Changing it Up

Decided to play a few services pretending I was BB King this week. Normally I pretend I’m the Edge; but this past week I have been without my main amp head. Not because it broke down, but because the once apple red colored  tolex has faded into what looks like the Brady Bunch carpet. And I don’t mean that as a joke…that’s simply how ugly it is. So, while a very talented friend of mine is working on it, I’ve been having to use my backup amp. It’s also a Holland, but it’s the Brentwood model (yes, I admit…I bought it solely because it was named after a community in Hollywood…a community really, really near the Holiday Inn that Al Pacino stays at in Heat…shivers…sad). The Brentwood is 6L6-based, and much more bluesy and American sounding than my main EL84-based head. I usually use it for my pad live, or as my plug straight in amp for small gigs and such. And then whenever my main amp goes down or needs attention, I just buy another EL84-based amp I’ve been wanting to try out, give it a review, and then gig it until my Holland is ready, and then sell the one I just bought. And I always convince myself that I am actually making money when I buy and sell these ‘fill-in-the-gaps’ amps. But…uh…as money is really scarce right now, it’s not the time to risk the fact that I may in fact be lying to myself. 😉

And there’s no rule saying that you have to change styles when you switch it up gear-wise. But I thought it might be a kind of cool opportunity to stretch myself a bit…and to make sure I’m not boring the sweet goodness out of my listeners with my constant ‘that sounds like U2 but not as good’ riffage. So, for the couple gigs and services I’ve been without my main amp, I did bring my pedalboard for some of the songs that just have to have effects. But for the most part, I played effectless (I know…just typing that seems like heresy) with just strat into 6L6 amp. And I chose some songs that lended themselves a bit more to a Jeff Buckley ballad style or a BB King blues style. And the one service I played as the lead guitarist, I just told the worship leader, ‘Tough, bro. I’m copping jazz tonight. Deal with it.’ No, not really… It actually was great timing, and one of the reasons I took the amp in now…because at that church, the stage is getting re-constructed, so we had to have the night service in the coffee shop…perfect for BB King pretences.

(‘I’m horrible with chords.’ –BB King. So humble, yet so much soul. Talk about picking the absolute perfect note every time. BB King can rip your heart out with one bend, over the same chords that a lot of other guys use to play eighty-two double train-whistle bends that barely touch your heart.)

But it was a great experience to force me to change it up. See, you can do it by just telling yourself to change it up. But, I know at least for me, if there’s not some difference in the circumstances to force me to, I’ll usually forget that I was even trying. hehe But with this, it just made me look at each part of each song like…it was weird, it felt like I was playing out for the first time. You get into the habit of, even if it’s a new song, ‘Okay, the chords are going here…oh, that’s where I play this.’ And this past week, it allowed me to look at everything in a new way. And it was really, really fun. Which is a really important part that we don’t talk about very often.

So, maybe it’s a good thing to try every once in a while. Plug straight in for a bit, or force yourself to turn your amp up too loud so you have to nurse your volume knob as you play to help your dynamic mindset, or leave a delay on an untimed setting (low mix, of course) and force yourself to play with it, or change guitars to one you don’t use as much, or do all your lead work on acoustic one day, or whatever. Now, make sure the conditions are correct for you to experiment…if the worship leader has chosen ‘I am Free’, don’t say, ‘Oh, sorry bro. I’m not allowing myself to turn on my delay pedal today.’ Or if it’s a gig and a song you guys have written, you’ll literally kill (as in, they will die) your band if you decide today is the day for your flanger to be your ‘always on’ pedal. (Come to think of it, flange should just never be on. 😉 ) But if the conditions lend themselves to it, it can really refresh your mindset to change it up.

And for the record, would BB King have been impressed with my stellar, seeping with emotion out of the riff’s pores if riffs had pores, blues riffs? Eh…probably not so much. I think I did the same bend like, 6 times. He’d probably say something akin to what Edge would say if he ever heard me play (sorry, letting my personal fantasies get in the way here again). I always get excited when I have this dream…but then, right at the best part when Edge opens his mouth to congratulate me on my ‘owning it’, he says something like, ‘You know, I really like my ‘Walk On’ riff. And you…uh…found a way to fit it into every song. Four times each. Good…uh…job.’



0 thoughts on “Changing it Up

  1. You probably know this but I’m surprised you missed slipping this in…
    “When Love Comes to Town, I’m Gonna Catch That Train” is a collaboration effort between BB King and U2. Rattle and Hum album, I think but I’m not sure. Someone else can google it.

