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What's more important? Great chops or very good singing abilities?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by FJBass82, Mar 13, 2018.

  1. I'm in a 5-piece cover band that plays classic rock, alternative, blues, as well as a little bit of country. We've been together for about three years. We're all in our early-to-late 50s. We all get along, all of us are team players, and are serious about the music, but we like to have fun doing it. We all have families, day jobs, mortgages, etc., and don't rely on the little bit of money that gigs provide.

    Recently one of our two guitarists quit the band, so we've auditioned two guitarists so far. One of the stipulations is that the new guitarist be able to sing background vocals/harmonies; being able to sing lead vocals is a plus but not a deal breaker if they can't. The first guitarist that we auditioned plays guitar really well and is a really good singer when it comes to lead and backup vocals/harmonies. He's 54 years old, seems to have a really good personality, and a first impression shows he's a team player.

    The second guitarist is a better guitar player than the first guy we auditioned. But he admits singing is not one of his strong points. During his audition he sang some backups/harmonies and did a fair job, but nowhere near like the first guy we auditioned. The second guy is 42 years old, seems to have a good personality and would probably be a good team player as well. After he left the audition to go home we had a discussion about him. Our other guitarist, the drummer, and the lead singer/keyboardist were off the wall impressed with his chops and ready to offer him an invitation to join the band; I was not on board. We still have another guy we can audition, and I'm not so sure the second guy is THEE guy!

    The dilemma, as far as I'm concerned, is that, while the first guitar player's chops aren't as good as the second guy's chops, the first guy can definitely sing, and he's not a horrible guitar player by any means. But my fellow band members seem to have a man crush on the second guy because of his better guitar chops, even though his singing abilities are sub-par.

    Our backup vocals/harmonies haven't been the best, but by no means horrible, in the past, between me and the other guitarist providing them. But with the first guy we auditioned, I was impressed with his singing abilities and knew right away that he would definitely improve that area of concern. Yes, my fellow band members were also impressed with his singing abilities. But the second guy's chops seem to trump the first guy's singing abilities.

    We'll continue to be a mediocre band when it comes to backups/harmonies if we go with the second guy, or we'll improve greatly in that area if we go with the first guy. I've voiced my concern about this but the other guys are too smitten with the second guy's chops and are willing to overlook his inability to sing.

    I apologize for the long post, but I'm looking for advice. Should we "settle" with the second guy just because he's a really good guitar player, or go with the first guy who has the much better vocal abilities?
  2. Backing vocals= win to me.
    Also personality if given the two. We had two bassist audition and both could play well- one had awesome backing vocals but we picked the other guy because his personality fit better.
    Sounds like you have a pretty good choice here.
  3. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    I wouldn't consider it settling at all. I'd go with the guy who plays better.

    My experience is a guy will improve on backing vocals as he learns the material whereas a guy who plays guitar is not likely to improve much on his instrument by the time he's middle-aged.

    Bear in mind that preparing for the audition the better guitarist put more effort in on his playing to get a better result. Your ad did not make it sound like it would turn on his ability to sing backup. That's unfair to change the rules after the fact.

    I'm always surprised on how much importance some band members put into "awesome harmonies." Yeah, sure, great... if the band is already top-notch. Harmonies are the icing on the cake. The cake is the important thing, not the icing.

    The fact that the other guys are drawn to him should be the deciding factor. Chemistry trumps backing vocals every time.
  4. Lbsterner


    Nov 22, 2017
    My experience is that finding someone who can hear and sing a harmony well is difficult, and a poorly sung harmony will kill your song (I should know, I've sung enough of them). I would think much of this decision rests on whether or not the remaining guitarist is a great lead player. If you can shift most of the heavy lifting in that regard to the remaining player, hire the guy with the voice. If not, you might want to keep looking until you find someone who has both. If I were stipulating singing ability as a requirement I would absolutely not hire someone who can't sing well, unless he plays like Danny Gatton, at which point all bets are off.
  5. marmadaddy


    Oct 17, 2005
    Rochester, NY
    There are really good guitarists on every street corner, but really good vocals are one of the things that make a band stand out from the crowd.
  6. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    I don't know that there is a definitive right answer, but for me personally, a killer guitar soloist is more so an asset than a killer backup singer. I generally see vocal harmonies as nice to have, but not required as it is rarely integral to the material. I see a good guitar soloist as a must have, unless you already have one.

    If your other guitar players already handles the solos well, then i would go with the backup singer player. If you really don't have a good soloist already, i would choose the chops player. Can the rest of the band handle the vocals or are you limited there?
    TjMetalhead, jamro217 and smogg like this.
  7. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    In the OP, you didn't say what kind of amp each had. If one guy had a Line6 modeling amp piece of garbage and the other had a real amp, that also says a lot.
    Ekulati likes this.
  8. saabfender, no one changed the rules after the fact! Our ad clearly stated that having backup vocals/harmonies abilities "are a must". The guys auditioning knew our requirements up front. But things changed when my fellow bandmates heard the second guy's guitar chops. Is he another Eddie Van Halen or Joe Bonomasso? No! But yes, he is a bit better of a guitar player than the first guy, but, and I'll repeat myself here, the first guy is not by any stretch of the imagination a horrible guitar player!
    JMacBass65 likes this.
  9. And yes, our other guitarist plays lead/solos very well. We don't have a set lead guitarist or a set rhythm guitarist; they switch off lead and rhythm in different songs.
    Johnny Crab likes this.
  10. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Hate to say it, i'd still go with the chops guy, lol. But i just don't think harmonies matter that much to the audience, just good lead vocals.
  11. 3Liter


