Michael Pope is a guitarist for Bethel Church in Redding, CA. He appears on the Bethel Music albums and tours with Bethel Music as well as other artists from Bethel. Michael runs a Q&A Tumblr called Aural Individuality where he addresses questions about guitar gear, music, worship, coffee, and life. Recently I asked him to pick his most frequently asked questions and elaborate a bit. Here are his top six – Enjoy!
Q: What clean boost/ OD pedal do you recommend?
A: This is probably the most common question I get asked. Apparently everyone wants a solid clean boost/ OD or just one that I like. Well, I like the Em-Drive and Paramount pedals from Emerson Custom quite a lot. They sound really good on their own as well as stacked with other pedals and they don’t break! I have not heard them sound bad yet. The EM Drive is a little darker with a solid low end push (not muddy) and the Paramount has a cool midrange thing to me. Not at all like a tube-screamer… I think it’s really unique to that pedal. I’ve also gotten to know Mitch over the past year or so and I really like him. We’ve never met in person, just talked via internet or phone convo but he is a really quality dude and his product is just as good as he is. So… his pedals are well built, they sound great, and are affordable for just about any players budget. What more can you ask for?
Q: Why do you run stereo? Does it really sound that much better than mono?
A: Yes, it does. Two amps sound so much bigger than one, especially when running your effects in stereo. Try this: Get in your car, plug your iPod in halfway and just listen. Then plug it in all the way and listen again. Go back and forth if you have to. It’s one of those things that is better experienced than explained. You’ll quickly learn why stereo is better. Your ears are designed to hear sound as multidimensional images. Stereo creates that image or paints the picture much better than mono. Another way I look at it is this. I view my tone and sounds as an extension and physical contribution to what The Lord is doing in the room during a set. If you do some research (check out guys like Ray Hughes) you’ll find that the physical sonic wave of sound has effect on the human body. I know it seems strange and kind of out there but I believe that has something to do with the scripture that says “He inhabits the praises of His people…” Ya, that’s weird, but when I listen to my guitar in stereo I can feel more emotion in it. Anyway, it’s just better so you should just try it ok? Cool.
Q: What’s the deal with these Veritas guitars?
A: About a year ago when we were working on Tides, Bobby Strand (my guitar counterpart or guitar brother as I call him) brought over a guitar from one of his Portland buddies and it just blew my mind right off the bat. Now that’s saying a lot for me because I have a hard time liking most guitars I play. I’ve played vintage guitars that people freak out over and totally hated them. I have to have a real connection with my guitars. If the guitar doesn’t inspire me to play, I don’t wanna play it. Casey’s guitars inspire me to play. I’m not exactly sure how or why, but it probably has something to do with the quality of these guitars. I see very few builders putting in the time and craftsmanship that Casey put into these instruments. Most “custom” guitar companies that are popular right now are really just outsourcing their bodies and necks, having them painted, putting them together, and charging a lot of money for it.
I could build one of those parts guitars easy! I basically did with my MIM Telecaster! What I couldn’t do is hand make a guitar from scratch. And that’s what Casey does. He builds exactly what I want, the way I want it, BY HAND, and then he tells me about all the things I don’t know I want that I can’t live without. I can really feel the difference between his guitars and these other “custom” builders. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with parts guitars or kit guitars. They work really well for some players, they just aren’t right for me. You should try both and see what inspires you to play. At this point he’s built 2 guitars for me. One is a gold-top Les Paul style with Lollar P90’s, the other is what he calls a Portlander and it has Goldfoil pickups (Lollar as well). I have never enjoyed playing a guitar more than these two. I highly recommend him to anyone looking for a real guitar that’s worth the price tag. (BTW I get asked if i get them free often so I want to clarify. I paid for both guitars he made me. I’ve been offered some free guitars from other companies but I honestly don’t need them, I’m very happy with my Veritas guitars and I’m also happy to pay for them.) If you want one of your own I cannot say enough about how good his guitars are go check them out here.
Q: What are your amp/ pedal settings?
A: I get asked this ALL THE TIME. And I usually try to answer in a polite fashion but I’ll be more direct this time because to me it’s mostly a silly question. (If you’ve asked myself or anyone else this question don’t feel dumb, thats not what I’m trying to accomplish.) Tone is in the fingers. It really is. I know everyone says it because its cool to say but it’s also 100% true. Even if you play through my personal gear I promise that it won’t sound the same as when I play. That’s because your fingers and my fingers have developed in totally different ways. Therefore using someone else’s “settings” won’t produce the same result. Especially when you’re playing a different guitar and amp than they use. I play matchless amps with tubescreamers like ALL THE TIME and I don’t ever sound like James Duke. Not ever. That’s because our fingers are different. (And he is way better than me so that’s probably helping too). Now I say that it’s MOSTLY a silly question because I think what most people are after is an approximation of whatever sound I’m going for. So I’d like to rephrase the question if you will. New Q: What sound are you looking for out of _______ pedal? I think that’s a better way to go about mimicking another player’s tone. Which is a good thing by the way. I think it’s great to mimic other player you like, it makes you better. Knowing what sound they’re going for better enables you to achieve that sound. If you look more into the player’s head than you do at his pedalboard, you will always produce better results. Listening to the WAY someone plays is important too but I’ve rambled enough on this…
Also, I realize you can download all my delay settings here. I just want to clarify that you’re not getting some big tone secret with it. It’s basically just a tempo and a nice name when you select the patch. Sorry if that makes it less special for you, I just need you to know I’m not contradicting myself.
Q: How does the spontaneous worship thing work/ whats your approach/ how can I do it in my church?
A: First off you need leaders that are ok with doing spontaneous songs but for the sake of this question (and the world) I’ll assume you either play in a setting where spontaneous songs happen or you go to a church that’s at least open to it. Spontaneous worship is very similar to improvisation. If you’ve taken lessons and ever had to solo over a backing track it kind of like that, but a lot less juicy. You also approach it in very different ways. For me, I want to think of it as more of a divine inspiration thing and less of a come up with something cool thing. When we go into a spontaneous song i usually sit the beginning out and use that time to ask The Lord what I should play. I will usually hear a melody sometime after that and then I’ll just play it. Sometimes I get something right away, sometimes I don’t get anything at all and I’ll just think of something… It’s really cool when you hear a melody or a chord that speaks to the rest of the band and the room as well. Nothing really tops that feeling on stage for me. To have confirmation that you heard The Lord in that moment really is the best. Especially when you don’t hear anything at first and you come up with something that ends up having noticeable impact on the set. So the answer is really simple, ask Him what to play, and when He gives you something you just play it. Don’t doubt it and wonder if you’re hearing correctly (you’ll know if you aren’t), just play it. Also, this is a good reason to practice often. I love what Leonard Jones said,” I practice because I never want my ability to hinder me from playing what The Lord would have me play in any given moment.” That is a constant reminder for me to push myself and be better.
Q: What’s the most important thing to know/ keep in mind as a worship player?
A: Personal relationship with The Lord is always first. It’s usually the thing that is easiest to forget about. Especially for me at times. But I think we all need to work to keep the main thing the main thing. Gear and loud music and playing on stage is cool but it all goes to your head in one way or another if you don’t keep yourself grounded. Whether you’re just lucky like I am and get to do this kind of thing for a living or whether you volunteer at your local church once a month it’s all the same. Keep working on your relationship with the Lord because everything you do is based on that. Success in life isn’t about the size of the crowd, how awesome your rig is, or how many people sing your song, it’s about how well you follow Him.