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These are some of the most beneficial things I have found for leading worship. And this is normally the part where I would try to inject some type of humour, but I’ve seriously got nothing tonight. Edge. Bono. Delay. Tone. Tubes. There ya go.
Always help your drummer load in at least one piece of equipment.
Learn your sound system…or at least how to plug in a direct box.
When services run long, be the first to suggest that your ministry be the one to cut back a few minutes. (Meaning, just don’t build back into the ‘epic’ end of ‘Saviour King’ for a fifth time.)
Don’t sing lead vocals on every song, every week.
Only mention mistakes to your team when you hear them a second time; giving people a change to recognize and correct their own mistakes goes a long way. And let’s face it…when you played that G chord in the 1st and 2nd frets instead of the 2nd and 3rd frets? You knew it. You didn’t need anyone to stop the song and point it out.
Get off the stage and let your team go for it every once in a while.
If a monitor’s not working, be the first to get up and make an effort towards fixing it…even if you have no idea where to start.
Arrive before your team, and leave after.
Say thanks.
And lastly, remember that you’re probably not the best worship leader even within your own church.
All this can be summed up with simply this: lead by example. I think sometimes we’re so busy trying to lead people, that we don’t have time to even be the Christ-like example to which we’re trying to lead them. And I’ve had this post in my head for so long; but I’ve hesitated to write it down, because I am so bad at doing this stuff, and so bad at being an example. But it kind of hit me this past week that when Jesus could have been going out landing lucrative guest speaker gigs, he was instead washing people’s feet. And maybe that’s the reason people listened to Him.
And even now, I don’t really want to hit ‘Publish’, because then I have to live by this stuff. Blast. Splendid.
Karl.

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Splendid.
Karl.

So…it appears that I am starting a trend of being wrong here. On Thursday, in a post about possibly (possibly, folks) being wrong, I posted a video of this new band called The Antlers. That same night, I went and saw them open for Editors at The Wiltern. I was excited. And wow. The most rambling, self-indulgent, condescending music I have ever heard. Huge, long, drawn-out Tchaikovsky endings to every single song, and then, as soon as you think the 11 minute song with the 4 minute ending must be over, the guitarist/singer and the keyboardist both drop to their knees and twist knobs on their pedalboards until there is this ambient fuzz wash thing hanging in the air. Now, the first time they did that, pretty cool. The 8th time…ya. Not so much. And no attempt whatsoever to connect or communicate with the audience. Which is really the point of music in the first place. The best part of the night was when, amidst the 6th, I believe, ending of a song with random feedback, the feedback I guess went on too long through the house system, because the singer then made some derogatory joke into the microphone about the sound guy. And then he waited for us as the audience to join him in laughing, but the whole audience was like, ‘Um, are you sure that’s not just your guitar?’ It was awkward. And I couldn’t help but think that if this band liked themselves just a tad less, and tried maybe for just one song, to humbly allow the audience to commune with their music rather than giving off the attitude of, ‘Here’s the be all end all of music, and if you’re too dumb to understand it, tough’, they could be the next great thing in music right now. I mean, they are talented. Amazing sense of melodies, incredible use of instruments and effects, and great orchestrations. Some of the fullest and most in-depth textures I have heard. But all of that was lost on us as we watched them drift farther and farther away from us into their own world of self-importance.

Just a smile. Or a nod, or a laugh. Something to make us believe they were trying to communicate their art to us, rather than lord it over us. With that change in humility, they could be on top of the world in a couple years. Or maybe at least perceived humility. Who knows, they could be the most humble guys on the planet. But that didn’t matter as far as the concert went, because that didn’t come across to us. I watched the whole audience just drift away through their set. Talking, laughing, leaving for drinks…this huge disconnect started forming, and the worst part was that The Antlers seemed to be reveling in that disconnect. And then I started wondering how often we do that in worship music. Are we trying to communicate the worship of God to our audience, or are we reveling in our own musicianship? Or even in our own sense of communication? Reveling in your own ability to communicate can put an end to that ability really quick. Or…even not communicating because we’re reveling in our own worship, and using the stage as our personal prayer closet. We’re up there for a reason…and that is to communicate this sense of worshiping God through emotions, and letting that transcend into our daily lives. And sometimes we can get so caught up in how awesome we are, or how awesome the music is, or how awesome it is that world hunger is now alleviated because we played this song, that we can stop communicating altogether. And it’s really empty.

