The Gear, Tones, and Techniques of Modern Worship Guitar

The sound of the guitar has played an important role in shaping the sound of worship music since its invention, and the guitar’s influence is so strong currently that we’re hearing a shift in the genre propelled by the most popular guitar gear available today.

Players like Michael W. Smith’s Stu G., Hillsong United’s Nigel Hendroff, and worship guitar superstar Lincoln Brewster have taken this new gear and used it to create new techniques and sounds for the worship genre.

From ambient pads to complex rhythmic synth-sounding lead melodies, the gear a worship guitarist chooses is vital to being able to nail the techniques and tones now required for the genre. And while their pedalboards may look like Mission Control, each of those pedals, amps and guitars play a vital role in delivering the player’s message.

Let’s dig into the most popular gear being used in modern worship guitar playing, discuss how it’s being utilized, how to get the most from it and which brands and models may be best for you.

Delay Pedals for Worship Players

If there is one effect you simply can’t do without when playing worship-style guitar, it's delay. In many ways, the rhythmic and textural sounds of delay have shaped the sound of modern worship music more than any other musical inspiration.

Techniques such as the rhythmic dotted 8th note delays and textural volume swells were taken right from the U2 book of guitar playing and have become so common that it’s hard to find a modern worship song that doesn’t incorporate them.

Worship Players’ Delay Pedals:

Boss DD-7
Strymon El Capistan
MXR Carbon Copy
JHS Panther Cub

For rhythmic delays, having a delay pedal that offers presets and/or tap tempo are very important. Some of the most popular models are the Boss DD-7, Eventide TimeFactor, and the Strymon TimeLine. Ambient delays tend toward analog or tape-sounding units. Boss’ DM-2, MXR’s Carbon Copy, Strymon’s El Capistan, and the JHS Panther Cub are all popular options.

Buying Guide: Delay Pedals
Find Your Perfect Pedal

Reverb Pedals for Worship Players

Another of the most popular effects for modern worship is reverb. Since mood-setting textures are often the guitarist’s job, wide washes of ‘verb go a long way in filling out the music. And like delay, there are a few variations on this effect that worship players often use.

Pedals like Boss’ RV series are everywhere because of their several modes and ease of use. Their “Modulate” setting has become a standard for textural volume swells.

Worship Players’ Reverb Pedals:

Boss RV-5 or RV-6
Strymon BigSky
EQD Afterneath
Eventide Space

The Strymon BigSky is also a mainstay thanks to its programmability and studio-quality sound. And brands like EarthQuaker Devices are making waves with their verbs by offering fine-tuned control to let guitarists create new and ground-breaking sounds.

Buying Guide: Reverb Pedals
Find Your Perfect Pedal

Volume Pedals for Worship Players

Whether used as a mute, as a way to conjure volume swells or to switch from rhythm to lead levels, a good-quality volume pedal is essential hardware for the genre. But it’s important to make sure you find the right one for your board.

Passive pedals like the popular Ernie Ball VP Jr. and Dunlop Volume are simple to use and sound great. But some players prefer the buffered sound of an active volume pedal like a Goodrich, a Morley Little Alligator, or Truetone’s Visual Volume for their loss-less performance and ability to drive long pedal chains.

Worship Players’ Volume Pedals:

Ernie Ball VP Jr.
Dunlop DVP1
Morley Little Alligator

Overdrive Pedals for Worship Players

It isn’t uncommon to see four or more transparent-style dirt pedals lined up on a worship guitarists board. This is a great way achieve your desired amount of grit and compression via gain-stacking. And you’ll even find players leaving a box like the Xotic Effects BB Preamp on for a touch of breakup.

Again, boutique quality is paramount. Pedals like the hand-wired Ibanez Tubescreamer, the JHS Morning Glory, Paul Cochrane’s Timmy Overdrive, and even the highly-sought Klon Centaur and Klon KTR find their way to these player’s effects chains.

Worship Players’ Overdrive Pedals:

JHS Kilt
Ibanez TS808HW
Paul Cochrane Timmy
Xotic Effects RC Booster

Former Delirious? member and current Michael W. Smith guitarist Stu G. even designed a pedal with JHS called The Kilt for everything from over-the-top fuzz to light pushed-amp overdrive.

Modulation Pedals for Worship Players

Many of the tones you’ll hear from worship guitarists wouldn’t be possible without some well-placed modulation effects. For synth-type sounds, the EHX POG family of pedals reign supreme. Their ability to dial in an array of octaves and harmonics make them well-suited for faux-keys pads and melodies.

Other popular options are the Digitech Whammy pedals and Boss’ PS-6 harmonist. And it’s not uncommon to see digital multi-effects units like the Line 6 M-9, Eventide H9, or the Strymon Mobius—used by such players as Hillsong United’s Nigel Hendroff—handling all of the heavy modulation lifting for easy recall and high-quality emulations of tremolos, chorusing, pitch harmony, and more.

Worship Players’ Modulation Pedals:

Line 6 M9
Eventide H9
Electro-Harmonix POG
Boss PS-6 Harmonist

Amp Modeling for Worship Players

This piece of gear is a bit different in that it pretty much does away with the others. In the modern worship-guitar genre, modeling technology is everywhere. Most churches demand a very quiet stage, offer in-ear monitoring to the musicians, and may not have the equipment to adequately mic an amp.

Many guitarists run direct into amp modeling products like the Kemper Profiler, Fractal Axe FX, or Line 6’s Helix. Not only do they deliver studio-quality tones direct to the board, but the players can make drastic changes to their tones with a single step on a preset’s switch. A listen to the live work of worship-guitar-phenom Lincoln Brewster will give you a great idea of what these devices can accomplish.

Worship Players’ Amp Modelers:

Line 6 Helix
Fractal Axe-Fx II
Kemper Profiler
Line 6 HD-500

Guitars for Worship Players

The current trend in Worship guitar can be summed with the word: jangle. So many of today’s worship guitarists rely heavily on axes known for their chime. Gretsch, Fender, Duesenberg, Fano, and Nash are all extremely popular in the genre right now; the common denominator often being some variation on single-coil pickups and a tremolo system that excels at mild, atmospheric pitch modulation.

Fender vintage Stratocaster and Jazzmaster tremolos often are heard on church stages, as well as Bigsby tremolos and variations of that design. When looking for your own, grab a guitar with a clear voice that isn’t too powerful and ideally offers a high-quality tremolo.

Worship Players’ Guitars:

Nash Guitars JM-63
Gretsch White Falcon
Fender Classic ‘72 Tele Thinline
Duesenberg Mike Campbell Signature

Amplifiers for Worship Players

When it comes to the amp tones of the worship genre, as with guitars, chime and jangle are the names of the game. With this in mind, you will never be out of place with the granddaddies of all Class-A designs amplifiers: a Vox AC30 or AC15.

These amplifiers provide the perfect edge-of-breakup platform for dynamic playing and the use of the often-extensive pedalboards that are the norm today. But Vox doesn’t have a lock on the genre. Boutique designers such as Matchless, Bruno, Dr. Z., Mesa Boogie, Bad Cat, and, of course, Fenders are found littering church stages everywhere.

Worship Players’ Amps:

Vox AC15
Matchless DC30
Fender ‘68 Custom Deluxe
Dr. Z Maz 18 Jr.

Whether you want fresh ways to get massive ambient washes, are curious about who’s the “it” boutique manufacturer, or just want to know how many pedals can actually fit onto a pedal board, give some of these worship guitar players a listen, get some of this gear under your feet and fingers and start your own sonic adventures.

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