Roland Users Group
A legend in guitar circles, Will Ray has created a place for himself among some of the world’s best players with his unorthodox playing style of using B-Benders along with ring slides on both hands. A member of the innovative guitar-based band, The Hellecasters, Ray has also lent his talents to several notable artists including Tom Jones, Steve Earle, Joe Walsh, and Thomas Dolby, and was named Guitarist of the Year by the California Country Music Association in 1992. He has released two instructional videos: “B-Bender Mania” and “Stealth Slide Technique,” as well as two solo CDs: “Invisible Birds” and “Mojo Blues.” A longtime BOSS user, Ray keeps a slew of BOSS pedals in his arsenal, and here’s what he had to say about sculpting his unique guitar sound:
How did you get started playing guitar?
I got started playing around the house. I had a couple older brothers who had guitars, and I would borrow theirs and noodle around on them. When The Beatles came out, that really hooked me, and I wanted to get a guitar at that point. So I saved up and got a Gretsch. I just fell into playing more and more.
How did you develop your style with the B-Benders and the ring slides?
I lived in LA from 1983 to 2005. When I first moved there, I ran into Dave Borisoff, who invented the hipshot B-Bender, and I really fell in love with the whole concept of the B-Bender. At that point I started putting them on all my guitars. The Stealth Slide is a little mini-slide I invented in the late ‘70s. I just got frustrated with conventional slides that were very large and cumbersome, so I went about trying to create something that could just slide up on one or two strings at a time, and to keep out of the way when I wasn’t using it. It would enable my fingers to bend the way they normally would, and I could make chords, and it would just stay out of the way for the most part. So I’ve been refining that mini-slide over the years.
You use a lot of BOSS pedals. Can you talk about which ones you’re using and how you use them?
I really love using the Digital Delays, the DD-2 and DD-3. I use those quite a bit on songs on my solo albums as well as on Hellecaster songs. I also really like the RV-5, the reverb pedal. Particularly, it comes in handy whenever you’re in a situation where you’re playing through an amp that doesn’t have a reverb. The RV-5 is a really stable reverb unit that’s not susceptible to vibrations and won’t give you loud clangs that amp reverb will.
I like the tremolo pedal [TR-2] too, because a lot of times playing live you want a very subtle kind of tremolo that goes on when you’re doing chord work. I also love the Dimension C [DC-2] pedals, the chorus pedals. What’s really nice about those is that you have three or four different presets. You don’t have to worry about settings and stuff like that getting bumped. The settings themselves have a very good sound – they’re very good presets.
Which pedals do you use the most often?
I have different pedal boards for different situations. The CS-3 is a good, tight compressor where you can also adjust your attack time, and that’s important to me. I also like the PS-2 the Pitch Shifter. Sometimes I need to get a shimmery high end, something that approximates like a 12-string, and I’ll put it on the octave setting. Sometimes I’ll use a Pitch Shifter [PS-5] with a VB-2 Vibrato pedal, and it gives a bit of a Leslie effect. The Pitch Shifter on octave sounds a little more Hammond organ-ish. So sometimes using the combination of pedals is a good thing. You can get new, different sounds.
And I use BOSS tuners like crazy. I really love the BOSS TU-12H’s – I probably have about ten of those.
What do you use the Roland Micro Cube for?
As practice amps go, I can’t say enough about the Micro Cube. I think it’s revolutionized the way practice amps are – I love the Micro Cube. One thing I like about it is that it’s really easy to dial up a good, usable sound in just a few seconds. You don’t have to spend twenty minutes watching your inspiration fly away while you’re toiling with the other side of your brain, trying to figure out all different parameters. I think the Micro Cube will change the way people feel about modeling amp sounds. I never liked modeling amps too much before, but when I first played through a Micro Cube, I was just sold on it. The Micro Cube is just the right size, and the batteries last a long time. Normally I can leave the batteries in there for a good year before I have to change them.
They’re also really good for recording. The Line Out on it is quite good, but you can also stick a condenser mic in front of it and get some interesting sounds that way.
It’s also amazing to me that you can have several of these digital effects going on at once. A delay with a chorus, a tremolo with a reverb. And these are very good digital effects.
Let’s talk about the Edirol R-09. How do you use it?
I record rehearsals with it. What’s particularly nice, too, is that you can hook it up to a stand-alone CD burner and take the digital Out and make digital-quality copies, compared to the old days with using cassettes. It’s so simple to use – you hit the ‘Record’ button once to put it into ‘record-ready’ mode, then hit it again to start recording. You’d be surprised how many digital devices I went through that made it very complicated to do those simple things.
You can put a lot on these things. You can record for hours if you wanted to and not worry about it. Plus, you can select MP3 mode and get a lot more time. And since it’s easy to send MP3s over the internet, it’s nice to record MP3s to start with. My songwriting partner in LA also owns an R-09 and we can simply record our ideas at home, plug into our computers, drag the files over and send them back and forth. It’s fast and easy. And it’s a done deal. You don’t have to do conversion. That’s something that I had problems with using a couple other MP3 recorders – they were just too darned complicated! When the muse hits, you wanna plug in and go. And when the muse hits and you’re recording, you just wanna pick up a recorder and hit ‘Record.’ And that’s what makes the R-09 great is that it’s always ready to go.
What are some of the current projects you’re working on?
I’m getting ready to do some clinics on G & L guitars, and presently I’ve got a project in LA that I’m recording in my studio – I do some long distance recording. I just finished up doing a band called The Buzzards, out of LA. And I’m getting ready to also put out a couple new instructional videos, as well as putting out a new solo album.
What’s coming next for you?
Probably my solo album will be coming out in the spring of next year [‘08]. The instructional videos will probably be ready as well around the spring. One of them is going to be on amps. I have a lot of people who write me saying they’re very frustrated with getting a good sound through their amps. So I wanted to do a video where I could kind of demystify the whole thing of amplification. You can make any guitar sound pretty good through an amp. You just have to know how to do it.
The other one will be on farm jazz. It’s something where country music and jazz sort of meet. Give people some ideas for licks where you can make country music really swing when you’re playing solos.
It sounds like you pull from several different genres.
I don’t like being fenced in to a particular yard. I like to be able to jump over fences and go into different yards and play. Mainly, I just like to have fun on guitar. When I’m having fun, usually the audience is gonna have fun too. My m.o. is to have fun first!
Be sure to check out Will's Podcast on BOSS Tone Radio.