Ask Willis - October - 2001

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
- Martin Luther King Jr.

In light of recent world events, the subject matter treated on these pages is indeed trivial but we can't let our desire to learn and communicate be hampered by the hate in the world. One way to overcome is to get on with our lives, albeit more compassionately.

Hey Willis,
Thanks again for the advice you gave me ten months ago on sanding the fretboard to erase buzzing from fretmarks. It worked out very well, and it was really easy. By the way, would you reccomend to oil the fretboard after polishing with steel wool?
I had, however, buzzing noises after changing strings. Polishing didn't help. A guitar maker told me it's due to badly produced strings. I changed strings and the buzzing was reduced to a minimum. Do you have any experience with this problem? Can you say if there are makers whose strings are wound better than those of others? I didn't have any string problems with fretted bass so far, but with fretless, it seems to matter quite a bit.

A light oiling of the fingerboard every once and a while is a good idea. Just keep an eye on it so it doesn't dry out too much.
As far as changing strings and manufacturers. Actually, the buzzing would have more to do with the tension on the strings. Even if different string brands are the same gauge, the combination of the core and the wrap might produce a "looser" string that could be more likely to buzz..

Hey Willis,
I am having trouble when I have to play 4 consecutive ascending notes on 4 consecutive strings, e.g. the bass line for "Footprints", or a C triad arpeggio starting with the LH 4th finger on the E string going up C, E, G, C (on the G string). What would be the RH fingering for this? I always seem to play the top note with my middle finger.

That's seems to be it - 1 2 3 2 is how my right hand does 4 consecutive notes.

Hey Willis,
I read your Set up instruction Manual, and, well, i don´t have a Gary willis series bass, (i have a yamaha rbx (fretted)), but i just want to know something. In general, when yo set up a new game of strings, what is first! I mean, do you have to set the truss rod first,or the strings height, or adjust the intonation? When, or after which step of the truss rod and strings height set ups, do i have to check the intonation of the strings?

For the setup - the strings are always first. Then the truss rod and string height work together. Like the manual says - lowering the strings will tell you what adjustment might need to be made for the truss rod. After those three are set, then you can do the intonation..

Hey Willis,
My question regards your right hand 'touch', and what advantages using a light touch offers. The reason I ask this, silly as it may seem, is that although I have tried playing with low-action/light touch and higher action/digging in, I can see the advantages of both styles but can't seem to make up my mind, and it feels silly! sometimes I can almost drive myself insane figuring it all out!

Glad you're at least giving it a shot. The most obvious benefit to me is dynamics. Great music and feel is all about dynamics - especially within lines - from note to note.
Higher action and digging puts a limit on the dynamics you can create.
Some people have the misconception that a light touch doesn't sound as aggressive. This might be true when you first try it out, just remember that as the technique develops, it can sound as much or more aggressive than digging in.

Hey Willis,
After a hell of a search, an endless row of e-mails and phonecalls, I've FINALLY got it - an Ibanez GWB1 NTF. Thank you for designing a 5-string, where the B-string doesn't sound like it was made of rubber....
My question is: What is the distance between the pickup and the strings on your bass? My reason for asking: on my old Fender the pickups are quite close to the strings. The problem is: since they are active (EMG's with built-in preamps), the treble area sound a bit distorted - especially when slapping the strings (the "picks" sound rather harsh - also when I play it "normal by maximum hit of the fingers"). What I go for is a "clean and warm" sound from the bass itself - the eventual distortion should occur from a good quality tube preamp or something like it.

The distance between the pickups and strings on my bassaverages somewhere around 2mm or less. As far as the problem with the EMG's, I really don't know what to tell you is going on. With the Bartolini on the Willis bass I don't think you'll have a problem with the pickup distorting when the strings are close. I try to get the strings as close as possible but just far enough so they don't actually contact the pickup when I play hard. (Hard is relative since I play with a lighter touch than most people.)

Hey Willis,
I'm 23 years old and I've played electric bass since i'm 14. i want to learn toplay jazz with a e-bass. How can i learn to swing, what should i practice and how can i improve my left and right hand to be a good jazzplayer?

The main way that I've learned to make things swing has to do with dynamics.
Try playing a c major scale from C up to the 9th and back down again. That'll make it in 4/4 (1/8th notes). Play the downbeats very soft and long and play the 'ands' short and louder. Make sure the notes are legato (no gaps in between). I've found that the difference in dynamics accounts for more "feel" than just the exact placement of the "swung" eight notes. That could be a good start. The left hand/right hand thing will work itself out over time just fine as long as you're aware of it.