(Not our gear…….but close)
We finally did the long-awaited Guitar Workshop. Which might more aptly have been named the Tone-Obsessive Guitarist Workshop. And of course, as is always the case when I need to talk through my rig, my tone sucked. But more on that later. Tone is a fantastic thing, guitar playing for worship is a fantastic thing, but people are the main thing. Above guitars? (That’s actually seriously what I’m asking in my head right now.) And I answer to myself, ‘Yes, even above guitars.’ We had an awesome group of people show up. So here’s the roundup of our little tone-seeker circle, from left to right as we sat on stage:
Andy Lumsden–guitarist for Impact Church, former bassist for Life Church. And he’s a really cool guy…he’ll stand in every once in a while if we ask him nicely. One of the most humble men I’ve ever met. To talk with him, you’d never hear a word out of his mouth about himself. But if you start asking questions, you realize he builds killer cabs, pedals, fixes amps, and is just diving into the world of building amps. Knows more than I could ever claim to. Had a great rig, too…complete with an all-original ’62 Strat. If you don’t know Andy, you should. An asset both spiritually and musically to any church he’s at.
Erin Wible–guitarist for Sunridge Community Church. I just met Aaron last night, and I tell you, he’s the first person I’ve met who rivals Andy on the humility thing. The way Aaron talked about his rig and his playing, I thought I was talking to a guy playing for a month who maybe didn’t own an amp. Then come to find out, he’s playing like a Suhr-pickuped guitar into a killer board with absolutely great tone. And he also knows when to play, and what to play, and at the right time. Incredibly cool to talk with guy, too….great sense of humor (which is, of course, rare with most of us anti-social, heads in our gear, guitarists). I immediately wished he was on my worship team.
Mike Dalton–bassist and band leader for Sunridge Community Church. Anybody who’s ever met Mike knows that he’s a great guy……and not just a great guy…….he makes you feel like you’ve been old friends for years even if its the first time you’ve met him. The type of guy you’d wish you knew if you’d never met him. Mike did not bring his bass rig, but I’ve heard and seen him play before. He’s an incredible bassist, and is a passionate worshiper through music. Even more though, it was really encouraging to talk with him about some of the homeless ministries he’s involved with….including one where you actually list things like on craigslist, but for free. Then others can look on there for things they need, but can’t afford. Awesome. Sum all that up to, Mike is seriously a great bassist, musician, and friend!
Jason Bast–guitarist for Sunridge Community Church. Jason’s guitar playing is good…..it’s really good. He is very deft at all skills involving guitar; his playing is very smooth and subtle yet he’ll crank if you need him to, his knowledge of how to get the exact sound he wants from his gear is killer, and he can cover a ton of tonal ground with a relatively simple setup. (It’s not really simple….but I did not expect him to be able to get so many types of sounds from it!) It was the first time I had met him or heard him play, but I could tell right away that there wasn’t a sound or style he couldn’t conjure up. And not just conjure up, but play it perfectly and with really, really good tone! Totally humble guy, too….you can tell he’s in his element–using this tremendous talent for creating soundscapes with his guitar for God’s glory. I learned a lot from him.
Dan Verkade–keyboardist for Sunridge Community Church. Dan is one of the wisest and one of the most real people I have met. (Not to mention he’s my dad, and it was cool to have my dad show up to this!) He’s one of those rare people who have a grounded, logical, and Biblical founding for every belief and opinion they have. Incredible wisdom….but you have to ask him…..he doesn’t lord it over you, which is way cool. Also a great keyboardist who is content to play the minimalistic background sounds, but can also rip an organ solo if you need it. And you can tell he worships for real while he’s playing….he takes it seriously, which I have learned a lot from. Another true asset to whatever church has him. He’s not too shabby on the guitar licks, either.
