Ask Willis - July - 2000

Sorry folks, thanks to some deviated septum/sinus surgery and a nice allergic
eaction to codeine, I'm a good 2 weeks goes.

Hey Willis, I'm thinking about getting into Mountain Biking this summer. What MTB under $1000 would you recommend for a 6', 230lb rider. what frame size, suspension (if any), brakes, shifting system, etc do you think would be best for the money. BTW, I am a bass player (first) and a guitar player, never could choose - your work has inspired me to take my bass playing to a whole new level (and scott henderson's playing has inspired me to use a lot of double-stop sixths!).
Thanks a million, Sam  

Hey Sam,
There are a lot of great bikes out there for under a grand. I'm right at 6' and 190lbs....(was planning to put a dent into that figure this summer) The first mistake I ever made was letting a store sell me a bike that was too small. A big technical aspect of riding, shifting your weight forwards and back to tackle different kinds of terrain are completely lost when you're on a too small bike.
I've become a big fan of full suspension and lots of it.
The one with the most travel up front at that price point is the Giant Warp DS1 $850 4.5" travel in rear , 4" up front with the Judy XC fork and Shimano Deore drivetrain.
The Norco XCS-2 looks like a great combination of parts and features $1099: 4" of rear travel. A Marzocchi Z-5 3.5" travel fork, mechanical front disc brake, Shimano XT rear derailleur. Norco makes tough stuff.
The rest of these have less travel up front but are all still great
entry-level full suspension bikes.
Gary Fisher Joshua F4 $879
Specialized Rockhopper A1 FSR $889
GT XCR-4000 $1087 4.6" in rear, regular Judy XC up front
K2 EVO 2 $999
Most of these come with Shimano Deore or a Deore/Alivio mix
Get your hands on as many bike mags as you can and you'll be halfway there.
Another great resource is
PS, check out my new ride.

Hey Willis,
Hey Willis, I've never understood well the "outsides" I can use on a II-V-I progression.
PLEASE, could you explain it?

You know, I never understood the "outside" thing that well either.
Of course it's possible to play wrong notes, even many wrong notes...(outside) and I do this all the time.. but it has to be in the context of a strong, convincing, authoritative IDEA. Ideas are the most important thing to me. So, if you approach playing with IDEAs being most the most important thing, then as your ear matures you can expand your ideas to include notes that are not just part of the key or scale.

Hey Willis,
I've got a question at hand about 5-string vs. 6-string basses. - Obviously, you put all your energy into the 5-string, but why is that? I mean, do you find it unnecessary with the extra c-string or does it require an completely different technique. I'm asking because I am considering to switch to a 6-string - hoping to improve my ability to "fill the gaps" in a fusion trio. I hope you could give me some clues as to if the extra string will demand a radically different technique? Please share your wisdom, oh mighty one!

Since I'm pretty much strictly a fretless player, I've found that the thin C string on a fretless 6 just whines like a sick cat. It technically only adds 5 half-steps so every other note except those 5 sound better if they're played on the G string. Plus I've developed a false harmonic technique that gives me access to notes above the 24th fret whenever I need them. A 6-string fretted, on the other hand, could be a good choice if you're playing in a trio and can create the music to exploit the extra chords and function you can get with a 6. With a 5, and especially with a 6, you have to develop a good way to dampen the B, E & A
string when you're playing on the G and C strings. Here's a picture of how I take care of that:

Hey Willis,
I'm a 40 plus, mountain biking, fingerstyle player with some tendonitis in my right thumb. It seems to get aggrivated by long climbs. Do you use bar ends? Any other tips to keep my biking from interfering with my playing, short of "Don't break your arm"??

I definitely use bar ends, even on my riser bar. It may not look as cool but I have to move my hands around to different positions just for comfort. Also, without bar ends I have this fear in the back of my mind that my hands will slip off the end of the bar. Anyway, seems like you'd be more likely to get pressure on your hands and wrists if you were riding downhill or at least level. If it comes only on long climbs, it's hard to say. A riser bar will give you a more upright body position will take some weight off your hands and also has more of a sweep which could help, but climbing necessitates moving your weight forward. The other things that really affect hands for me are the front suspension and brakes. The better suspension you have up front, the less the front end is bouncing around and the less your hands have to use a death-grip to keep in control. The same with the brakes. V-brakes are great and I had them on my GT but now I've got disc brakes front and rear. The less squeezing you have to do to brake or keep in control the more relaxed your hands can be The extra gripping strength that comes from squeezing the heck
out of brakes and handlebars too much is counter-productive for bassists and guitarists. In addition to a riser bar, a shorter stem will allow you to shift some weight off your hands.

Hey Willis,
Have you ever done anything specific to work on your time and feel?

