Transitioning from Acoustic to Electric Guitar

A growing trend for worship leaders is making the transition from playing acoustic guitar to electric, and it’s a trend that I’m totally on board with. If this is something you’ve considered doing, then my hope is that the following post will help guide you in your decision.

Why?

My first question to you is: why do you want to start leading from electric guitar? I’d encourage you to honestly answer this question before reading on. Are you needing to adjust your band’s sound scape, or are you simply bored? Are you missing a rhythm instrument, or are you missing the rock ‘n’ roll? Do you want to better serve your church or just show off your killer new Fender Jazzmaster?

For me, my band was a simple four-piece (drums, bass, lead electric, acoustic) and that was no longer cutting it for a 500+ service in a large middle school gym. My acoustic sat in the mix more like a shaker than a melodic instrument. I had played lead electric in the past and knew I could fill more space with it, but I wasn’t sure it was the right choice. I mean, who leads worship from electric guitar?! So one day, I brought it to rehearsal and tried it out with the full band. After the first song, I knew that this was the right direction for me and the band to go because it sounded so much fuller. So after a few weeks of rehearsing and practicing with it, I tried it out on a Sunday and got such positive feedback from people, including my sound engineer. Since that day, I’ve led from acoustic guitar only a handful of times.

As I’ve grown in leading from electric, I’ve discovered a few more reasons why I now prefer it over acoustic. Because an electric sustains longer, I am able to let chords ring out while I lift my hands in praise. Another pro is the flexibility an electric gives to playing unique parts and melodies rather than just strumming chords. Dynamically, an electric guitar can simply do more and create unique sounds to evenly fill the sound spectrum.

But there are also cons to leading from electric. The most obvious is that leading from electric requires more brain power to determine when and how to play versus strumming chords. Another con is wanting to lead a softer song that calls for an acoustic guitar part where an electric just doesn’t sound right. And let’s not forget, you have more gear you have to buy, haul around, and potentially replace when it breaks!

 

Getting Started

If you feel confident that transitioning to electric guitar is the right decision, let me give you a few practical ways to start the transition.

  •  Communicate
    • Let your band, sound engineer, and pastor know before you pull the trigger. Don’t make this decision alone, but do so with the people you lead with—they might give you better advice or point out a problem with your plan.
  • Practice
    • Start practicing with your band first before you start leading on Sundays. This will especially be a service to your lead guitarist as you work together on parts and voicing. You don’t want to play the same or similar parts as your guitarist, but instead, compliment the melody range they are NOT playing in.
  • Listen
    • With electric guitar, less is more. Always. You don’t need to strum nearly as much as you do with acoustic. Instead, try slowly picking out chords or strumming open chords and letting them ring out (aka “diamonds”). Try different chord shapes and positions on the neck. Listen to when you need to play and when you don’t.

 

Gear You Need

When it comes to gear, there are exorbitant options available to you and it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. You honestly don’t need a lot of gear to get started leading from electric, but here are a few things I would personally suggest starting off with if you don’t already have any gear.

  • A good electric guitar:
    • Fender Telecaster ($500+) is a great place to start, but also a semi-hollowbody like the Epiphone Casino ($600+) or Sheraton ($700+) might feel more like home for acoustic players.
  • A solid tube amplifier:
    • Fender Blues Junior ($519), Vox AC15 ($649), or similar are a great start. Since you are micing your amp, you honestly don’t need a lot of power or volume—your sound engineer will thank you, trust me.
  • A few effects pedals:
    • Tuner — this is a no-brainer! Boss TU-3 ($99) or Polytune ($99) are the standards.
    • Overdrive/Boost — I like the JHS Morning Glory ($200) or Mad Professor Sweet Honey ($169), but an Ibanez Tube Screamer ($99) is great too. Whatever you decide, just make sure to use it more as a slight overdrive and not full-on distortion!
    • Delay/Reverb — The Boss RV-5 ($99) is a great reverb pedal to help make your guitar sound larger. Also, the Boss DD-3 ($129) or DD-7 ($149) are good basic delay pedals you can set low in the mix. These pedals will really help fill in that empty space between chords and make your guitar sound much thicker and richer.

 

Go for It!

Once you’ve thought through the decision, purchased the gear you need, and practiced a handful of times with your band, then it’s time to give it a shot on Sunday. Don’t come out with guns blazing! Rather, do the songs you normally do with the arrangements you are used to. Don’t do anything flashy or bring attention to the fact you are now playing electric. Remember, your reason for choosing this is to serve the body better in leading worship, not to bring attention to yourself or your guitar! At the end of the day, our instruments are just tools to help us lead our people in worshiping Jesus. If your tool isn’t working, then you might need to put it down and pick up a different one.

Daniel Darnell

About Daniel Darnell

Daniel Darnell serves as the South Campus Worship Leader for The Austin Stone Community Church. In his free time he enjoys exploring the great city of Austin with his wife and discovering the amazing food the city has to offer.