Ask Willis - December - 2007

Hey Willis,
Over the years that you've traveled and gigged, how often did you find yourself at the venue making little tweeks to your relief, considering that the temp and humidity effects the neck.  I'm guessing every now and then you'd have to get out your wrench and make slight adjustments depending on room conditions??? With your action so low I naturally assumed that small subtle changes in room conditions make a bigger impact on your action etc since there isnit much room for forgiveness on a bass like yours with how low you set it up

My truss rod does need a little tweak from time to time - sometimes I'll go transatlantic and it won't need any adjustment but other times from one week to the next I might notice a little change. It's not always predictable but it's not a big deal to me to fine tune it every once in a while and it's something every player should keep an eye on.

Hey Willis.
I got this E-mail adress from a close friend colleague of mine you worked with (Nigel Hitchcock/alto saxophonist). We are working on a big musical project related to global warming and would like to get in touch with Polly Samson (David gilmour's wife) for submitting her song she'd write lyrics on. As you worked with David by Pink Floyd, I'd like to ask you to help me getting in touch with her. Could you give me her E-mail adress ? In advance, thanks a lot for your help.
Looking forward to meet you!

Uhhh . . . Ivan,
There's a very slim outside chance that I might have met Nigel Hitchcock but I'm sure I've never played with him. Hmmm. . . Also, I'm sure I've never met David Gilmour
so I'm definitely at a loss with the whole Polly Samson thing. I do remember listening to Pink Floyd in art class in high school. Wait a sec . . . . . . . Nigel Hitchcock's website turns up a live date listing from 2004 with Laurence Cottle on bass. That's got me thinking . . . . hold on . . . . if you Google Laurence Cottle and David Gilmour together there are numerous hits with them both listed. So there you have it, the power of Google. While I'm at it, here's the contact page for Laurence Cottle.
He's a nice chap and I'm sure he'll cooperate with the contact you're looking for.

Hey Willis,
Are you going to be here?
thanks DG.

Hey DG,
The European Bass Day guys have been kind enough to invite me before but it hasn't worked out to make it there, yet. Anyway, man, when I first saw the announcement for World Championship Air Bass I think threw up in my mouth a little. I mean, whatever happened to the dignity that is normally associated with us bassists? I thought we were above all that attention-seeking-look-at-what-I'm-doing-now-and-now-and-how-about-now? Ok-then-what-about-this-next-lick? Or-how-about-this-really-cool-one? And-then-when-I-play-this-I-close-my-eyes-and. . . . . . . . sorry. Anyway, after I had time to wash my mouth out and think about it, it started to generate a little curiosity. The contest rules suggest posting a YouTube video as part of the entrance procedure. So it turns out that YouTube doesn't really have much to offer, just some British actor and a few more unwitting victims being taped. But later on down the page is this crowning cinematic achievement:


This, my friends, is why the internet exists. Eight plus minutes of a guy hooking up subwoofers and driving them at super low frequencies. The drama - waiting for the speaker to move - it's breathtaking. Oh, and that Air Bass thing - who cares? Gimme more subwoofer solos!

Hey Willis,
I was following the right hand exercises in your video, and I seemed to notice something. If we define the basic position as being that of each finger on a consecutive string - this is the position after a 'reset', then when you perform the exercises slowly all your resets go back to the basic position. However, as you speed up the second finger doesn't always seem to go back to rest on an intermediate string before going up or down to damp a note. Unfortunately the video itself doesn't always have closeups of your right hand when you do this - so I wondered if you could comment on this?
Is there any chance that the video will be re-released on DVD ? And any plans to do more DVDs/Videos?


Hey Cris,
Good point. The open-string exercise, and others that include left hand notes do exactly what you mention. At a slower tempo they work to get your fingers comfortable with always being in contact with strings instead of up in the air and also it helps to eliminate whatever involuntary motion that you might have developed before. Once things speed up, like you mention, it's impossible to reset before moving on. A slow tempo is mandatory to start and works to break habits that might interfere with getting started with the 3-finger technique and aslo helps create new habits that'll help later on.
As for the Video/DVD, please feel free to pirate it wherever you can find it. I've never seen a penny of royalties and it's been well documented my issues with how it was put together. So I guess that means I won't be involved in the DVD commentary track?

Hey Willis,
So I know all my modes and I'm learning my notation better. Everything is undertood by shapes for me. Right now I'm digging into the circles of 5ths, then i will move to the 4ths. My question is how do I end up using this knowledge when it comes to writing and playing smooth catchy bass line's? Although I'm learning it, I'm having a hard time seeing how it all comes together. Any advice would be welcome.
thanks, Brian.

