Except that you have to remember that playing to a group of 200 casual church attenders on a Sunday morning is worlds different in its application than playing to 4,000 people stoked to hear the preacher they’ve heard on the webcast so many times, and now finally having got to the church early enough to sit up close and be part of the worship pit of which they have a cd in their car.

And worship leading is not really a doctoral science, although we’d like to make it that way. We’d all like to think that leading worship and creating a worship experience of God through music is something difficult and almost unattainable because then that makes us feel like as worship leaders, we are professionals in our field, doing something that the ‘general public’, ‘congregation’, or ‘civilians’ cannot do. Subsequently, we can then sell books on the subject, and…uh…write blogs. ;) So, take these and use them, modify them, lose some of them, or what-not. Whatever helps your church in the adoration of God through that tiny little musical portion we call ‘worship.’ It’s a very general list, and not all will apply to everyone. But some will, and for some, all of them will.

And fair warning: most of these will probably help people worship God while at the same time decreasing your rockstar status. If you’re more concerned with being ‘a worship leader’, or whatever entity church culture has made that phrase to mean, these will probably do more harm to that than help. These aren’t cool, cutting edge, or even new ideas in any sense. In fact, most of them can be summed up in Lewis’ character Uncle Diggory’s lament of ‘Why don’t they teach logic at these schools.’ They’re just to try to help the people who don’t happen to be on stage at the time, to connect with God.

1. Click Track

Tempo is one of the most important and yet overlooked factors. It can take a so-so band, and make them sound professional. In every studio I’ve ever worked in, the click track ruled all. No one cared how well you played or even if you could play at all; as long as you could follow a tempo. I can almost guarantee you that after two months of playing with a click track, you won’t even recognize the sound coming from your team. It’s one of those subtle things where you can instantly tell a professional team from a non-professional one. You just know which is which, even though you can’t say why.

You can use a click track even if your church does not have in-ear monitors. Get a couple of cheap headphone preamps, run wires to your band members, and ask them to bring their ipod headphones for one ear only. A little ghetto, but it will work. Or, just run them to yourself and the drummer, and anyone else who may be starting a song. At the very least, practice with the click track in the monitors, and then have just the drummer on it for the service. It will take some getting used to, and you will probably have to practice with it a few weeks before using it live. But every band I’ve ever introduced this for has hated it for about two months, and then suddenly shifted to hate playing without it.

Once it’s there, you don’t have to be a psycho about it; certain songs can go without it, and if you start to pull away from it, shut it off. It’s just a tool…but a great one.

2. Choose Songs People Like

Seems super simple. But you’d be surprised how few worship leaders do this. Instead, songs are chosen according to how cool they are, how new they are, how good they sound, how technically challenging they are for the band, where the worship leader feels God is leading that week (inexplicably usually to a setlist of 5 songs off his newly released Tunecore album), or a myriad other reasons. And most of those can be valid reasons for choosing certain songs. But as any touring band will tell you, the easiest way to get people to sing? Choose songs they like. Imagine that. I see so many worship teams pounding laboriously away week after week on the latest Hillsong 12-minute ‘epic’, because it’s new, or they saw on a blog (that was probably embellished) that it ‘went off’ at some other church, or because they themselves like it, and then stress day and night over why people aren’t worshiping. But every time the pastor asks for ‘Open the Eyes of My Heart’, everyone sings like their life depends on it.

There are a ton of different and differing reasons for why people sing to some songs and not to others. And those reasons make for a fascinating study. But in the midst of that study, don’t ignore the pertinent facts staring you in the face right at the present moment. Those facts being, ‘I don’t know why they sing to this song, but they do.’ And if, in fact, one of the main purposes for you to lead worship is to have people sing out and worship with you, then logic says that a good portion of your setlists should include that song. Like it or not, understand it or not. We’re servants up there, not rockstars. It’s like if the hospitality crew found a certain type of coffee that everyone raved over, but kept buying different coffee because they themselves liked it better, or because the hospitality team was tired of the same coffee, or because Mars Hill blogged about this coffee being the number one factor in church growth. No, just buy the coffee people like. You’re a servant, at most a shepherd. Never a super gifted musician, orator, or leader that the church population is just lucky to have.

I mean, in reality, if you find songs people worship to every time? Yikes, that makes your job super easy and super fun! Go for it and worship. To this day, there is a song that I absolutely love and worship so deeply to every single time. Yet every time I’ve done it in a church setting…blank stares. Every time, any congregation. And yet Everlasting God? That I was over 5 years ago? Singing. Worship. Passion. Everyone. Every time. So…Everlasting God.


