Ask Willis - November - 2001

Hey Willis,
I have 4 years worth of college theory/aural skills training. Nevertheless, I have a tin ear, lose track of the changes( in my head and on the fingerboard!!!) I hear bits and pieces of what to play, combined with bits and pieces of "fretboard geometery" while trying to remember changes and concepts/approaches to the music!! AAAAAAAGGGHH!!!!! Can you sense my frustration??? Honestly, I am considering going back to school for Graphic/Digital Design and using my Stingray and my fretless for firewood!( I might pawn the amp:) Any helpful advice on how to properly ignite you most cherished possessions without breaking a city oridnance?

A tin ear might take longer to develop but 4 years of music at a college doesn't mean that you've been exposed to the right way to learn for you. I can usually sus out the proper direction for someone on a one-on-one basis but it's really hard to tell via email. I've had people come and study with me personally but that may not be an option for you. Otherwise, I've ofter wondered how a Stingray would behave if dropped from a 10 story building - get out the video cam! good luck either way,

Hey Willis,
When I "step up to the plate" to take a solo, I like a slight volume boost. Simply digging in harder doesn't allow me the dynamic range I like for a solo; playing with my volume pedal at 95% so that I have 5% left for solos seems to thin out the tone as well as kill some highs; I've tried both a Boss EQ pedal set flat and an MXR microamp pedal to boost gain for solos, but these pedals are either not truly flat or boosting gain at the front end of the amp alters the tone too greatly. I'm just after my regular sound but louder, as if I was turning up the power amp. How are you dealing with this live? Also, you've commented that the Visual volume pedal provides higher fidelity than others. Considering that it is no longer available, what would be your second choice (I currently use the Ernie Ball)?

Good question. I actually don't approach it that way. I pretty much leave my volume up all the time and only use it when the band gets really soft. Volume pedals can introduce some tone changes when they're used. I've heard of using capacitors to allow some higher frequencies to "bleed" into the signal so that when you turn down it doesn't lose so much tone but I haven't done this myself. That is one thing you can try with the Ernie Ball, but I'm not exactly sure of the capacitor values or the wiring.

Hey Willis,
When playing standards by the book, doesn't the bass typically play a two feel over the head and switch to 4 quarters during bridges and solos? Also, would you recommend programs like Band in a Box for working on standards? I really should create my own I guess, but I usually end up spending more time on that than playing bass and then lose momentum.

What you're talking about is definitely an old "formula" for playing standards. Eventually you should look at standards as a more creative process and not so much a prescribed way to function. Definitely play-along software or sequences are a great way to practice. Eventually you'll get past the learning curve on the sequence stuff, plus you'll be learning skills that could help you in writing as well.

Hey Willis,
I was reccomended your fingerboard harmony book from a teacher of mine who admired your playing quite a bit ( with good reason, I've since found out) and it, in conjunction with your ear training tome, has worked miracles with my playing and conceptualization of music. You are the mac-daddy of bass pedigogy in my humble opinion, and beyond that one of the final keepers of the non-poser fusion flame that so desperately needs tending. For this I say muchas gracias. My questions are thus: When one sees a plain "C" or "Gm" in a chord chart would one be expected to play the basic triad without the 7th, or is the 7th implied in every major or minor chord whether written or not. Secondly when dealing with a Gm13 or Gm6 do you go with the minor 6th or 13th or the major one. Lastly, why, when I visit your site, do I get the intense urge to buy stuff?

Thanks for the E and the kind words, glad the stuff is working for ya.
As far as the plain chord symbols, you kind of have to judge where the chart's coming from and you have to see if those chord tones jive with the melody. If it's an old published lead sheet, you can probably add the 7ths to hip it up a little. If the melody conflicts with the 7ths then they were omitted for a reason. If you're improvising, same thing, depending on how it should sound, you can add those tones if you think they'll fit. The 13th or 6th on minor depends on where the chord is in the harmony. Since your probably talking improvising, again, it's your choice. The major 13 is more common as a color tone but it's still a case-by-case choice. The "urge to buy" is accomplished with very advanced DHTML, XML, JavaScript and SGM (subliminal graphics manipulation).

Hey Willis,
Why do you play a lined fretless, surley a master such as yourself doesn't need lines anymore and also did your original silver ibanez not have lines?

Although I'm able to sometimes play with my eyes closed I still need the lines. Check out the google search for "fret lines" on the ask willis page. It gave 10 different pages of results. The old silver indeed had lines.

Hey Willis,
I honestly haven't been a Tribal Tech fan for too long, I got into you guys because of Henderson's Tech Tones project, but after I heard Tribal, it was pretty difficult going back. Specifically, I just wanted to say that despite all of the mp3 business and whatnot, I've been listening to No Sweat non-stop for a few days now, it's the grooviest thing I've ever heard. I'm definitely getting Bent soon (double meaning?). Awesome playing, I love that 6/8 feel you've mastered so well. What bass are you playing on the 8 bar intro/outro solos of No Sweat? It sounds fretted, just curious.

Thanks so much for the e and the kind words.
That's the infamous "Bass Lite" on a few tunes on No Sweat. Check for it with the Google search on my ask willis page or go here:

Hey Willis,
I have a Pedulla MVP 4 string fretted. I have played the same instrument fretless which as you may know is called the Pedulla "buzz" bass. For those who don't know, the buzz bass has a hard acrylic finish on the fretboard. This acrylic finish is said to improve the life of the fingerboard and give the string tone a "livelier" effect. Have you played a buzz bass and what is your opinion of the coated fingerboard as opposed to the bare wood or non-coated fingerboard?

I used to play a epoxy coated rosewood neck. I've played the buzz but so many elements of the construction of those basses is so markedly different than mine that there's no way to A/B and not hear differences introduced by the design. My signature bass currently has a bare ebony board which is darker in sound (also more "woody) than a finished board. We were able to compensate for the loss of some brightness in the design of the pickup.