Tim Pinckard–bassist and guitarist for Life Church. You know that ‘jack of all trades’ saying? Well, I modified it for Tim. He’s a jack of all trades and master of one…….meaning, he’s one of my favorite bass players ever to play with. Great feel and humility for driving whatever needs to be driven, grooving whatever needs to be grooved, and rumbling whatever needs to be rumbled. He just has a great feel for modern music and what the bass means for it. And on top of that, he’s a great guy who loves to worship the Lord in any capacity. So, he’s humble enough to play acoustic guitar and run sound when needed….and he does great at it. Tim’s the guy you want at your church and on your team.
Kreg Ferris–guitarist for Life Church. (Well, actually Kreg plays guitar and leads worship for a couple different churches around the valley, but to me he’s always got a spot as guitarist for Life Church.) Kreg is one of the most passionate people I have ever met. He loves music, loves to use it for God, and is extremely talented. But he’s also teachable….if you play something that I’ve never heard but it sounds great, I usually try to figure it out without asking you so that I can pretend like I’ve always known it. But Kreg (much more humble than I) will ask you immediately, ‘That was cool! Show me!’ In this way, he has become an extremely versatile guitarist and worship leader. He’d also give you the shoes he was walking in if you didn’t have a pair, which in my mind is way more important than music.
So…..those were the people. And they were great people! That was the best part of the night….hanging with people like this. And to everyone who came, a huge thanks!! I hope to do this more often, as it was a blast to hang with you all, hear your tone, and learn from you!
But then there’s my story….if anyone cares to read…..a story involving not so much ‘tone’, but the lack thereof. But I’ll go through the changes I’ve made since then, and hopefully this will serve to help as a tone review. Beware, this may be extreme boredom at its finest.
Alright. It seems as if every time I go somewhere to show my rig, something is horribly wrong. And Monday night was no exception. I’m talking through some of my worship philosophies, and I lift my volume pedal up to strum a chord, and I’m like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ Horrible, mid-heavy, barky tone. Ugh. Isn’t that the worst feeling ever, when you expect one sound, and you get another? So, I attribute this to a few reasons:
1) We all hear what we want to hear. Well, most of us do, and I certainly fall into that category. But there’s nothing that will bring your real, honest sound into complete reality in your mind when you’re showing your tone to other people (especially musicians). Suddenly, you seem to be hearing it for the first time, and not convincing yourself that it’s the room, or the mic, or your ears that day, or whatever. Those people are hearing it and judging your tone right then and there. So, that’s a huge thing.
2) I realized that I haven’t actually ‘heard’ my rig in a while. I haven’t gigged that much in the last couple months, and at church we keep our amp cabs off stage and hear them through the house and in-ear monitors. And the in-ear monitors are like, terrible. Squished sound…I mean, you can hear the notes you’re playing, but you can’t tell tone or feel for nothin’. And I’ve made a ton of changes to my rig in the last couple months, but incorporated them all by playing at home or by playing through the system at church (after service, when I can turn up loud in the house and take the in-ears out). And, of course, eq’ing at home volumes and through sound systems won’t give you the same goodness as eq’ing your live rig at full volume right in front of you first. I have pulled my cab onto the stage after service…..but after listening to the in-ears, anything would sound awesome on stage. So….big re-learning experience for me to bring my full rig on stage every week when no one’s in the church and re-work it. I’ve known this before, but have gotten lazy or too busy or something. (Maybe just staying home and listening to too much U2……no, there’s no such thing as that.)
3) I did play half the demo with my amp on the wrong channel….I guess I was nervous and forgot to check this….or lazy….or dumb. Any of the above. But it was really funny when I went to show what the other channel of my amp sounded like, I hit the switch, and I was like, ‘Wait.’ So, that was good times.
The Solutions (hopefully):
So, as is my nature, things cannot be bad. Life must be perfect at every second, and so must be tone. (I know, that’s a terrible way to live, but for tone it’s not such a bad thing. Well, maybe it is, but then tone just supercedes anyway. Mmmm…….tone.) So I get home at like 11 PM and just start changing things in my mind, seeing what I can replace by reading reviews online and seeing if the gear I’ve put off buying is on gearpage, all that fun stuff. And then Tuesday morning, I went into the church, turned all my gear on, and re-worked stuff for like three hours. Here’s my changes:
.5) Now, the obvious solutions are to get new guitars and a new amp head (just a head as I am actually really happy with my cab). But, those are huge changes, and I’m going to try (‘try’ being the key word here) to hold off on that.
