Space Ship Sounds

So, after our Saturday night service this weekend, I’m talking with one of the elders at our church. And we’re talking about my musical ability, or lack of it, whichever way you want. And it’s awkward, because he’s been there for a long time…since before I was even on staff; when I was the long-haired, Kenny G meets The Counte of Monte Cristo looking, young kid trying to play John Pettrucci solos before I knew what a diminished chord was, on my old rig that I’m so keen on making fun of myself for……I’m sure you know it by now. The BC Rich Warlock (metal never dies), into a Boss GT6 (digital modeling is the way of the future, I used to say), run stereo into a Crate 2×12 (score!) and a Fender 4 channel PA (seriously…what the heck?). (And again, if you play a rig similar to that and get great tone, absolutely more power to you. That’s awesome. However, I could not. ;) ) So he’s seen me progress (uh, let’s hope…one can only go up from there, it would seem), and it’s always difficult talking to the people who have known you from your beginnings…because they see you for who you are. It’s a ton easier to walk in somehwere when you’re already at least competent enough to fake it at what you’re doing.

So we’re talking and he goes, ‘You know, your guitar playing has really improved. I’m glad you moved out of the space ship stage.’

Yep. The space ship stage. And unfortunately, as much as I wanted to just say, ‘Pssh (wow, that comes through really ’90′s junior high valley girl when typed), what’s he talking about?’……I knew exactly what he was talking about. He was remembering the stage when I was just moving out of the horrendous speed metal solos (without the speed part…and probably even the solo part, in the truest sense of the word), but hadn’t quite bought in completely to the minimalist ‘make the music sound good’ (novel idea, I know) thing yet. And I landed, inexplicably, in some sort of Return to Forever guitar playing, but if their guitarist actually secretly wanted to be a keyboardist……in space. It was weird. I think, when I finally bought into tube amps, and tone, and playing to support the music, I kind of wanted to remove myself as far as possible from my previous tone. And one of my guitar mentors at the time had told me that tube tone was ‘warm.’ So I was just totally on this quest for ‘warmth.’ Six delay pedals, bass and mid controls up to 11, must use volume pedal at all times, and four phasers later, I had achieved what I at the time thought to be ‘warmth.’ Unfortunately, for everyone else it seems, I had achieved ‘space ship sounds.’

AlDiMeola.jpg picture by rypdal95
(Here’s Al DiMeola of Return to Forever doing his best John Mayer impression. Wait. Maybe it’s the other way around. Check out the flame on that guitar, though! Beautiful. Almost takes the focus off his face. Almost. He is an amazing guitarist, though. I just didn’t have the skill or musicianship to create atmospheres like him…even though I was positive that I did. :) )

And I have this vague recollection of playing at a church a few years ago and turning on my fuzz, clean boost, 2 phasers, 3 delays, and one hold delay, switching to my neck pickup, and swelling a low bass note. This was my ‘cello’ tone. And I remember hearing this intensely low, moaning, swirling feedback, and the sound guy actually running on stage yelling at me to stop my cello tone, and me just in heaven from the ‘warm’ sound that was of course helping the worship experience so very much, and thinking how sound guys just don’t know tone. Ya. I’m gonna go with ‘The sound guy was right’ and that one.

Of course, we all have to go through stages. The thing is to learn from them and to always be progressing as musicans…not necessarily as technicians, but as musicians; and in most of our cases, as worship leaders. (And I’m meaning all worship team members as worship leaders.) And most importantly to realize that (and I know this is crazy) you could be wrong. (Gasp!) Hmm. I wonder what incredible tone wonderment I’m creating now that five years from now someone will say, ‘I’m glad you moved out of that stage.’ Could it be the U2 stage? Nah. Impossible.

Ah, the sounds, tones, and techniques we are so proud of ourselves for; then a few years later……ya……not so much.

Splendid.
Karl.

9 thoughts on “Space Ship Sounds

  1. A few months ago, I had a few people mention how my guitar playing had improved. It was almost like they said “you used to suck.” While I don’t know if they would be right, I do know that I passed the stage where I stood rather rigidly and played a bit robotic-ly. Though some times, with worship songs, I have felt a robot could play the chord progressions and no one would notice!

  2. @karl – space ship sounds? hahaha. that is a classic! well, at least there’s the commendation: “your guitar playing has really improved”. :)

    @chris – there is a guy i know that played “robotic-ly” everytime. and no matter how good he play, it just doesn’t translate in to the way people hear him. i think it does matter, whether its basic chord progression or a rhapsody, to play loose and with emotion. just my 2-cents ;)

  3. Karl, are you on staff as a worship leader or lead guitarist? I’ve never figured that out. I’m assuming worship leader, but I know a guy who’s on staff with a church as a drummer. The place is so big they employ musicians and between all their services and youth stuff, it’s a full time job.

  4. Hmm… I really liked the spaceship sounds! ;)

    I’m blessed to have a Pastor who’s not only a talented musician, but who’s also bold enough to tell me that my Gibson didn’t sound quite as great as I thought it did (in the nicest possible way). Now I have a Martin that sounds better than any other guitar out there (note mild sarcasm… very mild)… I’m sure it’ll suck in a few years though.

    Go figure…

    Nothing wrong with spaceship sounds. They were a lot better than Joe Satriani leads…. and I’m sure that what you’re doing now is probably a little better than what you were doing a few months ago.

    “From glory to glory…” 2 Cor. 3:18

  5. Should I be ashamed then, that I used to use a cordless drill during worship, a la Eddie Van Halen?

    I’m so embarrassed for even saying that…

  6. Chris–haha Yep! Some compliments people give, you walk away wondering, ‘Wait? Does it count as a compliment if they mention how much you used to suck?’ hehe

    Rhoy–hehe Ya, at least there was some sort of compliment in there. :) But I knew what he meant, so it was totally cool.

    Mike–I’m definitely more of a lead guitarist, and most churches and gigs I play at, I play lead guitar. But at my home church, ya, I’m on staff as the music director. Which means I lead most of the worship music, but also schedule other worship leaders to lead with me, so that the congregation doesn’t rely on one person for their worship experience. Kind of a Hillsong feel (we wish). But we’re a younger, more progressive church, and I lead worship from electric about 75% of the time.

    Eric–great way to put it!! Yep, hopefully I have progressed since last time I played. Always gotta be moving forward. And congrats on the new geetar!

    GuitarToma–that may be the best thing I have ever heard. Ever.

  7. For Halloween (this past Sunday), I entertained the team for a few minutes buy recording a loop of first me playing a church bell sound (the trick where you weave your pick under the A string, then backup over the E, then flip the thing over on itself, set it at the 3rd-5th fret and bump the E & A strings on beat 1 over every measure), then added some crazy spooky reverbed swells, followed by church organ sounds using the POG. I ended the whole thing with a delay pedal, turning the repeats up to almost infinity and then changing the time to get that oversaturated feedback loop sound. Now that I think about it, some slide with delay would have been nice too. We just didn’t have enough time

  8. Oh, as far as that cello tone goes, you can get some really cool string sounds with an eBow. My favorite thing to do whenever we have a string quartet playing, is to pull out the eBow and move from string to string directly over the pickup while fingering a chord. It sounds like a violin arpeggiating a chord. It sounds awesome and gets the string players in trouble for playing when their not supposed to. It seriously fools people.

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