Ask Willis - January - 2000

Hey Willis,
Now I have a question. It was easy to get the suggested relief in the neck, and the instrument plays fine, but I have noticed that with the proper neck relief (just about a credit card, like you said) , the strings are just about as high as I might like them with the with the bridge screws all the way down.

To lower the strings any more I'd have to take away relief from the neck and make it a little too flat. To get more height adjustment, I'm considering having a shop slightly route under the bridge and lower it, but I was hoping you might have another suggestion. I don't want the strings excessively low, but it would be nice to have some room to play with. How would a slight
adjustment of the neck tilt affect things?
Thanks a lot, I've enjoyed your CDs a lot.

This is actually a very common problem with a lot of basses. Instead of having a shop route the neck pocket, and easy fix is to put a "shim" (spacer) under the neck and create the tilt you mentioned. Actually, it's a fairly easy process. All you need is a screwdriver, scissors and a business card.
Start by loosening all the strings so that you can get them off the headstock (OK to leave the strings in the bridge)
Then remove the neck...Usually it's the 4 screws on the back of the bass.
Make sure to keep up with which screw went in each hole, some screws are shorter than others (you don't want a screw sticking
through the front of the neck;-)

Once the neck is off, check to see if there's not already a shim there.

It's OK to add to an existing shim. Fold a business card in half lengthwise and trim it to fit into the bottom of the neck pocket.
Use a piece of tape to hold it in place it you want.
Reattach the neck and string it back up.

Realize that with the tilt that the shim creates, you've effectively lowered the strings so you should have to raise the strings at the saddle to get the right height adjustment.

Hey Willis,
I just have a question about a statement on your web-site. Under The Bass, Headstock it says... "Longer string length puts more tension on B & E strings for less buzz," I've heard similar statements before but question how it could be true. If the tension is increased, wouldn't the pitch have to increase also? I understand that a longer string has to be under more tension to be at the same pitch as a shorter string, but the scale length of the string isn't changing here. I would expect that the tension between the bridge and the nut doesn't change at all, regardless of how far it is from bridge to tuner. Now I may be missing something here, but I can't for the life of me figure out what. Maybe you could enlighten me on this one?

I know it might not seem logical, but once I put spacers between the ends of my strings and the bridge, effectively adding about 3/8 an inch to the overall length of each string. The extra tension moved the neck ( a truss rod adjustment was necessary to straighten it back).
Here's one way to look at it:
Say you're playing a G at the12th fret on the G string.
If the string was only that long and not over twice as long like it normally is, it would require less overall tension to get it up to that pitch.The difference is that the tension is spread throughout the length of the whole string and not just isolated to the part that just vibrates. The unused portion of the string (between the note and the nut) doesn't just go limp when you fret a note. The tension remains whether you play a high note or a low note. hope that makes sense.

Hey Willis,
If I was trapped on a desert island and could only have tree questions answered, these would be them;
1-On "Party at Kinsey's" did Scott sample Miles or just mimic him really well?
2-This last album seems a lot more improved than the others... my imagination?
3-When you guys write, is it a joint venture, or does someone come into the studio with the basic structure etc...

If I was trapped on a desert island, my concerns would take on a decidedly different slant...
#1. Kinsey's uses the Yamaha VL technology, and a breath controller to get those wicked trumpet sounds
#2. Try completely improvised...we just went in and started discussion...after 2 and a half days we had the basics for the whole album done. We did go back and added what we thought was necessary but it was on a tune by tune basis. A lot of what you hear is from the original jams.
#3. On previous CDs (since there were no compositions on Thick) there's no collaboration. I write my tunes, Henderson his, Kinesy his. What we do as a band is arrange the material. Usually there's a couple of days of rehearsal before a tour where we get an arrangement happening and then we'll tweak it as necessary during the tour so that when it comes time to record, it's just like a gig.

Hey Willis,
Playing over a dominant7th-vamp, I use the following concepts: Dom.7, Minor7b5 on 3, Bebop Dom.,Pentatonics on 5 and 6,Lydian Dom. and, if its bluesy, Blues scale and Minor7b5 on 6.What are your favorites?How do you select the right concept on the spot? What about a listing of Willis' top ten records?(Especially the ones that influenced you as a composer)

My approach is pretty much opposite of having a list of concepts to choose from. I'm very anti-scale oriented. Some of the sounds and ideas that I use could probably fall under some of those categories but they're not what I start with to generate the ideas. I just try to get the ideas tolerate to each other so that it flows like a conversation. The concept that describes it depends what idea I'm trying to develop at that instant.
As far as top ten records, the truth is that I've been influenced by everything I've ever liked so any list
I try to put together would be way incomplete.

Hey Willis,
This thing about a light touch. I practice with such a touch but when I try to do this at a gig, I find that several things happen:firstly I am just not loud enough - do you really crank your amp up and if so, then how do you avoid distortion as there is quite a bit of middle in your tone? (correct?) Secondly, I notice that it sounds as if I am playing with a light touch i.e. the oomph just seems to disappear. Also,what about slapping when the volume level jumps naturally and all of a sudden you are blaring? I really like the idea of using a light touch as I suffer from playing too hard in order to combat loud drummer/crappy amp syndrome. I read about your physics lesson on the amount of energy needed to make a string sound and this intrigues me (the idea that a string will sound just as good even if it is plucked gently). Lastly, can I get your theory book in the UK?

I do really crank up my amp whenever I play or practice. Sometimes I let people play my bass at a clinic to demonstrate actually how loud it's turned up. It usually surprises a lot of people.
The only way to avoid any distortion is with headroom. If your amp is powerful enough, it won't distort. I have 400 watts per side @ 8 ohms with my Eden WT800.
It is possible (although rare) that you could be playing with too light a touch. I can't really tell you how hard or light that is unless could see you play.
Slapping does present some problems. A good solution is have a footswitchable compressor or limiter to kick in when you want to slap.
I don't have a "theory" book, but I guess you're talking about the Fingerboard Harmony book.
You can try Manson's guitar in Exeter. Ask for Adrian.
Of course. you could always buy it from me;-)