When Less Is More: Downsizing My Worship Pedalboard
If you're like me you've seen the deluge of worship pedalboard photos populating social media. They're beautiful, aren't they? The wiring is neat and tidy, the pedals are arranged in the most PERFECT formations, AND the pedals are the "best that money can buy". The amount of money worship guitarists spend on their rigs is silly. How do I know? Well, during my time working for gear companies (as an employee) I heard SO MANY JOKES about worship guitarists and their rigs. We could snoop out a "church player" a mile away.
Imagine my surprise when, in November 2020, I began playing for my local church. Had I become what I made fun of? Kinda...maybe a little...
This week's video focuses on my decision to downsize the pedalboard (really the whole guitar rig) I use for church. My goal is to show the value of simplicity and how the sentiment "less is more" can lead to better tone.
To get you started, I recommend watching the video above FIRST and then come back here and read the rest of this blog. Watched it? Cool. Let's do it!
HOW IT STARTED...
I had very little time to prepare for my very first Sunday morning playing at church (btw, I play regularly at Oceans Church in Orange County, CA if you're wondering). How little? Between 36-40 hours...all to practice the songs and get the rig situated. And what you see to the right is the first board I used.
Something you may notice is that some of the pedal choices are decidedly NOT what a typical worship guitarist would use. Keeley Fuzz Bender? Please, I haven't heard a fuzz tone in worship since Delirious? was together. Revv G4? Most worship guitarists I know are afraid of high gain.
I made do with this pedalboard for quite a bit of my first days playing at church, which included a set backing up prominent worship artist Lindy Cofer. It served me well but I decided some changes were needed to fit the genre better...
PHASE TWO: THE BACKBREAKER
The next evolution of my worship rig was this behemoth. Built onto my Warwick Rockboard Cinque 5.3, this rig was built out of frustration. I was tired of having a rig purely for playing at church and NOTHING for working on my own music. So the goal with this pedalboard was simple: make it an all-in-one solution for all my playing situations.
From this not-so-great picture you can see there are many different options to do ALL THE THINGS. By this point the Walrus Audio MAKO Series had found a firm spot in my regular rotation and the Revv G3 had become my go-to high gain dirt box. And the Ibanez Session Man proved to work VERY well for more saturated guitar parts at church.
The Keeley Fuzz Bender still occupied a spot on the board and the Strymon Compadre became a new "go-to". I also decided to go with my Line 6 wireless system so I wouldn't trip over my cable.
This board actually proved to be VERY useful. Most of the time I would leave it set up in my home studio, ready and waiting for me to use it for songwriting. When it came time to play at church I would load it into a flight case and roll it into the tents for the weekend. But as the subtitle for this section says: it was a real backbreaker! Once the board was fully stocked it weighed a TON. The bonus was that, by this point, I was running purely off the DI and I didn't need to bring an amp. But after one too many days of nearly crushing my toes loading it in and out of my car I decided to say "enough".
PHASE THREE: BRIDGE OF SIGHS
Like this stereotypical "Instagram ready" photo? Me too; this was a fun board. This evolution my worship rig was an interesting one, mainly because my GigRig G2 went from the floor to the bridge of my Waggi pedalboard. This was done when I switched to using MOSTLY soldered cables again, as opposed to solderless cables in the first build. The shaft of the straight Switchcraft mini-plugs were too long to fit underneath the Waggi's bridge. When the bridge was locked in place, it would clamp down on the plugs. This placed unwanted stress on the G2's 1/4'' loop jacks which could potentially damage them after time.
So up the G2 went!
By now, I had been playing at church for a year or so and was feeling fairly confident in what would get me the best and most consistent sound. The Session Man truly cemented itself as THE go-to distortion pedal for worship and the JHS Bonsai set to the TS10 mode was a great "crunch" box. Periodically, I'd add the CXM 1978 from Chase Bliss to the rig for more emotive sounds. I believe, at the time, I had the Keeley mod'ed CE-2 under the Waggi's bridge and it was the ONLY pedal that would fit under the bridge with the power supply I was using.
I also wired an audition loop in case I wanted to add anyone "pre amplifier" pedals to the rig. In one case, I found myself using my Morley George Lynch Signature Wah pedal! Still going with the wireless, this set up was pretty dang consistent and lasted quite a long time.
PHASE FOUR: THE COOLEST IDEA
This was the last iteration of the twin-tier pedalboard before it all went wrong. And it's kind of a shame too because for a while I really enjoyed this board. I experimented with a few new gear choices as well as some routing ideas.
First, I ditched the Keeley Hydra in favor of the DDR. This decision came as a result of a few strange audio phenomena I encountered which we'll talk about in a bit. But this took care of putting two pedals on the board while only taking up the space of one! Plus, the DDR's Blues Breaker-style distortion circuit sounded REALLY good.
I added the Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl HiFi and Tonal Recall to the board...mostly because I wanted to rep my CB love! But the real kicker of this board was the routing of the ACS1...
I was never much for running in stereo...still not crazy about it. I couldn't help but feel like I wasn't using the ACS1 to it's fullest. Knowing that the two channels of the ACS1 were isolated, I wondered if I could get MORE amp tones without MIDI. I took each channel of the ACS1 and plugged them into their own loops on the back of G2. Doing this allowed me to set up different amp tones to each channel and switch between them using G2. That meant I had a clean, Fender Twin-style amp on one channel and a crunchy, chimey Vox AC30 on another...heck even a crunchy Marshall if I wanted!
Plenty of weekends were played at church using this board AND it was great. Until it wasn't. So what happened to ruin the good time?
I had been running all my time-based effects AFTER the ACS1 and for some reason, I would hear an audible "chirp" in the sound when using Hydra. Then, whenever I would switch to using the Session Man it was as if the power being fed to my pedals would sag. My overall level would drop and the tone would get all squishy. And the weird thing was the level would come back up if I stopped playing for a bit. What was the cause of all of this? I can only guess but I'm certain the problem was my power supply. The power supply wasn't bad, it just wasn't enough to handle the amount of "power hungry" pedals I had AND the number of pedals plugged into it. Once the problems showed themselves, they became hard to ignore. And that's how we got here...
...HOW IT'S GOING
Sometimes it pays to go back to the basics. Whoever said a guitar, plugged into some pedals and then into an amp wasn't "sexy" enough to be a cool rig?
And should any of that matter in worship? No, it shouldn't! God doesn't care how well stocked and cool looking your board is. And with that I mind, I downsized.
And guess what: I'm happier because of it!
Every pedal on this board works and sounds great. The power issues are non-existent AND I've even been able to rediscover how much I like certain things.
You've already watch the video on this one, so I don't need to say too much. But I will add this: I've used this for a month already and the ease of use is off the charts!
Downsizing my worship board not only did wonders for my guitar tone, it also has made my time serving on the worship team a lot more enjoyable. Without the endless options I can simply focus on the music and enjoying the experience helping lead the people on Sundays.
Every guitarist could benefit from the practice of downsizing. You don't have to play at church to do it.
So next time you pick up your guitar to play, try plugging straight into your amp or using less pedals. The results might surprise you!
Having said all this, don't think for ONE SECOND that this board will stay the way it is right now. I have no doubt that it'll be refined and improved over time. But as it is right now I'm one happy camper!
Wishing you Great Tone & Happy Stomping! - SPJ
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