The Trinity of Effects for Your Worship Pedalboard

There’s nothing like an on-point meme to put your rig in perspective, like the common one on forums and feeds that shows a team of piano movers shouldering the load of a worship player’s pedalboard into a Sunday service. The jab is simply this: Does a set of six songs really require eight-dozen effects?

The challenge and opportunity of building a worship board is the gear has to be both inspiring to you as a player and inspire your audience to literally join the band expression and experience. The ideal Sunday morning board, then, is both versatile and focused. There are certain go-to sounds you’ll simply need to have underfoot but also others that can make your 6-string sound, well, heavenly.

So what gear considerations go into building or renovating your board for worship sets? Perhaps thinking in terms of three main categories of effects will help set some parameters.

Strategic Gain Stacking for Warmth and Definition

While you’re unlikely to throw your foot atop a monitor and blaze into a solo at 10:15 am on a Sunday, you do need a carefully crafted foundation of overdrive on your board. In this case, the job of your gain pedal is to elevate and add character to your guitar sound. It’s also essential, however, to have the ability to boost or sculpt the EQ to set your sound apart from the many mid-range frequency hogs in the Sunday morning mix.

One strategy for achieving this is tag-teaming a unique medium-gain pedal with a transparent overdrive stompbox. The former will anchor your electric’s sound; the latter can nudge it up front through a light gain stack. There are, of course, endless combinations to consider here. But a few duos worth considering are the Walrus Audio 385 plus Emerson Em Drive or JHS Superbolt buddied-up with the Greer Lightspeed Organic Drive.

A second strategy is to get more out of the foundational overdrive favorite you already have by adding an EQ boost. Chances are you’ll be playing with at least one other guitarist, maybe more, as well as a variety of mic’d up instruments and vocals that easily make for a muddy mix. The right boost will help your signature contribution gracefully yet intentionally come to the fore and make it easier for the back-of-house engineer to ensure you’re heard. Ideal options here include the JHS Haunting Mids or Walrus Audio Emissary Parallel Boost.

Stacking Delays and Reverbs for Better Ambient Architectures

Gone are the days when pads and soundscapes were strictly in the job description of the keyboard player. The explosion of innovative pedal options for reverbs and delays means part of your duty in a Sunday set is creating evocative soundscapes for transitions or otherworldly washes to give new dimension to traditional song structures.

Much like overdrives, stacking reverb and delays can compound the sonic space of your 6-string. One economical way of doing this is anchoring your textured sounds with a multi-feature delay that is run into a tandem delay/reverb effect. The first of these can range from faves like the Electro-Harmonix Canyon or TC Electronic Flashback II to expansive effects units like the Line 6 DL4, Boss DD-500, or Strymon Timeline. The job of this box is to give your lead lines, arpeggios, or swells a longer afterlife.

Since reverb and delay are a match made in heaven, stacking your delay pedal into a tandem reverb/delay effect can add instant ambience. Take the Wampler Ethereal or EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run, for example. These both compound the sounds of dimension and depth and allow for soaking wet mixes of either effect. When combined with a foundational delay pedal, the options are endless, from subtle to sweeping ambient textures.

If the combo of two pedals is still not otherworldly enough, don’t forget to stack a step further by making the most of the reverb already built into your amp to make a trinity of reverb and delay sounds.

[Need more help finding the right delay or reverb for you? Check out of our buying guide for delay pedals and buying guide for reverbs.]

Selecting a Third Effect to Achieve a Custom Sound

Once your gain sources and reverb/delay pedals are sorted, there are endless options for adding a third category of effects to give your worship board a signature sound. While your signature will differ from mine, I routinely rotate three types of effects out of this spot to enhance both my creative contribution and posture in the mix.

A simple and subtle pulsing tremolo fed into one of the delay/reverb picks above is another ideal way of providing movement and texture to your sound without being overbearing. Harmonic tremolos, such as the Supro Tremolo or Walrus Audio Monument, have the added benefit of engineering wobbles and waves in less linear ways. These make them ideal for intros, outros, and interludes that might otherwise fall to your acoustic lead.

Next, a simple looper at the end of your chain is ideal for capturing a washy drone of delay and reverb. Playing over top of this in an interlude or laying one down beneath your bandmates’ acoustic or keys rhythm progressions can instill even the most classic of tunes with a new ambient afterlife. Go-to gear here includes the TC Electronic Ditto or Electro-Harmonix 360.

Finally, whether it’s for their organ-esque character or their shimmering quality when dialed in with a reverb, nothing attains an otherworldly sound like an octave pedal. Here too, Electro-Harmonix and TC Electronic have you covered. Just check out the Nano POG or Sub N' Up. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, kick things up a notch with the Digitech Whammy 5 to give your transitions and lead riffs even more harmonic architecture.

While it is easy to pile enough pedals onto a board to make even The Edge envious of your effects arsenal, for the mere half-dozen songs you’ll perform, it’s strategic and functional to think in terms of a limited set of carefully curated effects. This will save you from a distracting tap-dance routine mid-set and challenge you to cultivate creative sounds without having to hire piano movers to get your rig in the front door.

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