When I started playing guitar I was around 15 and borrowed my brother’s Franciscan acoustic guitar. He taught me three chords (G,C and D of course… this is my younger brother by the way.) As time went on and my 16th birthday neared, I decided I wanted a guitar and the first question was acoustic or electric. Ironically enough this question is still one of the main question each worship team / leader / guitarist ask themselves every Sunday.
As a 16 year old wanting to play the Nirvana and Metallica (the coolest bands of the time!) I of course picked an electric guitar. Which was fun, and looked cool in the youth group band at the time. I got a little 15-watt Peavy solid state amp called “Rage” and love playing clean, then pressing the “crunch” button in my personal rendition of teen spirit. It was pretty terrible. But I still have that guitar and still love picking it up playing some of my favorite 90s hits. (With a few more pedals and through a tube amp of course)
The years went by and I still played in the youth band but I came to realize that an acoustic guitar seemed to be the “way-to-go” for all things 90s worship music. Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and my later favorites Enter the Worship Circle and Water Deep. So my freshman year in college I committed to an acoustic. Thankfully someone encouraged me to spend a little more money then your basic laminate top guitar. I purchased a Seagull flame maple artist series in the year 2000 and haven’t looked back since.
Since then I have much more experience with both electric and acoustic guitars. I found ways to get the electric to sound the way I want it to. I have experimented with tube amps with pedals as compared to modular units such as the POD X3 Live and the POD HD 5000 all with varying degrees of success. I also understand how different the acoustic and the electrics are as members of the band.
The acoustic is not only a guitar but is also is a percussion instrument. I always found early when I would lead, I was able to generate the feel and lead a band much better on an acoustic than an electric. This I realized later was because of the fundamental differences in playing styles between the two. While playing rhythm and lead on electric are two different beasts, even playing rhythm guitar, which requires more strumming and straight forward rhythm then most lead parts, on electric usually involves far less strums then your average acoustic on most worship songs.
The drummer knew what speed, feel and volume I wanted by how I was playing my acoustic guitar.
However things changed. I starting playing with a click. The drummer was no longer reliant on my for tempo. I started to plan out songs a little more. I had more acoustic guitarist and very few electric guitarist. So on the occasional Sunday I would play the electric guitar. Usually just rhythm, but I wanted a fuller sound that I wasn’t going to get from a couple acoustic guitars with the rest of the band.
So then I started asking around. Acoustic or electric? It seemed that the jury was out. However in practice I could see most preferred the acoustic. In fact I found I preferred listening to a worship leader who played acoustic rather than electric. Very rarely did I see it done well. However it can be done amazingly! (See Citizens, Ghost Ship and Lincoln Brewster) But it has to feel right in your particular setting. Some church are perfect for stages with 2 or 3 electric guitars. While others you would be better off with just an acoustic or two accompanying the rest of the band.
I think most people would agree to start leading with an acoustic. However I there is always room for new styles of music Praising our God and Father.
I am also a firm believer in using what you got and making it work. Don’t go buy some crazy expensive electric rig because someone told you that you need it. Also don’t fret about the switching to acoustic when your church really digs the electric sound and worships well in that setting.
God be praised both plugged-in and un-plugged.