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Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups

Singers who play lead guitar

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by tfarny, Sep 13, 2018.

  1. tfarny

    tfarny Friend of Leo's

    Sep 4, 2008
    Hudson Valley, NY
    I'm interested in ideas and tips from those of you who are the lead singer in your band and ALSO have the full or primary guitar spot. Obvious difficulties arise from combining the two:

    1. Looking down at your hands doesn't work at all.
    2. Jumping around is pretty much impossible whilst doing both.
    3. Switching in and out of leads and solos from singing takes a ton of practice.
    4. Pedal hopscotching, for me, just goes out the window.

    I'm new to this role but just started a Rockin '50s power trio with a couple of friends. We have played a nursing home and VA hospital (great audiences, actually). More gigs are on the way soon, maybe we'll graduate to playing VFW halls and other places that don't lock on the inside...

    I've already learned that I can only have one "sound" for a song and at most I can hop on and off a boost button for soloing. Maybe some of that is the genre, too.
    I've also learned that the guitar playing has to be pretty automatic during verses - I do A LOT out of the A and D shape bar chords. Also that I really, really need to use my pinky a lot now and I'm glad that I worked hard on that skill. Allows me to play a lot of things without changing hand positions / looking down.

    At the same time, it is quite a rush to be doing all that cool stuff in front of people!

    Anybody else want to share problems, issues, tips and tricks for doing the two highest profile jobs in a band simultaneously?
    Chicago Matt likes this.
  2. bluescaster72

    bluescaster72 Tele-Holic

    Mar 4, 2009
    Really the only advice I have is just keep going. I didn't like doing this either. But I am a lead guitarist that also can sing and when I first started doing the jams I didn't sing , but made the mistake of singing one time and then they wanted me to lead the band ! At first I didn't care for it but over time it got easier . Don't have a complicated pedal board . Either have a boost pedal or have it on all the time and just ride the volume control. or for some variation have the boost on and then stomp a delay on for your leads so you get some varied tones . Lot of ways to do this without driving yourself crazy
  3. archtop_fjk

    archtop_fjk Tele-Meister

    Aug 4, 2009
    Lebanon, NH
    Yeah it can be a challenge to play, remember the lyrics, hit the boost switch, listen to your band mates to see if you’re in sync, and... what song are we doing??? :D

    One thing that helps is to choose songs which don’t have complicated lyrics e.g. “Wild Thing”. That way you can relax and focus more on the guitar.

    Another thing that has helped me is to do open mic nights with just an acoustic guitar and vocal. I’ve surprised myself and have been able to memorize long songs with lots of lyrics like Dylan’s “My Back Pages”. Also gives you more experience playing in front of others.
  4. thesamhill

    thesamhill Tele-Holic

    Dec 20, 2010
    Harrisburg, PA area
    In a trio where I'm the guitarist and singer. Basically I had to learn to trust the bass player.

    I tend to revert to how I play when I'm playing solo acoustic and singing, using big chords and playing the whole way through the song. I really had to learn to back off and let the bass and drums carry a lot more of the song. I'm still not real good at it.

    I don't much switch sounds during songs but if you really really need to, TC Helicon's Voice Live 3X (for one, maybe other multi fx also) has a step feature. You can program in the steps to a song and it will move through them in a series with the same button. So step 1 is your verse sound, step 2 is chorus, step 3 is back to verse, step 4 is solo sound, etc. Just keep hitting the step button to switch through them. Might be useful if you're really trying to get a lot of different sounds in each song.

    I wired and welded up some switches into gate hinges. If you have effects that let you use external control footswitches, it's nice to have a big flat surface to step on, angled up from the ground so you don't have to lift your foot much or look down to check where to step.

    Also, I have an old phone with lyrics prompts mounted to the boom stand. Personally, I'd forget the words to "Tequila" without a cheat sheet. I pretend it's a camera and I'm filming my close ups for the music video :)

    But mostly you just have to be ok with the fact that you're not gonna nail the sound of a 6 piece studio recording with 3 guys, so just do it your way and have fun.
  5. Chiogtr4x

    Chiogtr4x Friend of Leo's

    Mar 29, 2007
    Manassas Park, VA
    I play sitting down ( bad back) but try my best to entertain with my own energy ( and a GREAT band helps!)
    Plus it makes it very easy to see guitar/neck all the way up...

    I come from playing mainly in a trio (or plus harmonica) fornat, so it has always been ( for me ) singing and rhythm guitar first, then figure out a lead style ( w/o just always reverting to blues power trio) that is conplimentary to the song w/o letting things get ' thin'.