(Yes, leadership is lonely. Ya, especially if you make it that way. ‘I just don’t understand why people don’t sing. It’s a spiritual battle, man. True leadership is just lonely.’ No, it’s lonely because the melody to your super-epic MuteMath song is unsingable, Db is for Phil Wickham only, and people checked out mentally 37 choruses ago, right when your self-indulgence checked in. ;) )

3. Get Vocal Lessons

If you’re like me, you need them. There are those out there that just naturally have these amazing voices. But 90% of us leading worship have…decent voices. We can hold a tune, we can match pitch, we can find pitch, and we can hear when a note is too high for us (most of the time ;) ). So, out of the lack of a better singer on-hand who also played guitar, seemed to love God, and had some extra time on their hands, we were asked to lead worship. (Sorry to be so real about it, but…I can think of about a dozen people just within my area who, if they were attending my church and had some time on their hands when I was first asked to lead worship, I never would have been.) And what is pretty much the one core thing that we as worship leaders are asked to do? Get people to ‘sing with us.’ And if we’re slipping off-pitch, running out of breath at the ends of phrases, going on crazy runs that don’t quite work, singing with awkward tones, breathing in awkward places, logic states that it will be difficult for people to sing with us.

I didn’t take vocal lessons for years because I was too prideful. And once I finally did, I wished I had done it so much earlier. They can only help.

4. Practice, Learn the Music, and Get Rid of the Music Stand

So many, so many, so many, so many worship leaders (myself included at times) do not run through the music on their own before the services. I think most of the time it’s because we’ve done the songs so many times that we assume we know them by heart. Practice them. Run through them. Just this last weekend, I had to take myself out of worshiping mode, because I couldn’t remember the chord progression to a song I’ve done a hundred times. Why? Because I didn’t run through it that week, because I assumed I knew it perfectly.

Right along with that is learning the lyrics. This one cracks me up. Not that I always learn the lyrics perfectly, but I have played with multiple worship leaders complaining about how the lyrics on screen distract from the worship, and how people should totally know this song by heart already. All the while, they’re reading the lyrics off their chord chart (or iPad if they’re super cool). Don’t expect the congregation, who hears the song one time for every ten times you hear and play it, to learn a song if you haven’t.

And then hopefully you can get rid of your music stand. It’s a subtle message that no one really thinks about, but subconsciously it gets through. That the guy or gal asking us to ‘take these songs to heart’ and ‘make this your prayer’ has actually done so himself or herself, so much so that they aren’t reading the songs. Last year, when I was auditioning for worship leader spots, I had a few different churches who wanted me for this one simple fact. How I longed for it to be for my incredible guitar skills, or my awesome voice, or how my very manner just exuded leadership. Nope. Their literal words were, ‘You don’t use a music stand, and you look at the congregation.’ Ya, not so rockstar. haha Not at all what I wanted them to say. But it’s effective.


(Because without a music stand, you too can look like this. Which is of course the point. ;) )

5. Play to the Strengths of Your Team

Your schedule this week tells you that you’ve got a ’70′s rocker lead guitarist and an ex-metal drummer? Play something upbeat and with a flatted 7th in the scale. Don’t force a song that relies on dotted 8th delay into a band where you know for a fact that the guitarist doesn’t own a delay pedal. Sure, there’s a time and a place for training people and teaching them new musical techniques. But if you want the best possible worship music in that moment, get a quick read on who you have playing that week, what they’re good at, and if possible, tailor the setlist a bit to their skills.

Normally this opportunity presents itself in a much less pronounced manner. There have been times when I’ve just felt that I was being led to play The Time Has Come, when I had a drummer scheduled who had only been playing for six months. It did not work out so well. And I was left wondering, why in the world didn’t I just play Blessed Be Your Name, and do Time Has Come with the experienced drummer the next week.


(This guy’s on your team? Yep, play to his strengths. And yes, I think I am the only person ever to actually like this movie. Hey, it was hilarious and there was music!)

6. Practice So You Can Fill in the Gaps

There will be deficiencies in your worship team. For most of us, our teams are made up of volunteers working 60 hours a week. For a lot of us, that’s us working those weeks too. Nevertheless, we’re the ones with the responsibility. I know that intro is piano, but if you really want to do that song, you need to learn that intro or something comparably workable, on your guitar as well. There is a good chance he will not have had the time to learn it, and in the end, the music is your responsibility.

I’m not saying you should go this far, but something that has helped me immensely, is having the mindset that I should be able to give a decent worship experience to the congregation even if everyone canceled but me, and a great worship experience even if it were just me, bass, and drums. (And sometimes, we know, that happens! haha) That does mean practicing extra hard, learning extra parts, and learning alternate arrangements. And most of the time, nothing this drastic is called for. But what it does help with is training people. If you can handle 90% of the tune by yourself, you can schedule a guitarist who’s not quite there yet, and ask him to play the solo’s, or start the song. And if he doesn’t get it quite right, you know the song backwards and forwards and can either take the solo’s and starts, or variate what you’re playing to compensate. Even if you’re on acoustic or keys.