Oh, and by the way…Editors? Simply astounding. If you have not seen them live, you owe it to yourself before you die. The complete opposite of The Antlers. The whole feel of the night changed when they got on the stage. Suddenly, you felt as if you were feeling what they were feeling, and as if there was one song between them and the audience…and they just happened to be the ones with the instruments and microphones. The atmosphere was electric. There really is something about watching musicians truly feel the music, and stop trying to be cool, and let themselves go. And when Tom Smith, their singer, does a guitar dance that is so off-the-wall that you think, ‘What an idiot’, you know that he is no longer performing, but simply feeling. And that feeling, coupled with a humble and heartfelt desire to see your audience come on the emotional journey with you, rather than just watch you do it, is what communicates. Did you do that new David Crowder song because you thought it would communicate well with the congregation, or just because it was on his new cd? Did you do that tasteful anti-solo during that old hymn because you thought it would communicate well with the congregation, or because it would sound really good in the recording? Just some thoughts.

Oh, and for those of you doing the math, and noting that I posted the original Antlers video on the day I said I was celebrating my anniversary, and now seeing that in this post I mentioned seeing this show on the same day, yes. I have the coolest wife ever. And this is where she actually wanted to go for our anniversary. Wow.

And lastly…this has nothing to do with anything…but I was looking at my pedalboard this morning, and noticed my unused expression pedal, the expression pedal inputs on my Midi Mates, and the 50-some-odd patches yet to be written into the Timelines. Yep. And for those of you who have the Timeline, a $20 expression pedal plugged into the Midi Mate can control any knob on the Timeline, and is writable to a different knob per patch. I am discovering that it is very wonderful.

And of course, some Editors live footage:

Splendid.
Karl.

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Splendid.
Karl.

The word ‘post.’

It can be used for whatever you like, and always makes you sound not only intelligent, but indie-intelligent. Just put ‘post’ before any thing you like, and you automatically sound like a college-educated artist with a hobbit-half-beard, sitting in a non-chain coffee shop on the post-fashionable (see what I just did there?) side of London. Well, at least in your mind. The church has been doing it for years. ‘Ya, we’re a post-modern church.’ No one knows what it means, but it sounds fantastic! Seriously! You should try it.

‘What type of effect was that?’
‘Oh, just kind of a post-delay type sound.’

What does that mean? I don’t know. Sure sounds cool, though. And as a bonus, no one can really wrap their minds around what it means; yet it doesn’t quite sound like nonsense. So, not only do you sound cool, you also get this rad emperor’s-new-clothes effect……where no one wants to say that they have no idea what you’re talking about out of fear of not sounding as cool as you quite obviously are. Genius. Sure, it’s supposed to mean ‘after’ or ‘later.’ But does that stop us? Oh, absolutely not.

‘How would you describe your band’s sound?’
‘Eh, kind of like a post-grunge quasi-Eddie Vedder style.’

(‘Quasi’ is another awesome one.)

‘How’s the food here?’
‘It’s good. Like a post-euro lounge menu.’

‘Did you like that movie?’
‘It was alright. Little too post-noir for me.’

‘How should you keep your tone even at low volumes?’
‘Post-phase inverter master volume.’

(Wait, that one’s real.) ‘Post-true bypass.’ (There we go!)

‘What do you do for a living?’
‘It’s like a post-economy marketing portfolio.’

