Free Download: Basic Pads Vol. 1

Instead of a new post this month, I’ve got a new free set of pads to use behind your worship sets. Introducing Basic Pads Vol. 1.

In contrast to our textured pad set, Organic Pads, these basic synth pads are more straightforward and sit back in a mix. They still have some texture to keep them interesting, though. Great for complimenting a band.

As always, these are completely free; I’m not even going to ask for your email (and then spam you). That’s not my style… The only thing I ask is that, if you like them, share the site with others.

Download Here

No Reason to Start a War

I thought the “worship wars” were over. Modern styles of worship had won, traditional music had been relegated to staunchly denominational churches.

I recently joined a Facebook group for worship leaders and quickly learned that I was very wrong. I watched with keen interest as two sides quickly formed in the comments when a recently hired worship pastor relayed this story: He was told to suspend the “modernization plan” that he was hired to implement when the complaints were given teeth with a dramatic drop in giving.

While most of my experience has been in churches that sway modern, I’ve also been a part of a church were “modern” = “1960/70s Jesus Movement/Maranatha Music”. Introducing anything newer than that was met with criticism. Even though it wasn’t hymns with an organ, it was the same battle.

Most of the arguments I hear are in favor of letting the past go, but here’s things to consider when changing worship styles.

It’s Hard to Feel Obsolete…

Now that I’m in my mid 30’s, Animojis remind me that I’m not Apple’s target demographic anymore. Age comes at the cost of relevance. Deep down everyone wants to feel like they’ve not been overlooked or forgotten, and that someone cares about who they are and what’s important to them.

The reactions to change from people that feel left behind are mixed; usually acceptance, indifference, or dissention. Most people focus on the dissenters because they make the most noise. Honestly, they may be too locked into their viewpoint to ever consider another and if they choose to move on, that’s their prerogative.

The middle reaction is the one to pay attention to. Keep your eye on the people that, when faced with a differing worship style, try to fade into the background. Make an effort to reach out to these people and keep them engaged. Make sure they know they are loved and valued.

Have a Defensible Reason for Your Choices

The choices you make in your song selection and style is on you and/or your leadership. Defining this reasoning is your responsibility. I’m not going to do your work for you, but please don’t just settle for the non-reason that current music or traditional music should be chosen “because that’s what we do”.

Think about it; work through it. Know why you do what you do.

Working this reasoning out will deeply reveal your heart towards those you’re called to serve.

Meet in the Middle

There’s rich theology in hymns; current songs are engaging and memorable. There’s merit to both. A set can, in fact, include both. I love the modern arrangement of hymns, and typically try to include one in each set I lead.

One of the older saints in our congregation made a point to stop me after every set to let me know how much she appreciated the hymn and liked the new arrangements of them that I was introducing. While she had a preference toward older styles of worship, she and I met in the middle, found common ground, and appreciate each other for it. If you have people in your fellowship that appreciate older styles of worship, there are ways to acknowledge that they still have worth without coddling.


Spend some time talking to your critics; learn about their perspective. It’s a lot harder to blow someone off when you’ve put in the work to get to know them. Also, when you’ve put the work into reaching out to them, you are in a much better place to explain your position.

When when you can’t agree, keep this in mind: Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father… 1 Tim 5:1

You’re not going to Please Everyone

You’re really not.

After every set he lead on electric guitar, a buddy of mine received a complaint that his amp was too loud. As an experiment, one Sunday he didn’t even turn his amp on. You guessed it; it wasn’t in the mix at all, but it was still “too loud”.

No matter what you do there’s a good chance someone’s going to have a problem with it. Have thick skin. Appreciate the people that engage; love the people that don’t.

Ultimately, what matters more than the styles of the songs that we play is how we loved each other while we did it. Keep that in the forefront of your mind through these transitions.

Be a Great Guest Worship Leader

In my 10 years on staff at a church, working as the media director, I had my fair share of encounters with guest worship leaders and artists. Once again, these were mostly great experiences, but some were memorably awful. Here’s some tips for being a great guest when visiting another church.

