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.’
(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.