Now Serving

I have played in churches since I was 16 years old. Almost 50 years now. Hard to believe. Back when I started, electric guitar players were not necessarily the most popular member of a praise and worship team. There was a fair stretch of time, almost ten years, when I served only on bass guitar as electric guitar was not to be played at church.

Then came a new generation of worship music and worship leaders. Contemporary Christian music evolved to become the mainstream style of worship music for many evangelical churches. And it opened up opportunities to serve on electric guitar.

When I retired last year and moved away, I was really concerned about whether there would still be opportunities to continue serving a church in music.

I am so thankful to have found churches in both the United States and Canada that have welcomed me into their worship ministries.

We just came back to Canada on May 1st and I am already fully engaged at our new church home, Harvest Barrie.

A little apprehensive as I will be doing a number of firsts for this coming weekend. First time out with a new team of players. First time out on a new stage. First time out with a new guitar. First time playing through a new (to me) sound system.

Our church provides a silent stage so I will be playing through my Helix. I have to have 8 songs memorized for Sunday. No music stands. And the monitoring system is all in-ear with the band playing to a click track.

I have a bunch of resources that I use to help me prepare. These include:

Planning Center Online – this is where the worship leader posts the songs and the charts

Worship Artistry – I have been a long-time subscriber to this service. I find it is a quick way to get at the various guitar parts in worship song. Many of the songs we use feature a variety of guitar parts with specific hooks, tones, arpeggios that need to be learned

Worship Online – Similar to worship artistry. Handy if the worship team is going to have a second electric guitar

Rehearsal Mix – a life-saver for me. Often the keys are different from the original cover and it is very helpful when memorizing the tunes to groove in the muscle memory in the correct key

For the Helix, I have used presets from Worship Tutorials, Alex.guitars and Guitar For His Glory. And I have acquired numerous IRs for the cabs on the Helix. But, what winds up happening now, is I build my own presets. A preset for each song with multiple snapshots depending on how the tones need to change for that song (e.g., intros, verses, choruses).

I have the time to really nail the tunes now and it has been a lot of fun getting the fingers stronger and getting into the finer aspects of tuning the Helix platform. I continue to be impressed with what the Helix can do.

Fender Custom Shop Telecaster

Not exactly as shown above, but close enough. Yes. Another new guitar in the stable. Had it for a little while now. Looks a lot older though, doesn’t it? Almost as old as me.

From the custom shop, this beautiful 1960s heavy relic Telecaster.

The guitar has a very well-faded sonic blue finish. So faded that it looks almost white, or at least the part of the guitar that still has a finish! The neck pickup is a Seymour Duncan antiquity humbucker and the bridge pickup is a hand-wound Texas special single coil. The neck is a large “C” shape which feels just about perfect for my hands.

A few of the specs follow below.

Model: Custom Shop 60s Super Faded Heavy Relic Telecaster Custom
Color: Aged sonic blue
Finish: Nitrocellulose lacquer
Body Wood: Lightweight alder
Pickguard: Three-ply mint/black/mint
Neck Wood: Quarter-sawn flame maple
Fretboard Wood: Rosewood
Scale: 25 1/2″
Neck Profile: Large “C”
Fretboard Radius: 9.50″
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 1.650″
Frets: 21; Sanko 6105
Inlay: Vintage clay dots
Bridge: Three-saddle Tele
Electronics: Seymour Duncan antiquity humbucker, hand-wound Texas special single coil
Controls: Three-way pickup selector, volume and tone controls, Caballo Tono wiring
Hardware: Nickel
Tuners: Vintage-style
Weight: 7lbs 8oz
Case: Deluxe hardshell
Case Candy: Certificate of Authenticity, paperwork, and accessories

Tone Junkies and IRs

Just what I need. More Impulse Responses for my Line 6 Helix.

I have the following IRs:

  • Allure Pack
  • Celestion Cream
  • Celestion Heritage
  • Live Ready Sound
  • Michael Britt
  • OwnHammer 212 VC 30
  • OwnHammer Class-A Duo

How many IR files?

Thousands.

So many IRs, so little time.

I’ll be candid. I look at what a few other players I respect are using and I try those IRs. I simply do not have time to audition all of the various IRs in my tiny little collection.

Cabs that are closed back, open back, or blended. Cabs mic’d with either Neumann, Royer, Sennheiser, Shure mics or some combination. Too many choices!

But I will buy the IRs from Tone Junkies.

Just because I like the Tone Junkies.

You can find them here.

Stairway To Heaven

This song had a profound impact on me as a teenager. Released in 1971, it was the song for a guitarist to learn. So much so that it became overplayed in guitar shops across the world leading to many of them posting “No Stairway” signs.

Every time I watch this video from 2012, it brings tears to my eyes. Such an incredible performance of the song and such a wonderful memory for Led Zeppelin.

Here is the backstory, taken from the video’s YouTube page:

On Dec. 26 the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors was aired on national television for the first time on CBS. During the event, which took place at the Kennedy Center Opera House, Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson of Heart performed Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” with Jason Bonham on drums. The honor is given to those in the performing arts for their lifetime of contributions to American culture and in 2012 the surviving members of Led Zeppelin (John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant) were among those honored.

