Whether you are an acoustic or electric guitar player one of the simplest ways you can add some dynamic or sonic change to your worship set is by stepping on an effects pedal at appropriate moments. However, if you are new to the world of pedals there seems to be endless choice of single or multiple effects units (and no, you don’t need as many as are in the photo!). Whilst multi-effects offer loads of sounds in one box, they can be hard to programme and difficult to adjust quickly on stage. There’s a million things written about effects pedals out there in Googleland but if you’re brand new to this here’s a potted overview of some of the most popular types.
This is the classic effect that many people first buy and overuse. Chorus works by inaudibly delaying each note to thicken and sweeten your original sound. If set too high it can make your sound overly ‘sugary’ so use it sparingly with electric or acoustic and it will provide some sparkle over a song section. With chorus’s you get what you pay for so the overall sound quality of a £25 unit might become irritating in the long run.
This is like an echo where the sound you play repeats either once or multiple times depending on how you set the pedal. At low repeat settings this fills up the sound which is useful if there aren’t many other musicians. With lots of repeats it sounds rhythmic and huge. This effect relies heavily on the speed of the repeats keeping time with the song tempo. With practice it’s easy to set correctly but get it wrong and it can sound like your chords are running away from you.
There are different types of delay – digital, analogue and tape. Analogue and tape delays behave similarly. As each echo repeats, the sounds slightly distort which can be pleasing particularly for electric guitar. If you want cleaner repeats, go digital. Tip; if you are using it for acoustic, try the pedal set on a high number of repeats before you buy and check the sound quality. Some cheaper digital units can sound ‘grainy’ after a few repeats with an acoustic.
This is a subtle effect and set up properly can be left on continuously. Compression evens out your sound to raise finger picking volume and lower strumming volume whilst adding sustain and an attacking ‘bite’ to your notes at extreme settings.
Overdrive and Distortion Pedals
These pedals essentially do the same thing with overdrive being regarded as a milder effect, similar to turning a tube amp all the way up and distortion a more extreme version of the same effect. Although these are designed for electric guitar, I’ve seen acoustic players use them to great effect through an amp or PA. If done well it provides a dramatic lift to a song. The most important thing is to be familiar with the sound and volume your pedal will create before you try it live.
Also remember pedals change in sound character with different guitars/pickups/amps so it’s worth experimenting before buying. If you’re not sure where to start try a few ‘classics’ as a reference point. Ibanez’ Tube Screamer or one of it’s imitators of which there are many, are mild overdrives that also usefully liven up cheaper amps, particularly when volumes need to be kept low.
For distortions Boss’ DS1 and Proco Rat pedals have been popular for years but many others are available all with different distortion flavours. Often I will use overdrive for rhythm and a distortion pedal for lead guitar with the ‘Mid’ control turned up for solos.
Lastly try a fuzz pedal like a Fuzz Face or Big Muff. Fuzz pedals offer huge amounts of drive and low end but are generally used for single notes and power chords. Regular chords can sound pretty nasty with fuzz and it’s probably a bit wild for acoustic guitars. Although if it works with your style and draws the congregation into worship, then why not? The important thing is to be tasteful and selective in how, when and how much you use effects. Follow the golden rule; a little ‘salt’ can bring out flavour but too much kills the dish altogether.
As a good starting point, to get going in a worship band I’d suggest a Tubescreamer type overdrive and a delay with a tap tempo control (so you can tap a new tempo in with your foot when the band accidentally speeds up/slows down). Just with these two pedals (and a tuner!) you can cover most bases in a typical contemporary worship band style.