Gear is a mystery to us all. You are criticized if you buy gear that is above your ability level. You are scorned if you love to talk about and collect gear while refusing to practice. You are vilified if you loathe gear and care just about playing. You really can’t win. So, with that, I don’t try to win you over to my thoughts on gear.
But I will say that in each of my bathrooms at home, I have various catalogs and magazines that go on and on about the different gear of today and yesteryear!
Music is funny in that way too. Old gear is as coveted as is the cutting-edge gear. Truth is, I bet most people honestly can’t tell the difference. People who talk about the difference between using original C wing EL34 SED tubes vs. a non-matched pair of Groove Tubes are probably very few and far in between. So here’s a rundown of some of the gear that sees use on Sundays. Some of it is my private gear. Others belong to the church. In any case, a lot of it has been filtered through years of trial-and-error, trusting the right sources, and good ol’ hearing tests.
We have 4 amps (some personal, some church-owned). I believe that these amps cover any and all sounds we would ever need to make in a worship setting:
- Bogner Shiva 2×12 EL34 – This British sounding (think Marshall) amp rocks. But the part I like best is the fact that it is open back (think Marshall with a little bit of Fender), taking away some of the ‘fatness’ from the sound. I play it at about 9 o’clock since people would leave our church if I cranked it any higher. Great sounding amp for playing anything!
- Vox AC30 – A classic amp that everyone needs to at least consider playing through. Since a lot of what we do emulates U2, where would we be without a Vox. The classic chimey-ness comes through brilliantly on this one.
- Bogner Alchemist (1×12) – This is Bogner’s version of a production amp (Shivas are considered boutique). The Bogner sound is there mostly. While I don’t think this amp is really great at any sound, it gets a passing grade on its tonal spectrum (which is hard to do). If you dial it just right, you can go from Fender to Marshall without ever really sounding as good and original as a Fender or Marshall. But it gets the job done and maintaining the amp is much easier since it is a production amp.
- Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb (Reissue) – Just regular ol’ clean Fender sound. We don’t use the Vibrato and we don’t really use the reverb (FOH Engineers take care of that). Pretty standard stuff here.
Among all the electric guitarists at our church, we have a bunch of pedals and ancillary gear that helps us get the job done. My favorite two pedals are my Landgraff Dynamic Overdrive and Boss DD-20. The first one, the Landgraff, is a jewel. I have a Japanese made TS9 (1980′s I believe) that sounds great but the Landgraff sounds greater. It’s bigger and has a very dialable amount of sustain. I also like that it is smaller than something like a Klon (which I think is another great pedal that I had, then sold, then rebought, then sold, then rebought, then traded, etc.). Real estate on the pedalboard is hard to come by, so size matters! I use this on every song that calls for any amount of overdrive. For my DD20, people automatically see Boss and assume the worst. They think it colors the tone of guitar and amp. It is not true bypass after all. But I find that the minimal coloring is more a good thing since it seems to give my guitar-to-amp the signal it needs to sound good through the amp (as opposed to a powerless signal after running through a bunch of pedals and cables). I use this pedal on about every other song (in worship). (And, might I mentioned that I have made my rounds with umpteen different delay pedals in all sorts of price ranges – and I think the DD20 can hang with the best of them!)
I use others: Like I said, I have a Japanese TS9, a Fulltone Clyde Wah, Choraflange, Supatrem, Timmy, EB Volume, Verbzilla, etc. Those are on my board most of the time – powered by an older Voodoo PP2. I also have an ABY box (that I don’t use unless I’m using multiple guitars) and tap tempo pedals. I’m actually thinking about getting a smaller board and just having a volume, overdrive, and delay on there. Anyone do this? Thoughts? And, if anyone has the Timefactor, I would love to borrow it and get it some live reps before thinking of buying it.
I personally use a Gretsch 6119 (FT) and Anderson (strat body). Others use strats, teles, Les Pauls, Epiphones, Gretsch’s, etc.
We currently use an Ampeg SVT3Pro Head into a SWR Goliath (410) cab. We use an assortment of rack gear to get the right sound – Sansamp RBI, Sonic Maximiziers, etc. But, to be honest, I’m not happy with the sound we get out of our bass amps. I’ve heard it through multiple guitars, racks/no racks, pedals/no pedals and I’m just not happy. I think what I’m not happy with is the inherent sound character of the Ampeg head. Anyone want to donate a couple thousand bucks to me so I can get a new head?
Our guys use Fender, Warwick, and Ernie Ball guitars.