‘What type of tubes should I get?’
‘Look for some JJ’s. They have this killer post-vintage sound.’

‘What denomination is your church?’
‘You know. We’re part of that new post-non-denominational movement.’

‘What time is it?
‘Eh, around post-6:30.’

(That one actually works. Try it.)

‘How do you run your ministry?’
‘We try to use the post-John-Piper model.’

‘Did you leave your headlights on?’
‘No, I’ve got that post-Audi technology in my car.’

‘Did you drop your watch?’
‘Post.’

(Oh ya.)

‘What do you believe?’
‘I’m part of that post-Judeo-Christian mindset.’

Greatest invention ever. Intellectual-cool, without any need of the ‘intellect’ that normally accompanies ‘intellectual.’ And I’m definitely using this from now on. Watch out for my new ‘Post Ooh-Wah Demo.’ :)

Splendid.
Karl.

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Splendid.
Karl.

 

You chose ‘(F) Chuckle Openly.’

(And if you have no idea what is going on, this is the second part of a series started here, where you get to choose your own ending. Basically, I’m asking everyone to risk some Michael Jackson (is it too soon?) and take some trips back to their childhood to remember those ‘Choose Your Own Ending’ books. You know, the ones that were really popular 20 years ago right alongside the ‘When you hear the chimes, turn the page’ ones. So for our purposes here, when you hear the anti-solo, turn the page.)

So, as the worship leader turns bright red and continues to fumble through his words trying to recover into the next song after his accidental blasphemy, you just stand in the background, chuckling openly, and throwing in a few delay-laden volume swells over the finger-picking the worship leader is doing as he continues to pray. The worship leader has many times asked you not to play during the prayers as he ad-libs some finger-picking, but you know it’s for the greater good. His finger-picking is just terrible. It really needs to be rescued by your definitely-not-yet-cliche volume swells…and of course every few notes by your volume swell/note bend ‘whale call.’

Finally the worship leader finishes his prayer, and turns back to you, as you are supposed to start the next song. You sigh. How many times do you have to tell him that this song cannot be started with your Les Paul? The tonal nuances are such that it requires the Telecaster. This would be common knowledge to anyone who would actually listen to the original recording of the song, but hey…it’s the worship leader. He plays his Taylor on every single song, even though he has a perfectly good backup Martin sitting right there. Something about switching guitars during the set causing awkward silence? Come on. That’s just dramatic effect!

Nonetheless, he’s the worship leader, so you give him grace. You give the ‘I gotcha’ look as you take off your Les Paul and turn towards your Telecaster. Meanwhile, he’s giving you the death stare of ‘I thought this was why we decided beforehand for me to pray between these two songs, so that you could switch guitars.’ (I know prayer more than likely wasn’t originally intended to be a worship service transitional tool by which to switch guitars, capo’s, and sheet music undetected, but you know it’s true.) His stare however, is lost on you as you bend down to change the settings on your Lovepedal COT50 to be more Telecaster-friendly. You don’t use fuzz on this song, but just in case. Besides, you know that you couldn’t possibly have switched guitars during the prayer, because you were compelled by your own musical genius to play the afore-mentioned volume swells the worship leader asked you not to do. Quick as the buffered relay of a Line 6 amp modeler (which means not very fast……wow, I’m sorry, that was just mean-spirited), the worship leader turns around and tells the congregation to take a minute to just let the world fade away and quiet their hearts before their Creator (also a great tool for transitions), and you finish setting your pedals, grab your Telecaster, kick on your must-sound-like-Hillsong dual delays (a DD20 and an Analogman ARDX20…with tap tempo mod, of course) and oh-so-smoothly launch into the intro of the next song.

And you’re feeling it. The tone is oozing out of your Hayseed 30 with upgraded EF86 preamp option, and you watch as the sound waves just move the congregation into throngs of passionate worship. (You can’t actually see the throngs of passionate worship because the expressions on their faces haven’t changed, nor have they stood up, lifted their hands, started clapping, or shed tears. But you know they’re being driven to worship. I mean, how could they not with a Hayseed 30 with upgraded EF86 preamp option? It’s just that the sheep are too scared and lazy to fully give themselves over to worship. That’s the only explanation.

