Real Gear Reviews for the Worship Minded
I’m sure that I came across like thirteen-year-old fangirl getting to meet Justin Bieber when I got to meet and speak with Robert Keeley at the NAMM show in January. You don’t have to be too much of a guitar geek to know who Robert Keeley is, but just in case you don’t, he has been defining amazing guitar tone since he started making guitar pedals out of his house in the early 2000s. I picked up the Keeley 30ms at NAMM and since then it has earned a permanent spot on my pedal board.
The 30ms sets out to duplicate the famous studio trick of doubling tracks via tape echo that originated at Abbey Road because John Lennon repeatedly expressed his frustration with the challenging nature of having to actually record a second track to have two tracks of the same instrument or voice. First world problems, I know. So why do recording engineers double tracks? Because it makes everything sound bigger and bigger is always better when it comes to guitar, right? Keeley thinks so, and I wholeheartedly agree.
This pedal has been widely reviewed and demoed online and there are some excellent YouTube videos showcasing exactly how it sounds (some of my favs: ProGuitarShop, Dillan Witherow, and Mike Hermans ), but I would like to focus on the applications it has in the worship setting for guitarists.
The pedal has three settings (Dimension, Abbey Mode, and Slapback) and four knobs (Reverb, Tuning, Time, and Level). It can operate in two modes – stock and “pro”. Pro mode requires changing an internal dip switch and using a TRS cable to send the pedal to two amps. Firstly, the pro mode would be a lot more useful with stereo outputs rather than having to use a TRS cable, and secondly, I’m not going to say much about the pro mode as I don’t believe it’s very practical for most real-world musicians as I have yet to meet very many fellow guitarists who are eagerly toting two amps to gigs. The pro mode does sound amazing, but for me it will only have useful application for recording guitar tracks rather than playing out live. All that being said, this pedal sounds great in stock mode and should not be overlooked if you’re not planning to run a stereo rig.
If you’re a fan of chorus, this pedal will definitely cover that territory. I am not a fan of chorus, so I spent quite a bit of time tweaking controls to figure out how to get the big sound of double tracking without that chorus wash that can easily happen once you’ve got a second track that’s slightly off tune from the original. In Dimension mode, the trick to avoiding chorus was not turning the tuning knob much past zero. I was able to find some great sounds in the Dimension mode, but the Abbey Mode ended up being my fav. I quickly found that I could dial in a subtle, but warm and big sound in Abbey that I found myself leaving on throughout entire worship sets as it paired nicely with delay, drive, and anything else I threw at it. When I say “subtle”, I don’t mean that it’s not noticeable (it is!); what I mean is that you end up with a fantastic guitar tone that no one is going to necessarily attribute to a pedal or effect. Fig. 1 is a quick overview of my current favorite knob settings for this “always on” tone I’ve been so happy with.
I also want to make sure I touch on the Slapback mode – I have a serious love and respect for slapback and this pedal is hands-down the warmest and most realistic slapback echo I have every used. Slapback is always a great way to get a bigger sound; I just realized that (for me) this wasn’t going to be an always on sound for a typical worship set and, because there aren’t presets on 30ms I can quickly switch between, I found myself going back to my favorite settings in Abbey mode.
My personal approach to worship guitar is to treat every different instrument on the team as a layer. Layers don’t have to be complicated (and often work better when they’re not) and I am constantly looking for a way to make my guitar layer warm, full, and complimentary to everything else that’s going on in the song. Usually this means looking for ways to create space and dimension with my guitar tone. I am sure that I’m not alone when I admit that typically I do this by using (possibly over-using) the fan-favorite dotted eighth note delay. What I have found that I love about the Keeley 30ms is that it gives me another way to achieve that space and dimension that I’m looking for without having to always lean on delay. If I do still want to use delay, however, the 30ms also pairs nicely with it.
I am a big fan of this pedal. It does a fabulous job of helping me achieve a studio-quality double tracked guitar tone that is warm and huge. Whereas guitarists could use this to achieve dramatic modulation effects, I have found it to be most useful in a worship setting because of its ability to help subtly thicken and enhance my tone. Keeley’s 30ms has become a secret weapon in my pedal chain that plays well with my other favorite pedal sounds.