with Willy B of The Independents
Name: Willy B
Bands: The Independents
Listen to “Little Blue" by The Independents
Listen to “Baby Doll (Original Demo Version)" by The Independents
Listen to “True" by The Independents
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Willy B – My first guitar was a Harmony that my parents got my brother for Christmas when I was in 7th grade. It was out of the Sears catalog. I got a keyboard, but lost interest & took the guitar for my own as my brother didn’t really care as much about the guitar. We were so frustrated with that guitar! But we should have blamed the amp it came with. I played the harmony through some good amps later on & it didn’t sound that bad! I wish I knew what happened to that guitar. I think someone borrowed it & never gave it back. My first “good” guitar was a Fender Squier Strat, made in Japan (it was the first year they made the Squiers). I loved that guitar! I sold it to a friend of mine who still owns it & he won’t sell it back!!
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Willy B – I don’t use effects live much. I usually plug in straight into the amp. I play a Fender Strat, plugged directly into a Marshall JCM 800 guitar rig. The only pedal I use turns our bubble machine on & off. :)
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Willy B – I think the amp is the most important thing. You can take a relatively crummy guitar & plug it into a good amp & it’s gonna sound a lot better than a great guitar plugged into a crummy amp.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Willy B – I love my Marshall JCM 800. I love the sound of it. It seems to have a lot more depth than other amps I’ve played. I don’t like to play too distorted, just overdrive. It’s perfect for that in my opinion. I used to use a Fender Twin for a clean sound, but it was stolen. I like to roll the volume knob back on the guitar for clean now & it works great! It’s the perfect clean tone, with a little bit of overdrive.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Willy B – I play Strats mainly. I’ve got two. A Mexican Strat I purchased from a friend of mine & a 1981 cream colored Strat my brother bought for me when all of our stuff was stolen in New York. They are both great solid guitars. I really like the way the volume knob is close to the strings, as it’s easy to roll the volume back when playing clean parts or in between clean & dirty.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Willy B – It would be Strat shaped, humbucker in the bridge & a single coil in the neck. No middle pickup. It would have a Strat style tailpiece, with no tremelo though. A non-plastic nut - maybe tusc or bone. Basically a Strat.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Willy B – I would love a pedal with 2 delays. One for doing leads & one for “slapback” or “echoplex” style delay for the rockabilly style stuff. They make those too, I believe.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Willy B – I own six guitars. Two Strats, one Ibanez RG series, one Telecaster, a no-name classical guitar, & an “Esteban” steel string acoustic. Its got a silhouette of Esteban’s head painted on the back.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Willy B – When we are on tour, they stay in the cases until I’m ready to use them.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Willy B – A larger compartment that will hold more stuff, stronger latches, & better hinges.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Willy B – The main things I look for are how good the pickups are, the action, & how good it stays in tune. I don’t care if a guitar is vintage or whatever. If it doesn’t stay in tune very well & the action is messed up, it’s not fun to play. If you don’t like playing it, what does it matter that its a 57 Strat or whatever? Sell it & buy a guitar that you like to play!
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Willy B – I would say between 300-700 dollars. Then it’s somewhat affordable to everyone. If you go over that price, it seems to me that you’re paying for the name. Unless of course it’s a boutique hand made guitar, which they have to sell them for that much since they make so few of them.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Willy B – Both my main guitars I have replaced the bridge pickup.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Willy B – I try to buy the best I can get for the price. I do some research, compare prices, look at reviews, etc., but don’t I go overboard with it. It will take some people up to a year of shopping around to make a major purchase. Some people will buy the first cheap thing they see. I’m somewhere in between.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Willy B – Not in a while. That gets expensive. I’ve got my Marshall, with 2 cabs (one on either side of the stage & a Crate Stealth 100 watt tube head that I keep up there as a backup).