7. Don’t be Afraid to be Honest with Yourself

If a song isn’t working in practice, and you’ve gone through it a few times, and you can tell that this is quite obviously going to be a sub-par moment in the service, then cut it. There’s no need to force anything, although quite often we inexplicably try to do just that. If it’s not working, cut it and do something that will. In that moment, you have the choice to decide whether that part of the service will be good or bad.

8. Don’t Fight the Pastor

People only have about a 5 minute attention span. Don’t think the pastor’s theme was bad and so introduce 18 of your own. Catch the vibe of what he’s trying to get across and go with it. Maybe he’s wrong…maybe if they’d just listen to you, with your of course ordained position of artist/leader/creative/world-shaker, the church would explode to 4,000 people in two weeks. But that’s not your position, and all kidding aside, even if you unequivocally know that that is ‘your calling’, take a lesson from David in the Old Testament and humbly know your place until God makes that happen.

Your pastor is not perfect; but the time to bring up constructive arguments is staff meeting the next week or a phone call the following evening. When it’s two minutes before service and the pastor says, ‘Let’s do this song instead’, raise one objection, if he overrules it, then play that song. Since you’re also not a perfect person, 50% of the time you’re wrong anyway. And the other 50% of the time, maybe you’re not wrong, but the pastor is going for something different. Either way, petty skirmishes 2 seconds before the service starts are probably the most ridiculous and hilarious of all church-running nuances, and should be avoided at almost all costs.

9. Think Big Picture

It’s not just about worship this weekend, but next weekend too. And the weekend after that. So sometimes, that means not doing the great new song this weekend, because it’ll go better with the message next weekend, and will lose its power if done two weekends in a row. More often than that, it means planning out different approaches on different weekends. An ‘epic’ set five weekends in a row becomes decidedly less ‘epic’ the fourth and fifth weekends. But throw in an acoustic set, and suddenly a regular set the weekend after becomes fantastic. Just as if you don’t want to just map out how one song goes, but all five songs, you also don’t want to map out how just one service goes. Map out many weekends, which sometimes means taking away from some weekends for the good of the overall month, or even year.


(This scene is actually an amazing portrait of how we can lose the forest for the trees.)

10. Get the Band the Songs Early and Correctly

Team gets the songs Saturday night. Sheet music is in the wrong keys, songs are in a format requiring the worship leader’s iTunes password, and half the team doesn’t get the email because the leader inexplicably still has their old email address that they’ve reminded him 7 times is the wrong one. Everyone shows up on Sunday morning, and said worship leader is appalled that no one knows the songs.

No.

Absolutely not. Make it easy on your team. You want them to play the songs right? Give them the chance to do so! Take the time to find the right versions of the songs, convert them into mp3′s, and email them properly. Actually look at the sheet music to make sure it’s the correct versions before you send it. And anything later than 2 days before the service is completely unacceptable. You may as well just go acoustic or tell the team you’ll arrange at rehearsal and switch all the songs to 4-chorders. Even 2 days is pushing it. Now, if you don’t care if the team plays what you want or plays the song the way it’s recorded, then just disregard this one. But for the love of U2 (and that’s a lot of love), don’t send an un-open-able copy of a Shane & Shane cell phone recording of a live song they improvised once at one concert, and then act all surprised when your team doesn’t know it.

11. Learn Sound

I have a theory that I will be expounding upon more in later posts, that the difference between a church people enjoy and a church they don’t is the sound tech. 95% of the service, both musically and teaching-wise, relies on the auditory senses. And we leave that to the volunteer we can’t relate to and don’t really even want to. We spend hours upon hours getting the music right, and then in the end are completely at the mercy of this one person, because he or she is the only one who understands how to make sounds come out of the speakers. So either put out a craigslist ad for a professional sound tech who loves God and also is proficient at an instrument and be prepared to pay them close to what your pastor makes, or learn it yourself and train people. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. I’ve done it myself, and it has done wonders. And recently, I just played with a worship leader friend of mine who has since done it, and it has done wonders for him as well. It’s a lot of work. Do it.

12. No Silence

Ever. Anything you have to do to make no silence, do it. Download my pads for free. Arrange the songs in the same key. Work out transitions so the drummer knows he has the freedom to start the next song while the chord of the prior song is fading out. Anything. Because here’s the thing: you get people to a certain emotional point with a song, and then the song ends. And that ensuing silence, even if only for a couple seconds, feels like an eternity to the congregation. If there’s one thing people can’t stand more than anything else, it’s feeling awkward. And silence between songs is super awkward. And then you’ve in an instant reduced that emotional level back to zero. A good rule of thumb is to multiply every second of silence by 10. So 3 seconds of silence literally feels like 30. So do what it takes to make silence happen only when it is planned.