Be Prepared

Have your details sorted out in advanced.

Have a simple, accommodating rider that you can send in advance. Don’t go overboard with this; most churches aren’t going to have an SSL console and DPA mics. That said, make sure that the church has the minimum requirements you need to lead worship effectively and distraction free.

Something that is missed in audio-focused riders is the projection components. Clarify the projection software that they’re using. Be sure to send them the lyrics and arrangements. Since ProPresenter is the defacto worship presentation package, if you can, send a ProPresenter exports of the songs you’re planning on using.


I feel like nearly every post I make has this as a topic; there’s a good reason. So many problems that occur in and out of the church stem from a lack of communication or miscommunications. Since I’ve covered this topic extensively in my last post, you can look there for the topics to cover. If the church you’re visiting is weak in this area, show them grace by helping them with the questions that the may not know to ask.

Be Respectful

Don’t throw your stuff everywhere. Don’t put your feet on the coffee table in the green room. Don’t treat the church staff and volunteers like servants. Don’t throw a hissy-fit if you can’t get the WiFi password within 10 seconds of walking in the door.

You’re a guest; act like one.

Be Humble

Nothing irks me more than guest worship leaders who think they’re God’s litteral gift to mankind. In my life so far, the most talented guys I’ve met have also been the most humble. Conversely, some of the most arrogant, really shouldn’t have been. Just because you’ve been invited to lead for a service, doesn’t mean you’re something super special (for all you know, you were their last resort when everyone else declined). You will severely limit your effectiveness in ministering to the church you visit.

Minister to Your Hosts

This is probably the most important thing I’m going to write today:

When visiting a church as a guest, your focus is probably going to be ministering to the congregation of that church, but if that’s your only focus, you may be missing a really important opportunity to minister to the staff and volunteers of the church you’re visiting. So many churches have burned out or discouraged pastors, worship leaders, production guys. If you can come in for a day and bear their burdens while you’re there, that might the most effective ministry you have that day.

That wraps up our series on guest worship leaders. Switching gears:

Some Changes

Long story short, there’s some transitions happening in my life right now and for the next few months, my focus is going to be shifting away from worship ministry for some time. While I won’t be abandoning this blog, I will be scaling back my posting to once a month through the end of the year.

Additionally, I’m going to be reevaluating what parts of this blog have been most effective. My web statistics show that the free resources I’ve made have had a far more interest than the blog, so I may try to shift my time into making more of those instead of writing a long-format article every week. If you have any thoughts on what would have the most value, I’d love to hear from you. Hit me up on FB or Instagram.

Hosting a Guest Worship Leader

I’ve had the privilege of being a guest worship leader at many churches; most of the time it’s a great experience. Visiting other churches always brings great perspective and helps you remember that the Body of Christ is much larger than then four walls of your own church. Unfortunately, I’ve also had some really bad experiences visiting other churches, mostly coming from bad communication. Here’s some things to keep in mind when you host a guest worship leader.

Have a Point Person

Remember your first day on a new job? You didn’t know anyone, couldn’t find the bathroom, didn’t know how to work your phone…it can be really awkward. Having someone to help you navigate the awkward parts is always a relief. It’s really not that different for guest worship leaders; they don’t know what time your service is or where your bathrooms are!

Designate a point person to handle all the communication with the guest worship leader and act as a liaison between the your guest and the various people and departments they’re going to be working with. This job usually falls to your worship leader. Make sure the point person is kept in the loop on all communication with the guest.

The point person should also be present when the guest worship leader arrives at your church; greet them when they arrive, introduce them to the key people they’ll be working with (production/sound, pastor, etc…), and find out if they have any immediate needs.

Discuss Expectations, Eliminate Misunderstandings

Once you’ve designated a point person to handle the communication with the guest worship leader, here’s some considerations for thing to communicate with them. Many of the “pros” have a rider they send that details what they’re going to need, but that’s less common when your guest is a local guest from another church.

