On this weeks segment I talked with my good friend Will Levy, who plays guitar for the Story So Far. I first met Will in the fall of 2012 when our bands toured together on the Glamour Kills tour. Him and I spent the better part of the days just talking about gear and playing guitars. So when piecing together ideas for this segment, I thought to myself, who better to talk shop with than Will. This was conducted for about an hour and a half over the phone. Will in the beautiful sunny Walnut Creek California, and myself inside, heat cranked, and draped in several layers of flannel and sweatpants as Upstate New York underwent a winter vortex. We talked about my favorite Gibson model ever in production, why Led Zeppelin is still the best Rock ‘n Roll band, and all sorts of other cool stuff that you’ll have to just read to find out. Oh, and if you you haven’t yet, I suggest picking up the bands last record What You Don’t See which was released last year on Pure Noise.
How did you get started playing guitar?
I think I was in first or second grade. My dad first introduced the guitar to me. There were always guitars around the house, my dad always played and still does. He was always in bands. I don’t even remember the first time I heard live music, I just always grew up with it. He was in a cover band and was the singer and played rhythm guitar. I don’t think I took guitar super seriously and really buckled down until I was in high school. I could play a few power chords and what not. I took lessons but not seriously. I was always playing baseball. Once I met the dudes in my band I started to take guitar more seriously and get better at it. So that’s when I really started playing.
So did your Dad end up getting you a guitar when you started out, or did you just end up using his stuff for a while?
I actually got a bass for my first instrument. It was an Ibanez Soundgear that he bought for me at SamAsh in New York City when I was in fourth grade. I always just borrowed his G&L Stratocaster. So I don’t think he ever bought me a guitar besides the bass. The first guitar that I bought was a Gibson SG for like $300.
So you started right out with Gibson when you got serious about playing?
Oh yea, Kevin had a Gibson SG as well as the other Kevin who was in the band before me. So they were like “You got to get an SG!”. So, I got one. I still have it and gig with it and it rules.
What are you playing now?
I have a Gibson RD. It was made in the 70’s for like three years. I think ‘77-’79. I have a reissue that I got from Gibson about three or four months ago. It’s like the meanest playing guitar I’ve ever picked up.
That’s been one of my favorite Gibson models for a while now. They recently have been popping up. Every time I see someone playing one I think to myself “this person gets it”, haha. What inspired you to play such a unique Gibson model?
A friend had showed it to me and I just thought it was so mean looking. Then we were invited up to the Gibson showroom up in Seattle earlier this spring, and that was the first time that I had ever laid eyes on one in person. They just had it there and I picked it up and it had a huge neck, and that’s kind of fitting because I have huge hands. I don’t even think I plugged it in. I asked the guy what could I do to get this guitar and he said they were are all out of them then. He never got back to me and basically just said he couldn’t find me one. So months went by and I kept hitting him up and begging him. I’m sure I annoyed the shit out of him haha. So eventually he sold me the showroom model, so I guess I got the last one.
Thats awesome. They’re very hard to find and it’s funny that even the reissues seem to be just as hard to come across along as well.
Dude I found one at a Guitar Center by my house in February. It was a ‘77 all original, made in the Kalamazoo factory. This thing was huge man, it was so heavy and the neck was even bigger on that one then the one I currently have. I picked it up and I was like fuck this thing is a junker. No one there had any idea what it was. I think that one was more of an investment though. It needed a fret job, along with a lot of other work. I was about to leave for tour, and I said if it’s here when I get back I’ll buy it. It was like $750 so it was real cheap. When I got back from tour it was gone.
The cool story behind those guitars is that the “RD” stood for ‘Research and Development’. The early models had electronics designed by Robert Moog (Moog Synthesizers) and it always was a model that seemed to never get out of those early stages of development, until it was finally put into production in the mid-late 70’s.
Wow, so it was always in a beta state almost. I want to find one of those old ones just to mess with it, but I’m not really big on a lot of electronics. But I’m sure you can pick it apart and use it for something else. They seem to be pretty popular now, the responses online for the reissues are huge, people love them.
They do for sure. The offset guitar shape has come back in the last few years, which I am not complaining about one bit. For me that one takes the cake.
Yea I get asked about the guitar every time I play it or when I bring it into the studio. People always ask “what the hell is this thing?” Which makes it fun, you know? Its a fun guitar to have especially for guitar nerds.
What amps and pedals are you running it through?
Pedal wise I try to expand my pedalboard because it’s fun. But honestly the Chadderbox Effects Loud Louder is the only thing that I’m comfortable with and it’s the only pedal I really need for the style of music I play. And I crank it haha, I use both switches. There is about three guitar parts that I play throughout our whole set that I go halfway on it. Other than that its cranked. For my guitar head I have a Marshall Jcm800 2203 with the vertical input jacks. I believe it’s a ‘78. I picked it up from a Guitar Center. I walked in there blindly and they had one and I was like no fucking way they have the 2203! So I picked it up and it’s changed the way I play guitar, and my life haha.
Marshalls will do that to you, and it’s funny because I have yet to own a Marshall amp but I’ve played through plenty and always never understood why I don’t have one haha.
The first head I owned was a jcm900 and then I sold it to a friend and I bought Mesa Dual Rectifier with the money. I used that for years and honestly that amp is so cool. It’s so roadworthy that I bring it on tour and use it every now and then as a backup. Sometimes the 800 from room to room just isn’t what I’m looking for and i’ll plug in the Mesa. It’s dialed in and will sound good anywhere. It doesn’t sound fucking amazing and is not the greatest tone but I know what I’m getting with it. I usually stick to the 800 though. I just have it ripping and for a while I was only using the high gain input channel on the amp. I was using a Les Paul that I got on tour and a tuning pedal and that was it. I took away the loud louder for a few weeks and was just plugging directly into the head. The only thing I was missing was the punch that I needed for guitar leads. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking haha. I plugged back into the low gain input and reinstalled the Loud Louder and just missed that sound so much. It just cuts so hard and feels right.
