Ask Willis - August - 2009


Hey Willis,
I am very impressed by the sound of your bass on all of your recordings (I am, also, very impressed by your playing and musical ideas). Although I am usually turned away by effected and processed sound, you seem to have perfected it in company of your playing, appearing less processed than the keys or guitars and cutting through the mix as a solid, almost analog sound. The sound is less raw, but the playing isn't. Even with Lale on the Timeline release, you allow certain rawness in for specific and intentional sounds, while otherwise excluding it to highlight your ideas. I want to know how you get your sound so clean, rounded and isolated. Your playing style is light, but rarely can I hear your hand movements along the strings and neck, unless it is intentionally included and appears focused into the mix. How do you manage this with the volume up, and especially with bright, new-string bite? I continually battle against the sound of the string hitting the fretboard & the sound of my hand dragging along the strings. When recording, I usually mic my bass amp and use a direct signal from the amp or go direct from my bass, but I still have trouble removing the fret, fretboard and string surface sounds. My sound ends up very edgy and raw but detracts from my ideas and can blur rhythmic phrasings and note definition. I have, also, read about your use of the Roland V-Bass, and have been impressed by its versatility.Would you please advise me of your setup, from bass to cabinets to mixdown (as appropriate), including whatever accessory technology you employ and how & why you use it in conjunction with your playing style and desired sound...? Also, Is the elimination of hand sounds from the mix primarily from your playing style or from manipulation of the signal? Please advise me as to how this is achieved.
Thanks Willis, your time and contribution to bass are much appreciated
Matt


Hey Matt,
Thanks for the kind words and observations.
It's true that I turn up and play very light. Most
people that pick up my bass when it's plugged in are surprised at how loud the volume is.
The first thing I'd recommend is that if your strings are hitting the fingerboard, you're still playing too hard.
A couple of things are at work here. One is that because you play too hard, you have to keep the action of the bass higher. When the strings are higher, they require more left hand pressure. This left hand pressure becomes apparent when shifting - as well as cutting down on mobility.
Another thing I've discovered an almost direct relationship between playing hard with the right hand and squeezing hard with the left. If you squeeze hard with the left, then you're pretty much guaranteed to make more sound when you move your hand around.
Another element at work is my right hand 3-finger technique. I keep my thumb and 3rd finger on the strings at all times. This give me an "anchor" (although that's a bad word choice since it implies pressure) for feeling my way around the right hand duties. Since I try to keep fingers on strings at all times, it's much easier for me to keep strings and noises quiet.
Finally, the ramp on my basses (that I'm starting to see a lot of other players use) also serves to keep your fingers ready to play with exactly the amount of finger necessary to get the sound you want, but prevents playing to hard.

For recording, I never use a microphone. I always record direct to the converter. For Slaughterhouse 3 is was Apogee's Mini-Me. For Actual Fiction is was the Apogee Ensemble and I used TC Electronic's Studio Konnekt 48 for Triphasic's Shaman. Always having the direct sound recorded as well as a separate track for effects gives you the option to go back and make changes - either in what I played or the sound of the effect. I'll listen to the effects to monitor when I'm tracking but I'm not stuck with a particular effect mix since the dry track is still available. I've used a really wide range of effects for recording, starting with Roland's V-Bass, all the processing available in Logic Studio, as well as sometimes TC's G-System and Native Instrument's Guitar Rig 2.

Finally, the elimination of hand sounds comes from my playing style. The loud volume of the bass (relative to how others approach volume) does have the benefit of a really fat sound and low action but definitely requires a some kind of system from the right hand to keep things quiet. In taht respect, I suppose I was lucky to not have a bass teacher. Curiously, the very first thing I did with my right hand when I got a bass (13 years old) was to put thumb, 1,2 & 3 on the string to keep them quiet.


Hey willis!!
As a student of the bass (grade 5) which of your books should i study first:
Ultimate ear training, or fingerboard harmony?
I dont want to study them the wrong way round.
Many thanks and best wishes
Rob

Hey Rob,
I didn't know there were grades of bass study. (maybe this is strictly a UK phenomena - since your email originated from there)
Even if you already have a great ear - I would definitely start with Ultimate Ear Training. Having a great ear, doesn't necessarily mean that it's connected to the fingerboard. It might just mean that you excell in the testing environment. Establishing that connection from your ear to the fingerboard will serve you the rest of your bass playing days, no matter what you're doing. The Fingerboard Harmony book is a little more advanced and serves as kind of a global foundation for when it's time for you to choose how you want to play over chord changes. (fills, grooves, solos, walking, etc).