    Feb 26, 2015
    Hmmm. I'm a middle aged player actively working on improving my chops. That's insulting. But it all depends on the person. I have seen many man crushes develop based on a guy's "chops," I actually played with a guy that had mad chops. A pro player actually. Then I realized he had no idea when to not play. Depending on the kind of band, a crazy good solo is important, or not. OP describes what sounds like a much derided "dad band"....I guess if people are coming to see a bitchen solo....

    Now, I'm a little biased. I never developed my chops as a lead player as much as I would like. But I sing too. And I listen. And I am a team player. I don't have a lot of need for a bitchen guitar player that never bothered to learn to sing.
    whatizitman, FJBass82 and JRA like this.
  12. Ender_rpm


    Apr 18, 2004
    St. Louis MO
    ok guitar + great vocals > great guitar + Ok vocals.

    NO ONE CARES ABOUT GUITAR PLAYING!!!! They want songs they can sing along to and to provide background music to whatever thier quest is for the evening. Guitar solos are for bathroom breaks.
  13. JRA

    JRA what key? Supporting Member

    first and foremost, IMO, you should finish the audition process (one more cat to hear, right?).

    but with regard to the issue of chops vs. vocals: i'd make a decision based on overall contribution to the mission, as time goes on, as best you can guess, presently. for a vocal band not to have vocal chops, overall, doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

    i play in one band where folks audition to be a singer or a player. but in the other band we're only concerned about chops and personality fit.

    edit: good luck! :thumbsup:
    EdO., HolmeBass, Ekulati and 3 others like this.
  14. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    By your standards, it sounds like the ad should have read “Seeking back-up singer. Guitar playing ability desired but not essential.”

    No offense; it’s your band. Just giving my nickel’s worth.

    It isn’t. It’s a personal observation. I mean, sure you can be offended if you’d like. Think about this: How much does a guy improve between 21 to 27 versus 47 to 53? I’ve been musically active constantly since I was 13. My answer to that question there was far more growth during the former period. Are there any 50-somethings who are “getting back into it” wowing anyone with their newly-acquired ability?

    Again, nothing away from you and your efforts but I stand by my initial assessment.
  15. Slater

    Slater Leave that thing alone. Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2000
    The Great Lakes State
    You kind of have to determine which ability will elevate your band the most. Will backing vocals and harmonies move your band up a notch, or will an excellent guitar player make the band stand out more?

    IME, with bands that I’ve been in, vocals always get more positive feedback from the audience than guitar playing. Everyone has a voice, good, bad, or otherwise, so people just relate more to singing.

    I was in a band that played Journey’s “Feeling That Way/Anytime” really well, and crowds would go nuts. We also did Van Halen’s “Eruption/You Really Got Me”, and three people would love it, and the rest of the crowd would be like, “Play something we can dance to”.
  16. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    Maryland, USA
    Singing. If you can sing, you don't need chops.
    FJBass82 likes this.
  17. smogg


    Mar 27, 2007
    NPR, Florida
    I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell
    What does the band need more? A good back up singer or a guitarist who can nail signature lines. As was stated earlier, go with who will elevate the band the most. The decision should not be about your personal preferences. Personally if I already have the right front man on vocals I'll take the better player. If the weak link for the band is vocals then the decision is obvious.
    As always IMO; IME, & YMMV
    EdO., jamro217 and saabfender like this.
  18. MattZilla


    Jun 26, 2013
    You're not in a prog band, the finger chops don't matter and can be improved upon. Vocals matter. A good vocal group can kill a crowd with a tambourine and a keyboard.
    whatizitman, FJBass82, pcake and 5 others like this.
  19. Lbsterner


    Nov 22, 2017
    This has been a fun thread to read. Good guitarists are falling from the sky, IMO. I don't understand the emphasis in some of these posts on guitar chops over the so-called "icing." Yes, you can be a guitar-centric band with crappy icing and you'll be one in a long line of more of the same. But if you want to move to a level above the usual fare, you not only need icing, but you need it to be so delicious people will come back for it again and again. Personally I've only encountered a small handful of players who could sing a harmony in tune without having their parts spoonfed to them, and do it well. I'd take that any day over the guy with chops, because I know for a fact there's another guy with better chops right around the corner.
    Bassngtr, FJBass82 and Hahaha like this.
  20. wildman2


    Jun 8, 2016
    NW Ohio
    I'd say audition the third dude first.
    Good guitarists are a dime a dozen.Probably a lot of 16 yr old's can play as good or better than the dude with the chops.
    Not near as many can do the vocals with harmony's and such.If you hand off the solo's back and forth anyhow, that guy might be a better fit for you guys.
    Definitely have a dilemma on your hands.Or not, may get out voted....
    FJBass82, Lbsterner and saabfender like this.