Posted by: worshipguitarguy | August 17, 2007

Gear: How I Approach my Electric Setup

I was asked how I approach my electric setup a while ago, so here’s my attempt to explain it. 

I know several guitarists who are intimidated by a complex electric setup, since the pedals on some of our boards have more switches and dials than mission control at NASA.  Finding the right settings for everything often seems like rocket science.  So if I’m starting from scratch, here’s how I approach things.

1.  (Obviously) Setup your gear the same way you’ll play it live:  This seems like a no brainer, but it’s worth mentioning.  If your live signal chain that runs through a number of effects, chances are that your tone will be slightly different than it would were you plugged right into your amp.  (Even if the effects have true bypass switches.)  Because of this, I never start setup until I have the effects I’m using at that moment hooked into my signal chain.

2.  Set your volume and tone knobs on your guitar:  I usually roll my tone knobs off to about 8 or so… and can roll m 

 3.  Turn off all effects and setup a solid clean tone from your amp:  There’s a guitar player’s mantra that says 70% of your tone comes from your amp.  I live by this principle, and the first thing I do when setting up is find a solid clean tone that I’m happy with.  With my Vox, this usually means my preamp volume is set around 11 o’clock, my treble’s set somewhere between 12:30 and 3 o’clock, and my bass is around 10:30-11:30.  Then, I’ll set my master volume as loud as I can considering the room, (or isolation room) that I’m playing in. 

4.  Set Up Boosts, Overdrives, and Distortion Sounds:
With my clean tones, my Fulltone Fat Boost  is on about 90% of time.  My EQ on it is set to match the tone from my amp, I just want it to “fill out” my sound a bit without coloring it.

My approach to setting up Overdrives and Distortions is pretty straightforward.  First, I set the EQ or “Tone” settings so they closely match the natural EQ of my amp.  One mistake some young guitarists make is to EQ very “trebly” distortion sounds.  (I think it comes from hearing similar tones on alot of recordings out there right now.)  The problem is those tones often sound like fingernails on a chalkboard for people listening.  For me, going one way or the other, I would lean more towards a slightly warmer EQ which means rolling my pedal’s tone control down just a bit.

On my board, I have one OD effect set as a cleaner “Low gain” overdrive, and the second set as a grittier “Higher gain” OD.  My Sparkle drive is the lower gain pedal and my Full Drive 2 is the higher gain pedal. 

In setting your Overdrive and Distortion volume levels, it’s important to remember the purpose of them in the mix.  An OD effect is there to “drive” parts of the song by pushing the overall sound in the mix.  My overdrives are set to run a bit louder than my clean tones.  I do this to match the volume increase of my drummer and bass player when the song picks up. 

(Next article will focus on modulation effects, delays, and reverb.)



  1. There’s already a lot of articles on cab mic’ing, but I’d like to see yours or everyone else’s setup.


  2. on mics:

    A Shure sm57 kissing the grill of your amp is a no-brainer way to get good tone.

    Here’s how I do it (I’m sure there are a bunch of other ways, but this is quick, cheap, and has never failed me):

    1. set up your amp’s controls so it sounds good to you. Tell the soundman to set the eq for your channel on the board flat.

    2. use a boom mic facing the cone of the speaker at a 90 degree angle at approximately 6:00. Place the mic somewhere halfway between the outside edge of the cone and the dustcap. Now, you’re ready for soundcheck.

    3. during soundcheck, if the soundman wants more bass, you move the mic down toward the bottom of the speaker. If he wants more treble, you move it up toward the dustcap. This effect is more pronounced if your amp is on the floor, but it still works if you use an amp stand and a combo amp like I do.

    4. after you have done everything in your power to get as close to the sound your soundman wants, let him adjust the eq at the board. Odds are, he won’t change much. He will also remember how you made his life much easier AND you will sound better in the mains because, in my opinion, nothing messes up good guitar tone like mixing board eq.