2 things....dynamics and metronome/drum machine use
The differences in volume between notes (dynamics) is critical for a great "feel".
Practice playing a scale and add the 9th to it so it's 8 notes up and down. Alternate every note soft and loud but make them connected. (The C,E,G,B & D are soft and the D,F,A & C are loud) The sense of control you can get with individual note volumes goes a long way to creating a great "feel".
How you use the metronome is very important. If you can get a drum machine and use the closed hi-hat sound as a metronome, that's best. The only reliable portion of a drummer's kit is the hi-hat. Snares, kicks, cymbals, toms---good drummers move those around all over the place to make things interesting. The only thing that you can always count on is the hi-hat. Put the hi-hat only on 2 & 4 or on the 'ands' of a groove and get used to hearing it in between the stuff you play. That way, you learn to supply the downbeats and can develop your own sense of time that a band can rely on.

Hey Willis,
How come people play instruments with unlined necks in jazz and classical music and you don't think it's the right way ?

I don't necessarily think it's the wrong way. It just takes a LOT longer to learn that way. Like you've probably heard me say. I think it's hand-eye coordination and that eventually becomes muscle memory. The lines just speed up the process.

Hey Willis
Two for the price of one: Who plays the melody on "Ancient promise" from your first solo release? It sounds a lot like a six string fretted bass (or a five with a C or a tenor bass), but I rarely heard you playing a fretted bass. Plus you had Steve Tavaglione playing EWI and Scott Kinsey on keys that could get that sound. Second one: how's the new TT album doing? Can you tell me something about the sounds, the approach to the recording and so on?

I'm playing the 'Bass Lite' for that one. It's 4 tracks of that bass harmonizing the melody. It's an Ibanez ATK with really small strings 25, 30, 35, 45 ,65 and it was tuned to a hi C. We just finished the new TT (part of why I'm so behind this month). It should be out this fall. We took the same approach on this one. Jamming in the studio and producing at home. I think there's some really cool stuff on it. I could go on, but it would sound like I'm trying to sell you the CD, that's for later......

Hey Willis,
I've been playing since the early 70's and cut my teeth in progressive rock. Chris Squire was a major influence so I began playing with a pick. I loved the percussive sound he achieved with the Rick bass. As time went on, the slappers took over and seemingly left me behind. I wanted to learn this style but I found out that a thumb operation early in childhood left me incapable of executing this technique. Wanting to get away from the pick, I started using finger style in the late 80's. I stumbled onto Tribal Tech a few years ago and loved the percussive sounds you get, even with your fingers. I quickly latched on thinking this is how I can compensate for the thumb. What simple advice would you give me to add the third finger so that I can play faster. If it's simply more practice, that'll do. I'll have to burn the candle at both ends. By the way, I have your video. Great page!

'Glad you're getting by without the "slap syndrome";-)
I spent a lot of time playing the simple normal things with 2 & 3 that I normally played with 1 & 2. Since you've got the video (which I hate and apologize for) you know that it's not about developing strength in #3 but just getting your fingers to relax and to get some independence. Be careful, when you isolate 2 & 3, make sure that your first finger isn't up in the air but in contact with something, preferably your thumb or a string. You always want to have your first finger prepared and ready to play when
2 & 3 are busy. Getting faster just means really learning to relax. That means trimming away all the extra, involuntary motion that can bog down your tendons and slow you down.

Hey Willis,
What sort of preamp would ya recommend for recording direct through the board?
Also, what settings would ya suggest?

I use the Retrospec "Juice Box". It's an all tube kind of mic-pre that just gives me clean gain, no eq or anything else. Also, I skip the board and go straight to the tape machine. It's ok to monitor back through the board but I avoid any board (since it's another preamp) between me and the tape machine. My settings are zero-flat....I get the best results with no EQ anywhere in the signal path. Also, I avoid compression and limiting at all costs. Of course, having a Willis Signature bass helps....;-)

Hey Willis,
For a couple of months I'm practicing with your right hand technique.At home and during reheasal it works out fine. But old habits die hard. Often, during a gig my old two-finger technique pops up, ... maybe it's that I'm not relaxed enough. I have to say your technique changed my playing considerably. My rhythms are much more articulated, and it seems that rhythms which I couldn't get 'the catch' suddenly were easier than I expected.I . I've a lot more possiblities in my right hand now. Minor detail: I lost speed.When I play scale-exercises, no problem, but with fast licks etc.. the engine stops. It'll gradually return I guess. But I've problems with my little pinky.... When Im playing for instance an song like River People 'Jaco P.', my little finger start to get a 'cramp' (I hope it's correct English). I'm thinking it's that I'm not holding my right hand correctly. Another thing is from now on I play mostly very close at the bridge where the string tension is max. I don't want to use light gauge strings.

Sounds like the things that are happening are exactly what you should be experiencing. It's good that you're mostly doing the 3 finger thing. Sure the 2 finger technique will want to creep back in, but eventually with some relaxation and determination the 3 fingers will win. When you're in the midst of the transition you will experience a slow down but eventually that'll go away and you'll find yourself faster than you were. It is a big problem that you play near the bridge where the tension is. If you continue to play there, it won't matter what hand position you use, you will continue to have problems and cramps. Try to keep your 3rd finger about 7cm from the saddles. Any closer and you could be asking for trouble.