Muzzling the Axe

May 10, 2017

By Ryan McLouth

Help! I’ve done everything that everyone has suggested, but my electric guitar player is still too loud! This is the number one frustration that I hear from worship leaders, music directors, and music pastors. A few months ago, we discussed some solutions for this issue such as pointing guitar amplifiers away from the congregation, placing speaker cabinets offstage, or pointing guitar amplifiers directly at the guitarist. Sometimes, these suggestions may not yield the desired solution, or they may not be practical. If you have found that this is the case for you, I have more suggestions.
Sound engineers love acoustic guitar players. The reason for this is that acoustic guitarists generally plug directly into the mixing desk via direct input device. This option gives engineers almost complete control of the volume of the acoustic guitarist both on stage and through the front of house speakers. Basically, the only volume that a sound engineer can’t control in regards to the acoustic guitar player is the negligible amount of acoustic output produced by the instrument. The problem with electric guitar players is that we don’t traditionally have the option to plug directly into the mixing desk. An electric guitar connected directly to the mixer often yields a very undesirable tone. However, music technology in the last few years has begun to make this option more feasible through digital modeling.
If you were an electric guitar player in the mid 90’s, you may remember when digital modeling had just begun. Digitech, Boss, Line 6 and other companies had just released products that claimed to digitally produce a sound that modeled the speaker output of a real tube amplifier. Those of us who experienced this technology know that the tone quality of those early products was less than desirable. Having said that, this technology has come a long way, especially in the last five years.
There are now many high quality products that offer a fairly accurate representation of “useable” electric guitar tones. Some of these such as Axe FX II, the Line 6 Helix and the Kemper Profiler offer the best sounds, but retain price points near the $2,000 mark. If you can afford these technologies, that’s great. If not, you might consider a newer product that I have been using lately: the Line 6 Pod HD500X. This product comes in right at the $500 mark new, which can be purchased used for about $2-300. All of the amplifier and speaker cabinet models that the Pod HD500X offers are fairly nice representations of the real thing. In addition to these models, there is an endless supply of effects that are very usable in the worship music context. Most importantly, this device produces a direct input signal straight to the mixing desk with no external speaker cabinet. Therefore, stage sound can be completely eliminated—especially if your guitarist is willing to use in-ear monitors or plug his headphones directly into the device. If your organization or guitarist can afford $2-300 to purchase this technology used, you will notice a significant improvement in the control of your stage and front of house mixes/volume levels.
If you are experiencing any of the challenges listed above, or need further advice regarding music technology for your worship service, I am happy to be a resource. Or if you would just like to share your own opinions please contact me at 660-651-9964 or