    I also recommend a small amp over a large one. A small amp that is running at 6 or 7 (assuming your volume know goes to 10) will sound bigger than a marshall stack on 1 (which is where the soundman wants you to have it if you’re putting a microphone in front of it). 20-30 watt tube tube amps are plenty loud for you to hear yourself on most stages and you can open it up a little bit without bugging the other musicians.

  3. hi there

    remember me? used to have a blog, and used to frequent yours but sorry i fell away, good to see you are consistently writing good stuf, i wish i did too.:-0

    i have a guitaring problem, i think its called plateauing after reaching a particular level of proficiency, have been stuck here it with no direction as to how to move ahead.


    keep up the good work, god bless



    PS would greatly appreciate updating the blogroll link

  4. Do you isolate?

  5. Hey, I am thinking about starting playing electric guitar in worship situations as a lead instrument. I play keyboard and bass regularly with our church, as well as rhythm guitar/singing as worship leader. I have been contemplating trying my hand at playing lead. I’m not a shredder, but I do play bluegrass rhythm and leads so I would consider myself competent.

    Anyway, my question is how I would get started with all the effects. Would it be reasonable to start with a little modeling amp like the Vox Valvetronix AD30VT? If not that, what? What kinds of effects would I then use for common sounds? The array of effects is rather dizzying and I don’t yet know one from another.

    Then the big question: do I really have to spend 3 years playing with effects in the basement before I can go out in public to play? If so, life’s too short and never mind … Thanks.


  7. what stephen said.

  8. Some good tips here. Going to try a few.

    Most of the time I been playing through an old tube amp with no effects.

  9. hi there folks. electric set-up is a matter of taste. the rule of the thumb is, if you cant hear yourself whispering in the middle of worship, you’re too loud. if your buzzing at 7db with intense rhythm, your driving your church mates crazy, worst the sound guy!

    some tips:
    1. select a good amp. valves or tube are perfect.
    Then set a clean tone. compression at around 3-4.
    2. overdrive gain settings should be kept minimum. use your bridge pick-up for warm solos and the third for screaming leads.
    3. don’t set your trebles higher than 5!
    4. perfect your mid settings. 5 or 6 is way to go.
    5. play clean. stop riffing non-sense.
    6. emphasize your pick accents by adjusting gain settings in the mixer board.
    7. always refine your effect settings after worship sessions or service. that way you will have a heads up what to do next.
    Above all, worship God. don’t just play, PRAY! nothing more disappointing after every session as seeing yourself than God.

    Tips:select effects that has the capability to mimic different cabinet types. it will amaze you. For the newbies, invest on multi-effects first then make a chain if you’re ready!

    shred em!

  10. Ian’s got some really good points.. and i do agree… if ur just starting off on the electric guitar.. start with a multi-effects pedals. It’ll have every effect you’ll ever need; and as you progress in your skills, invest in buying stomp box pedals.

    main reasons that getting individual pedals are “better” than a multi-effects pedal is taht it has true bypass signal (assuming you use good quality cables, not those colorful cables that u can get a pack of 6 for like 10$)

    the main pedals you’ll really need when you start are..

    1. get a good stomp box tuner. nothing worse than playing a guitar that’s out of tune. the boss tu-2 is probably one of the better ones for cheaper.

    2. You don’t need 5-10 different distortions. in my opinion, i love the warm tone of a tube screamer or blues driver. it’s good for both rhythm and lead.

    3. get a delay pedal. preferably one with tap tempo. when playing live, a tap tempo will go a long way.

    Hopes this helps. Picking up the elec can be hard… although i’ve been playing the guitar for about 10 years now, i’ve only started on the elec about 3-4 years ago.

    just practice, practice, practice.. and dont be afraid to ask people for advise or help, or even look online for more tips

  11. Great post. I lead from a Tele into a Vox AC15 via a pedalboard. I’ve started with the same preamp & master set up as you but recently I’ve noticed a good foundational tone tone by pumping up the master to around 3 o’clock and bringing the preamp up to the desired volume level.

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