13. No Insecurity

When we get insecure, usually because the awesome new song we chose just doesn’t go off and people are staring at us blankly, don’t panic. Just relax. People pick up on the vibe when you’re forcing it. Plus, your voice tends to take on an ‘I’m cool anyway’ forcing it tone, and it’s awkward. You start to play a little stronger, and that ruins the tone. All in all, it makes it worse when you’re insecure. In that moment, you just have to remind yourself to mull on it afterwards, but in the moment, own it. I know it’s hard. I suck at this.

(Any excuse to play ‘Don’t Panic’. And think about Garden State. Whoa! No joke…I literally just typed this, and ‘Don’t Panic’ came on in Coffee Bean. I feel…oddly powerful. And yes, I am in a coffee shop blogging on my laptop. Hi, I’m the cliche from 2006.)

14. No Sermonettes

I’m not exactly sure how to say this, so I’m just going to say it. If your gift was preaching, teaching, or even talking in front of people in general, you’d be asked to preach the sermon a lot more often than you are.

15. Thank Your Team

This seems small, but it goes a huge, huge, huge, huge, huge way. Like, kinda huge. When I go play at churches, I am about 200% more likely to play there again when someone says ‘Thanks, really appreciate your being here’, than when we close the last song, I pack up my stuff, and awkwardly leave in silence without anyone saying anything to me. I know this has happened to you guys, and if you’re a worship leader only, you can guarantee it’s happened to your team. And then we wonder why people flake out the next week and decide to go to the river that weekend instead of playing their scheduled weekend.

And if you’re just an amazing person, take it a step further and pick out something that they did during the service that was good, and call attention to it. This can take some work with musicians you’re working with or training, but there’s always something they did that is worthy of praise. And actually, this is hardest with the incredible musicians. Because everything they do is good, and so it’s difficult to pick out just one thing. And then you end up saying, ‘Wow, great job! Amazing, as usual.’ Which, although true, starts to sound to those people as if it’s just the stock thing you say to everyone. But when you take the time to say, ‘Wow, great job! Amazing as usual. When you hit that high register bass riff in the intro of Cannons, I just smiled. Most people don’t even hear that, let alone learn it and are able to play it.’ It just validates what they do, and the hard work they put into learning the song…usually because you asked them to.

16. Love God

It shows. When you’re up there out of sheer love for God, and when you’re up there because it’s Sunday again and you didn’t really think anything of it, it shows. When you’re up there believing every lyric you sing, and when you’re up there thinking about chord changes, it shows. I know we think it doesn’t and that we can put on a show, but people are so much more intelligent than we give them credit for. You know when you go to that concert and there’s that ‘it’ factor? Like, you can’t put your finger on the vibe, but you know it was incredible? That’s them purposefully hitting each note and believing each lyric. And for worship? Man, that should make it just that much easier for us. It’s a pretty rad God we’re doing this for. There’s this odd push in churches right now to ‘be authentic.’ Well, you either are or you’re not. Love God, love others, (Jesus mentions this, I believe), and the authenticity takes care of itself. And that’s infectious, and comes through off that stage more than anything musically that we could possibly do.

And finally guys, don’t be afraid of the nuts and bolts. I know worship leading is supposed to be a spiritual thing, but let’s face it. As long as we’ve got a guitar up there and a team of people, there’s a human element to it. We don’t have to do it this way, but we do. So let’s work hard to do it right. Or as right as humanly possible. ;) And when we mess up, we thank God for grace, and try again. We don’t say, ‘Thanks for the grace in the midst of my effort, God. So, this next time, I’m just gonna go without the effort.’ Rely on grace, and balance that with loving God with all you are through action and responsibility for helping create an atmosphere where people can let go and worship God. Because in the end, all that really is, is loving people. Love God, love people, and there’s your worship.

Splendid.
Karl.

Good Tone Vs. Bad Tone Vs. Great Tone (As Well as Strymon and DC Timeline’s, Godin, & New Music)

I just realized that the two amps I currently use are pretty much as far apart on the boutique/coolness/pricey spectrum as they come: Matchless and Epiphone Valve Junior. This makes me happy. It means that it’s about what sounds good for a particular application, not about compensating for insecurities in life with high-priced boutique gear, or conversely, about compensating for having no cash by telling yourself that price doesn’t matter. Those two amps sitting side by side really exemplifies my mantra: ‘Tone is not about price. But sometimes it is.’

Which of course opens up the age-old discussion slash pick-throwing/name-calling/wacking-on-the-head-with-a-Boss-FV300/you-play-ball-like-a-girl argument of if high dollar gear really matters for good music. I’m not going to re-open whether or not people can hear a difference; for the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume that they can. Why? Because I think I was correct in this post on non-musicians noticing sound nuances last week. But of course, pretty much if it originated in my own personal head, I assume it’s correct. Which can be dangerous…that’s how I got to playing A chords on lead guitar while the band was playing an F. Because an A chord is ‘the third’ of an F chord. Yep. Ah, high school and reading the back cover of theory books that I walked around with to look like the musical version of John Nash from Beautiful Mind.

