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.

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