Creating The Perfect Acoustic Service

Have you ever just wanted to change things up a bit? Want to create a different, more intimate atmosphere for worship? Recently, we had an Acoustic Service and it was incredibly well received. I’m already planning when we’ll have the next one. With all the click-tracks, backing-tracks, and other fillers, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of expectation, and having a fresh presentation can breathe new life in to a congregation’s worship experience. We setup with two acoustics, a bass, and a cajon. Next time, we are planning to use three acoustics with the bass and drums.

For years, at conferences, I’ve encouraged musicians to use capos to “separate” acoustic guitars sonically when there are two or more acoustics sharing the platform. It’s important to remember two basic rules about the six-string capo: 1) Capos Change the Pitch and 2) Capos Change the Voicing. Changing the pitch means you’d play one chord shape at a variety of capo positions and the pitch rises as you capo up the fretboard. Changing the voicing means that you’d be playing a particular chord or key and, with the correct capo placement, you’ll play that same key using a different chord shape. Examples: 1) Play an “E” shape at Capo-3 and you’ll be hearing a “G” chord. 2) Play an “E” chord open, then play an “E” by playing Capo-2 “D-shape,” or Capo-4 “C-shape.”

So, here’s an example: One of our church’s favorite songs is Hillsong’s “This I Believe.” We play it in the key of “C.” With two acoustics, having one play open in standard tuning is fine, but having the second guitar playing Capo-3 using “A-shapes” may be too close sonically. I would recommend the second guitar using the Short-Cut capo at fret 5 (with full capo at fret 3) or simply play with “G-shapes” with a full capo at fret 5. Both examples would be in the key of “C.”

How would you bring in a third acoustic guitar? Great question! Expecting that you don’t have a baritone acoustic (which would be cool, but that will be another article), a 12-string can be a nice touch, however, I personally prefer the sound of a six-string. Have you ever tried Nashville tuning? It’s also called playing “high-strung.” This is the technique of playing with the 3, 4, 5, and 6 strings all tuned UP an octave. You’ll need to either purchase a set of strings that are gauged for this or creating your own. A standard High-Strung set would be something like .010 (high E), .014 (B), .009 (G), .012 (D), .018 (A), and .027 (E). Playing a guitar tuned with Nashville tuning will give a fantastic mandolin-type effect that can really cut through the other guitars. Adding a capo and/or a Short-Cut capo to the Nashville tuning only increases the options and possibilities.

Once you play around with re-voicing some songs using a six-string capo and/or the Short-Cut capo, as well as adding in new voicings with Nashville tuning, I believe you’ll hear elements that you’d like to bring into your standard Sunday morning sets. Several issues ago, I wrote an article about recording guitar layers to add to your click tracks as enhancements. I want to encourage you to look for that article and then apply that idea with Nashville tuning as well. The goal is to widen the musical pallet, not to muddy it. That’s why it’s important to separate, using a variety of capo positions, and not play too close together sonically.

One thing I did not mention is that in putting together an acoustic service, using capos and Nashville tuning can create great textures, while too much strumming can ruin them. Make sure each guitar has an understood job to do, a specific thing to play. For instance, have one guitar playing melodies and lead lines while one is playing a more controlling rhythm and the third can play a “supporting” rhythm (like just a simple strum). Again, all this is just to make sure that the music does not get muddy and that it translates well for the congregation. All roles on the platform need to be defined.


  1. Mitch
    Thanks for this article. I share your passion about voicing with capo use. Over recent years I’ve introduced quite a few of the Getty collection to our little country church with some pretty good results and encouraging response. I often find these bright and uplifting songs really ring out on my 6 string guitar with the capo 4 or 5 frets up the neck.
    Until this year we were blessed with a couple twins, one heavy set twin who played mandolin and his skinny brother who played bass. We often achieved some great acoustic combinations and even got the mandolin player introduced to the Tenor Guitar which added another colour to the band.
    Both these guys left this year to study at University in the state capital so we are without their talent. We have a number of competent basic musicians along with a couple really gifted individuals and while we wouldn’t be performing concerts we have the skill and (more importantly) the calling and gifting to lead God’s people in worship relatively well, albeit at a simple yet wholesome level.
    Given that the twins have split and we have a couple other bass players available along with several basic guitarists but no mando players the idea of the Nashville tuning is very interesting and appealing. It is essentially removing the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th & 11th strings of a twelve string guitar.
    What I have noticed is that the average 12 string can sometimes get a bit muddy especially if it is poorly amplified. A quality 12 is a rare beast giving a ringing tone that is clear and rich with a subtle bass that doesn’t overpower yet not thin and tinny with no body in the sound. My question is,- in addition to the string gauges suggested which ones are plain and which ones wound? On my Maton 12 string it’s only the bass E octave that is wound, all the other octaves are plain. Is this what you are suggesting for a Nashville tuning or would you recommend the A be wound as well? I’d value your advice.

    One other comment on the subject of your article. It is obvious to any serious musician you’d think (but every so often it’s proven not so obvious) that is for any acoustic guitar combination to work well you need reasonable guitars and most importantly reasonably fresh strings. I tear my hair out sometimes with folks with good quality guitars playing with beat up dead strings that haven’t been changed for a year or longer (often the wrong gauge as well) and there’s very little you can do to make it sound right. Some of us at the less than professional level need to improve big time on this.

    Thanks again for the great article. Looking forward to trying one of my acoustics with your suggested Nashville setup.


    Mt Barker
    West Australia

    • Hey Anderson,

      So good to hear from you! It’s amazing how the Lord will cycle different musicians through our ministries. I know that it’s easy to see it as a lack, but I believe that God uses those times to grow us and also to call others out of the pews and into their ministry fitting. I remember about fifteen years ago, Chris Tomlin telling me that he was without a drummer for about a year or so and one day, the Lord brought to them a guy who had been a session player in Nashville! You never know who He will send your way!

      Nashville Tuning is a really cool way to ADD to your sound. The only setup I have used is the EJ38H set from D’Addario, which has 5 plain strings and one wound. I think a wound 5th string would be really cool and something I may just try out!

      I am totally with you on guitar players using fresh strings. That’s my personal preference as well. There are many players who are able to get a much warmer tone with old strings. I’ve never quite figured out just how they keep them in tune… As well, I agree with you about using 12-string guitars. Talking about tuning…it can get pretty rough! I’m actually about to pick up a Taylor 326 8-String guitar. Pretty excited as it will add the nuance of the 12-string in the sweet spot and keep the bass and treble strings unchanged, which will sit clearer in the mix.

      May the Lord bless you in your ministry there “down under.” I pray that He brings you musicians and worshipers that you can mentor and grow until they are called to their next ministry stop!

      In Him,

      Mitch Bohannon

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