The first passage is done…played flawlessly by your time-tested hands. (You don’t believe that tone is in the hands, but still…it’s nice to admit that it might be, after completing a passage as well as you just completed that one.) The drums start to tap in on the ride cymbal as you launch into the next passage. The bass subtly enters with a low, sustaining tone of harmonically anchoring loveliness. The keyboard fades in with a sweetly ringing, background synth pad…oh wait, he’s been playing that the whole time…hold on! There’s a keyboardist on stage? Who is that guy? (Sorry keyboardists…it’s the most unfortunate thing in the world, but sadly true.) Your concentration is just momentarily lifted as you marvel at the distant and wondrous sound coming from the stranger you’ve never noticed playing that odd-looking instrument with what seems to be something like ‘Korg’ or ‘Korj’ scrawled across it. But you don’t falter. No. Your Barber Liverpool hitting the front end of your amp sounds much to good for you to even dream about faltering. The music picks up (worship build time), the bass plays his second of the three notes he’s been given, and you start to take off into the introductory anti-solo……

And then it happens. You’ve hit a D. Now the congregation looks up. And with pained looks on their faces. Let it be known that D is a wonderful note. But the song is in the key of Ab. And it’s not Tommy Walker or Norma Jean. Your confidence begins to fade. What’s the next note? How am I going to recover from this? Why won’t that blasted D note stop ringing out? Curse my perfectly compressed sustain! You see the congregation starting to shake their heads. The sheep are restless. What can be done. Quickly you decide that worship needs a hero. And that hero is you. Only a guitarist as talented and toneful as you can save the church from the unholy dissonance that you unleashed on them! With the effortless tone, grace, and class of a 1960’s 12-string Rickenbacker, you…

A) Make a weird face and go over and check the tubes on your amp. (One of them has obviously gone harmonic.)

B) Continue playing the D…along with a bunch of other random notes, throw one hand up in the air, and pretend the sour notes are just the Spirit-filled result of being completely overcome by worship.

C) Take your unused capo out and chuck it at the worship leader to remind him never to play in capo 1 again.

D) Allow the D note to bring you to an E note, and then into the key of A, and keep playing as if it was a modulation the rest of the band missed.

E) Shake your head in disgust and glare at the other guitarist. And if he’s still in the middle of switching to his Telecaster too, and it would be quite obvious even to the drummer that he couldn’t have played the wrong note, then glare at the bassist. You could glare at the keyboardist, but everybody knows the keyboards aren’t in the mains. (Again, my apologies keyboardists…you know I love you, and if you come over to my church, I’ll make sure you drown everybody else out! But at other churches…well…I’m sure you’ve been there…)

F) Play off the D like it’s a diminished 5th jazz scale. Won’t help the worship mood any, but you’ll definitely get props with the rest of the musicians.

G) Turn to the other guitarist and laugh out loud, pointing to your guitar and making train wreck sounds and motions with your mouth and hands. (I used to play worship with a guy who would do this every time he would make a mistake. I tried to explain to him that these actions caused everyone to notice his one mistake, but they would never notice my ten mistakes, simply because I didn’t point them out with mimic’d train wreck sounds. But he was much too carefree and humble to care. I actually learned a lot from this guy.)

H) Fiddle with your massive pedalboard. (Seriously, everyone always believes this one.)

I) Just own it and rely on your superior knowledge of music theory to be able to explain away any mistakes afterwards in the green room.

J) Frantically turn off your 5 delay pedals trying to get the blasted tritone to stop ringing out any longer! Ah! Stupid delay pedals with spillover capabilities!

