Let’s talk guitar tone. I’ve noticed a new phenomenon lately due, at least in part, to the advent of so many social media sites today that allow people to effortlessly post pictures of their food, hairdo, model pose (think Zoolander)….you name it. In this case, though, I’m not talking about the Instagram post of last night’s fondue. I’m talking about the notorious “pedal board pic.” You know, the one that makes us guitar players frantically check our bank account balance and ask questions like, “Do I need to eat tonight or could I pony up for that new digital delay?” “Which organs really ARE essential?” Do my kids REALLY need to go to college?”
Ok, so maybe those examples are a bit extreme. But for guitar players it represents at least a certain degree of “gear envy.”
Unfortunately when it comes to tone I think that many of us spend more time listening to what others are saying about what makes great tone instead of actually listening to the tones we are getting from our own gear. I’ve personally owned all sorts of different equipment over the years from vintage tube amps and stomp boxes to digital processors and everything in between. I’ve even experimented with plugging my guitar into my iPad and running direct into the PA using only a $30 app to sculpt my tones.
While I still get a little jealous at times when I see a guitar player with an abundance of high-end gear, the truth is that digital (and analog) simulators have come an incredibly long way in recent years. In many cases with a little bit of tweaking and customization you can get within 95% of what a much more expensive rig would sound like without going into debt for it.
So how much should you spend on your rig? I honestly don’t know. That really depends on your budget and how much of a hobby tone has become for you. But let’s be honest, for the most part it is exactly that. A hobby.
Hobbies aren’t bad. They’re just hobbies.
Let me share a secret that I have found true about playing in church. The congregation really can’t tell the difference. Even discerning ears usually won’t perceive the subtleties between a well-used emulator and the “real thing” in most church settings.
The key is to know the equipment you have and use it to its full potential. My current “rig” is a very affordable analog amp emulator/effects pedal from Tech 21 called the Flyrig 5. This little wonder cost me all of $250 and has all of the tones and effects I use for playing in church. And the best part? It sounds amazing!
Remember, it really isn’t about how much you spend. Get the gear that works for you, fits in your budget and inspires you to play skillfully and with the passion and inspiration that makes our role as church guitarists the best job/ministry/hobby around.
Eric Heinrichs is a proud husband and dad of five awesome kids. He has been involved in music ministry from an early age and has led worship throughout Southern California in many different churches spanning a wide variety of sizes, denominations, and musical styles. The Heinrichs family currently serves at Saddleback Covenant Church in Mission Viejo, CA. To contact Eric you can visit worshiptones.org.