Is it necessary?
The electric guitar is capable of creating a massive diversity of tones and parts, and is consequently very useful in bringing colour and interest to worship music. It can work across a large spectrum – anywhere from crunchy power chords which will help give energy and ‘drive’ a rocky song, through to delicate effected tones which can add sparkle and texture to even a mellow song.
So do I find a sound I like, then start strumming the chords from the chart?
That’s probably not the best approach. Just strumming chords with electric guitar tends to sound too thick (not to mention bland), and will likely obscure the acoustic guitar. Whatever type of song you’re working on, it’s usually best to think in terms of ‘parts’. Listen to the song and be thinking whether a melodic phrase or riff might work over any of the sections. Often a simple repeated phrase (using single notes rather than block chords) or arpeggio that can be continued as the chords change underneath is really effective – obviously it needs to avoid clashing with the chords or main melody.
Think too about the type of sound that’s appropriate for the song. If it’s energetic and rocky, then an overdriven sound may be fine. If you are using power chords, often playing fifths and leaving out the third (e.g. the chord of E without the G# note) will be cleaner and more powerful than playing the full chord. If the song is gentle and spacious, then a more jangly sound with delay or other effects may fit. Be prepared to sit out altogether some of the time so that when the electric enters it has greater impact.
My amp sounds best LOUD, why don’t people seem to understand that?
It’s true that many guitar amps do indeed sound good when they’re loud, and heavier guitar sounds seem designed to be loud and go limp if you turn them down too much. However, in a church worship context where you’re often in room with challenging acoustics and a less than ideal PA system, it will make life difficult for the PA operator, other musicians and congregation if the guitar amp is dominating.
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There are things that can help with the volume – try facing the amp away from the congregation and towards you so that it’s louder for you than for them. It might then be appropriate for the amp to be miked up so that PA operator can control the level out front. Some players even have the amp in another room and mike it up, but that only works if the guitarist has good monitoring to hear clearly what she’s playing. Another great tool is an attenuator which allows you to drive the amp ‘loud’ and get a pleasing, driven tone, but reduce the level coming from the cab. The lower you can have the level on stage, the easier it will be for the PA operator to fit you ‘in the mix’. If the stage volume is too loud, the PA guy (or gal) will be helpless!