But anyway, we’re going to assume that there is a difference between good tone, bad tone, great tone, and finally people-weep-instantly-at-the-sound-of-it tone, and that those differences are audible to the general populous. And we are also going to assume that we want to strive for the weeping one. So how do we get there? Well, to have good, great, weeping, or even bad tone from our gear, we first need gear. And that takes money. Well, money, stealing, chop up your couch and build it yourself, or walk down the street until some guy says, ‘Hey, you’re so cool…here’s a Suhr.’ So, for most of us, money. And what I’ve noticed is that the difference between good tone and bad tone is very, very, very little money. In fact, sometimes the bad tone costs more. There’s this $200-$800 (very loosely estimated) price range where every amp and guitar in its category pretty much sounds the same. Please don’t get angry! That’s a huge generalization, and let me specify! Meaning, hit the category of tube amp and hit the category of solid wood guitar that will intonate properly and has well-wound pickups, and in general, the tone in the sub-$800 price range will be more affected by subtle changes than by getting an $800 guitar instead of the $400 one you have. Hopefully that makes sense. I’ll break it down here:

Let’s say that you play a MIM (Made in Mexico) Fender strat. About $300-400 new. Through a Peavey Classic 15. About $250 new. Your tone will not be helped as much by jumping to a Japanese-made Highway Series Fender for $600 and a $600 Gibson Goldtone (hmm…is it obvious that I haven’t looked at anything other than used vintage and boutique gear in a Guitar Center for a while? hehe) than it would by doing some of the following:

  • Change the strings. DR Pure Blues will make a world of difference, especially if you’ve got a bright sound. If they don’t feel right, try the DR Tite-Fit’s.
  • Set up and properly intonate your guitar. If you don’t know how to do it, learn how. I do all that myself. Because I’m awesome? No, because I did a Google search. Well, probably Yahoo back then. Remember those guys? There was some commercial were a Yahoo sign falls on a car while someone is yodeling the company name. Never understood it.
  • Change your pickup height. Once again (like, literally…yesterday), I was reminded how much of a difference this makes. Huge!! Higher for hotter and punchier but less warm, and lower for warmer and sweeter, but less bite and cutting through the mix. On every guitar I’ve ever owned, all it’s taken is a screwdriver. You can literally do it on the fly with your guitar still plugged in and strumming with one hand as you raise and lower them, so you can hear the difference.
  • Turn up your amp, and back off with your pick attack. Headroom is your friend.
  • Get a pick made of nylon, stone, wood, or a V-pick. Ditch the plastic.
  • If necessary, change the pickups and pots. This may require a tech, but this can make a huge difference. When you see the guys with monster tone playing on Squire’s, this is usually what they’ve done. I of course recommend Wolfetone, Fralin, and Lollar, but good ol’ inexpensive Seymour Duncan’s work just fine.
  • Change your tubes. You can do this yourself. Just turn the amp off. ;) JJ’s from Eurotubes. Nothing wrong with Tung Sol’s or reissue Mullard’s either. Even Ruby Tubes and EH can be good for less expensive. Do some research though…tube companies are constantly being bought out by other tube companies but not changing their labels. It’s weird. A few years ago, the word was that Mesa’s were Groove Tubes and Groove Tubes were Sovtek’s.
  • Get good cables. Of course I recommend EA from Matt Solomon at clearsoundmusic@gmail, but there’s nothing wrong with Planet Waves and Mogami.
  • Get an amp stand, or back away from your amp. EQ’ing your amp for how it sounds to the mic is huge. I.e., the mic is on the speaker, but you stand 6 feet above it. Totally different sound.
  • Find out where your amp breaks up, set it right on the edge of breaking up, and then play more dynamically, using your hand as a volume control. Then use your master volume as, imagine this, a master…volume.
  • Change your speaker. Celestion V30 is industry standard and fantastic. Blue’s are good, too. Anything by Weber, Jensen, or Scumback.
  • Practice. :) (I need to listen to that one. hehe)

For pedals, it’s the same concept, except the price point isn’t anywhere near $200-$800. haha More like $50-$150. Anything from $50-$150 is going to be more or less the same. So before you trade in your Bad Monkey for a Fulldrive, consider trying these:

  • Use your overdrives to push your amp into its own breakup, as you set your amp right on the verge of breakup. So more volume and less gain from your od’s.
  • Roll off the treble on your delays, and don’t mix them more than unity with your original signal.
  • Use phase sparingly.
  • Danelectro Tuna Melt trem. Still on my board next to a Creation Audio Holy Fire and a Strymon Timeline.
  • Turn the mix down on your reverb, and repeats/pre-delay/decay up.
  • Get an Electro Harmonix LPB-1. Or two of them. ;)
  • Sell your wah. (Just kidding, just kidding! Maybe…)

So I really hope I haven’t made you all thoroughly mad. These are just generalizations. Yes, I play two Fatboost’s within that price range that I think sound better than cheaper drives. The point is that, when within that price range, the difference between good tone and bad tone is often not money on better gear, but subtle changes in the way you play, the way you set the gear you have, and by upgrading and upkeeping the gear you have. So yes, these are generalizations, but the principle remains the same even if you find a $600 guitar that sounds better than a $200 one. That of course will happen at times, or even often; but remember still that one of the best ways to go from bad tone to good tone is with the little stuff.

