Thursday, May 5, 2011

Worship Overdrive and Delay

This is the second part of my series on guitar tone and effects for church teams. Hope you all enjoyed the first one, the feedback was great! I will continue today by talking about the use of overdrive and delay on the pedal board.

Overdrive is overused. That fun, fuzzy distortion that gives your guitar the sick-nasty sound you hear in the studio works great in your basement and in your Aviom earphones, but coming out of a speaker it can sound like some background static if not used correctly.
In my opinion, overdrive is not meant to be used as a constant effect, which is how it is commonly used, I think. Another common use of overdrive is to fuzz up your guitar to make it sound cooler and more powerful. Both of these uses often result in your guitar actually getting blended into the background on the sound system.
There are a ton of overdrive pedals and settings out there, so finding the right one is simple yet very tedious. The 'right' overdrive setting for me consists of finding a sound that adds a ton of volume, a tiny bit of fuzz, and a lot of input gain. This way, individual notes ring out loud and long.
I only use overdrive for solos, hooks, and those special chord sections where you need something that sounds like a wall of mud. This way, the solo comes, and you can just stomp the overdrive, get that extra push and make your solo wail and cry like a beast. When you want to be so far out in front that nobody pays attention to anything else, overdrive solo is the answer. I have a custom OD setting that uses like 30% gain, depending on the mix. The fuzz and the gain are correlated, so I find its best to keep the gain relatively low, or else the fuzz melts your sound into static. The principle is similar to my pre-amp principle. A slightly cleaner tone results in a little more power in the speakers. Just remember that when picking an OD tone that the idea is to get more power and volume behind the note you play, not more fuzz, although the fuzz will come. When you hit a note, you want it to ring out loud and CLEAR, so people hear it better.

Delay settings are probably the most complicated and subjective of all the basics. Really, the only real variables in delay are the feedback percentage, level, time, and stack. A lot of delay pedals will advertise they have all this other stuff, and and a good delay pedal is key to making your delay not sound tacky, but all the other niceties of delay pedals are minor compared to the main variables.
There are several approaches to delay, and different delay should be used throughout songs dynamically. I stack two different delays on my pedal board, a short delay and a standard delay. The short delay I always have active and I set it at 350ms, feedback 60%, and level 60%. This provides a nice short ring to my chords and notes, giving them some thickness that carries the guitar through the mix a little better. This delay is good enough for songs that have a lot of cut and dry hits, but thats about it. For most occasions for church, using a stacked delay is ideal. This sounds best when built as a 'galloping delay', where the echo from one delay rings right before the other, so they build on each other. I stack a standard delay on top of my short delay with feedback 75%, 400ms, and level 70%. Notes played with the stacked delay ring a lot longer and thicker. For most songs, when you're pounding out chords, having a galloping delay will enhance the chord immensely, letting it ring out strong and full. When changing chords, it should almost sound like it takes a second for the last chord to catch up with your chord change.
At LifePoint, the sound guys generally make finding sweet spots with delay much easier because they will add another delay effect from the digital system that won't go into the Avioms, so you won't hear it, but its there.
Using stacked delay on solos also gives your notes that wailing Journey or Bryan Adams gets with their guitar work. I find it very tasteful and the notes will just sing out longer and harder the heavier your delay is.
So, unlike with the pre-amp and overdrive, feel free to be liberal with your delay, experiment with it. You might not like the sound at first, I didn't because I didn't like hearing my notes overlap, but small adjustments in your strum pattern or picking pattern as well as a general feel for how your delay will sound will allow you to take full advantage of the thick ringing of delay. One thing that helped me get used to heavy delay is trying to play in such a way that I wouldn't let the echoes of the pick strikes ring out too much, this can be done by playing new notes or strikes at a consistently high strength so they overwhelm the sound of subsequent pick strike echoes.
On the issue of using a tap pedal to measure out your BPM for your delay time instead of setting the milliseconds, I prefer not to do that. On certain songs, I can imagine that the delay going in time with the song sounds good, but most of the time, the delay going off beat from the notes your playing is what gives it that galloping thickness desired in heavy delay. But a lot of guitarists prefer to tap the beat in, and thats perfectly fine.

This is pretty much all I will cover on guitar tone for a while, unless people want more stuff. I don't use a lot of effects beyond these 3 in a regular church service, so I figured this would be basic and universal enough for everyone to use. Thanks for reading and as always, I'd love to hear some feedback or see some other guitarists post blogs on their stuff.