(by guest blogger Chris Huff at Behind the Mixer)

Jazz music, specifically instrumental jazz, forces the listener to focus on the instruments and the arrangement. You can’t get lost singing along. Jazz brings all the instruments to the forefront and it’s there where you will learn a lot.

Great jazz musicians know how to play off each other, how to play behind the other instruments, how have the right sound for their instrument, and how they sound along with the other instruments.

Electric guitarists (that means YOU), have spent a lot of time and energy finding that perfect tone you love to hear from your guitar. It might even be song-specific. But there are two questions I have to ask you; 1) did you set your tone based off what you heard on the stage or from the house speakers? 2) did you ever check that tone against the other instruments?

There is a lot your sound guy can do for shaping your sound and the sound of the band. HOWEVER, the best modifications are made first at the instrument level. Welcome to some extra time in the church sanctuary.

The five steps to a better sounding electric guitar tone;
1. Arrange time with your sound guy to work in the sanctuary when it’s not in use.
2. Set up your equipment in the middle of the sanctuary. Connect to the audio system with the help of the sound tech.
3. Play and listen to how it sounds from the house speakers.
4. Tweak your settings (guitar, effects, amp).
5. Play and repeat step number 4 until you find the best sound.

You’ll find that great tone you thought you had on the stage sounds different in the sanctuary.

Now that you’ve got that great tone, how does it sound against the other instruments?

I’m not saying you have to drag the whole band to the sanctuary. What I am saying is there are specific instruments you should work with during your practices to create the best complimentary sounds. Specifically, the bass player and the keyboard player. The two instruments can fight for audio frequencies that you share and if there is more fighting and too much sharing, your instruments will sound like mud.

For example, a keyboardist playing pads can really fill out the sound of a band. But if the pad sound sounds so much like the electric guitar effects, then the sounds blur together. The sound guy can tweak the frequencies to a limited extent but when the two instruments are so similar in frequency / sound, then the mix (your sound as a band) will suffer.

Therefore, the next time you are practicing with the band, spend some time with the bassist and the keyboardist one-on-one so that you have all found the best patches and effects that prompt the great sound of your respective instruments while also making room for the other instruments in the mix.

What Type of Tomato Are You?

Odd question, definitely, but follow me on this point. The sound tech is like a cook. I can take all the ingredients and create a pot of chili. The success of the chili, however, is based largely on the quality of ingredients I use. Rotten tomatoes, dried out beans, spoiled meat…are these ingredients you’d want to make a pot of chili? View your sound as an ingredient and you’ll find yourself striving to be vine-ripened. And if you want to know what it sounds like to have instruments that make a great pot of chili, look to jazz.

–Chris Huff.

(Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to improving instrument sounds. He can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.)