Now…here’s where that saying starts to come into play: ‘Tone is not about price. But sometimes it is.’ Because the difference between good tone and great tone is often money. And the difference between great tone and weeping tone, is often more money. There are some things in life that you just can’t get around. Now that doesn’t mean throw money at a $4000 amp because it will for sure give you good tone. There are plenty of folks playing Fender Twin’s that sound just as good if not better than guys with boutique amps. But in my humble experience, sometimes that slight push over the edge (hehe), or that ‘it’ factor, sometimes comes with a pricetag. Which is why I usually tell people playing an $800 guitar, not to buy a $1500 one. I usually tell them to lower or raise their pickups, get a refret, back off their pick attack, etc., and save money for a $5000 D’Pergo. Whilst all the while watching used gear sites like a hawk for that used $1500 Melancon Artist. ;) That’s the fun stuff.


(Weeping. Emotion. Glass cases of it. The point of all guitar tone. What am I saying? Yes. Your guitar tone should make people feel as if Baxter has just been punted.)

Lastly though, and this must be said…even though price can be the difference between good tone and great tone, don’t mistake it for being the only difference. Touch is also a huge, huge factor. I mentioned this a couple years ago, but at the U2 show at the Rose Bowl, Edge’s exact same gear sounded kind of harsh and metallic through his tech’s hands (nothing against the wonderful Dallas), and I was hugely disappointed in the tone. But then Edge came on, picked up the same guitar with the same settings, and the tone was totally there. Some of it really is in the hands. And I know that personally, one of the biggest differences to my tone has been learning to control my touch. That, and getting a Matchless. *Sigh.* See, there’s no formula for great tone or great music. But I promise, I’m trying my best to give you one here. ;) lol

And to take my own advice, my newest musical piece, showcasing both the Strymon Timeline and the DC Timeline, is played with a Godin. I sold my Godin strat (which I of course said I never would) because I came across this incredible deal on an old, beat-up Godin FFX hollowbody. The FFX series was the precursor to the Montreal series, and they are chambered hollowbodies with piezo pickups in addition to the electric pickups. So, with three jacks, they can literally be either an acoustic and electric at the same time, or blended into each other with the third jack. And here’s the odd thing…the acoustic part? Actually sounds decent. At least that’s what people have told me when I’ve tried it at church. Pretty much a great worship leader guitar. I’ve always wanted to try something like this, as putting a piezo in a semi-hollow that is already carved out like an acoustic, but proven over the years to be a design that also sounds good as an electric, makes sense to me. Just didn’t know anyone made them. Godin is a pretty fantastic company, and their stuff is super cheap. I got this for a steal…well, partly because up close, it’s really beat up. Not structurally, but cosmetically. Holes, repairs, glue…awesome.

Now does it sound as good as my Prairiewood? Nope. ANd it’s a bit noisy, and eventually I will probably change out the pickups to Wolfetone’s, and the pots and wiring may get done too. So not great tone, but definitely good tone. (Still striving to reach weeping tone…haven’t made it yet!) Good enough to where I recorded a new song with and was not ashamed of the tone. So here’s the piece, and I did my best to showcase the Timeline’s also. The modes are listed below the video:

0:00 DC full mix reverse, Strymon filter
0:25 Resetting Strymon filter patch after modulating the time
1:34 DC background multitap, Strymon trem
2:47 Strymon background ice/shimmer
3:49 Strymon background octave up
4:42 Strymon tape setting with heavy modulation
5:09 Setting up Strymon looper
6:41 Looping with Strymon

So there ya go. I know, it’s been a while since I’ve done gear demo’s. My last one was the RC20, and that was also demo’d with songs instead of a real demo. I think I’ve just been more interested in music lately than in gear. I know, heresy. ;) So I tried to hit it all in this post…tone tips, boutique tone, inexpensive tone, new song, both Timeline’s, worship leader guitar review, and of course a little U2. I haven’t said this in a while, but thanks for reading, everyone. For reals.

Splendid.
Karl.