Yea I have that same pedal and when I first played through it I said to myself that it was never going to get shut off. It just makes any amp sound 10x better than it already is.
Yea I have like 5 or 6 tone pedals now. Tube screamer, a couple overdrives and other boost pedals, and this is the only thing I really need. I recently got a TS9 Turbo Tube Screamer and I’m working blending the two or riding on just the TS9 but it just doesn’t sound as good. The clarity is what gets me with the Loud Louder. Im always looking for lots of low end because I’m playing power chords mostly. If I can get each note clear and vivid for everyone to hear then that’s the perfect tone. And that’s what this pedal does it’s just like cleaning out your ears and getting all that wax out. It adds great tone without adding that extra layer.
So just the Loud Louder? Nothing else you’re running along with it?
Yea just that. I don’t even use a noise suppressor. Give me all the feedback, I love feedback.
What is your favorite piece to use in the studio? Did you use anything new/different on the last record that you weren’t expecting to?
We got to use a ton of fun gear. Sam has so much cool stuff. Steve Kline who produced are record brought a lot of his guitars and amps. He brought three different Bad Cats, one was the Badcat 30 and that thing rips. He had this really sick telecaster made of hawaiian wood that was from the early 2000’s. It was one of the best playing and sounding guitars i’ve played. He had a Rickenbacker as well that we used for some clean tones.
For heads we used a Mesa Mark 1 which I believe was the amp Metallica used early on. It’s a little bigger than an Orange Tiny Terror and it weighs about a hundred pounds. The tubes in that thing are fucking heavy. That demolishes any head that I’ve ever played. If you play in a punk or hardcore band you need to find an original version of that head, it shreds. I think we also used a Diezel amp. Sam has a friend that brings in all these amps for us. We used a JMP and you can do no wrong with that. There is an amp we always use on every recording and that is the Orange AD140, which they don’t make anymore. That’s like the signature Panda head for TSSF. Kevin loves that amp.
How did you go about getting guitar tones?
We recorded all the guitars into a DI and then went on tour right after tracking was finished. I know I did four guitars for my Rhythm. So like for a verse I would grab my SG and for another part I would grab my Les Paul, and so on. I then grabbed a 5150 I think, and an ESP viper and recorded a lot of feedback and the really heavy parts. We did a lot of DI, basically just get it into the computer and then get to finding the right tones after. The first day of reamping we just laid out all of the amps and cabinets and just figured out what the perfect tone was. We went through so many amps like a Bogner 2×12, Orange 4×12, a Mesa, Hughes & Kettner, and just any variation. So we just plugged in and figured it out.
We kind of split the recording of that record. We did the initial tracking up until we left for tour. We did the tour, came back on like a sunday night and then I hit them up at like 5am the next morning and it was just Steve, Sam, and I for like 8 hours recording guitars. That was the best day for me because no one else was there, it was just the three of us. We really buckled down and smashed out some sick stuff. I never recorded guitar before for our band. I was just so motivated and excited to record that I was down for anything you know? Like, let’s scream into the pickups and see if we can put that anywhere, stupid shit like that. I absolutely loved it though. As stressful as recording is with all of the pressure and deadlines, once you just record and get a solid take and listen back you just feel like “holy shit! okay that sounds pretty good.” You become such a better guitar player, and your band becomes so much better. I was always scared of going to the hot seat and having Sam yell at me for sucking at guitar and letting my band down. But that feeling after listening back and realizing I don’t suck and that it sounds good is a really cool feeling.
This brings us right into my next question. Do you prefer recording or playing live more?
There are pros and cons for each. I really like recording because I learned so much from everyone. It was the first time for our band to have everyone in the studio together. All of us got to jam and write the songs together. We all built great chemistry and I think taking that and going on tour really made us solid live. This past tour we were the tightest we had ever been. However I think I like touring more. Anytime you want to play something differently and do things live that you didnt do on the record, you can. It almost felt like we were just jamming every night and just building on that. It definitely felt like we were playing shows, but it also felt like we were just jamming, because we were just experimenting a lot.
Ryan started playing to a click this year. None of us have in ears you know but I think it really helped my playing a lot going along to his kick. I really focused on how I was playing. Using a lot less arm, and more just relaxing it and using just my wrist and forearm. I bought my first Les Paul this year and the way I was playing I was rubbing my arm against the top near the binding and I got this big rash on my forearm. Sam suggested putting some gaf tap on my guitar and that was really uncomfortable, and it looked ridiculous. So I took that off and just changed how I played and just focus on rhythm and my right hand and being super tight. If there is anything in my monitors its just hi-hat, kick, and snare. That’s it, that’s all I need. I like considering myself a bass player in that aspect. I let Kellen just do his thing and let him flow a little bit while I hold it down. Respect the pocket!
Who were your influences when you started playing guitar?
My dad for sure. I always wanted to be able to just pick up a guitar and start shredding. I listened to a lot of Jimi Hendrix, Beatles, Led Zeppelin. Even to this day i’m rediscovering Led Zeppelin. It’s kind of all I’ve been listening to a lot. We listened to How The West Was Won a lot on this last tour. Dazed and Confused is like a half hour long and Jimmy Page plays for like 10 minutes on his own, which is so cool to me. I could never play any of that shit though, I was never that good, and I don’t think I could now even. You know, I learned power chords. New Found Glory, Blink-182, Good Charlottes, lots of Green Day and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Im pretty sure I know every fucking New Found Glory song there is on guitar. That’s just what I grew up on and it shaped the guitar player that I am today.