Information for You to Provide to Your Guest:

  1. What time your guest should arrive
  2. The number of services
  3. The times of your services
  4. The number of songs per service and total time for the set
  5. Order of Service
  6. Service flow and transitions (E.g. Should the worship leader pray after worship or the closing song, should they remain on the platform during announcements, are they responsible for announcing an offering?)

Information Your Guest Should Provide to You:

  1. Technical Requirements
    1. Will the guest be solo or with a band? If it’s a band, how many members and what will they be playing.
    1. What sound equipment will the guest be bringing and what will they expect you to provide for them?
    1. Can the guest provide a stage plot or have a preference how the platform is set up?
    1. Can the guest provide a song list, lyrics, and arrangements for lyric projection?
  2. Administrative Details
    1. Discuss compensation or an honorarium up front. If you’re working with a pro, these details get sorted out with the booking agent in advance. If you’re working with someone local and can’t compensate them, mention that in the invitation; many worship leaders are more than willing to just do it just to bless your church.
    1. If your guest is flying in from out of town, arrange for transportation from and to the airport and arrange for hotel accommodations. Let your guest know the details of these two things in advance.
    1. More often than not, you’ll be providing food; find out if your guest has any dietary restrictions or preferences.
    1. Will the guest have any merch with them; will they require a merch table and someone to assist with it?

Be Prepared

Since you’ve clarified the needs of your guest, try to go above and beyond to have those needs met before they arrive. For example, have production details sorted out and be ready to sound check before they walk in the door.

Be Friendly

I was part of a worship team that visited a church that had a gorgeous Steinway D concert grand piano. As I approached the platform, I made a remark about how beautiful the instrument was, and the sound tech setting the stage snarled at me “DON’T TOUCH IT.” with such a violent tone that everyone on the platform stopped what they were doing, aghast. After service, the worship leader for the team I was on was so appalled by what had happened, that he approached her and informed her that she owed me an apology. With an eye roll and sigh, I got a half hearted apology with an insult following it.

Leadership, listen up. If you have volunteers on team that are rude, unfriendly or argumentative, and they refuse to correct their attitudes when this is brought to their attention, it’s time to have them step down. First, serving God is a privilege, and if they aren’t going to represent Christ in their service, they have no business being there. Second, they represent your church to your guest. Do you want your church to have a reputation of being unfriendly and unwelcoming? It’s almost impossible to recover from that reputation; I met plenty of wonderful people at that church, but guess who I still remember…

Be Hospitable

I was in a group that lead worship for an big evening event; it had been a crazy long day, and I hadn’t had a chance to eat. After our set, I went backstage and discovered there was a  lemon cake with our name written on the aluminum foil covering it. In that moment, that lemon cake was the nicest thing that anyone had ever done for me. I still have a picture of that cake in my phone.

Small points of consideration can do so much for making a guest feel welcome. At the very least, have an unopened bottle of water waiting for them on stage. After service, give the guest an opportunity to meet members of the congregation. If time allows, perhaps invite your guest to lunch, but don’t be offended if they decline; they may need post-service down time.

Next week we’re going to look at the other side of this: how to be a gracious guest worship leader. Have any thoughts or comments? Drop them below, or hit me up on social media.


After posting this, @slowgearelectronics left a couple great thoughts on instagram that were really worth sharing:

  • Find Out if your guest will bring their own mics or if the lead vocalist has a mic preference. (Ed. Note: If you don’t have the mic they’re looking for, see if you can rent the mic locally or see if they’re okay with a comparable mic that you already own).
  • Provide your guest with a bottle of water per service.
  • Provided water should be room temperature; cold water can really mess up the voice.

Planning the Practical – Rehearsal and Pre-Service

Last week we talked about some practical set planning ideas; this week we’re going to take a look at some things for being prepared for rehearsal or pre-service.

After Service

Striking the Platform

This may be responsibility of your production/sound team, but in a lot of small churches, these items may end up falling on the worship leader.

Let’s talk about what to do at the end of the service. Why is this first? Well, it will make sense later when we talk about setting the platform.

When you’re wrapping up for the day, return to platform to a predetermined baseline configuration. My personal preference is that the platform is cleared completely, all cables are wound (correctly, using the over/under method) and all equipment is put away.

