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The Endangered Electric Guitarist


Author: Dan Leverence
Music Category: ,

Posted July 28, 2014 by

By Dan Leverence


oday over lunch, I had a conversation with a fellow worship leader that has become recurring. If I’ve had it once over the last year, I’ve had it at least ten times: why is it so hard to find good electric guitar players?

As a worship and arts ministry leader, this is an issue I’ve pondered at length. I became even more glaringly aware of its significance when I became an adjunct college instructor and started to notice an increasing scarcity in actual electric guitar players. Even more alarming, I’ve experienced an astonishing lack of interest to learn.


A Possible Answer
At the 2012 Willow Creek Association Leadership Summit, Craig Groeshel skillfully identified some growing trends that identify the generational differences in our world today. He spoke respectfully and pointedly while challenging us all to remain committed to the intentionality it will require for generations to work together. During that talk, he specifically addressed those in the younger generation with some realities about which they should be aware:

When a national survey asked business leaders what one word best describes the emerging generation, the number one response was “entitled.” And because of this entitlement mentality, members of the emerging generation overestimate what they can do in the short run but underestimate what they can do through a lifetime of faithfulness. They desire respect (which can only be earned) but often forget to give honor to those who’ve gone before and paved the way (and incidentally, can invest in them through mentoring).

So what does any of this have to do with the endangered electric guitarist?

It’s my developing belief that most aspiring young musicians today would rather pick up an acoustic guitar, load a YouTube video (or 10), and learn how to play enough chords to join or form a band. But what does it take to play electric guitar skillfully? Work. Hard work. Playing the electric guitar requires diligence in learning about the intricacies of lead lines, riffs, and licks. And the best electric guitar players I know spend an almost obsessive amount of time (over weeks, months, and years) researching equipment and dialing in the perfect tone. It’s a process that requires commitment and dedication. Certainly any description of an entire generation is a generalization at best, but there is certainly an amount of truth that we can all learn from the possible sense of entitlement that is prevalent in the younger generation (though we’ve all met people who feel entitled of all ages). However, with a desire only to focus on what they can do in the short run, it’s possible that a large percentage of the emerging generation is unwilling to devote themselves to the work it will require to become an accomplished electric guitar player.

But that’s enough for the generation bashing; there is a possible problem here, so how do we fix it? I think there are a few good places to start:

Honest and Healthy Mentoring Relationships

I’ve shared these thoughts with several of the young people with whom I have relationships and it has resonates positively with them. Though they have to combat a mentality that’s overtly prevalent in their cultural context, most don’t want to be boxed into a stereotype and be labeled as “entitled.” Once they become aware, they want to change, and that happens through honest, healthy mentoring relationships.

Identifying Potential
I work with a student who is a good acoustic guitar player and shows the potential to take his talent to the next level. So I encouraged him to consider learning to play electric guitar and he responded positively. It’s challenging though. A commitment to learning electric is more than just learning—it’s an investment. Gear costs money and good gear costs more. But if the emerging generation sees that more doors of opportunity can open to them if they expand their abilities, it’s motivating for them. This particular student has been working, saving, buying, learning, and I’m excited to share in his progress.

Intentionality and Opportunity
Groeschel concluded his session at the Leadership Summit by encouraging intentionality as we seek to unite generations. Per his suggestion, I’m committed to creating ongoing feedback loops. And the operative word there is “loop”—it’s not just me giving feedback to them. It’s being intentional about getting feedback from them as well. It also requires me as a mentor to create specific mentoring moments from which we all learn. It also requires opportunity. You can’t ask a basketball team to practice without ever playing a game and I can’t require an aspiring electric guitarist to invest and rehearse without ever giving them the opportunity to play. It’s a delicate balance, which will require significant intentionality and investment, combined with the clear communication of expectations and willingness to show grace, but it’ll be worth it.

Let’s see if we can get electric guitarists off the endangered species list.

Dan Leverence has served as the Creative Arts Pastor at Constance Free Church in suburban Minneapolis, MN for the past 10 years and is also an adjunct instructor of Music Ministry at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. He lives with his wife, Angie, and their son, Tate.




    I have recently been forced to leave the Acoustic/Rhythm guitarist position and step into the elec(both rhythm and lead) for our worship team. I really like it but often find myself torn between rhythm and lead. Most modern contemporary worship has at least two electrics going.

    I guess what im struggling with is I want to take on the lead licks but the song loses so much momentum when I drop out to lay down a lick because theres no one to take on the acoustic.

    Or new acoustic isnt comfortable picking up a electric, even if its just for simple power chords in rhythm.

    Its just difficult in a smaller church to find mentorship musically. Like they want you to have “the sound” but arent able to help you toward it.