K) Just make D a part of the scale now, and come back and hit it at least 9 more times during the course of the song, until you’ve successfully pounded it into people’s heads so many times that they can’t help but just recognize it as part of the song. (I’ve tried this one. It never seems to work like you think it will.)

L) Smile, shake your head, and thank God profusely that even though He chooses to use us, and even though we should probably do our best to stay away from playing a D while in the key of Ab, He’ll probably still find a way to get glory in spite of us. I know it’s hard to imagine…I mean, we’re the ‘worship leaders’…’the battle cryers of the church’ ( ;) )…pretty important people with amazing tone. (Okay, at least self-important people with expensive gear.) But I think just maybe He’s got it covered.

So, choose your own ending. And of course, you can’t choose ‘L’!

And I know it sounds trite, but we do realize that the God who could do a much better job bringing glory to Himself by Himself, chooses to use us by letting us jam out music to Him every week, right? I know, I know that completely sounds like the cheeseball church thing to quote out of the latest ‘Worship is a Verb’ book; but it’s true, and I for one, forget it all too often.

Sorry for the Disney ending. Delay, tubes, Dumble, germanium, Arcade Fire, Mullard, decayed note artifacts, tone. Is that better? hehe :)

Splendid.
Karl.

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Splendid.
Karl.

This is the cheesiest, most pretentious song ever written. Simplicity is great; but a boring, over-produced orchestration does nothing to help a melody, lyrics, and theme that I’ve literally heard note for note and word for word about six gazillion (yep, that’s right) times. Or maybe it’s just the trailer that this song is in, that I’ve seen about seven gazillion times now (no, seriously, I’ve been counting these things) of the worst actor ever (that means Eric Bana) trying desperately to internalize the deeply relatable emotion of time travel with the oh so powerful line, ‘I can’t stay’, that makes me hate this song so. But either way, this is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard (and if you don’t believe that, just look at his face as he sings…oh yes…project that sadness):

However (and some of you who are about to bite my head off with your sarcastic comments about my lack of record sales compared to Lifehouse, and how my guitar playing on youtube doesn’t sound much better {actually, I did get a comment to that effect the other day…it was awesome}, because you adore this song so much and he’s of course singing right to you, are going right now, ‘Ya, there better be a ‘However’!), according to youtube views of the official video for this song, 2,653,768 people are telling me that I am wrong. Now, my knee-jerk response is, ‘Well, it’s just the result of our post-art, elect-him-for-office-because-he-has-eyes-I-can-trust, ooh!-something-shiny, society.’ But 2,653,768 people? I mean, each one of us thinks we’re special, and there’s definitely a place for the lone idealists who take on the masses; but at what point do you look at yourself and go, ‘Hmm. One versus 2 million. Maybe there’s a slight, just a slight possibility, that I could be the one who’s wrong.’

Now I’m not saying I am. Oh no. Admit I’m wrong? Please. I’m the worship leader! I tell people what they like and don’t like. And if their styles don’t agree with mine……well, then, I guess we just haven’t taught them enough what worship truly is. Ya. Sounds really bad when it’s written down, huh. But you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard that. Okay. Yikes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve said that.

But here…for the sake of argument, let’s not say that we’re wrong, because I know that’s hard. It’s hard for me, too. Let’s say that we are right (or, that ‘I’ am right…those of you whose lives have been forever turned upside down by the majesty of the emotionality in this song, I don’t want to lump you in with myself in hating this song by using the word ‘we’), and that the 2,653,768 (probably more by now) are wrong. Let’s just ignore the fact that even though cookie-cutter songs that have been recycled for 15 years are totally boring, somehow they are obviously reaching people. And I’ll go ahead and ignore too, the fact that for years now, that pseudo-country/southern rock/rockabilly/backhome America storytellin’ thing has consistently driven people to tears, and absorbed their lives. And I’ll ignore the fact that maybe my style preferences aren’t actually listed in the Bible. (Believe me, I’ve looked. No U2, no Fleet Foxes, no Mum…I did find some Peter Gabriel, but I kinda had to cut and paste a couple different parts together out of context, and believe it or not, that kind of thing is still looked down upon in some churches.) And after ignoring all these things, let’s just say that we’re right. But even then…even if we are right, and the rest of the world is wrong. Shouldn’t we be serving them? Shouldn’t we be using everything at our disposal to try to reach them? Now I’m not talking about the words of Jesus here. Yes, teach people those. Don’t change those. I’m talking about matters of preference! Styles of music! If 75% of the people at your church are listening to Lifehouse, maybe we should do a worship song in that style every once in a while.

