News Flash: There are elements of leading worship that have little or nothing to do with actually making music! Yes – it’s true! I believe the role of a worship leader can be summed up like this: You’re an usher, with the job of limiting distractions, and showing people where to go. So whether you’re the person “up front” leading the charge on a Sunday, or you’re the sideman filling the “Band: Electric Guitar” slot on Planning Center, it’s your job to point people to God and help them get there with as few distractions as possible.
With that in mind, I’ve worked hard and spent way too much money to make sure that I have very few distractions for myself (don’t all musicians have some form of ADD anyway? Oh look, SHINY! Yay! wait.. back to the article!). This attention to detail and programming and time means that, in the moment, I’m not lost in thought about how I’m going to get all these pedals turned on for this one ambient tone, or how I’m going to make this turnaround with one pedal, then back to the chorus with these other two! It allows for inspirational levels of tone without compromising because you don’t have an extra foot or three.
Those of you familiar with Line 6, AxeFX, Kemper – frankly, any all-in-one guitar tone solution – know this all too well. If you want an arena-rocking Journey tone on one song and a pawnshop prize tone on the next one, all it takes is one press of a button and you’re there. My time working with Line 6 HD’s taught me how valuable that was for a worship leader. Yes, it takes time on the front end, but when I can focus on leading the people instead of working the pedals, I can be better at the thing I’m really there to do: LEAD.
So if you’re curious about how to stop doing the Pedalboard Pirouette, here are some simple steps to get you started.
I have a Custom Audio Electronics RST-LS Pedalboard switching system, built by Bob Bradshaw. (He’s famous for designing and building custom guitar rigs for people like The Edge, U2, Prince (along with many others.) It is a self-contained, 10-loop, Midi-capable controller that sits on my pedalboard and everything runs through it. I have several analog stomp boxes, plus a couple of Midi-controlled devices as well, an Eventide H9 and a Line 6 M9. The RST gives me direct control for on-the-fly choices, but most often, is used to program tones for individual songs or parts of songs. This is Central Command, the way I access everything I need to create tones. It switches on or off stomp boxes, and changes programs on the H9 and M9 for me. So when I start a song, one button press and I’m ready! Going to a solo? One button. Need an ambient pad for prayer? Yep, you guessed it – one button!
The RST is not the only game in town, though it is a stellar choice. Boss has released the ES-8 (and ES-5 for smaller boards), RJM has the Mastermind PBC and Decibel Eleven has the Switch Dr., just to name a few! All of these attempt to reign in the pedal dance and give you the freedom to recall a tone with the touch of a button.
Find The Time
Once you’ve decided what you need to corral the pedals on your board, set aside some time! It always takes a little time to get used to something new, so make sure you’ve planned ahead to have time with your new controller before you have to go use it. It won’t do what you want it to without spending some time to make it work. Most of the options I listed above have so much power under the hood, it will take a little while to get used to the basic functions, let alone what capabilities it might have underneath the surface. Take the time to learn all the facets of it. Check out Youtube tutorials and learn what it’s capable of.
The professional guitar player works on his craft long before you ever see them hit the stage. They know their tones inside and out, and what it took to get there. But the end result of all that work leaves them free to play, free to interact with bandmates, and free to engage the audience. And the end result of putting a rig together like this leaves you with that same opportunity. It affords you the chance to really lean into leading worship, not just playing songs. Playing guitar, not playing with your pedalboard. Finding freedom in worship that ultimately helps you AND your congregation to connect with the Creator!