Letting Go (& Things YouTube Has Taught Me)

Disclaimer: this is a weird post. Read at your own risk, or maybe just go watch an Analogman demo video in the sidebar. hehe

There’s a show on the television called ‘Parks & Recreation.’ With a character portrayed by Rob Lowe. And this character is a satire on all things health and wellness. And he’s a very happy character, and Mr. Lowe plays the part extremely well, making it a wonderful, and poignant satire. And as is the goal with any well-done satire, it makes you realize things about the health movement, and about humanity in general, and his character uses slightly accentuated characteristics in order to show us truths about that type of person and lifestyle. And it’s hilarious and ridiculous. And then at some point…you start to find yourself sympathizing with his character. You laugh at his earnestness, but then quietly wish you could be that earnest. He makes you realize how stupid it looks to be that forthcomingly happy all the time, and yet somehow, you find yourself wanting to be that happy. Wishing that you could say that the water bottle you just drank was ‘literally…the best water you have ever had in your entire life.’

Satire is wonderful, and necessary. We need to maintain the ability to look at our lives and life in its full scope, with fresh and critical eyes to see where improvement is needed. But satire without a good healthy dash of unabashed joy, is hopelessly doomed to end in emptiness and many, many wasted hours. Twenty years ago, it seems there may have been a pointed lack of satire in society (besides dark satires such as ‘Brazil’), which may have led to a decrease in logical and critical thinking, and a lack of awareness of what was going on in the world around us. Thankfully, satire seems to have made a comeback…with a vengeance. Ninety percent of the comedies on television these days are steadicam documentaries with socially unaware characters doing their best Spinal Tap interview impressions. And as cool as that is, I’ve been left lately wanting a little more Rob Lowe in my life. Probably a better way to say that.

So I submit to you some youtube videos to make you happy. Wow, it sounds cheesey even to type that. But happiness is a good thing; and as my life continues to move ever onward, I think I’m willing to risk a little bit of cheesiness in hopes of enjoying the time I’m in right now.

We spell this man’s name…H – E – R – O:

Okay, watch this guy basically put on a clinic on leadership:

I can pretty much guarantee you that after taking many leadership classes, hearing countless sermons and trainings on leadership, and leading for a while, that I have never created something like that guy did. Pure, unwavering commitment to something is infectious. If you’re (and my) beliefs and lives are not infectious, we may need to ask ourselves if we shouldn’t concentrate less on ‘how to be a leader’, and more on passionately living what we believe. And yes, some not-quite-over-the-counter pharmaceuticals may perhaps have helped this guy in his unwavering commitment to his dance. I would encourage you to practice unwavering commitment via different routes. ;)

Rob Lowe himself:

And is anyone else missing the ’80′s lately? Things just seemed so fun then. And…okay…this is a bit of satire, too. Something like this actually happened. Someone filmed those construction workers dancing and said, ‘Great! We got the shot. That’s awesome!’ But…they were very happy about it:

Okay, if that doesn’t make you happy, then…well…then you’re probably a normal person. ;) I’m a little off sometimes, I admit, but I am going to unabashedly put out a call right now for a little more happiness in our lives. And not just ‘I got a new Timmy pedal in the mail’ happy. Happy like, ‘They’re remaking Footloose and I really, really want to make fun of that fact but maybe instead I should go see it and try (and fail of course because I’m very white) to start a dance party in the theatre.’ Okay, that was a joke. You can’t, nor should you ever try to, picture me at anything resembling a dance party. More like sit and enjoy a movie I want to make fun of. Or, if that proves too difficult for me, at the very least have a Kevin Bacon movie marathon at my house.

And this is going to be admittedly way out of left field, but I’ll throw it out there anyway. What would be the most effective way to rob a society of Christians of joy? Certainly not trials and hardships, as joy is a chosen emotion, and not based upon circumstances. But make the subconscious societal mindset one of adoring satire and making light of joy, and now you’re tapping into people’s desires and making them not want to choose joy. You’ve then bypassed the expected frontal attack, and gone straight for the heart of the matter: people’s choice. People’s desire to choose emotions based on cultural norms is surprisingly much stronger than their reactions to external circumstances.

And that is a theoretical call to make sure we don’t accidentally lead ourselves into that. It’s not a blaming of a super-secret government ruling faction (although that would be cool…and it’d be Eisenhower’s industrial militarists under the guise of the Tyrell Corporation of course…hehe) or the devil. The latter possibly could be true, but I feel like we do enough messing of things up on our own, and take far too little responsibility for our own sinful actions.

Just something to think about as we walk the balance between satire and happiness, or perhaps between intellectualism and joy.

And I feel really cheesey and self-conscious pushing ‘Publish’ on a post calling for ‘happiness.’ But here it goes.

And to follow my own advice on not being cool, here’s a song too old to be cool, but not old enough to be retro-cool, and too played out to be a cool indie/hipster ‘ironic find.’ But it embodies what this post is talking about, and I love it:

Splendid.
Karl.

So…

that’s not a Fulldrive clone.

I mean, at least change ‘vintage’ to ‘classic’ or something.