1) Get that stupid volume pedal out of my chain! I use the Ernie Ball junior. And I know it sucks tone…..I’ve ab/d it in a bypass loop and heard the tone suckage. But I’ve just not had the money to pull the trigger on a Goodrich or a Hilton or some volume pedal of that nature, so I’ve just lived with it. But these pedals are known for getting worse and worse….the pots start to wear out, the string gets caught somewhere and then you’re still not at full volume when the pedal is all the way up…..stuff like that. So I started looking at more expensive volume pedals, even the optical circuit ones. But then I started thinking that there’s no way of knowing, with a circuit that is designed to take away volume, if any pedal you get might at sometime, start working at only 90%. And I don’t want to have to bypass loop it every week to make sure. And then it came to me……………..I only use the volume pedal for swells…..that’s it’s only effect in my rig. When I play, I always run it dimed anyway. So why not keep it in a true bypass loop all the time? Then it’s completely out of the circuit until I need it for swells…..in which case my guitar is in the background anyway, and usually with a good deal of gain and delay for the swells, where a bit less volume might actually be a good thing. So I ordered an extra cable so that I can put the volume pedal in my extra bypass loop. Now my signal runs:
Guitar –> bypass box –> bypass box –> three true bypass delays –> amp.
Wow, tone is vastly improved without that volume pedal. But…..
2) Tone is still kind of harsh and barky. So, I start to think that in past weeks I’ve been really preferring my strat over my normal go-to-guitar, the Les Paul. So I pick up the Strat and hmmmm, does sound sweeter. But not enough guts, even for a strat. Neck pickup sounds good and with guts, but very deep and bluesy. Very nice for a few styles, but not for most. Bridge pickup is really trebly, but it could sound good if it had a bit more…….ah! So, I raise the bridge pickup a bit, and fullness comes back. Still not my absolute favorite, though. So I try out the middle pickup. I raise it a bit, then mess with the mids switch for this pickup. End up getting a very nice treble sound but with more umph with the mids switch down. Okay……………
3) Now to tune the amp. So, long story short, increased the master volume and lower the gain on the amp. Nice. Then increase bass, mids, and presence on the amp by just a bit, and increase treble by a lot.
4) So this works with the strat very well, but the Les Paul still sounds gross. So, resisiting the urge to re-tune the amp, I roll off a bit on the tone control on the bridge pickup of the Les Paul, and wow. A Much less barky sound. Sweeter, even with the treble still up on the amp. Sounds like a more trebly neck pickup now, which is the sound I look for. However, I may still be on a strat kick for a while.
5) So, without the volume pedal, the signal chain should be pretty pure, but it is still running through five pedals most of the time. So, I ordered a VHT Valvulator to test as a first-in-the-chain buffer, and an HBE Dos Mos to test as a last-in-the-chain buffer/preamp. Now buffers/clean boosts are things that I used to run exclusively. I used to love them, but got rid of them in my attempt to go to a more classic sound. But it might be time to bring them back…..at least to test. Both Jason and Aaron had an HBE Uno Mos at the ends of their chains, and I was very impressed by the tone. So, I figured I’d give that one a try. Found a Dos Mos on e-bay (which is the same, with an extra circuit) that someone was selling for cheaper than the Uno Mos new, so I figured I’d give it a try.
(Again, not ours…..but close again….and that’s also the best board I’ve ever seen)
And that’s about it. Overall a fantastic night! And I’ll keep posting about my own rig changes, and if new guitars and a new amp head are in order. To everyone who came, thank you so much again, for your love for worshiping the Lord through music and for your humility and cool rigs!