gospel axe
(Or maybe it’s just that when we think of ‘Christian’ and ‘country’, we get images like this in our mind. I know I’ve used this picture before, but it never gets old. Because the guy in the helmet really has an axe.)

Should we change who we are? Should we dread leading worship because we hate the music? No. But maybe…just maybe…we should take a look at what is reaching people, and step outside our own selfishness for just a bit. Myself included. Play tons of Lifehouse? Nope. Not gonna happen. I still can’t stand that song. But I’m open to the possibility that I could be wrong about it, and that a style or a program or a way of doing church, might not be my personal preference. But believe it or not, there’s a difference sometimes between our preferences, and between what it right and wrong. Shocker, I know. But leading worship has never really been about us. Playing a style every once in a while that we don’t like, because the congregation can just totally (for whatever reason, hehe) connect with God because of it? Ya. I think that’s okay. I think that’s truly loving people, and love is the ultimate ideal. I can go back to being an idealist the next morning, when I turn on the radio and hear the latest Nickelback/Three Days Grace/Jeremy Camp/Foo Fighters/Seether/Lifehouse/Pearl Jam/Kutless/3 Doors Down single (there’s a crazy conspiracy out there that those are all actually in fact the same band), and I can make fun of it to my heart’s content, and pacify my feelings of jealousy that they’re on the radio and I’m not, with numbing thoughts of the culture-less lemmings of society, and how their minds are now just too dumbed down to appreciate my more ‘enlightened’ forms of art. Like Spinal Tap.

And perhaps? Taking it a step further and considering the fact that I just might be wrong, maybe like the 2,653,768-versus-1 numbers seem to imply? Eh……no. To quote Al Pacino (and just a little life tip here…any time you have the chance to quote Al Pacino, do it……it never disappoints……well, maybe the people you quote him to, but certainly not yourself), too big a leap right now. I’ll save admitting that I’m wrong for another day. A dark day. ;)

Oh, and just for the record, no…our pastor did not ask us to do this song this weekend, and I did not write this post just to try to justify having to play the cheesiest (remember, I admitted that I could be wrong! Stop throwing things!) song ever.

Splendid.
Karl.

P.S. Apologies for the lack of practical posts lately. Lots of musings instead. hehe I’m taking a slight break from gear demos and shootouts while I re-record all the ambient pads I use, and try to make them available as mp3 downloads for you guys. Hopefully soon!

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Splendid.
Karl.


Really, really easy to forget this. Yes, there’s a lot to think about, and yes, it’s all good stuff to think about (especially if you’re thinking about delay and buying more of it). And yes, as 2 Samuel points out, sometimes worship involves sacrifice. But let’s face it……we get to bare our hearts and souls and just completely drive out (notice I said ‘drive’, not ‘rock’, hehehe) on our instruments and voices, connecting with the One who literally died for us.

And I readily agree that there are times when that is not fun. There’s a time for everything, and sometimes it’s time to serve through struggle. And of course it needs to be balanced with service, and making sure the worship set isn’t just one long, self-indulgent solo, tone quest, or Capitol Records audition (because of course they’re always in the audience, just hoping against hope to hear a talent like yours), because that’s what’s ‘fun’ for you. But after we’ve balanced all that out…I’m thinking this should be some of the most fun we have all week. Not everyone gets to turn on their Tim pedal for God.

