Ask Willis - May - 2000

Hey Willis,
After a long day of trying to record an inspired solo. (Like yours always sound). I bailed and decided to do some surfing. I ended up at your site and was immediately taken by your rotating "Willis Site" logo. I was mesmerized by it. Was there a message hidden in it, I thought ? I leaned in towards the monitor for a closer and BAM the banner hit me in the head. Is there like some new VR HTML standard? Talk about bleeding edge technology. 

Dear Mr. TVO,
Thanks for the kind words and for bringing this problem to my attention. Please accept my apologies. In my enthusiasm to try out a new Illustrator plug-in, I neglected to use the proper HTML 5.0a and Web Consortium 3.1 guidelines for implimentation of the new VRHTML 1.02 standard. The new graphic along with the viewing guidelines appears below.

Hey Willis,
I am starting to get to the level where i would like to try slap bass. I taught myself bass for the last 8 months and don't know how to slap bass. I was wondering if you could maybe simply explain it to me so that I can start teaching myself.
much thanks.

Hey Iain,
I think I've only recorded 3 tunes where I slapped in my whole life, so you're not dealing with an expert here, but I'll give it a try.
I used to thumb a lot a long time ago so I can tell you what I remember:
The main thing I learned is that the technique is very similar to the snare hand of a traditional-grip drummer. You play by rotating your wrist. The thumb needs to stay loose and you shouldn't try to move it at all.

Notice that the follow-through lands right next to the string and I'm not pulling the thumb back up in the air. That shows that the thumb is relaxed and I'm not using my thumb muscles to play. Instead, it starts from the wrist.
I actually practiced tapping rhythms on a 2x4, just to get control of my wrist.
Once you're comfortable with the wrist-action, then try some octaves and then start moving those around.
For any technique, staying relaxed is the key.

Hey Willis,
If I have an amp and a separate cabinet, right. And the amp is lets say 400 watts and the cabinet is let say 350 or less , it is going to overdrive my cabinet? Does it have to be even watts for amp and cabinet ?
Thanks Man...
Frank (Green Frets)

Hey Frank,
You don't have to have matched watt ratings for the amp and cabinet. Although, it's better to have a cabinet that's rated higher. I run 400 watts into the Eden 410XLT and it's rated at 750 watts. As long as a cabinet is getting "clean" power you can use an amp that's rated higher than the cabinet. A smaller amp that has to be turned way up to be loud enough is more likely to fry a cabinet than a more powerful amp operating at a normal volume setting.

What's your idea about the pickup position? I've browsed some old Q&A here, and found out that you've always said that how important the right pickup position is to the overall tone. Several my favorite fretless players like you, Alain Caron and Percy Jones seem to choose using only one pickup which sits near the bridge, but definitely not the same as other single-pickup basses, say Musicman's Stingray. What's the benefit of the choice? Better note definition or truer harmonics? Do you have any guideline/rule about the position?

Coil placement is one of the most critical parts of getting a great, clear sound. Bill Bartolini worked with me patiently (he had to, he's a rocket scientist, you know) for 18 months to get my pickup exactly right. For the B,E & A strings each coil (individual coils per string) is 150mm from the 24th fret. The coils for the D and G string are gradually further from the bridge with the G string coil at about 145mm.
I've found that a pickup with one "aperture" (it sees the string in only one place) gets a much clearer sound that a humbucking pickup or 2 separate pickups. There's some kind of cancellation that happens when you get the sound from 2 different places on a string. The coils on my pickup are wound and arranged to be humbucking (more rocket scientist stuff) but still have a single coil per string.

Hey Willis,
Question - how much rehearsal time do you book when you do one of your own recordings? I am just curious as to how long it takes to get tunes together such as Ancient Promise with Chambers because it seems the parts have a specific length and he hits the kicks with each chord.

We actually didn't rehearse that one. Dennis just played along with my sequence and by the 3rd take he had everything nailed. Since he doesn't read music (I barely do) he came incredibly prepared and knew the stuff before we started. For that CD we got in about 4 hrs. rehearsal before we started tracking and we were done after 2 and a half days. For Bent, there was no rehearsal since we were able to tour with 3 or 4 of the tunes. The rest we just played a few times and recorded.

Hey Willis,
With your 2408 MOTU - do you fly in tracks to a G3? Do you use SCSI drives or the regular ATA drives for this?

I've used the 2408 in all 3 input modes: ADAT-SPDIF and analog. I've just been using the internal 12gig ATA that came with my G3. I haven't had any performance problems at all but with a special PCI card and internal drive I can get better performance if it ever turns out to be necessary.

Hey Willis,
My problem concerns getting that clear, tight & punchy bass sound which doesn't 'boom', or appear indistinct at live gigs. Over the years I've tried several basses & amplification systems. Currently I'm using an Ibanez SR800 5-string bass and an Eden WT-400 amp driving a D-410XLT cab. The set-up sounds great at home and at gig venues during initial solo sound-check. However, when the rest of the band plays, my sound just dissipates into a muddy noise! I then spend the rest of the gig fiddling with every control available, going from the lowest to the highest frequencies, never achieving a solid sound. Also, when it sounds great near the cab, the sound is thin and lacks body 15-20ft away. If the sound is okay from a distance, it's either too boomy or muddy on stage. I'm hoping you can put me out of my misery. What should I aim for with my live sound? How do I tackle venues with bad acoustics? By the way, I don't have this problem with recording sessions and manage to get exactly the sound I want for recordings. Your advice will be greatly appreciated.

Sounds like you might need some floor monitors. The only thing I know of that'll sound decent 15-20 feet away is a PA rig, and that's questionable. I usually never wander more than 3 feet from my WT800-410XLT-210XLT rig. If I do, I know it's at my own risk. I always put my system up off the floor about a foot to reduce the boom effect (it gets boomy when the cabinet couples with the floor) If you have to stand that far away, then you need to put something nearby to monitor with. Eden makes a great little 210 wedge but from what you're saying, you might need 2 of them. The best thing do with rooms that are too bright or too boomy sounding is fill it up with people...good luck. About the only thing you can do in a room that's really too boomy is have the sound man roll off around 50hz and below out of the bass and bass drum. This is at the risk of the PA sounding "wimpy" so make sure the consequences are worth it.

Hey Willis,
Is there any difference between how you get your live sound and your sound in the studio? Do you have any secrets ?

For Live I use the Eden WT800, 410XLT and 210XLT. The D.I. goes to the PA and I've heard some great board tapes from using the built-in DI from the WT800. For the studio, I'll mostly use the Retrospec Juice Box. It just gives the signal enough gain to go directly to the tape EQ. It can be processed afterwards but I still avoid EQ. If I track with any effects, I'll still keep the original signal unaltered and record that to its own track and monitor the effects track as it's recorded.