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Willy B – I still have yet to find my favorite guitar tone. The band I’m in, The Independents, has a certain sound for our “classic” songs we play at every show. I keep the same tone for those as I’ve always had. But when I’m playing at home, or trying to come up with ideas, or whatever, I change my sound a lot to find the tone that fits the song I’m playing.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Willy B – I would love to get a Marshall JMP, one of the late 70s ones. The precursor to the JCM 800. In my opinion, that’s the best amp. It’s not too over the top distortion-wise, but it’s got this thick sound that I love! Also I would love a good Tele, for playing country stuff.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Willy B – I think that the cheap guitars nowadays are so much better than the ones I had to play when I was a kid. A friend of mind just got a Fender from Musicians’ Friend that cost him $200. It played great! You can find a really good first guitar nowadays where the strings aren’t 2 inches off the fretboard. That’s the main thing, I believe, that it’s solid & it stays in tune & had a somewhat decent sound.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Willy B – I’ve been fairly happy with what I’ve bought over the years. The case for my Marshall head is probably the wisest decision I’ve made. That head has been dropped so many times by band members, roadies, drunks at a bar trying to help load out, & it hasn’t suffered any ill effects.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Willy B – I love the Line 6 Pod. It’s great for practicing at home with headphones, or recording as well. I’m not a big fan of their amps though. At least for playing with The Independents. I had to use one a few times when my Marshall went out on me. The Line 6 amp I used, although it was a fairly loud one, had no depth to it. It was shrill sounding & the built in effects & such just made it sound worse. Not that I don’t appreciate the guy who let me use it & I wouldn’t have been playing at all if he didn’t offer that Line 6! But amps with all of the modeling & built in effects have no depth to them. Just because it has a lot of effects doesn’t mean that it sounds good, especially in a live situation.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Willy B – Lately it’s this cheezy rockabilly riff that that I came up with. I dunno why!
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Willy B – I think around 12 or 13.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Willy B – There’s still a lot of room for improvement! I learn something new every day!
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Willy B – It’s an instrument that I always wanted to play. You can basically take it anywhere, not like a piano or a drum set. You don’t need accompaniment either if you don’t want it. If you’re good enough, you can pull off bass & lead lines at the same time!
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people s first instrument as often as it is?
Willy B – I think either that or piano are probably the best first instruments to start out on, as you learn the basics of music with them.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Willy B – I don’t know exactly, as it’s the only instrument that I’ve really played a lot. I don’t know any better!
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Willy B – Toni Iommi of Black Sabbath, East Bay Ray from the Dead Kennedys, Jerry Reed, Wes Montgomery, & Eddie Van Halen. Also the guitar player from Rush was a big influence when I was first learning.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly
(e.g. naming their guitar)?
Willy B – I think it’s kinda cheezy. But some friends of mine who name their guitars decided as a joke to name mine as well. “Sticky”, “Woodrow”, & “Prince” are their names now I guess... LOL.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Willy B – The neck broke on one of my old handmade “coffin” shaped guitars. I had to keep it in a gig bag instead of a case on tour, as it was too long to fit into a regular case. We took a sharp turn, everything fell over, & the neck broke in half! I fixed it though, on the road! I got some glue & clamps at a Home Depot. I glued it back together. It played great! I couldn’t believe it!
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Willy B – Sometimes I’ll do scales or arpeggios or something. But usually when I’m at home practicing, I’ll be trying to learn a hard guitar line from some guitarists that I like. It really helps my playing & that’s how I started. That technique seems to work well for me.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Willy B – When I’m home I always have a guitar lying around & if I’m sitting there, I will pick around on something. If I’m watching TV, I usually have a guitar in hand, playing something, usually to the annoyance to whoever is watching TV with me. I’d say at least an hour a day. Sometimes a lot more, sometimes less.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Willy B – I like the Tortex picks, the yellow ones. They aren’t too thick or thin & they grip better.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Willy B – Ernie Ball regular slinkys! (10-46) They are thick enough to me where they stay in tune better, but you can still bend the strings fairly easily.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Willy B – If we are on tour & playing every night, I’ll change them every 4-5 shows. When I’m home, I don’t change them as often.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Willy B – I’m not too bad about breaking strings. Usually once or twice a tour that lasts a month where we are playing every night.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Willy B – I feel that my right hand is more proficient at the moment. I’ve been working on that actually, trying to get my left had to play notes faster & more accurately. I have incorporated a lot of “hybrid picking” with my right hand & it has improved my playing a lot!
