Ask Willis - February - 2009

Hey Willis,
I have an eden WT400 amp, I don't quite understand the EQ. I play a 75 jazz, and really like that back pickup thud when used by itself, but just have not been able to figure the thing out like I could when I had an amp with just bass treble and mids. Can you help me out a little and would you recomend Lessons With the Greats for a novice player.

The EQ on EDEN stuff is pretty straightforward. Here's the layout:

From left to right:
The Enhance control basically scoops out the mids while boosting the highs and lows.
I recommend leaving it all the way off.
The Bass control , as expected, gives you general control over the low end.
The next three controls, Low, Mid and High work in pairs (with each corresponding knob above) and give you more specific control on which frequencies you want to control. With the upper knob, you basically select the frequency that you want to boost or cut and adjust that frequency's volume (boost or cut it) with the corresponding knob below it. Just remember that the boost and cut adjustments on Eden gear are VERY sensitive. You can get dramatic results with a very small turn of the knob. Also, just because they're there, doesn't mean you have to use them. Odd's are that 75 Jazz will sound great with the 3 semi-parametric contols set "flat" (not in use, like the picture above). Of course, that's assuming you're using an Eden cabinet as well.
As expected, the Treble control gives you general control over the high end. Also, if you're cabinet has a tweeter, leave the adjustment in the rear of the cabinet "flat" and use the Treble control to reduce the highs. Turning down the tweeter too much with the control on the cabinet reduces the amount of coils the crossover uses and can lead to over-heating. The Treble control on the amp will give you the same results with more personal safety.
When you're working on EQ, always start from "flat" (as pictured). Like I said, if you've got an Eden cabinet, then that '75 Jazz should sound great without too much tweaking.

My portion of Lessons With the Greats is about idea-oriented improvisation. Since most novices aren't ready for soloing yet, I'd have to recommend it for later, not sooner.

Hey Willis,
I've just seen the first part of your progressive video and boy you are not lying about this light touch thing are you? The muscle just above my right triceps is now aching. Is this because I am now supporting the rest of my arm using this muscle? Is this where the support should come from and is this slight ache normal for someone beginning this technique after several years of 90 degree wrist-bentness? Playing feels much better with this approach so far although I don't know about this three finger style.

I would like to give this 3 finger idea a go but I think that I would have to completely overhaul my playing and it would take me ages. Gary, is it going to be worth it? Will I find 3 digit Shangri-la? Will I trip lightly through fountains everlasting adorned with robes of splendour. Sorry, I'm reading too much into this methinks.

I think that you also have such a light touch because you seem to angle your hand ever so slightly toward your body i.e. if you imagine you were looking at a watch on your right wrist as you were playing and you are turning that wrist a small amount in order to just see the face of the watch - that seems to me the way you appear to play. I think this facilitates a light touch almost by necessity. After all that - it sounds fantastic!

P.S. This is such a meandering note because I am supposed to be studying for an exam not concerned with music. ho-hum.

Hmmm.....the same thing happened to me when I studied for actual music exams;-)
Actually, the same pain happened to me when I started adjusting my right hand posture, the muscles that supported my arm would ache, but that went away in a week or so. The result will be that you can relax your hand and get a very efficient transfer of energy from the muscles in your forearm to the tendons that connect to your fingers. The key is that muscles can be built up to support the weight of your arm, no problem, while tendons operate best in a tension-free environment.

You will have to overhaul your playing to switch to 3. Some people have made the switch in 2 weeks while others take 6 months or more. Fact: the hardest thing to do on bass is to cross strings going up. It's a problem you're faced with whether you play with 2 or 3. It just so happens that the way that I use the 3rd finger exactly solves this problem. Your robe of splendour awaiteth.

As far as the angle, actually I had to be careful about not turning my wrist in the direction you mentioned. The more you rotate it towards you, the more it pulls the 3rd finger away from access to the strings. A clockwise rotation ensures that it can remain in contact with the strings. Regardless of the angle or 2 vs. 3 fingers, a light touch will allow much more musical, dynamic playing.

Hey Willis,
Do you have any new books planned?

Just had a top-secret meeting here in LA with the powers that be at Hal Leonard and there is definitely a new book in the works. If I told you what it was about, I'd have to kill ya...

2 for 1 here:

Hey Willis, What type, and gauges of strings do you use? I'm currently moving towards lighter strings, but finding a stainless set with all the guages I favour (40-60-75-95-125) is proving difficult (especially here in Australia!). Experimenting with different strings (types, brands, guages, etc) is also very difficult, with 5-string sets usually costing between $70 and $80, and singles between $15 and $20, so any advise you can give would really be appreciated.
Cheers... Rob.

