In past blogs and podcasts, we’ve talked about the importance of developing your own sound.
But how do you actually go about building a new sound?
The more I talk to other guitarists, the more I realize that many struggle to think outside of the box. I understand how hard it can be, simply because it’s a matter of taking risks. When you do something new, there is always unknown about whether it will work out well or not. However, I’m a firm believer that it’s hard to obtain anything of value in life without taking risks.
Below, I’ve listed five practical tips to help make this creative process easier and equip you to develop fulfilling and impactful sounds.
1) Don’t be afraid of down moments
Softer parts of songs are hands down the most significant area where I believe a guitarist can grow. As soon as the drums calm down, guitarists tend to get timid or quickly reach for the volume pedal to do some swells.
“Tasteful” boldness is essential here. There is plenty of space to fill – unlike the wash that happens when drums are hitting at 11 and tracks are raging. It may feel vulnerable and intimidating, but you have to get past that and see it as a beautiful opportunity to add to what God is doing in the room.
2) Remove what’s comfortable
Every musician should always learn the foundational elements and techniques to their instrument and genre. However, once you have learned something, don’t use it as a crutch for your creativity.
A couple of years ago, I was playing with two other guitarists and noticed that all three of us defaulted to doing swells during a down section. It was a turning point that motivated me to get rid of my volume pedal. I then started experimenting with various types of reverse reverbs and haven’t looked back. Today, I’m still pushing myself to not rely on what I’ve done before and to find new creative tricks.
3) Try something random
One of the most fun things about being a guitarist is the endless creative directions we can go with effects. Sadly, I feel like many of us default to a bit of overdrive, a dotted 8th delay, and a hall reverb.
Don’t be afraid to try something out of the box like reordering some effects. I had a setup ten years ago where I had an RV-3 at both the beginning and the end of my effects chain. I’d run them 100% wet and turn on drives in the middle for some unique drones with plenty of harmonics.
Here are some things you can try experimenting with:
- heavier reverb settings (even 100% wet)
- various modulations (I’ll even use rotary effects from time to time)
100% wet pitch shifting
- heavy modulation on delay trails
- an EQ to cut the highs and lows dramatically
- rolling off the tone on your guitar
- long, heavy dark delays to smear things out.
Right now, I’m toying with triplet and 16th note delays for new sounds.
What you play only comes with experimentation. I can’t write that up, but for now, don’t stress and keep it simple. In the end, swells are definitely not the only option in down moments.
4) Don’t be afraid of extremes
Some of my favorite sounds I’ve discovered have been from taking parameters to the extreme. For instance, one of my go-to reverb sounds I get comments on regularly has the bass and modulation depth rolled entirely off, while the treble and rate controls are kicked up a little.
While watching and reading about Tame Impala, I found that many of Kevin’s synth sounds are actually guitars, and he even likes running reverb on bass. There are no rules. I guarantee you that you will find some of your best sounds by using your ears more than your eyes.
5) Find new inspiration
The most creative people are the ones who are hungry and passionate for new music and inspiration. If someone listens to Coldplay and U2 every day, they’re most likely going to sound “contained” and replicative.
Make an active choice to listen to artists, genres, and musicians that you usually wouldn’t and study them. While I grew up on pretty much every type of rock music available, so much of the music I listen to today has little or no guitars. Everything I’ve listened to in every season has affected my playing and brought me valuable ideas to take into worship. Paying attention to synths has inspired me to explore things like filters, the tone knob on my guitar, and tremolo after reverb.
What tips and tricks do you have for developing creative guitar sounds? Let us know in the comments below.
You may also be interested in these resources!
- The One Guitar Technique You’re Most Likely Neglecting
- Why You Should Stop Buying Guitar Pedals
- Guitar Technique: How to Play Faster and Cleaner with Benjamin Forehand
- Worship Guitar Tone Master Class
- Mastering Your Fretboard & Transposing Lead Guitar