  2. I was thinking that too. I remember seeing a cool video of U2 and B.B. in the studio, when they were recording together, and I remember him saying “I’m not good with chords”.
    I think, Karl, if you want to be more like BB, I’d suggest not doing the lemonade thing, and instead, eat cheeseburgers.

  3. good thoughts man! yeah, changing the way we play can be tough sometimes but fun once you get a hang of it.

    btw, i am also kind of looking to other ways i can vary my playing and i found out about Freddie Green (aka Mr. Rhythm). If you haven’t heard of him, you can read about his technique at

  4. Playing on Sundays with the worship team is pretty much a change up for me. I quit playing in what I guess you would call regular bands about 20 years ago when I found Christ. Built a small recording studio in my home and started writing and recording for Him and me (I write Christian music with a blues, southern rock, country type sound.) . Around the house, I find myself just plugging straight in to an amp ( I know, how caveman like.) more times than not.

    The church that I attend is pretty contemporary. The team that I’m playing with this Sunday are pretty much kids (17 to 25 – I have children that old.). I’ve got guitars that are older than most (all) of them. That’s when the pedalboard comes out and I get pushed out of my envelope. It’s good when God uses you in ways that push you out of your comfort zone. I have to rely more on him and less on myself. I bet Jesus can kick some butt on a Strat.

  5. Jazzy goodness? This sounds like one of my posts!!! I have written about “going to the basics” and doing broken down sets that keep it simple. heh, nice post :)

    BTW, one of the best albums out there is “Riding with the King” which is a dual-effort of Clapton and BB.
    BB is the Bomb, and his vocals with Bono… well, even Bono seemed to have to step back in that light.

    hmm… I’m planning on getting another amp (or two) in about 2 years. We may have to talk, as ampage is my weak point of knowledge.
    You like orange amps ? 😉

    Btw, blues.. BB… now I’m catching on why you did the TS shootout!!!!
    So.. are you keeping on this time? ? ? hehe….

  6. Chris–great call! Ya, actually my BB King quote under his picture in the article is from Rattle and Hum. It’s pretty funny because he makes his living on leads, and U2 makes their living on simplistic yet beautiful songs. So he says, ‘I’m horrible with chords’ and Bono says, ‘Well, there’s not much chords in this song…I think maybe two’. haha

    Don–lol So that’s my problem! I just don’t have the girth to play the blues properly. haha 😉

    Rhoy–you’re totally right…it’s the getting out of our comfort zone at first that’s the hard first step. And I read some of that site…good stuff! Thanks for the link, brother!

    Mark–great points!! Yep, there’s some of us that need to plug in some pedals every once in a while to change it up and keep things fresh, and others of us that need to unplug some pedals to change things up! hehe And then some of us (used to be me) that really need to plug into a tuner. 😉

    Larry–thanks for the heads up on the album. I’ll check it out. :) And as far as Orange amps go, I’ve owned a couple and they are definitely very good sounding amps. Really good cleans. But for their price, I really think they should be handwired, and the new ones are not. But they are decent amps, and do have a very good sound. And all that is in my hopefully humble opinion. 😉

    And no, I’m not keeping any tubescreamers. In fact, they’re all gone but one. They’re a great type of pedal, and even some of my heroes use them, but they just never seem to do it for me. Ah well. To each his own! :)

  7. I hear ya on BB’s note selection, there’s no one better. IMO.

    I saw him many (many) years ago. He used to invite people on stage to play with him. Most guys would get up there and play a gazillion notes over 15 seconds. He would counter with just 2-3 notes and they were perfect! Lots of playas got schooled that night.

    It was then I realized I didn’t have to play fast to sound good. Not that I could play that fast anyway. What a relief!

    Double true on no flanger. Why do they make those things? :-)

  8. Tim, that’s awesome!! I would have loved to have seen that. Oh, it’s sad how much minimalism excites me. haha

    And sweet! It’s nice to meet another guitarist who doesn’t like flange. hehe 😉

  9. I used to go to a youth group at another church ( many years ago now….sigh) where the worship leader, who played accoustic, ran his signal through a boss flanger.
    ALWAYS on.

  10. An always on flanger on an acoustic?! I think the thought is so hateful to me, that I’m having trouble rapping my brain around it. haha That’s amazing, bro!

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