    So for me, that developed into a ' rhythm/ lead' style where I use partial Barre chords, arpeggio lines with droning open strings against fretted notes, R&B double stops etc. as solo-forming tools. Create a thicker sound, texture wirh more strings/ notes involved(?)

    (Edit: put simply, incorporating chords/rhythm playing inside solos)

    I kind of ' trial and error' follow my ear on the fly, and over time you find out ( sometimes really quickly!, at a gig) what sounds good, what doesn't. And if it works, you keep it, transfer it to other keys or places on fingerboard.

    BTW this method was easy for me to work up as it's just bass, drums and guitar- a lot of melodic freedom as there is no 2nd guitar or keys to clash with....

    I have an OD pedal ON all the time so I roll into a lead break or clean things up all from guitar Volume knob, natural transition rhythm>lead>rhythm. Use ALL pickup settings on guitar; find out how each position sounds clean and dirty- what works for the song - ALL FUN!
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2018
  6. nojazzhere

    nojazzhere Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 3, 2017
    Foat Wuth, Texas
    While I've done it for years with varying degrees of success, I much prefer having a "frontman" singer who can handle most vocals, between song patter if I have to tune or set pedals, and generally be the focus of audience attention. But I read something with Chris Squire of Yes that might help you.....he was asked how he could play his complicated bass lines, while simultaneously singing his harmony parts. He said he practiced and learned his bass parts "down cold", and then worked out his harmonies. He said he could do his bass bits in his sleep so he just didn't have to worry about them....'course, he was an incredibly talented guy.
    JustABluesGuy likes this.
  7. Modman68

    Modman68 Tele-Holic

    Mar 27, 2011
    La mesa
    I sing, play primary guitar and require some tap dancing on pedals for many songs.

    It’s always been a pain.. I’m a good guitarist, but truth be known, I’m a better singer. Problem has been finding a second guitar player with the right chops and musical instincts for the project I’m in.

    Our previous guitarist was a pretty meat and potatoes, but he gelled personally with us and got what we were doing musically, so I just had to pick up the slack.

    I definitely have a “singing/rhythm” mode and “solo/instrumental mode”. The pedal switching becomes sort of a dance I learn just like singing while playing a rhythm pattern. I suck badly for a few rehearsals as we write the song and then it locks in.

    Thankfully, we have brought in a new guitarist. He’s great, brings his own flavor and can take the lead when needed as well as I can if not better.

    One thing I’ve learned that helps me with the singing/playing thing is to record the song. Something about tracking each part independently helps me feel how the parts lock together.
    JustABluesGuy and bftfender like this.
  8. Jsil13

    Jsil13 Tele-Holic

    Feb 14, 2017
    Boston, MA
    I learned how to do it the same way I learned how to sing and play. Repetition. I don't do a bunch of tap dancing I guess, but I have several different drives for different lead tones and occasionally I'll throw on some delay or phaser or something, but if you do anything enough times it gets easier.
  9. ce24

    ce24 Friend of Leo's

    Jan 26, 2008
    Idahoastan really need another guitarist. I'm the lead singer the leads also. It have some rhythm to play off of. I'm in a 4 piece classic rock band.
  10. tfarny

    tfarny Friend of Leo's

    Sep 4, 2008
    Hudson Valley, NY
    Interesting, thanks everybody. I really enjoy the singing and all the attention it gets, and it turns out that I can sing pretty well which is something I never knew about myself and not everyone can say.
    A lot of you guys are saying stuff I'm realizing too - it takes extra practice, the sounds can be simplified a bit, etc. I don't find it bad at all, I just find that doing it all at once is like a third skill.

    It helps that we're doing a well defined genre with a simple overall sound. Clean guitar, tweedy guitar, maybe some slapback and maybe some tremolo. And the fanciest guitar work I'll have to do is Johnny B Goode. A tele works great for a guitar though I'd like something with more bling just for fun. The bass player just got an electric double bass which I'm super excited about. Also it's nice that muddiness and standing out in the mix is a non-issue. Tele bridge pickup or middle position and I'm guaranteed to cut through. Would love to find a sax or piano player but I'm starting to lose hope and would settle just for a good female harmony singer.
  11. Fearnot

    Fearnot Friend of Leo's

    Jan 17, 2010
    Decatur, GA
    I've been in situations where I was the lead singer and lead guitarist, but frankly, both roles suffered for it. I'd rather concentrate on one or the other and let my bandmates pick up the slack. That's why you're in a band, after all.
  12. 1955

    1955 Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 10, 2010
    One thing I believe is you don't have to play leads if you don't want to, just keep playing rhythm and find ways of making that act as a lead when you need it.
    Modman68 likes this.
  13. trev333

    trev333 Telefied Ad Free Member

    I play bass in a trio where the guitarist sings and does the leads.... perhaps not always at the same time....

    the drummer and I are miced up so we try and add vocal bits where we can.....