This is pretty much a string question...its probably already in the archives but i'm too lazy to look. What specific qualities do the progressives have that make them the right choice for your sound, style, etc... Cleaness, brightnes or what? I've noticed that you don't play with alot growl to your sound and never slap or anything... have you always favored a sort of clean, jazz, be-bop thing in your strings. I saw you guys in the cities and you bopped your ass off! And did you try out "alot" of different strings before settling with the GHSs? Just wondering.

My gauges are 45-65-86-105-135. I'd say stay away from lighter gauges. A lighter gauge will have less tension so it will be looser and tend to buzz more so you'll end up having to raise the string height. A heavier string will actually let you lower the strings since its higher tension doesn't allow it to buzz as much. You'll end up with lower action and a fatter tone with the bigger strings.
The GHS Progressives I use are a combination of a stainless core and an alloy wrap. Kind of the best of both worlds. I have had a chance to check out a lot of different strings. My choice is based on everything, the sound, the feel (string to string tension), the balance. I used to use all-stainless but switched to this string when I discovered it. Stainless will last longer but for me, I just found that it sounded bad longer.

Hey Willis,
One thing has been bugging me lately regarding technique. Instructional books recommend that players play exactly on their fingertips with the fretting hand. In practice at least to me this is kinda hard to maintain and occasionally my finger will slip off the string (particularly the 3rd finger). Others seem to play with the fleshy part of the finger (the part on the other side of the nail) and I see many bass players who play that way. To me this seems and looks kinda clumsy. It seems there is a discrepancy in what a lot of instructional books tell students and what that practicalities are. What do ya think? :)

Lucky for me I never saw those books when I got started. I play with my fingers flat a lot. A lot of what every bass player does is in 4ths. The only musical way to make these inverals smooth is to either bar or use 2 fingers. Since I spent some time on guitar, it was very natural for me to flatten out my fingers in the left hand. Of course, I use the tips of my fingers sometimes since it's more flexible to vibrato that way. Just make sure that you're able to use the tips of your fingers, especially your little finger (4th). If you're not able to play with it bent, then when you play on the D and G strings it will force the rest of your fingers off the fingerboard away from the strings.

Hey Willis,
I`ve been looking for info on bass setups(truss rod adjustment,setting string height,etc...).Your tips are very helpful,especially the parts on truss rod adjustment! The only question I have left is regarding setting your string height(action). You say to follow the curve of the pickups. I don`t have your signature model, I have a jazz bass (flat pickups). Are you supposed to follow the slight curve of the fretboard?(G-string low,D and A-strings a little higher,and E-string lower like the G-string?) I`m also confused about the fact that each string has two screws to adjust for each saddle (do you set both at the same height for each string?) I know that I like my action as low as possible without too much buzzing,but as far as how high to set each string in relation to the others for comfortable playability,I`m lost. PLEASE HELP!Thank you for the clear and easy to understand truss rod tips!!!You`ve been a big help!

Even with the flat pickups, you need to have the strings follow the curve of the fingerboard so (like you mentioned) the middle strings (A & D) are slightly higher. It's impossible to say exactly how much higher, that depends on the radius of your fingerboard. Try playing with your right hand over the end of the neck. If the space under the strings feels about even, then you've probably got it right. The two saddle screws should be set so that the saddle is level. You don't have to be dead-perfect, just eyeball it to get them the same. If a saddle is at too much of an angle it can force the adjacent saddles away from it and mess up the string spacing.

Hey Willis,
I had a technical question for ya. I have been using your right hand damping technique since I bought your video about 4 years ago. Its really helped me tighten up alot of things. Between notes that have alot of space though (depending on where I am on the neck) I sometimes get harmonics ringing right after I dampen with one of my right hand fingers. Of course lifting with my left hand solves it but I somtimes get that crappy buzz;-( Just wondering if you strictly use your right for damping or if you sometimes lift off with your left hand.

I'm sure I lift off with my left hand but I probably have instinctively learned to use it at the right time so there's no negative musical effect. You will sometimes get a harmonic after dampening with the right hand. Since we're talking a bout notes that have space after them, it means you have time to take care of it. If you dampen with the right hand and then lift up with the left hand, you shouldn't get any buzz. Another way to guarantee no harmonics is to dampen in 2 places (with 2 fingers) with the left hand. This especially necessary with open strings.