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Willy B – I need to get my guitar refretted & set up actually. It’s due for it. I can do minor repairs, intonation, etc., but I will get someone to do the major stuff, because if I mess that up, I’m in trouble. Plus I don’t have the tools to do major adjustments or repairs.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Willy B – I like standard tuning, & tuned to 440. We play with a lot of different musicians. When I have to show them the songs, I want to make sure they are learning it in the right key & such, since all of The Independents’ songs were recorded in standard tuning. We don’t tune down to drop D, or haven’t in the past. Who knows? Maybe we will come up with a song someday that will require lower or alternate tunings!
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Willy B – I like to record my ideas onto a recorder instead of using written notation.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Willy B – I don’t know exactly how long the strap is, but waist high I guess. I personally think it looks silly when players play real low, trying to be like Johnny Ramone or something. Maybe its more comfortable for them to play that low, but not for me!
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Willy B – If I’m in a situation where I’m improvising a lead, I’ll tend to slip in a pentatonic (blues) scale without putting much thought into it. Later on I think about what I played & I will realize that I should have played a better sounding lick, but by then it’s too late! I hate slipping into the comfortable blues scale & sounding like some cheezy Eric Clapton wanna-be. LOL.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone s guitar playing?
Willy B – I think playing bass would. It’s not a stretch for a guitarist to learn the basics, as it’s a stringed instrument, but it’s so much different in terms of what it does in a band. I filled in on bass for the band The Queers on a tour, & it helped a lot! Playing just bass for a while changed my perspective somewhat.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Willy B – I would love to be able to play more jazz stuff. It’s hard, but I think it would help with my lead playing. Not to be some jazz master or anything, but to improve my playing style. I practice jazz a lot at home, learning Wes Montgomery solos & such. Country guitar too. Chicken pickin’ guitar is very hard, & I’m always trying to figure out some country lick.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Willy B – Like a guitar lick or something? I’ve learned a few finger picking patterns that have helped out my playing lately.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Willy B – I’d love to get better at jazz guitar & more country style playing as well.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Willy B – I took some classical lessons from a friend of mine here in Florence, named Allen Johnson, as well as some jazz lessons here from a guy named Otis, when I was in high school.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Willy B – Guitar tone & amp choices. So many players starting out that want to play distortion have it turned up all the way. I think guitar teachers should focus on tone a little more. Then again, they may have their hands full just showing how to play the notes!
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Willy B – Turn the distortion down a little, especially on The Independents songs. & pay more attention to whether I’m playing a minor chord or a major chord. I’ve heard some Independents fans play our songs & they can’t seem to differentiate between the minor & major chords, especially on the ska riffs.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Willy B – I like them, but they make my guitar go out of tune so bad I don’t use them, on stage at least.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Willy B – Never. I’ve recently discovered you can actually use it as a wah effect, like the steel player on the old Hank Williams records. But I’ve never done that live, yet!
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Willy B – I think a good rhythm guitarist will keep the song together & a lead guitarist will accentuate the lead vocals. Then during the solo, he will do something that accentuates the song & not do some crazy lead with a bunch of notes that says, “listen to all this stuff I can do.”
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Willy B – Well, I’d rather hear a band where everyone is good! Sometimes I’ve seen on the road a band where there’s one really good player (not always the guitarist) & the rest of the guys aren’t so good. It really depends on the band.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Willy B – A fiend of mine in Chicago has a killer acoustic guitar from India. I thought it was a Gibson, but upon closer inspection, it was spelled “GiVson”! The lettering is exactly the same. That guitar plays awesome!!! He wont sell it either!! I would love to get a hold of Eddie Van Halen’s original Frankenstein guitar. I’ve heard about how great it is, & I’d like to see for myself.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Willy B – I like Andy McKee a lot. He’s an acoustic player, but I like his style.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Willy B – The Independents album Eternal Bond, The Independents Live From Murder Beach, The Independents Do It Again, The Independents Back From The Grave, The Independents Stalker.
QRD – Anything else?
Willy B – Thanks for the interview!
Official Website of The Independents