      Hi Peter,

      I have served as electric guitarist for a church of 400, for the past two and a half years. In my experience, here is what I have learned.

      1.A repeating riff is much more cohesive for your sound than playing full sounding chords, so long as it is unique.

      2.Let the keyboard player fill sonic space with synth pads. Let the acoustic guitar fill space by strumming and ringing out open chords on their guitar. If you don’t have at least one of those, your worship leader needs to step up recruitment tactics.

      3.”Keep your gunpowder dry, or it won’t light up when you need it”. This means you should save your huge sounding open chords for that climaxing chorus. Now you are free to play riffs for the other choruses, but when you play huge open chords, the impact is HUGE. This is because you created an expectation of a riff and changed the path from where the listener thought it would go.

      4.If a song has no discernible lead line when you listen to it online, they probably wrote it that way. If it’s a slow song, play full chord volume swells to create ambience.

      5.If it’s a fast song, try voicing the vocal melody in a lead line to help the congregation sing better. I did this today with the hymn “Victory in Jesus”. I used bends in the minor scale from the 4th to the 5th (through the blue note), and bends from the dominant 7th to the root of the minor scale to create a country feel. We are a contemporary church, so we don’t see people sing to hymns very lively (Hillsong or Jesus Culture is another story), but man oh man did it ever help people sing along.

      6.Momentum in a song come’s from the drummer and bassist. As an electric guitarist, you are there to provide an identity to the song. This is done through lead lines. Trust me when I say that a solid riff, fill or solo will always have more impact than droning rhythm electric.

      7.If you want a musical mentor, join the site I get music and lessons from. It’s only $10 a month. You get access to sheet music, video lessons, practice loops and chord charts for electric, acoustic, keyboards, drums, and bass. They habe music from the biggest worship teams around.



    hey there…im a guitarist for three years now and in all humility, and i thank god for this, i am an excellent lead guitarist but i am forced to play chords coz im the only one. and i feel im not living to my potential and plus no one in my church pays any attention to the guitarists…i feel like giving up


      Camille. In Christly love, Don’t give up ever! if you do Satin wins. I have been playing electric and all other kinds of guitars for 45 years. my specialty is lead, ambience and harmonics using a treble bar and volume pedal. sometimes I have to play what ever it takes to deliver the message. (chords!)
      I have 10 years playing joyfully for the Lord. Its so natural for us to want to present excellence to people where then our ego is appeased. I would love to do a 5 minute solo every song we play because I could. you said it. its in all in humility. I sometimes must play chords because it fits and that’s where the lord needs me at that time. my goal is for anybody, somebody to find Jesus during the worship. and I bet someone has become close to the Lord because of your guitar playing. my little secret, it is possible to play chords and sneak a couple of quick riffs in there when the worship leader isn’t paying attention!. it just takes practice…
      Psalm 100
      1Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
      2 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

        Brian Wright

        I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with Satan taking over my life. Now Pure Silk is another story entirely!
        Just kidding!


    One problem I’ve had – I am such a guitarist, one who has spent hours and hours over decades practicing, and chasing tone with all the diligence I can master. And now that I’ve got my guitar skills, gear, and tone exactly where I want them…. I am playing the piano.

    We had a big turnover event at our church that resulted in a total change of ministries, with the piano player/music director headed out the door. And I became the new music director.

    Some funny things happened – new musicians joined the group, and it became easier to push the dynamics of the group where I wanted them to go from the piano. Plus, the congregation deeply missed our piano player, and I am fairly adept at mimicking his style and sound.

    It was supposed to be temporary. Five years later, I’m still playing the piano. But deeply miss adding guitar colour to the music a la Hillsong. Plus all that gear is going unused.


    I am really having a hard time learning lead guitar , yet i have a very great desire to play well to glorify the king, any help or advice??


      Be a good, good listener. Pay close attention to the tone you hear on Delirious, MWS, Bethel, and Hillsong pieces – start to learn the names of the sounds you hear, and make investments in the pedals that can get you that. Watch videos and stare at what they do. Practice like crazy, and consider taking lessons.


      You have the number 1 thing needed already: a very great desire to play well to glorify the King!

      Now find a mentor/coach/teacher; I suggest finding a guitarist who plays at a local church and is recognized (by others) as being an excellent player and a strong Christian.

      You Tube has many P&W videos that will help. check out the ones below posted by Soularmored.

      Here in 2016, electric guitar parts in praise and worship music are not too difficult. You can do this.


      learn basic scales such as major and minors…….and also boxed pentatonic scales……bands like jesus culture uses alot of minors..planetshakers uses alot of major scales and major pentatonic


    The biggest reason worship guitar players are hard to find is….

