On August 25, 1988, Metallica released its first full studio album with new bassist Jason Newsted, And Justice for All…  Newsted replaced legendary bassist Cliff Burton who died tragically in 1986 when the band’s tour bus overturned while they were on the road in Sweden.  Burton had recorded on all three of the prior Metallica studio albums, including Master of Puppets, which is widely considered the Gold Star Standard of the 80’s Metal Movement.  In an era where MTV Video & FM Radio plays determined success, Metallica had built a large following up to that point without the benefit of either…  They had done it all through just album sales & touring.

So to say Newted had some big shoes to fill would be a HUGE UNDERSTATEMENT.  Sadly, his photo for the Justice album cover tells the entire story…


There’s no hiding the pain & frustration on his face here.  In short, its nearly impossible to hear Jason Newsted’s playing on the Justice album for two primary reasons… 1) In large part, Newsted chose to double-up nearly note for note behind the massive Rhythm Guitar of the one & only James Hetfield.  Truthfully, this was a fairly standard approach for many bassist on the 80’s Metal scene, so its hard to fault him.

However, then there’s… 2) He’s playing behind the MASSIVE Rhythm Guitar of James Hetfield.  That probably sounds alot like #1 off the cuff, but I’m speaking less here to the notes being played, and more so to the band politics & credibility at stake here.  There was NO WAY as this album was being mixed down, that founding member James Hetfield’s Rhythm Guitar wasn’t going to get preferential treatment.  His sound & playing was as much the core of the Metallica sound as any one thing about the band.

And so…  You get that picture of frustration above on the album cover above.  But as redemption stories go, the band re-shaped their entire sound on the following album… the infamous Black Album, which has only gone Platinum 16 times now & is the highest selling album of the last three decades… IN ANY GENRE…  Pretty impressive given that it was born in the decade of the 90’s Grunge & Alternative Scenes.  And fwiw… Newsted’s playing on this album is locked into a tight groove throughout with drummer Lars Ulrich & plays more of the counterpoint to Hetfield’s riffing.

So all that’s great, but how does this apply to Electric Guitarists on a Worship Team?  Well, let me speak specifically to the Rhythm Electrics…  You’re primarily competing for sonic space on your worship team with… 1) the Acoustic Guitar… & 2) Bass Guitar…   And unlike the studios where Metallica recorded & mixed down their albums… the Rhythm Electric will not win many mixing battles on the worship scene.

So what can we do about it?  Well for starters… Let’s not make the same mistakes that Jason Newsted did on the Justice album…  Wait… He’s a bassist, right?  Well yes… But the lessons still apply…  Let’s have a closer look…

  1. Try not to double with the bass…  As a Rhythm Player, if you’re playing muted chunky power chords that essentially double with what the bass is playing… You’re begging to get buried in the mix.  If there’s one axiom that’s true among Worship Sound Guys, its this…all-about-that-bass
  2. Try not to position yourself with the acoustic…  Acoustics are typically played with a Capo to give it a nice open sound.  That can also be a nice approach to use on Rhythm Electric.  But if you’re both sitting in Capo 2, using the same strumming/picking pattern… again, you’re begging to get buried in the mix.  Move on to option 3…
  3. Try a different Capo position…  If you can play open chords in multiple keys…  C, D, E, G, & A for instance… you can almost always find a way to separate with the Acoustic. But if that’s not your cup of tea…
  4. Drop Tunings…  Whenever I see a key of B or F# on the lineup & I’m playing Rhythm Electric… I immediately consider tuning down a half-step so I can play open chords in either C or G.  When combined with an Acoustic in Capo 4… this can produce some THICK sounds.  I use this approach on Hillsong’s Glorious Ruins & it meshes…  Well, gloriously… (see what I did there?)
  5. Alternate Tunings… If you lived through trying to learn how to play guitar in the 90’s, you know how frustrating it was as seemingly every new band had some secret combination of alternate tunings.  And while its not particularly my cup of tea, there are some alternate tunings worth exploring.  Try out a DADGAD or an Open C tuning sometime… It can open up whole new worlds…
  6. Strumming/Picking Patterns…  If you absolutely can’t get away from the same Capo position as the Acoustic, you should at least try to avoid the same Picking & Strumming patterns.
  7. Effects Options…  Rhythm Electric doesn’t have to equal a dry signal into an amp. Delays, Reverbs, Tremelos…  All of these can help you stand out in the mix, just be cautious with the decay lengths.  I typically run mine shorter for Rhythm than I do for Lead… Helps give a little clearer definition on chords.

This is not nearly an all inclusive list… So experiment on your own & shout me back some feedback!