Barry Gilbert from Dublin, Ireland emailed asking:
“I know this is a very subjective question, but generally speaking what make/model of guitar would you guys consider best for leading worship, Martin, Taylor, Lowden etc.
I have a Martin HD-28 which I think is too bassy and a Taylor 114 which is slightly too tinny. Im looking for the ideal balanced guitar that sounds warm, punchy with good strong but not overpowering muddy bass and clear strong distinct trebles and a good punchy midrange.”
Yep, great question, and I think something a lot of guitarists have pondered, but yes very difficult to answer. It sounds like you have tried a few instruments but I’m going to answer this slightly generically too as I think there are a lot of other players and worship leaders on our blog that have the same issue… (hope that’s ok)
Of the stuff I’ve played from the brands you mentioned, in my personal experience Taylor’s have the most ‘sparkle’, been the most consistent, and have the easiest necks to play, Lowden’s have more of a ‘’European’ folky richness. Brilliant for finger picking but very different to a Taylor, and Martin’s, well I’ve played great ones, really bad ones, and everything in between so just buying a well known brand doesn’t automatically guarantee you a great guitar. One of the punchiest and well balanced guitars I ever played was an old Larivee Dreadnought, but I’ve never found one since that was exactly like that one so I couldn’t just say Larivee either…
But for me it’s not just the brand of guitar, but also the woods, body shape, pickup system, strings, and the way you play can have a huge effect on the overall tone. As I’m sure you’re aware too, on top of that, one seemingly identical model can sound very different to another. So a ‘best guitar for worship’ is really subjective but there are a few things you might consider depending on your situation.
If it was just one guitar I would look for something that balances well between strumming and finger picking. For me one of the biggest things to consider is how much ‘mid’ the guitar naturally produces. Very broadly speaking, the more mid you have in a guitar makes it more suitable for finger picking but perhaps makes it too ‘rich’ for strumming. One of the biggest factors in that are the overall tone woods you use. Maple is very bright and so great for strumming and cedar is very warm so good for finger picking. Rosewood adds depth, which is why many classic guitars combine well known recipe wood combos. Body size and depth too makes a difference. So for instance a big Gibson J200 in maple is a great strummers instrument, a little cedar parlour sized guitar gives a lovely mid range ‘honk’ for finger style and that classic Martin dreadnought shape balances nicely particularly in that classic combination of spuce top with rosewood back and sides.
Perhaps another way of looking at it is how much ‘sound’ do I need to make? I.e. how many other instruments are in my band and how dominant do I need to be? If your band is really competent, goes for a big electric style sound and as the worship leader you are basically the conductor, you’ll want something that sits subtlety in the mix and just keeps the overall groove together, so go for the ‘sparkle’ option where the band can pick up on the treble frequencies of your strumming. If you have a smaller or less experienced band you may want a thicker tone to drive the groove and keep everyone in check. I played with a guy that has a cedar and rosewood Martin Dreadnought and basically it has a huge rich sound it was just too dominant for an electric style band. The sound was so wide it just filled up too much musical space. But he does a lot of solo stuff so it’s ideal most of the time for him.
I chose the woods on my Mcpherson to try and get a strumming/picking balance and the kind of tone you are talking about too. So I chose rosewood back and sides with a redwood top. The rosewood gives it that crisp sparkle thing and the redwood warms it up a bit. That works very well for me, and it does do what you are looking for, but it does have a very modern sound, so again that might not work for you.
You do get what you pay for a so I would recommend going for the most well made instrument you can and if you get can to a large dealer with a choice of identical off the peg models to pick from then more the better too. Try as many as possible and don’t discount less fashionable brands like Yamaha or used models either, you might just find a winner amongst the pack if you are lucky.
Sorry to not give you a black and white definitive answer, there are just so many variables but I do hope a few things here might point you towards what you’re looking for.