    I can sing OK.. just find it hard to sing/play at the same time.... except when I've written lyrics on my own songs... I can kinda sing/play them on guitar...

    Playing bass, I concentrate more on my part and the drums to keep the songs going for the lead/singer to choose how they want to deliver the song.... wander off and come back in, I'll be waiting.........
  14. Mr. Lumbergh

    Mr. Lumbergh Poster Extraordinaire

    Jun 13, 2013
    Initech, Inc.
    I'm not a regular in a band but rather have led sets at jams. One thing I'll do is instead of trying to play complicated leads during a verse, I'll simplify it to just the chords to play rhythm and play the lead licks when not singing.
    JustABluesGuy likes this.
  15. Backbeat8

    Backbeat8 Tele-Holic

    Jun 21, 2018
    jus keep it simple ! Look pretty and smile
  16. viking

    viking Friend of Leo's

    Jan 23, 2007
    I have done that since the start of being in bands....I am probably a much better singer than guitarist , so the lyrics tend to be whats on autopilot , LOL
    I dont have problems hitting pedals , maybe because I have done it for so long. I have a smallish board , and never even think about nailing a sound from a record , though
    Worst part for me is talking to the crowd between songs , and that you dont have time for anything as the front man...I never tweak knobs on pedals while playing out , and very rarely touch my amp.
    You really have to know your lyrics , and your gear !
    awasson likes this.
  17. awasson

    awasson Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Nov 18, 2010
    Good going @tfarny. I miss playing in a group setting. There is no high like the one where everything just gels and the band gets in a groove. Man, I miss that.

    It’s been a while but I was one of the front guy in the last couple of bands I was in. I didn’t mean to be but I could hold a tune and remember lyrics so I became front guy in a power trio and shared front duties in my other band. It was much like how @bluescaster72 describes. Oh good, you can sing. Your the guy. I wish I was a better singer because I loved it.

    So to your questions:

    I didn’t look down often when playing because the mic was up high on an articulated mic stand. I’m sure when I was soloing I would be looking down from time to time but there was no way to look down and sing at the same time so I learned how to play without looking at my hands. In the power trio I had a headset mic. That was fun. Someone ran off with it after that band split up.

    I used a Boss ME 10 (programmable multi-effects unit) and had several banks programmed. I had a few specific effect “patches” that consisted of a series of effects (Compressor, Overdrive, Fuzz, Chorus, Flange, Delay, etc...) I used for our set. For solo’s I would duplicate the clean “patch” and add some overdrive or clean boost, distortion of whatever was necessary. It became a situation where at the start I’d be on the main patch on the first pedal and I’d click the pedal beside it for the solo, then back to the first. It was really simple so that I didn’t have the chance to screw it up. Today, if I still had that unit, I could have it hooked up to my phone or a sequencer and control it through midi. Bottom line is that the programmable aspects made it really simple.

    If I get into another band, I’d like to have a dedicated singer and I’ll do backup vocals and just play.

    Enjoy the new band and gigging.
  18. galen

    galen TDPRI Member

    Sep 5, 2016
    Union Hall, Va
    I have a quick mental drill I do before each song:

    1. Kick off
    2. Key fills
    3. Turnaround or lead solo
    4. Ending

    I pretty much do this whether I have the lead vocal or not. Once I do this, I concentrate on the vocal structure of the song (verse, chorus
  19. galen

    galen TDPRI Member

    Sep 5, 2016
    Union Hall, Va
    Continued ... Then I just play it and sing it. I rely a lot on the other pieces of the band. Sometimes I just lay out and let the rhythm guitarist play while I sing, then add the fills, solo etc. Laying out is underrated IMHO. It really boosts your vocals and lead playing - less is more.
    ecoast, JustABluesGuy and awasson like this.
  20. Chicago Matt

    Chicago Matt Friend of Leo's

    Aug 23, 2014
    I think the OP pretty much covered it.
    I have a trio where I am the primary lead singer. I also do fills between vocal phrases, and solo in every song. I try to have a fairly interesting rhythm pattern going during the singing as well. The only thing I can suggest is practice, practice, practice. I've come to accept that I will always need a lot more of that. But that's OK. A physician "practices" medicine and a lawyer "practices" law, so why not?
    Dennyf likes this.
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