Clearing the platform may not be practical for all, and it may be practical to settle on a baseline configuration. The baseline at my church is 2 Vocal Mics, 1 Instrument Line/DI, and the podium mic. This accommodates most needs without any additional setup. At the end the service, I prefer pull everything down and then re-setup the baseline configuration; this allows me to clean up all the cabling in the process.

Before Practice or Service

Arrive Early

Don’t be late. Don’t be on time. Be early.

Don’t waste your team’s time.


This applies to rehearsals as well. It may be advantageous to have an earlier expected arrival time for musicians. Keyboard rigs can be especially complicated and temperamental. Haven extra time to get these things set up is always an advantage.

Setting the Platform

This also may be responsibility of your production/sound team.

Since the platform was returned to the baseline configuration after the last service and you’ve arrived early, set up the platform for the configuration you need. Make sure everything is tidy, patched correctly, and line checked.

If this responsibility does fall to your production/sound team, be respectful of their time by listening to their direction during line/sound checks. If they’re not asking for you to play, keep quiet. It’s super hard to set EQ’s and compression on a channel when there’s 10 other people making noise. As the worship leader, communicate this to your musicians (Electric guitar players are usually most guilty — we love tweaking pedals during sound checks).

Help Others

Since you arrived early and have your equipment set up and everything in order before anyone on your team arrives, use the extra time to connect with your team and help them with any of their needs.

This is a great opportunity to build on the relationships you have with the people on your team. This also gives you an opportunity to check in on your team members to see how they’re doing; if someone is struggling or having a rough day, encouraging them and praying with them before anything gets rolling could really make a difference in their day and have a positive impact on the overall rehearsal as well.


Before playing a single note, talk through the set with your team (including production/tech fokes). Discuss order of service, any notes on the songs (solos, alternate arrangements, etc…), and the plan for the transitions. Talking about this stuff before playing through the set will take save a ton of time during rehearsal and hopefully reduce the number of trainwrecks during service.

Be Nice, Stay Relaxed

I’ve seen friendships end over rehearsals. Trying to get everything set up and organized can be stressful, but there’s no reason to get bent out of shape. It’s going to be a lot easier to work through any problems that arise if you keep your head.

All Summed Up

When you sort this stuff out ahead of time, you free you and your team up to focus on ministering during the service. You also minimize  the potential for train-wrecks or distractions that could inhibit your congregation from worshiping.

Planning the Practical – Set Preparation

I’ve played with a lot worship leaders and one of the experiences that I had will always stick with me as the pinnacle example of unpreparedness. I received a phone call 15 minutes before rehearsal asking if I could play; As we frantically set up the stage and started to dial in the monitor mix, I was running back and forth to the photocopier to grab the 15-20 charts that were printing for me there, most in the wrong keys. Of the 5 songs we practiced, only one of them made it into the set that was still being chosen in the green room as the service started. It was a stressful night, and all of this could have been avoided with some advanced planning.

While most large churches now are placing an emphasis on planning their sets, unfortunately, the above process still seems to be the standard cycle in small churches. Having these things sorted out ahead of time takes a lot of the stress out of the equation so you can focus on leading. Here’s some practical things that I do when leading a service that have helped prevent this type of situation.

Preparing the Set

Have your sets picked and setlists emailed to any musicians playing at least two days before your first rehearsal. If you only rehearse on Sunday right before service, have the set to everyone by Friday afternoon. This gives everyone a chance to learn any new songs.

My day job is software development, so I ended up rolling my own set planning software that spits out PDF charts to email, but many churches are using PCO for planning and distributing their services/sets. I also like to put together a Spotify playlist of the set and email a link to that as well.

I know many like the iPad/OnSong rigs for stage. Personal opinion; I think they’re tacky. In every instance that I’ve seen them used, the musician tend to lock into staring at them and never look up, or worse, hide behind them.

Personally, I try to memorize as much of my set as possible and only use a paper setlist with song keys and cues noted. A confidence monitor is preferable as safety blanket and I have paper chord charts or lyrics sheets for others.

