Heavily distorted riffs. Wailing guitar solos. Critics of the electric guitar usually reduce the instrument to these uses, but there is so much more to the guitar than this. An electric guitar can actually create a prayerful ambience, it can sustain chords like an organ and create inspiring melodies like a violin. This gives the electric guitar the ability to lead prayer in a way that lifts up the mind and heart in a heavenly direction towards God, but it requires more than just a guitar and an amp. Guitar pedals are the key to creating that prayerful ambience. But how do you know which to buy? There are thousands of different guitar pedals to choose from, so hopefully this blog will help sort that out for you.
What makes certain gear best for praise and worship? Good gear is good gear. End of blog. But there are certain guitar pedals that help your tone sound more “heavenly” with delays and reverbs, which in turn can lead to prayer. In contrast, there are guitar pedals and amps that create sounds that can distract from prayer, typically high distortion and high volume gear. So at the heart of the question, what gear sounds great and helps people pray?
Order to Buy Pedals
Typically, musicians don’t have thousands of dollars laying around, so pedalboards are usually purchased one pedal at a time. When I starting buying guitar pedals, I looked at a famous guitarist’s pedalboard, looked up which one was the cheapest, and bought that one first. It was a noise gate. It was also the first guitar pedal I sold, because I realized I didn’t need a noise gate. So if you’re looking to start out and can only buy one pedal at a time, here’s what I recommend. I’ll also list a few pedals in order of cost, starting with the cheapest.
Delay is the one effect that you can’t create with just a guitar and an amp. You can use delay to create rhythmic textures, or you can use it more subtly to add ambience. Behind every great swell sound is a great delay.
Types of Delays
Digital: clean and clear repeats
Boss DD-7 (also offers other delay types), Strymon Digg
Analog: warmer (less high end) repeats, typically includes modulation (chorus-like effect)
Electro-Harmonix Memory Man
Tape: tone can vary depending on “tape age”, typically includes tape effects like tape crinkle and wow and flutter
Strymon El Capistan
Electro Harmonix Canyon, Boss DD-200/DD-500, Strymon Timeline
Why does chant sound so beautiful in a cathedral verses a small room? Reverb! A reverb pedal creates space and length around your notes, and is the difference in sounding “prayerful”. If you have reverb on your amp, you can get away with using your amp reverb, but I recommend an “ambient” type reverb to start for any praise and worship guitarist.
Reverb Pedals: Boss RV-6, Neunaber Wet/Immerse, Strymon Blue Sky/Big Sky
Overdrive allows you to control the amount of dirt in your guitar tone, so that you can alternate between a cleaner tone with a more saturated tone. You can use an overdrive to add dirt at a similar volume as your clean tone, or you can use your overdrive as a boost to either make your lead lines louder or to hit your tube amp harder, which will create more dirt from your amp itself. I also use overdrives as an EQ control, in order to warm and thicken up single notes.
Typically overdrives fall into four categories: boost, overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. They’re actually all fairly similar but just vary in the way that your guitar signal “clips”, or cuts off the top and bottom of your guitar signal’s waveform. Boost typically doesn’t clip your signal, overdrive clips in a smoother way, while distortion and fuzz clip your signal sharply. This is why distortion and fuzz pedals have a more aggressive tone than overdrive, and why I’ll focus on overdrive and boost below. I’ve also grouped the overdrives into “families”, as most pedals are derivations of others, and therefore have similar qualities. Tubescreamers are the classic, because they have add mid-frequency emphasis and compression that is great for warming up and boosting lead tones. Klons still have some mid-frequency emphasis, but not as much. Theyr’e great for hitting a tube amp harder. Bluesbreakers were designed to sound like a tube amp, so they have a flatter EQ curve and a more sensitive gain response. My preference is to use Bluesbreakers for rhythm overdrive and a light amount of grit when I dig in, and either stacking with another Bluesbreaker or Tubescreamer for lead tones.
Types of Overdrives
Tubescreamers: Ibanez 808/TS-9, Keeley Red Dirt Overdrive, Earthquaker Devices Dunes/Palisades, JHS Moonshine/Bonsai, Outlaw Effects Cactus Juice
Klons: Klon Centaur, Klon KTR, Wampler Tumnus, J. Rockett Archer Ikon, Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
Bluesbreakers (more transparent, “amp-like” gain): Analogman King of Tone/Prince of Tone, JHS Morning Glory, Snouse BlackBox, Wampler Pantheon, Mooer Blues Crab
Boosts: Tim/Timmy, Xotic EP Booster
Tuner and Volume Pedal
If your guitar is out of tune, it doesn’t matter what you play, it’ll sound terrible. So a get a tuner pedal! I also recommend a volume pedal you can use for swells, slight volume adjustments as you play, and as a mute.
The amount of compression you’d like to use is personal taste. You can use it as an effect, like cranking a Dyna-Comp, or you can use it subtly to add a hint of sustain. Or you can not use any compression, since by nature of the electronics in pickups and amps, you already are compressing the signal somewhat. I recommend compressors that have a blend knob, so you can control the amount of compression that you hear.
Compressors: MXR Dyna-Comp Deluxe, Xotic SP Compressor, Walrus Audio Deep Six Compressor, Keeley Compressor
An Essentials Example
Below I show two examples of just the essentials, the first being simpler and cheaper, and the second having more sounds and functionality live with presets. The Strymon pedals are expensive, so you can always purchase a cheaper delay and reverb pedal in the meantime, but I do recommend them for their sound quality, sound selection (types of delays/reverbs), and ability to store presets. If you’re really on a tight budget, be sure to check out companies like Mooer and Outlaw Effects that provide solid “clones” for cheap. Of course, every guitar pedal is deeply personal, so I recommend buying used so you can sell the pedal for equal amount if you end up not liking it.
Don’t forget about the power of multieffect pedals like the Line 6 Helix. With a Line 6 Helix, you can have all the effects and amp models in one purchase. Line 6 also offers the HX Effects/Stomp, which will give you a multitude of effects that you could need. In the past I’ve used a Line 6 M5 as a swiss army knife to supply any type of delay/tremolo/weird effect I might need. I don’t use a full Helix since it doesn’t provide the exact sounds that are in my favorite pedals, but if the sounds on a Helix inspire you, go for it. You can also check out the Boss MS-3 which functions as both a pedal switcher and a multi-effects, so you start by using the built in effects and add your favorite pedals as you go.
This shown as an example, again, some of these pedals are very personal picks that I love.
Overdrives: Timmy, JHS Morning Glory, Analogman King of Tone
Delays: Strymon Timeline
Reverbs: Neunaber Wet, Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star
The following are some other guitarists who have amazing tone for more examples.