Andrew, the guy who led for a long time before I led, got a killer deal on a drumset that we’ve been using ever since. It’s a Gretsch maple kit (6 or 7 piece, I believe). But as with all things, drums have trends too. And the trend these days is larger, boomier toms and fewer toms in general. I think this handicaps us a bit because the Gretsch set really needs to be hit hard for the tonal qualities to shine through (rather than sounding like cardboard). But in a room our size with some limitations as to volume/decibel levels, we can hardly ever achieve the sound I like on our drums. We use a Gibraltar rack, K, K Custom, A, A Custom, and Paiste Signature cymbals. We use a Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute 14×6 Snare – sounds warm, sounds defined, sounds great! We mic the set using a combination of Sennheiser drum mics, SM57s, and Beta 52s. We use the old C1000s for O/H mic’ing and I think we even use an older Octava mic for the hats. Of course we shield the drums with said limitations in room size and volume. Does anyone do more than shield? I’d love to hear your thoughts on your experience with that. It’s not that I doubt the sound-isolating qualities, but the aesthetic and feel might be overly compromised – let me know!
We also have an assortment of percussion gear – bongos, congas, djembes, shakers, chimes, cymbals, etc. I’m a huge fan of hand percussion! We have a cajon too that sees a lot of use during more intimate gatherings (aka – smaller turnouts).
But my favorite tool in the drum department: metronomes! We use two different things for different purposes. We have a Tama Rhythm Watch as our resident, in-house metronome. We also use an iPad to control our more widely used metronome (app) as well as our occasionally used loops and samples. I know that we are playing in perfect time every time and musically, what more can you ask for?! (Except this last Sunday when I started a song on the 2nd beat instead of the 1st beat and it messed everyone up a bit; oh and when the drummer’s IEMs died – battery issues – that stuff happens…but for the most part we’re in time).
We go pretty differently in terms of keyboards. We use two controllers instead of workstations. That means that if some knucklehead decided to steal our keyboard one day, well, they’ll be in for a surprise when they get home. There is no onboard computer for the sounds. Our keyboards are literally just keys and buttons, knobs and levers! We use a Roland XV5080 rack module – this thing is a classic and sounds great. I would put this up against most of what I still hear today. We use a Roland Fantom to power our secondary midi controller and has some cool, modern sounds. We also have a DBX DI rack-mounted with four channels, perfect for two stereo keyboards (we go two mono keys – stereo is overrated unless using some of the more modern effects in the Fantom).
I use a Martin HD28. I love my guitar. I’ve thought about selling it and trading it many years ago. I’ve had it for about 15 years now. It’s starting to show its age. But the sound is full, balanced, and sweet. I think our AV guys do a great job of mixing the guitar as well. Recently, I built a pedalboard for 5 bucks (and I think it looks good – esp for five bucks!). On it, I have a junior volume pedal, Keeley Katana boost, TC electronics tuner (which I hate), and an LR Baggs ParaAcoustic DI (which I love). If anyone ever wants help building a cost-effective yet highly presentable (and customizable) pedalboard, let me know. I’ll be happy to help – all for the low price of a carne asada burrito and some carrots!
We have fully gone the IEM route. We don’t have wedges in our main sanctuary anymore. While the drawbacks and pros for both situations are fully realized and understood, the biggest gain from going full IEMs is that there is no monitor vs. FOH volume war. Zero. The mix is pure (that is an example of an oxymoron – pure mix!). I think this helps our engineers out and they don’t have to deal with all the volume requests.
We use a Sennheiser IEM system, which I think sound great. I’ve used various models of Shure in the past and I think the Sennheisers give a pretty accurate and clear reference sound. The lower and mid-level Shures didn’t do that for me.
As for headphones, we have a mixture of Shure E5s and Westone UM2s. They are all dual driver models. Personally, I found the dual driver model hard to use when trying to accomplish two things simultaneously: 1) Sing/Play and 2) Listen to everyone else as the lead, trying to figure out what everyone is doing, etc. The sound was harsh on some frequencies (mostly mid).
So I personally use 1964 V3 (custom) IEMs. First, I get a perfect fit (sound isolation). I get awesome bass response (again, perfect fit). I get a great balanced sound because we’re going three drivers instead of two. I think just listening to regular iPod music would sound great in these. Everything is smooth. Their customer service is great as well. You can even customize the look of your IEMs if you’re into that sort of thing (I just got clear with no designs – I know, boring!). If you want a reference, contact me and I will see if they can get you some special church pricing.
I admit it – I like gear. It’s fun! If you ever want to talk shop, let me know. I can talk gear for hours!