Know the songs and have solid arrangements before you rehearse with others. Play though the set top to bottom to make sure it’s going to flow. Nothing is more frustrating that working with a leader that doesn’t know where they’re going.

Plan Transitions

Equally as important to learning the songs is having a plan for the transitions between songs. Plan and practice any segues or cues ahead of time and have them noted in the order of service and on the music. Bad transitions will derail your set faster than mistakes.

Plan What You’re Going to Say

I’m not a public speaker. Put a guitar in my hands and let me sing, I’m fine, ask me to talk and I’ll make a fool of myself. I always knew it was bad, but until I saw a Facebook Live video of me dismissing a congregation after service. It was ugly.

Now, I make sure I have what I’m going to say planned out before I say it. Some people adopt the mindset that God only speaks through spontaneity. To that I say, “Your pastor studies and plans what he’s going to say, you can too.”


Along with the set distribution, include any special information about the service and any rehearsal times. You may consider having a call time for rehearsals that is a earlier than the start time to give everyone time to set up.

Also, make sure you send a digital, proofread copy of the set to whoever is responsible for lyric projection as well. Frantically trying to type songs into ProPresenter five minutes before service is not fun. Send a set to the sound tech as well, (with an input list if you can). Everything goes more smoothly if they can pre-plan.

Do what you can to keep the folks on your production team happy. They can make or break your service; you want them on your side.

Pack Your Gear

There’s nothing more stressful than getting to a service and not having what you need. A couple days before I’m leading or before a rehearsal, I go through all of the equipment that I’m going to need to make sure it’s accounted for and and pack it up. Here’s a list of the common things that I toss in my bag.

Have anything that’s part of your preparation that we didn’t cover here? Drop it in the comments! Catch you next week to talk about some practical areas of service day preparation.

Using a Cut Capo

I don’t think that I can express how much I love the Kyser Short-Cut capo. I love it too much, using it way more than probably should. I just adore the full, open-tuning tones you can get.

Here’s the theory: the short-cut gives your guitar the essence of an open tuning when placed on the second fret by fretting only the 2nd through 4th strings. The advantage if has over an open tuning is that you don’t have to learn any alternate fingerings; the chord shapes from the key of D translate. However, there’s some alternate open shapes I really like, and I’ll detail them below. Be aware, since the Short-Cut will be on the second fret, playing D shapes will translate to the key of E.

A few months ago, I was installing new WiFi access points in our church the day before I was scheduled for Sunday worship. While terminating the patch panel, I sliced my fretting hand open on my Electrical Shears. Due to the simplified chords available with the Short-Cut, I was able to get through set without much pain.

Here’s a chart of the open voicings I use a lot, they’re a great getting started point:

One final tip; if you need to transpose up from E, you can make use of a standard capo and then place the Short-Cut two frets up from the standard capo.

Have any questions or tips, hit me up in the comments or social media.

Introducing New Songs

Last week we talked about establishing a baseline for evaluating new songs for inclusion in a worship set. Once the song has made it through the evaluation process, here’s some quick ideas for introducing a song to the congregation, with the end goal of allowing those in your church to worship without too much confusion or disconnection.

Strategically Place New Songs

I prefer to introduce new songs either as the second song, or the second-to-last song, depending on the type of song. For songs that are appropriate to start sets, placing the song second give those you’re leading a chance get settled in with a song they know before throwing something new at them. If you confuse them at the start of the set, they might not recover from it.

However, there’s a lot of songs that just don’t belong near the start of the set. I’ve heard a lot of worship leaders recommend placing those new songs at the end of the set. I’ve come to prefer placing them second-to-last. This allows those you are leading to end the set with something familiar; giving them a chance to re-connect before the set ends and not lead into the message with the discomfort of not knowing a song.

Introduce with Repetition

It’s common knowledge that we learn things by repetition. When introducing new songs, I employ two forms of repetition to aide in the learning process: song structure and set repetition.