Splendid.
Karl.

P.S. I sold my new Matchless.

No…I didn’t. I need to have something to hug at night while I sleep. I literally tried to kiss the soundwaves that were emanating from it as I played it this weekend. (And that’s not a lie. Although…I did kind of do it just so I could write that here.) But seriously…did any of you read that I was selling it and go, ‘What?!’ No. You didn’t. You probably just said something like, ‘Figures.’ Stupid guitarists.

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Splendid.
Karl.

When I was playing bass through a DOD Grunge box into a Peavey Combo 300 into a Crate GFX-10 amp, I had it all figured out. Then the Crate caught on fire. I wasn’t exactly sure what an ‘extension cab’ was yet, and figured I’d give this a try. Guess the outputs don’t really like to be connected to each other.

When I was playing a BC Rich through a Crate GFX120 (if you blow up your first one, the only logical thing to do is to replace it with a bigger one), I had it all figured out. Then I heard the other guitarist playing a modded strat into a ’66 Bandmaster. I cried a lot.

When I was laying down clunker-laced face-melters in what I considered to be the mixolydian mode because I saw the fifth of the key somewhere in the sheet music, I had it all figured out. Then the worship leader asked if I could play chords. Oh, I played those chords alright. Worship had an angry sound to it that night. At least from the electric guitar side of the stage.

When I was rocking the GT6 in stereo, to a Fender PA used as an amp, and to the beloved Crate, I had it all figured out. (Part of my ‘guitar gear’ in those days literally was a green padded folding chair and some bungee cords. I put the Crate on it with the bungees, so it would be as tall as my half stack (the uh…Fender PA). I still have the chair and use it to reach high things in my house. Underneath it is written my name and the name of my band at the time. I was so cool that I had my band name on my gear…and my gear was a folding chair. Yes. Score. I was beating off the women every night.)

It was at this time that one of the other guitarists at my church, took pity on me. Difficult not to. When someone sounded like I sounded, yet still gives this rockstar air, it’s one of the saddest and most hilarious things you can ever see in life. And he took me aside on day and asked, ‘Have you ever heard of Matchless?’ Which I hadn’t. In fact, I thought he said ‘matches’, and was asking for a light. Which was completely unacceptable. I had just about made up my mind to use my superb righteousness and unstained reputation get the worship leader to throw him off the team for smoking (in which case, I would now be the only guitarist…not that I wanted it…but I guess this is God’s plan all along……hope the sarcasm is coming through, here), when I realized he was talking about an amp. And of course, I hadn’t heard of it, but remember…I had it all figured out. So I said something clever, witty, and hopefully concealed condescending like, ‘Hey, if it doesn’t say Fender or Marshall on it, I don’t want to hear about it.’ And then I chuckled and smiled the smile I would always smile to be able to get away with comments like that. But he did not smile. I learned later that just the very mention of the word ‘Marshall’ could send this guy into a tirade of glory to boutique amps. And then he said something like, ‘But you’re playing a Crate.’ To which I responded, ‘Well the Fender is the source of most my tone.’ And he said, ‘Uh…that’s not a guitar amp.’ At which point I probably went off on a spew about how the circuits of a PA were clean enough to give sparkle to the high end kilohertz or what-not. I don’t know. I made a lot of things up back then. At which he most likely came back at me using a little thing called ‘facts’, and put me in my place. I’m sure I went home and cried. You’ll find that most often the most self-assured people are also the most insecure. Your self is not the most reliable source to be assuring your own self, and even your self knows that. So when challenged…tears like a schoolgirl.

Santa crying
(Or like a little boy who just saw Santa’s grave. This is seriously the saddest picture I have ever seen. I need to not be chuckling right now.)