I know, I know, and the Fulldrive’s a tubescreamer clone, and the tubescreamer’s a clone of some early Dallas Arbiter circuit, and somewhere along the line we’ll inevitably and inexplicably end up back at Dumble.

Splendid.
Karl.

P.S. The name is blurred just in case it’s someone’s homemade rehouse just to be cool for themselves and not to make money off of someone else’s design. Which was originally Ibanez’s design, probably cloned from…ah!!! Down the rabbit hole we go.

 

They Won’t Notice When it’s Wrong, but They Will Notice When it’s Right

This morning, it was wrong. I messed up on a last minute song change at one of the services (not my idea, hehe…see the last post…we were forced by time constraints), and I failed to accurately read the structure of the following song and how difficult the change would make the transition. It wasn’t great. But the team recovered, I recovered (not necessarily at the same time ;) ), and people still sang powerfully.

Not one person came up to me and said it was bad. Not one person came up to me and mentioned that part where we were off the click and from each other. Not one person even referenced it. In fact, some folks even came up and said things sounded great. And of course, to make ourselves feel better, we told ourselves that no one noticed. Which is true…but incomplete. Yes, no one noticed that things were wrong. But had they been right, I can almost guarantee you they would have noticed. Often times in performances (yes, I’m referring to church as a ‘performance’…there’s a stage, we do solo’s, and we create a production…like it or not, there’s at least a small element of performance in that), church and otherwise, we have a mindset of thinking that if we can get it good enough to where no one notices that it was wrong, that we’re okay. But is that really our goal? To be just not wrong enough to where people don’t notice? Because in reality, people probably are not going to notice enough to say something unless it’s a complete trainwreck. All the stuff in between trainwreck and amazing? More than likely, no one will ever notice enough to say that it was bad. But. If it was amazing? You can be sure that it would touch people. And that is the goal. Not to simply not have people think it’s wrong; but to touch people when it’s right!

I hear this all the time when it comes to tone. Statements like, ‘Come on…who’s gonna notice the difference between a Tim and an SD1?’ And the answer is, of course, no one. No one’s going to come up to you after you play an SD1 and say how bad your tone sounded. And after playing a Tim, no one’s going to come up to you and say how good your tone sounded. But after playing the Tim, they might come up to you and say how good the music overall sounded, although they won’t know why. (Nothing against the classic and lovely SD1.) That’s what we’re going for. Not ‘no one said it was bad’, but ‘people were moved.’

It’s like when you’re surfing channels on Sunday afternoon for something to watch. And invariably Independence Day is on? Nothing wrong with Independence Day. It’s a decent movie (except when Fresh Prince says ‘Welcome to Earth), it’s a fun movie, and you probably wouldn’t walk away after watching it thinking what a terrible movie it was. But at the same time, you probably wouldn’t walk away thinking about it at all. It wasn’t a trainwreck. No one noticed it was wrong. But did it touch anyone? In fact, you probably were slightly entertained by it, but didn’t care enough to stay with it through the first commercial break. In fact, when you continued to surf, you probably landed on Shawshank Redemption, starting weeping instantly, and then at that amazingly satisfying last long shot, went out and hugged your kids, or proposed to your girlfriend, made your family dinner, enrolled in a Master’s Degree program, called up friends to start a band again, and started to ‘get busy living, or get busy dying.’ Nothing wrong with Independence Day; but everything is right with Shawshank Redemption.

Now those two movies may be switched in level of goodness in your mind, or you may like neither. But replace those two movies with one that makes you feel ‘meh’, and one that just inspires you and that you can’t even understand why. And whatever that movie may be, that’s the goal. Of music, or worship music, of guitar tone, of musicianship. There is nothing wrong with times when the music or your tone is just simply, ‘Well, no one noticed it was wrong.’ Those times happen, and in a church situation, many times God still works in spite of us. But in giving our absolute best into everything we do, we cannot leave that thought that incomplete. We cannot be satisfied with ‘they didn’t notice it was wrong.’ Because when it’s right? They notice. They may not have noticed it was wrong…but they will notice when it’s right. When it touches them. When it takes them from indifference to empassioned.

They won’t notice when it’s wrong, but they will notice when it’s right.

This morning at the transition of that one song? It was Independence Day. Not bad, not great, and no one probably remembers it one way or the other. But they probably would’ve remembered Shawshank Redemption.

Splendid.
Karl.

P.S. I’m sure that on a site with ‘for worship’ in the title, I’ll get some comments about how none of this matters, as worship music is not about our performance, and all about God. And I completely and totally agree. It’s just then at that point I can’t understand why we even play worship music to begin with. Yes, it’s about God, and we don’t need the music to sound good. We don’t even need music at all. But as long as we’ve decided to use it, I do believe that there’s a bit of a responsibility to work towards doing it as well as currently possible.