The Wisdom in Having a Back-up Instrument Close By

Every worship leader who plays guitar dreads the moment when his or her string breaks in the middle of a set. It usually happens at the worst moment – either right at the beginning of a set of songs or on the song you’re playing the hardest.

I’ve written before on how to handle this awkward moment but I wanted to underline one point: the wisdom of having a back-up instrument close by.

A back-up guitar
If you play guitar, I strongly encourage you to have a second guitar tuned-up, on a stand, close by just in case you need it. You might not need it 9 out of 10 Sundays, but you’ll be awfully glad you went through the work of setting it up when you do feel that awful sensation of a string popping and twanging.

(You can fit two acoustic guitars on one guitar stand if you buy a double-guitar stand.)

If you don’t own two acoustic guitars, maybe someone in your church has a second one lying around. Or buy a cheap-ish one. Your back-up guitar doesn’t need to be very nice. It just needs six in-tune strings.

If you’re leading with a band
Switching to your back-up guitar can be pretty smooth if you can rely on the band to keep things going while you take the out-of-commission guitar off and put the new one on. I would wait until a new section of the song, motion to the band to keep it going, and switch guitars then. Most people in the congregation won’t notice. If they do, they’ll think you planned it.

If you’re leading on your own
If I break a string and need to switch instruments, I’ll wait until a new section of the song and say something like “let’s sing that again with just our voices”. Then I stop playing, make sure they start singing the next section, and then step back and switch.

If you happen to play piano also
Oftentimes when I’m leading by myself, instead of setting up a second guitar, I’ll just make sure there’s a piano or a keyboard close by with a mic. That way if I break a string I can just hop over to the piano.

This happened a few months ago at a healing conference my church hosted. I was in the middle of the song “Holy is the Lord” by Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio when my D string popped. I waited until after the bridge to move over to the piano. You can hear what it sounded like here:

In that moment when my string broke, I was very glad I had asked our sound engineer to make sure the piano was set-up and there was a microphone there. My strings were new and I didn’t think they’d break, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!

2 thoughts on “The Wisdom in Having a Back-up Instrument Close By

  1. Chris Burke June 30, 2010 / 11:00 am

    Thanks for the post, and your blog ministry in general for that matter. I have been blessed by your heart for helping others lead God’s people in praise. First off, that was an excellent transition! Second, thanks for the reminder to “trust not in guitar strings.” It’s one of those things that is so easy to do but we often over look. You demonstrated well that if one is prepared a broken string becomes an opportunity for musical diversity, rather than an early end to the song set.

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