The first time I ever lead a new song, I’ll build more repetition into the dong structure than I normally would, typically repeating the first verse and first chorus an extra time to increase familiarity with the melody and rhythm of those sections. If the song employs a bridge, I’ll run through repeat that as well. For any subsequent plays of the song, I’ll revert back to the normal structure.

I’ll also try to repeat the song for the next set I lead, and then keep it more frequent in the rotation for a few weeks.

Limit the Number of New Songs

I typically will limit the number of new songs in a set to one; I’ll push it to two occasionally, but only in very special cases. Anything more than that, and the people you’re leading are going to feel lost. Also, don’t introduce new songs in every set; give recently introduced songs a chance to breathe.

Feature New Songs in the Background Music

I saw a mention of this in a worship leading forum that I participate in, and it’s so simple that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. In the weeks prior to introducing a new song, put it in the pre-service background music rotation. While this isn’t a substitution for any of the other things listed above, it’s a great idea for raising familiarity.

Any ideas for introducing new songs? Drop them in the comments or hit me up on instagram. I’d love to hear your opinions on this!

As a heads up, I’m going to be taking next week off to catch up on some projects I’m working on form my church. See you on 8/8/18!

Selecting New Songs

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I select new songs for inclusion in a worship set. In the past my process was:

  1. Is is Popular?
  2. Yes?
  3. Do the Song.

This doesn’t fly with me anymore. I’ve been trying to distill an informal process that I’ve been putting new songs through into something tangible:

Are the Lyrics Theologically Sound?

I was having a conversation with my pastor and his wife about this topic after my last worship set and someone made the statement, “It’s amazing how much you can get away with saying when you set it to music.” There are some beautiful, singable songs that have some seriously questionable theology in them.

I’ve probably swung too far to the conservative side of this argument, so I’ve been bringing new songs to my wife, who has thorough knowledge of biblical theology, and we work through the theology together. If it passes muster, it goes moves on to the next tests.

Some songs don’t have any observable theology errors in them, but they just don’t say much of anything. What value is there in that?

I was discussing this with a worship leader friend and he made the following statement: “When we choose songs, we’re literally putting words in people’s mouths.” Do we want to put meaningless or unsound words into the mouths of those we lead?

Is It Singable?

There are songs I can’t sing. There are songs I can sing, but I know the majority of our congregation wouldn’t be able to.

There’s two quick criteria that I use to figure out the singability of a song:

Melody: Does the melody of the song cover a large vocal range, low to high? Just cause I can get those notes out doesn’t mean everyone can. If the range is narrow enough, you can drop the key of the song, but if it’s too wide, you’ll start pushing the melody too low to sing comfortably.

Phrasing: I heard a worship song recently that had run of 16th notes with a new syllable of the lyrics for every notes. Unless you’ve been taking auctioneer speed-talking training, you’re not going to get all those words out cleanly. A great test for this is the “whistle test”. Whistle the melody; if it’s hard to whistle, it’s going to be hard to sing.

I heard the following statement on a worship leading podcast that I’ve been listening to, and it really summed this up: “The voice of the congregation is the most important instrument in the room.” If your church can’t sing the songs you’ve selected, what’s the point of singing them?

Is It Memorable?

Music sticks with us. There are songs I recall from my early childhood that I now sing to my daughter. Conversely, there are songs I’ve forgotten before they’ve ended.

Memorable songs have have a way of popping back into our heads at random moments; and can stick with for years. I’d be hard pressed to tell you the details of any sermon I heard ten years ago, but I can very easily sing the chorus of most of the songs I was leading ten years ago.

However, just because a song is memorable, doesn’t mean it’s a good song. This further drives home the point of verifying the theology of the songs we sing.

Also, It’s a lot easier to sing along with songs you remember.

What makes a memorable song? Typically a great lyrical or melodic hook.

Can I Pull it Off?

There are songs I love that I’ll never do just because I can’t pull them off. There are styles that outside of my current ability, and I’ve come to be okay with that. I’ll play through a song a few times. If it’s not comfortable or stressed after a few playthroughs, it gets set aside. If I’m not comfortable playing a song, those I’m leading in worship will sense that and will be distracted or uncomfortable.