    Most guitar players learned how to play Metallica, Boston, or you name such and such riffs, but never learned how use delays and reverbs to set an emotional tone during a moment of worship. Or even how to tell a story with what they play. I’ll explain…..

    1. The Fraction principle – if there are 7 people playing in the band the lead guitar player is suppose to be 1/7th of the wall of sound. NOT ALL 7. ONLY 1.
    It is harder to be extremely versatile/super skilled and to not overplay. Space is a good thing.

    2. During a song, It is easy to keep drilling that scale as a riff over and over till you hit that one note you liked but at the same time you missed the intentionality of telling a story with your solo. Like talking too much and making no point. I see this as the biggest waste of a guitar part. LEARN WHAT NOTES YOU ARE GOING TO PLAY BEFORE HAND. You are basically a vocalist on guitar. Can a vocalist just sing scales through EVERY line i.e. make up the melody on the spot? Unless you are going all spontaneous the answer is – Nope. neither can you as lead guitarist.

    SIDE NOTE: yes you can get away with this for a while in most bands, but you know what you are doing. And its your fault that your keyboard players and vocalist get irritated with you. Don’t hop churches and burn bridges. Learn your craft. if you don’t agree then read James 4:17 “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Meaning – if you know your pride and lack of preparation is causing you to step on other instruments’ parts then you should change that. Don’t play the victim. You are killing the music. There is a reason Metallica doesn’t play as a worship band. (yes you can still rock at times but balance is key)

    3. Reverbs/Delays – Learn how to play ambient sounds with complimentary chords/notes especially during low dynamic emotional moments. This means a small number of notes played but with a large tail or delay feedback. Go buy a delay and reverb pedal. Dry clean tone sounds like mess because it doesn’t wash or ring out with color. Its just dry with low sustain. Tubes in your 1500 amp make color but not delay/reverb. Learn to use them together for a warm ambient sound. If you don’t even own a delay pedal then you need to get one. And yes you do need a good amp or amp modeler to have a firm tone foundation before using delay and reverb. I suggest a kemper if you can afford it. If not get a line 6 HD pedal board. Even Lincoln Brewster uses them.

    Take a look at what guys like Jeffrey Kunde do….


    It is evident that a lot of time and effort go into creating the song with settings, parts, tuning, inversion of chords to avoid lower octave ranges that keyboards and bass are covering…ect.

    There is a lot more to this than “I can play free bird.” Pursue your craft. Tell the gospel through your guitar with harsh edgy moments and soft reverent moments. Be versatile and prepared.

      Vern Nandal

      wow i want to learn there is so much to learn feel overwhelmed . i just memorized 5 positions of am pent , i have been playing for 2 years but the first year i didnt play much and was mostly learning open chords . i have a mustang iii a boss me 5o but still learning them too . Please pray for me that God would bless me with good retention of the massive amount of info i have been covering . Thanks Vern


        It will come. Don’t give up. Don’t believe every video you watch. Most of the time A song can be played on any area of the neck. It’s all about your style. If you feel more comfortable towards the lower notes, keep the key and the melody the same but use your effects to make it higher I.e. POG Octave Generator. This will change your outlook. The guitar is not in charge! The player is in charge. It’s not 1945. We can make anything sound beautiful as long as we practice. Just keep practicing the simple scales and mastering complexity will form on its own when your hands and mind are ready. A worship leader won’t condemn a learning guitarist. I promise.

    Jeff Henning

    I find this rings true and applies to ALL instruments. I know personally of several kids, three of my own, that don’t have the patience or perseverance to practice and get better; and eventually quitting because it’s too hard and takes too much time. My 10-year-old, who I am mentoring on the clarinet, asked me point blank, “But, why would I want to get better?” It’s a quandary.

    Matt Sever

    I have been playing over 25 years but only in the last 5 years have I become a worship guitarist. It was a bit of a transition to get me there, but I enjoyed the challenge and am appreciative of the worship leader’s patience with me during this time. We have been continually attracting better musicians and raising the overall level of the worship team. I’m glad I have been able to keep up with them but we are having a hard time building bench strength for guitarists.

    As for other Christian music that is ‘fun’ to play, +1 to Lincoln Brewster for sure! Kings X is comprised of three top-notch musicians and their guitarist (Ty Tabor) is off the hook but they have fallen a bit out of style lately and might not be to the tastes of today’s teenager. I was listening to the radio and “Hole Hearted” by Extreme caught my ear as being a covert Christian song, but also might not be the style a teenager is looking for. Switchfoot seems to cross the line but they are also not real ‘shreddy’.

