Many worship teams now include an electric guitar to reproduce the growing number of contemporary worship songs found on the radio and used in churches across America and abroad.
The idea of an electric guitar came from the need to overcome the challenge of playing in a large ensemble since the acoustic guitars of the day could not compete with the volume of the other instruments.
The original guitar amplifiers were simple and had very few tonal adjustments available, but they were portable and did the job. Over the years, there have been many changes to the guitar amp, and they’ve even gone as far as virtual or synthesized.
There are a growing number of guitar players using the virtual and/or pedal-guitar-amp substitutes in worship today. Some reasons for the change may be that the devices have improved, along with convenience and to rid the stage of the loud guitar amp that overwhelmed the overall mix of the worship team.
If you’re a sound technician and you’ve requested that the guitar player make the switch to a virtual amp, or you’re the musician that has made the change for any reason, keep an open mind to the option of using a guitar amp.
Most professional engineers and artists will tell you the best sounds from an electric guitar still come from a “real guitar amplifier.” The physical attributes of a wooden speaker cabinet loaded with the proper speaker creates harmonic overtones and resonates like an acoustic instrument.
A microphone can help increase the quality of sound by picking up different harmonic qualities based on the type and placement of the microphone. Most digital guitar systems try to copy these elements but it can’t compare to the real thing.
Learn how you can use your amp in quieter settings and still benefit from the sound quality of the amp. Here are some tips on fitting an amp into the worship environment and how to mic the cabinet for the best sound.
The Worship Environment
1) Aim the amp up like a floor monitor, making sure that the angle of the speaker is away from the audience. Remember to keep the volume low; check the maximum acceptable volume with the sound technician and stay below that level at all times. To help aim the amp up at you and away from the audience, you can use a simple desk mic stand or the bottom of a cheap guitar stand.
2) Use an amplifier isolation system to block some or most of the sound that will bleed off the stage to the audience and technicians. This can remove any problems that you have controlling the stage volume. See the ClearSonic examples below to see what they are and how they are used. It is possible to use other materials and build one yourself, but these work well and look nice.
3) If you use in-ear monitors, make sure the guitarist has plenty of their guitar sound in their personal mix. This way the guitarist won’t be tempted to turn up their amp, and the amp setting will stay under control. It is unfortunate that teams who use the in-ear systems think they need to go virtual, when in reality these systems combine with a real guitar amp for a winning combination.
If you can keep the volume of the amp under an appropriate threshold to avoid interfering with the mix, then there is no reason not to use the amp if you like the sound.
Guitar Amplifier Microphone Techniques
There are many right ways to get the sound of the guitar amp into the PA system.
Two factors affecting the sound are the type of mic and the placement of the mic. The choice of mic can dramatically change the sound, and the Shure SM57 dynamic mic has been the favorite guitar cabinet microphone of most engineers for many years. If you don’t have an SM57, substitute a Shure SM58, and next in line would be whatever dynamic vocal mic is available.
In the example below, we’re showing an SM57 in four different positions:
As with many aspects concerning musical instruments and sound equipment, there are too may variables to give you more than a good place to start. You will need to experiment to see what sounds best with your equipment.
Make sure the sound technician and guitar player work through this together. Use your monitors or in-ear system and include the main speakers so you both can hear what will be heard during worship.
1) If you’re looking for a brighter sound, aim the mic at the center of the speaker where the voice coil is located. Do this if the amp sounds dull. (See Example A)
2) As you move parallel towards the outer edge of the speaker, the sound becomes warmer and less bright. (See Example B)
3) Wherever the mic is placed, experiment with putting the mic off axis; this will change the sound as it gives you more of the room sound and also changes the sound of the amp. (See Example C)
You can also experiment with the distance of the mic from the speaker. The closer the mic is to the speaker, the more intimate and direct the sound. As you move farther away, it adds more room sound and becomes less direct. In a quieter worship setting, you’ll want to keep the volume of the amp down, so we should keep the mic close, about one to three inches away from the speaker. (See Example D)
Whether you are the player or the sound technician, you’ll have fun with this exercise and it might add a noticeable difference to the sound of the electric guitar that your visitors and congregation will experience in your worship space.
Wayne DuCharme is a 25-year pro audio veteran, active worship musician, producer/engineer, and technology product specialist. CCI Solutions is a leading source for AV and lighting equipment, also providing system design and contracting as well as acoustic consulting. Find out more here.