Is It Culturally Appropriate?

Jamal Hartwell of has a great lesson where he discusses musical “memory banks” and how the music that we are familiar with connects with us. I love his gospel/neo-soul arrangements, but for the environment I’m in, the tritones, passing chords would distract from worship instead of enhancing. (Also, I can’t play his arrangements. No matter how hard I try, I sound like his “White Church” example. See “Can I Pull it Off” above.)

That’s my criteria for selecting songs. Even if you don’t agree with all my points, I’d encourage you to define your own standard to that you use to evaluate, just be sure that you have these criteria in place. Next week I’ll look at some thoughts on introducing songs to the congregation.

Cords and Cable Types

“I can’t wait for your article on cables”, my friend replied.

“You can’t be serious”

“No, honestly!”

Despite his reaction, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone else who’s going to be excited about cords and connectors, but you’ve got to know this stuff. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with technical details or impedance formulas; just the basics you need to get the job done.

As an example, let’s look at an instrument cable:

The common instrument cable is a shielded, two conductor, 1/4″ TS (tip and sleeve), unbalanced cable.

Okay, that sounds complicated, but stay with me. It’s pretty easy to understand when it’s broken down. Let’s break it down.

Shielded vs Unshielded:

There’s a lot of outside forces that attempt interfere with your signal. Radio frequency can leach into your instrument signal through the cable and will introduce noise. Shielding is a metal jacket that lives under the outer rubber jacket that surrounds the wires inside the cable to prevent the interference. Most instrument cables are shielded, speaker cables are not. With this in mind, (among other reasons) speaker cables should not be used as instrument cables.


The number of conductors indicates how many wires are inside the cable. If you cut open an instrument cable and through the shield, you’ll discover two plastic coated wires. Two wires are required to circuit, a signal wire and a ground wire, so an instrument cable can send one signal. The ground wire can be shared, so a three conductor cable can carry two signals (Think stereo – Left and Right Signals),

The connector (Plug or Jack):

The first thing in that list is the connector: ¼” refers to the width of the plug. The following connectors are common:


⅛” – Typically found on headphones and consumer devices. Casually referred to as an “Aux Cord”. Two or three conductors.



¼” – Typically found on instruments. Two or three conductors.



XLR – Typically found on microphones and DI Boxes (1) Three conductors.



RCA (Phono) – Typically found on recorders and playback devices, typically in a stereo pair. Two conductors.


Speakon  – Found on Unpowered Speakers



Still with me? Cool! Just a couple more to get through…


⅛” and ¼” cables come in two variants, Tip Sleeve (TS or Mono)  and Tip Ring Sleeve (TRS or Stereo). TS connectors work with two conductor cables and can send one unbalanced signal, and TRS connectors work with three conductor cables and can send two unbalanced signals or one balanced signal. You can differentiate between the two by counting the insulating rings on the tip of the connector (See above image). One insulating ring = TS, Two = TRS.

Balanced Vs Unbalanced

This one is more complicated. Simplified: unbalanced cables can pick up noise and hum across long distances and shouldn’t be longer than 20’. Balanced cables send an extra copy of the signal to prevent interference and can be run for hundreds of feet. XLR cables are the balanced cable of choice, but ¼” TRS cables are sometimes used as well.

Most analog instruments put out an unbalanced signal. If you need to run a long cable out of an unbalanced instrument you’ll need to convert it to a balanced signal using a direct box to convert the unbalanced signal to balanced. A ¼” to XLR cable should almost never be used as it can not convert the signal to balanced. (2)

There’s still discussion of gauge and impedance, but this should be enough to be confidently grab the right cable when you need one. Hit me up in the comments section or on your social media platform of choice if you have any questions.

  1. Until researching this article, I had know idea what XLR stood for. It’s Canon (X) Series, (L)ocking connector made with synthetic (R)ubber.
  2. Unless your instrument has a ¼” TRS Balanced output. Then, this cable is acceptable. The Taylor expression system pickups are the most notable example of this configuration.