Ask Willis - March - 2001

Hey Willis
I want to tighten my truss rod, but I am afraid to break my neck. I have a 4-string Fender Precisionbass Jumbo. Is it possible to use the technique on every bass?

Not the jumbo! There were only three of those ever made (1971). Fender explicitly required that any truss rod adjustments be handled by Niagra's Clark Rigging and Rental. You shouldn't try any adjustments at all! Crane accidents result in many serious and fatal injuries each year. According to data kept by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) , crane accidents claim 50 lives in the United States each year. Approximately 500 construction workers died in crane accidents between 1984 and 1994, according to a study of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Here's exclusive footage of the only death that ever restulted from adjusting a truss rod. The unfortanate victim (Floyd Baxter, freelance roustabout) hadn't gone through Fender's Jumbo truss rod certification process and fell to his death.

If you don't own a Jumbo,then you should be fine, as long as you're careful to support the bass neck as mentioned in the setup manual and make small adjustments over time, your neck and your bass should be OK.

Hey Willis
I'm an OK guitarist and write some songs. Do you want to be in my band?
Simon from Perth, Oz

Simon!! Where have you been all my life? Please, if you can just wait...thanks to my frequent flyer miles, I've got a ticket and I've already applied for the dual-citizenship Visa. Do you have a place I can stay until we get some gigs? You don't know how long I've been waiting for a situation like's a dream come true....
Please be patient...I have to tell my family, but they'll understand. Opportunities like this only come around once in a lifetime....don't hire anyone before I get there!

Hey Willis
I think I've just about got a handle on the first right hand exercise from your lesson page. What should I do next?

"Note to self.....'update lessons page before responding to this question'...
Now, where was I. Oh yeah--move on to right hand exercie #2.

It's quite a bit more intricate but covers a big part of the basics you'll need in order to get more of this 3-finger thing under your belt.

Hey Willis,
I've got a skip in my chain I can't figure out (Shimano XT 21-speed ) . I'll be just riding along and without cranking down on it or anything and it'll just skip. I've tried fiddling with the derailleur adjustment but then the shifting just gets worse.

Your cassette must be at least a couple of years old since it's a 21 speed XT. Hopefully you've changed chains regularly. That'll keep your cassette from prematruely wearing out and causing skipping. But since it doesn't happen when you crank on it, it's more likely a bad link. Check and see the frequency of the skip. In the middle ring, it takes about 4 revolutions to rotate the whole chain over the chainring and through your transmission. If the skip happens about every 4th revolution, you've got a bad link in your chain. Go through and check the flexibilty of every link. You'll probably find one tight one that's tight and keeps the chain from flowing throught the cassette and pulleys easily. Usually some side to side tweaking (parallel to the chain) will loosen up the linkage in question. This usually shows up right after you install a new chain. The link that has the chain pin you use to assemble the chain is usually the culprit.

Hey Willis
My cappuccino isn't turning out as good as good as I think it should. I grind my beans to about the consistency of granulated sugar. I start with a double shot of espresso (two tablespoons of grounds well tamped) and add an equal amount of steamed milk (180 F). Any suggestion? My foam is also almost non-existant but I think that is because I'm using whole milk.

'Sounds like your grind isn't fine enough. It's hard to describe but when you tamp it down, the surface should look smooth. Also, It should take a good 15-25 seconds to come out. Any faster and it won't be as good. Too slow and your machine will explode;-)
There's a definite technique for steaming milk. 2% is easier to foam than whole milk. I haven't tried whole milk but it should work almost as good. For the best results, make sure the milk is plenty cold. The sequence is to create the foam first then heat up the milk. Barely dip the edge of the wand into the milk to start. If you have a foaming attachment, get rid of it. It prevents the 2 step process. As the foam rises, adjust the depth of the wand. At this point you're listening for that "universal foaming sound". Keeping it at the right depth creates smaller bubbles and thick foam. Once you've created close to as much foam as the milk you started with, then lower the wand and heat up the rest of the milk. I don't use a temperature guage but mainly you don't want to boil the'll end up with big bubbles that disappear quickly and you're left with no foam. Also, the heat of the milk is more responsible for the overall temperature of the capuccino than the espresso. That's why I foam the milk second.

BTW, my personal fave is Caffe D'Arte get their "Toarmina" espresso roast.

Hey Willis,
I am trying to learn to translate a melody I hear in my head to my fingerboard. Should I be trying to hear each note relative to the tonic, relative to the root of the applicable chord, or should I be trying to hear each note as an interval relative to the preceeding note? Or is the idea something else all together?

Good question.
No, you shouldn't be trying to hear individual notes relative to the tonic. You should hear the notes as they relate to each other. The more you do that, the more the notes will start to create a shape that you can visualize on the fingerboard. As you learn to do it, a secondary thing that will happen is that you will start to see and hear your ideas relative to the key. But the first priority is the notes to each other.

Hey Willis
I love your ear training book. Ot has helped to play what I want on the bass without having to hunt and peck to find the note I want.  I was looking for a good intermediate bass book. Something that goes beyond the showing you the notes on the major and minor scale but doesnt take a music Phd. to figure out. I was hoping to find something in tab that teaches theory and explains how it relates to the bass and how to use the theory in playing situations. I saw your book, "FINGERBOARD HARMONY FOR BASS: A LINEAR APPROACH FOR 4-, 5-, AND 6-STRING BASS" and thought this looked promising but I heard it's only in notation. So my questions are, it avaialble in Tab?
2. Is the book close to what I described I'm looking for?
3. If the answers to either of the above are no can you help me with some
suggestions on instructional material?

Thanks for the E, glad to hear the ET books has worked out for ya. I'm pretty sure the Fingerboard Harmony book will give you what you're looking for. It isn't in Tab but I tried to keep the notes on the staff to a minimum. And there's recorded examples of everything that's written so you're never dependent on just reading the notes. The main focus (like the ET book) is on what the fingerboard looks like. So, when you're going over the exercises, there's fingerboard diagrams for everything....not exactly tab but it works.