Hey Willis,
Another outer fringe bassist here with some technical questions regarding setting up downloads from your host site. I admire how you've incorporated instant pay and download mp3s on your site, and I'm looking to do the same with mine.  I've looked into a bit of Paypal's developer partners, but I'm curious to what back end service you use to have your listeners pay via Paypal.  If you wouldn't mind, could you shed a little light on the subject?
I enjoy your work, and I find your treatises on the current music business model enlightening.
Thanks for all that you do.
- Benjamin

Hey Ben,
Thanks for the kind words and for noticing integrated download system. It's actually a combination of 3 things. It begins with Vibralogix LinkLok for PayPal . A PHP system that works with PayPal's instant payment notification process. The interface is a Flash component package that I customized called PPCC - and although its website is defunct, the flash code and components still work to communicate with the Vibralogix PHP. The audio portion is something I adapted from an article by Drew Maclellan called Flash Satay which prevents audio from continuing to download if it's not currently playing.


Hey Willis!
First of all I want to send thanks for doing all that wonderfull music!
Most of musicians that I want to thank to are dead so I'm glad you are still alive and hope, doing well :)..!
I have a question about bass that I will buy finally.
I am wondering if it is possibile not to put epoxy on fretboard of Ibanez GWB35 bass and still have it in a perfect condition?
I have no expirience with ebonol and as it is man made material I susppect that it is not wearable?
By the way, I use roundwound strings.
Thank you very much for your answer and continue being creative.
Many greetings
Andrej,


Hey Andrej,
I'm quite pleased to know that you appreciate my not being dead - and thanks for the kind words, and I'm doing fine, thanks.
The ebonal material is quite durable. I have had zero problems with wear on my fingerboards and only use roundwounds. The only compensation that you need to keep in mind when playing a fretless is to avoid the old (fretted) way of getting vibrato by pulling on the string. This grinds the string across the fingerboard and will eventually cause wear. Obviously, because there's no frets, you should get your vibrato by moving your hand and fingers paralell to the string.


Hey willis,
So... i already started to integrate the 3 finger technique and i can say that 95% precent of the time i play i use it
(although i had  a realy realy difficult time to switch...)
By now im starting to feel it was all worth it...
Except when i mute the strings with the right side of the hand ...and then i find it extremely diffiult to play with the ring finger ..let alone to keep it on the next string..
i checked some video's and it looks like you are using your thumb as an alternating finger..
(of course i can be wrong)
i would appreciate if you could explain on the matter..
thanks
Uri

Hey Uri,
Glad to hear you're taking advantage of that 3rd finger.
Actually, I don't use the 3rd finger that much at all when I palm mute. It will stay resting on an upper string and play the occasional note but I use a LOT more thumb than 3rd finger while I'm palm muting. Unless something is kind of fast, I'll stick with Thumb, 1 & 2 (not in any particular order) and generally stay on the B, E and A strings. If something's faster or needs playing on the D string then I'll add the 3rd finger.




Hey Willis!

Im wondering why there is a drastic price difference in your signature basses..Is there that much difference in sound and quality?
Jerry


Hey Jerry!
The prices are deceptive on both counts. The GWB35 has a great sound that I've performend and recorded with and its quality is great considering its ultra-affordable price. Obviously, the GWB1005 sets the standard for tone and craftmanship that to me represent the "perfect" bass - hard to put a price on that but considering it's hand-built, owners have consistently reported they're worth every penny.





Hey Willis,
First, thanks for taking the time to answer questions from us and your website is excellent. I've been working on learning theory and walking over standards for a few months. I know that's an important part of jazz bass but soloing is another part. I'm not sure at what point would be appropriate to start. Ergo, I ask, when should someone start working on solos?
Thanks,
Black Dog



Hey Black Dog,
i would hold of on the soloing a little longer and first spend a good bit of time learning melodies. First of all, melodies help "glue" a song together for memorizing and for associating ideas with harmony. After you've learned to play a dozen or so melodies, go back and start learning how to interpret them. Learn how to make them different that what's on the page. Learn how to make variations (changes in rhythm, pickup notes, phrasing) and carry those through so each succesive idea so that playing the melody becomes more personal. Melodies are great target ideas for development. Learning how to interpret melodies will give you a great head start on how to interpret your own ideas when you start to work on soloing. (big emphasis on the "idea" part of soloing) To me, interpreting and developing an idea is the key to communicating when your soloing.