Anyway, from this point on, this guy kind of became my tone mentor. And he was only a couple years older than me. But miles ahead maturity-wise. See, he had something mastered called teachability. When I would see talent and immediately start thinking up what I had to do to be better than them, he would immediately try to learn from them. And when I say ‘what I had to do to be better than them’, I really mean ‘do.’ It wasn’t that I wanted to ‘look’ like a better musician than everyone else; I wanted to really ‘be’ a better musician than everyone else. Just looking like it has never done me any good, because I can’t ever get my own brain to believe it, too. I have to literally ‘be.’

But this characteristic dies hard. It’s still dying in me to this day. So, when he would say, ‘Matchless’, I would come back with a clean boost. I had to know better. Sure, you say Matchless, but my sources on the uh…internet…say this clean boost into any amp will give you ‘tone for days’ and will ‘kill’ any boutique amps. And so it went. And hopefully, God’s kinda put some humility in me over the years. Yikes, you hit enough clunkers over enough years on enough stages, and you just can’t lie to yourself anymore. Humility just forces its way in. lol But somewhere, in the back of my mind, I have never wanted to get a Matchless. It’s like I’ve been on this quest that even I’ve forgotten about, to get the perfect tone without going Matchless. And besides, Matchless have been around for so long that…they’re not the cool indie boutique anymore. Which is what it’s all about. How can I be cool if people have heard of my amp? So my quest for Matchless tone without Matchless continued.

And I have failed. Matchless. Matchless, Matchless, Matchless. I will never buy another amp again. (And I have never said that before. Even if you’ve heard me say that before, I didn’t. Besides, in guitarist language, ‘never’ is about 4 weeks.) I got the Matchless Spitfire in a trade. Totally accidental. Meant to sell it, plugged it in to make sure it worked, and……the hills were alive. Yep. They were. With the sound of tone, people. Made me sell Divided by 13’s, Hollands, overdrive pedals, and the like. Only thing was, every once in a while I have to play outdoors, and the Spitfire is only 15 watts. Enter, the new view from my desk:

Matchless 2

Matchless HC30. Matchless. The tone I have run from. See what not being teachable gets you? It gets you to the land of no Matchless. Which is a horrible land to be in. I picked it up in Hollywood yesterday…at Guitar Center of all places…I mean, ya, if you have to go to a Guitar Center, go to the Hollywood one, but since when have their used prices become cheaper than Gear Page? I shall take it. (And for those of you writing this off as another ‘expensive gear post’, prices are down out there! You just have to have fun and look! Sell a few pedals or a couple gimmicky gear pieces, and you’ll probably have more than enough for some really quality gear. Gone are the days of ’boutique’ being for sponsored pros and the rich doctors with expensive hobbies. Hey, if I’ve got boutique gear filling up the small corners of my apartment, and loading the bed of my ’95 Toyota (which I love by the way, and hope to drive until it falls apart…which, since the Japanese made it, I’m hoping is never), than definitely anyone can get boutique gear. I don’t post stuff like this to say, ‘Look at my gear.’ I post stuff like this to say, ‘Go get this gear! We will rejoice together!’) Finally got to play it today and…just…words cannot describe. Not the tone, really. I just sat and stared at the lights. hehe No, the tone was spectacular. I jumped the channels and it was like adding a very weighty-sounding vintage Vox to my Spitfire. Oh, and did I mention it lights up?

So, now that I finally have a Matchless, I’ve got it all figured out. ;)

Until 5 years from now, when I’ll post something like, ‘When I was playing a Prairiewood through a Matchless…’ and then I will laugh, and go, ‘Prairiewood through a Matchless? What was I thinking?’ I mean, I really hope not. But if I’m really honest with myself, there was once a time where I honestly felt about my GT6 the way I feel about my Matchless right now. Honesty is a harsh mistress.

I guess to sum it all up, I should say that both Matchless amps I’ve played have sounded so good, that they actually make me sound like a better player than I am. Which is of course definitely what you should do to become a better player……buy more gear. ;) Now I’ve got it all figured out!

Splendid.
Karl.

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