    All this being said, i remember learning in my teen years and wouldn’t have been as interested in worship style music as I am now. Back then it was power and technique, now I am all about song and feeling.


    I have played guitar at the local Catholic church since 1981, here in northern MN. Took about 6 years off, but still leading a full on guitar-only Mass twice a month (I am the only instrument), playing all 13 or so songs during the Mass in front of about 300 people. Lately, I use an acoustic/electric Adamas Melissa Etheridge 12 string (2001 model) and before that an acoustic/electric Ovation Custom Legend 12 string (1981 to 2013). I am now going to join another group that uses piano and play along with an Epiphone Les Paul Tribute pure electric 6 string using a Roland 80 Cube amp mic’d through the church’s Bose main system. When using my acoustic/electrics they were always plugged in through a Peavey mixer/amp then through, a few years ago, EV speakers, but now, through that Bose system. Plenty of punch and LOTS of clean tones from those Ovations. It’ll be interesting to play now using the pure electric and seeing what sounds we can come up with. I don’t plan on playing “dirty” in the upper ranges with my hair on fire, but certainly want to have a solid presence and allow the guitar to “sing” while letting the harmonics carry over the piano. Or, lol, something like that. Those Ovations have a unique voice, I just have to find the right one for the Epi. Playing church music is more complicated than you would tend to believe, not just playing the typical 12 measure turn-around songs with three or four chords, and especially when you must transcribe one key to another for the alto cantor, or, normal male singer.. it also helps with the congregation to sing in a lower key. You can You Tube yourself to death trying to understand this genre, but, you need to understand the words and relate that to music in the context of the Mass.. you play softly in the background of the cantor, then, suddenly you’re loud enough to lead the congregation, then back again. The prelude music is a way of letting your hair down a bit, but you want to set the tone for a Mass.. now, postlude you can pretty much “let them have it”.. like the organist ‘pulling out the stops’ at the end — and one of the best guitar seasons is coming up — Easter. Have fun!


    I’ve played electric guitar in church since 2000. I’ve gone from playing in churches where the sound guy intentionally turns you down and the fellow youth in the church reveal their parents don’t like electric guitar to leading a worship team where the electric guitar is very present and appreciated. It has taken perseverance to learn to play well and appropriately. I think christian culture has largely grown to appreciate the role of the electric guitar and have seen that growth demonstrated in the large number of christian worship bands out there where the song uses an electric guitar as a staple. My suggestion for anyone learning electric guitar with worship in mind is to listen to Lincoln Brewster. He has great resources available. Listen to Keith and Kristyn Getty. Find worship songs you like and learn the guitar parts for them. Find out the key they are in and practice the scale along with the song. Don’t just practice the solo’s or one guitar part. Try the chords first, then some of the riffs or solo’s in the song intermittently with the scale of the key you are in. By the end of doing that, depending on your ability, you will be very comfortable playing appropriately with incredible variety.


    I’m thankful for your insights. My son, 14, started with Electric about two years ago. One of our frustrations is that it is so hard to find good songs that allow him to play that are Godly. When you look at the offerings of Hendrix, Clapton or Slash there just isn’t something fun and powerful to emulate in the Worshipful world. I also took up bass, at the same time, so we work together to learn (he much more than I) and play together. We play in our worship team at Church, so we get a chance to play, but he is mostly playing arpeggios and I make up simple bass lines. We do endeavor to learn one new song/week, but even when we learn them it just isn’t as fun as what is offered in the Secular world, which somehow seems difficult to comprehend, Worship should be fun, powerful and engaging.


      Hi Mike,
      As an electric guitar player, I hear what you are saying. I play a Les Paul standard, which was built for a certain sound. So what I did in the past, was take some of those familiar secular riffs implemented them into songs during pre and post worship music. Believe it or not it was received quite well. You should try some songs from Lincoln Brewster. He is a top notch player! I have also used songs from Third Day and Decemberadio, which has some of those riffs I believe you are talking about.

      Jason Clark

      Hi Mike,
      Your comment about it being hard to find good songs for electric guitar that are both challenging (offering an opportunity to practice and grow as a musician) and godly has been a struggle for me as well. However, they are not impossible to find! Check out the following artists (if you’re not familiar with them already). They are all believers committed to the glory of Jesus Christ and are artists worth learning from!
      – Lincoln Brewster (Worship leader and recording artist in northern CA)
      – DecembeRadio (Great classic/southern rock riff-driven music. Check out the riffs on “Live and Breathe,” “Love Found Me,” and “Satisfy Me.”)
      – Phil Keagy (more of an instrumental musician. Has a great deal of acoustic guitar music as well as electric. He is a legitimate world class virtuoso who is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath with guys like Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, and Robben Ford).

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