Hey Brian,
Sorry, but the short answer is that increasing your knowledge does very little to help you put it all together. Now for the long answer: More knowledge just results in a bigger dictionary you carry around to check with when you want to play something, or worse - categorize it. Knowlege tends to weigh down the process. Of the things that you mentioned - modes, notation, shapes, circle of 5ths, circle of 4ths - the only thing that to me really directly helps is shapes. Shapes have a direct relationship to the fingerboard. The rest of the elements you're studying or have studied are fairly non-intuitive and introduce a non-musical languange (English or some other spoken language) that stands between you and your intuitive musical language. Developing the ability to write and play smooth catchy bass lines has to be intuitive. Intuition is subconscious. Sure, people say that knowlege eventually will have an affect on your subconscious but the comparison I always fall back on is this: In any conversation (anytime in your whole life) did you find yourself mentally thinking, "OK, now I'm going to use a really clever adverb after this participle clause"? Of course not - so how do you really learn to speak? By listening and associating sounds with ideas. The musical analogy is to listen to catchy bass lines, associate those lines and fragments of lines with their fingerboard shapes and you will have reinforced a direct link from what something sounds like to what it looks like to play it and subsequently create it. No spoken language reference has to be involved. Eventually this will happen when you imagine a bass line - you'll hear (or imagine) the line and see the shapes involved in creating it - usually as you're creating. A musical result won't come from thinking of a mode, or imagining notation or referencing your knowledge of the circle of 15ths. . .or whatever. Start dedicating a bigger part of your practice time to intuitive playing, something that requires your imagination, something where you can experiment and make mistakes. This should go a long way towards putting it all together much faster.

Hey Willis,
I now have the oportunity to make my own custom bass .. and I never believed that it will be hard, but it is :-)). What you could suggest me to choose for a fretless bass? I have a dilema, I always used humbuckers, now everybody is pushing me to put on the fretless single coils .. why? And another thing, the body wood .. i allways used swamp ash .. now everybody is pushing me to put harder woods on the fretless because "it will be boomy" .. why? I don't have experience with fretless basses, especially with building them :-)), and the only opinion i trust is yours.

Ahh, this one's easy:
At the risk of giving the appearance of shameless self-promotion, I have to answer honestly and tell you that every element that you could ask me about the construction of a fretless is included in my Ibanez signature model. For the specifics you mentioned, body and pickup, I use swamp ash and a custom designed hum-cancelling (not humbucking) Bartolini pickup. The hum-cancelling is quiet like a humbucker but has the single aperture sound of single coil pickups. FYI, I've never know swamp ash to be "boomy". In fact, I choose a light peice of swamp ash because it has a better ability to resonate low frequencies than hardwoods. The problem if you're not sure about design elements is that you are curently dependent on "everybody's" opinion. It's quite possible that you'll have to make some mistakes before you find out exactly what will fit your playing style. Early on, since I couldn't afford to experiment with buying different basses, I was building and assembling almost everything myself, including winding pickups by hand and carving bodies from blanks. You're heading in the right direction, asking as many people as possible, but don't be in a hurry to get a bass done. You're aware now that there are a LOT of decisions involved: fingerboard material, fingerboard thickness, fingerboard finish, neck construction (1,2 3, or more pieces), neck thickness, lines - no lines, tuners, tuner placement, nut material, fingerboard radius, headstock shape, headstock angle, body shape, body material, bolt-on, neck -thru, bridge material, string spacing at the bridge, string spacing at the nut, neck attachment (4 screws, 5 or I've seen 6), pickup(s), pickup configuration, pickup placement, strap pin placement, color, finish and more.
Relax, I've made all these decisions for you. It's an Ibanez GWB1005 in case your forgot ;-) Anyway, if you find people pushing you, push back and see if you can wait until you're more sure what you want to do.

Hey Willis,
A strategy i have implemented for quite some time (and to the joy of my students, have left out of my lesson content), is a "musical device" I have lazily titled, RH subdivision. The brass tax of it is considering the subdivision of the beat when deciding which RH finger to use. A basic 16th note subdivision has 4 notes per beat. 1 e + a 2 e + a, yaddy + a.....By "assigning" my index to "1" and "+", the middle finger to "e" and "a", the "feel" of the music is brought out. Now in triple meter, or duple meter with triplets, the same thing applies, but with every beat, the fingering switches. Roadhouse Blues by the Doors was the song that started this. It is in triple meter (12/8 probably), with an odd number of notes per phrase. This results in a reversal of the RH fingering for each phrase, changing the "feel" from phrase to phrase. The fingering result when considering the subdivision is: i im mi imim. Doesnt seem like very economical fingering, but if you fill in the rests with the finger that "could" be there, it is very strict alternate picking. The second phrase would have the same fingering. This "musical device" creates continuity in the feel by creating consistent RH fingering. I too often ran into songs with repeated odd not phrases, where i felt the phrase was destroyed by a fingering reversal. This method, I believe, is a "musical" improvement, with the "technical" improvement being a byproduct, not the intention. Now to the sticky part..... Your RH fingering system, does not account for phrasing. Or does it?

Hey Adam,
I'm sure the threat of implementing this method definitely keeps your students in line. In fact, thanks to Alberto Gonzalez and some last minute rewriting of the U.S. criminal code before he quit, you're lucky that this strategy is even legal. Did the Doors even have a bass player? My right hand system was legal before Gonzo and I don't torture my students. Of course, if I did, you'd never know because, well . . . Anyway, my RH system is fully accountable for phrasing and it never has been gay.