During their segment, the Foo Fighters performed “Rock and Roll,” Lenny Kravitz performed “Whole Lotta Love,” and Kid Rock performed both “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Ramble On”. The performance of “Stairway to Heaven” began with Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart performing the song with a backing band, which included Jason Bonham on drums. He is the son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who passed away in 1980. As the song progressed, back-up singers, a string section, and the Joyce Garrett Youth Choir came on stage to help perform “Stairway to Heaven”. The choir members and Jason Bonham were wearing bowler hats, which was a tribute to the band’s late drummer John Bonham. Throughout the performance lead vocalist Robert Plant was noticeably moved, and towards the end of the song he had tears in his eyes.

Jason Bonham loved the fact that Led Zeppelin didn’t know he’d be drumming on Stairway To Heaven at their Kennedy Center tribute night, hosted by US President Barack Obama. Bonham performed with Heart and an all-star band — and the first Plant, Page and Jones knew of it was when they saw him walk on stage. He said: “It was so incredible to see their faces, sat there next to the president. The guys knew who was playing — but they didn’t know I would be on drums. Their faces lit up, and the smiles and tears… It was fantastic. What a way to close the show!”

Gibson: New CEO, New Vision

“We want to continue to be the most relevant, we want to be the most played and we want to be the most loved guitar brand again.”

James Curleigh and his new leadership team have a lot of work ahead of them to achieve that vision.

When you build poor quality instruments and charge a lot of money for them don’t be surprised if guitarists shop elsewhere.

I wish Gibson well. A guitar that I have held for over 40 years now is a 1976 Gibson Les Paul and it is a guitar that I will keep until I leave this planet.

Here is an interview with James Curleigh from NAMM 2019 and the changes that he is hoping to make to the company to restore the Gibson brand.

Line 6 Relay G10S

My friends at Line 6 confirmed a new product from the NAMM show: the Relay G10s. I knew that this product was coming out and it is now official. Sweetwater is showing the product in stock at $250 USD. I suspect the other online retailers will soon be listing the product.

I’ve been holding off on a wireless rig for my guitar and I might take a closer look at the G10s once the initial reviews hit YouTube.

Paul Hindmarsh, a marketing rep for Line 6, gives an online demo in the following video. The man has some pretty serious skills on bass and guitar.

Kemper? Fractal? Helix?

Kemper? Fractal? Helix? Which one should I buy? Or should I just stick with an amp?

I’ve seen these questions posted time and time again. Some of the posts can be quite funny especially when someone asks a Fractal user group whether they should buy a Kemper or a Helix. Any guesses on the answers?

I’ve owned all three. I have two of them right now, the Fractal AX 8 and the Helix.

Here are a few of my thoughts as I went down the rabbit hole of playing with modellers.

When I retired, I downsized a lot of gear. Given all of the travel I had planned for retirement, especially with the limited space in our 40-foot diesel motorcoach, I knew that it would be impractical to cart a large rig with me. I needed something smaller that I could use on a stage and in our coach and monitor with in-ears.

I did quite a bit of research and I thought that the Kemper would meet my requirements. But that unit proved to be almost as bulky as an amp and pedal board. In fact, as I spent more time with the Kemper, I kept adding back into the signal chain more gear. A booster here, a couple of overdrives there, some expression pedals to control effects, a few delay pedals, a tuner, a Kemper remote, and several cases to cart all of that stuff around.

I was also frustrated with Kemper’s user interface and the workflow.

I spent untold hours auditioning profiles, building out effects and working around the rather poor software platform.

It became apparent that I wasn’t getting the portability I wanted nor was I enjoying the experience of getting the Kemper to sound its best.

I sold it.

I then moved on to the Fractal AX8. And it was far more portable than the Kemper. The software was substantially better. And it was easy to get great sounds right out of the box.

I had to carry a couple of expression pedals. And I found the workflow, especially the onboard user interface, to be surprisingly primitive. I had to follow a strict protocol on the switches because there are no digital scribble strips on the unit. The screen is very difficult to read and the lack of DSP, for me, was too restrictive. I was constantly running out of CPU with the Fractal and I had to manage the presets accordingly by actively managing down the resolution of some of the effects blocks or creating complicated XY switches.

Then came the Helix.

I like it.

A lot.

Great workflow. Very straightforward user interface design on the floor unit. The software is quite intuitive and the overall experience is markedly superior to either the Kemper or the Fractal.

For me, the Helix sounds best when paired with some good impulse responses. I have a number of IRs from providers like Ownhammer, Celestion, and Michael Britt. I purchased presets from Alex Strabala, Guitar For His Glory, and Worship Tutorials just to shorten my learning curve in terms of building out signal chains on the Helix.

One thing that I have learned from working with these modellers is that it is best to really simplify. The fact that you might have hundreds, or even thousands, of amp tones, is not a good thing. Find one or two amp tones that you like and build on those amp tones to dial in your sound.

There are simply way too many choices in these modellers and you can get lost in trying to find some secret ingredient to good tone. I know I did. So frustrating.

With the Helix, I quickly found a couple of go-to amps and IRs that I really loved and I have been very happy with how the unit sounds.

How does the Helix sound when compared to an amp or the Helix or the Fractal?

To quote Duke Ellington: if it sounds good, it is good.

The Helix sounds good, it has a great workflow and it is very portable. Whether another modeller or amp sounds “better” in a mix is a highly subjective call. All of them are now so close that it is best to select the one that inspires you to play.

Tips For Soloing On Guitar

This video is a great primer on how to approach solos on electric guitar. Might be helpful if you are just getting into this part of playing electric.