Ask Willis - December - 2009

Hey Willis,
I was in Vitoria and I saw your shows with Triphasic. Congratulations . I was surprised by your show and music.
I'd like to ask about which program you use for video editing and the show live.
And for your Triphasic logo screensaver ?
I have a macbook pro 13'.
Thanks a lot
See you soon,

Thanks Manel,
I use Final Cut Pro for editing and Arkaos Grand VJ on stage. (I use a MacBook Pro 15") The lettered logo is from the Shaman CD artwork illustrated by Oriol Malet
The blue background is from a pack of video loops from The triangle shape is a simple mask from a black and white jpeg and composited as a "difference" layer. It's continuously looped throughout the whole show on an iPod Touch and I switch to it as necessary with the Roland/Edirol V-8 video mixer.

Hey Willis,
First of all, let me say, that I'm a great fan of your playing. you're certainly my biggest influence when it comes to fretless bass and I appreciate your very profound approach to the bass. I've got the GWB1 model and lately one of the neck screws seem to have worn out the corresponding hole in the neck. It ighten it for as long as I can and it won't go tighter. Now i'm afraid that the bass hast lost stability/tone/sustain and I have since not assembled the bass again. What would you recommend I should do?
Furthermore, the neck pocket on the GWB1 seems pretty loose. On both sides of the neck joint, there's a slight space between body and neck. I'd like to hear your point of view on bolt-on necks here because I heard that it doesn't matter if the neck joint fit is tight. The more important thing is, however, that the surface of the neck joint that touches the heel of the neck has to be very tight because that's where the vibrations are being transmitted.
Would you say that is correct?
greetings from germany,

So has it definitely lost sustain or do you just suspect it? Anyway, the first thing to do is fix the screw hole. Take a toothpick and trim a centimeter or so off of it and place it in the hole. Mark the length and trim it so it sits in the hole but doesn't stick out. You could probably insert a 2nd piece as well. This should fix the stripped wood and get the screw to working again.
For the neck joint itself, I haven't had the opportunity to experiment a lot. However, with Ibanez, we did try a prototype with a glue-in neck. Everything else about the bass was the same. When I first listened to it I though the pickup was defective or something because the output was about half. It turns out that the bolt-on neck joint is kind of a "black box" of technology that nobody has been able to definitively figure out. Still, something about having a less-than-perfect contact between the neck and the body gives it the ability to resonate the way we want it to.
It also makes sense that it's more important that the back of the neck makes good contact with the neck pocket. And that the sides are likely not as important.
Let me know if fixing the screw hole makes a difference in sustain or (acoustic) output.

Hey Willis
I'm trying to learn Say Never from Actual fiction and transcribe your solos.
And i just wondered how you think when you improvise over the Eb69 and the Db69 part of the progression.

Hey Håkon,
It's a fairly simple progression (for the readers: all 69 chords |: Bb C | D Bb| //// |Bb C |D Bb| //// |Bb C |D Bb |Eb Db| Bb //// :|)
Since the chords keep moving - getting your ideas out of one particular sound helps. For the Eb and Db part there are a couple of things that work. Bb minor (dorian) will be correct with both chords, although you probably are aware of my aversion to thinking about scales. Another thing that works is Cmi pentatonic - works naturally for Eb and give you a #11 over the Db. I try to approach improvisation like a language so I usually do better the less I think. To speak a language fluently means you have to think about it so much that it becomes subconscious - but that's an answer for another question.

Why does your signature bass have a string spacing of 16.5mm? I had your signature bass (older one, made in Korea), what a great bass!!

Hey David,
I think it was for the production year of 2004 that the bass was manufactured in Korea and the basses from that run were outfitted with a different bridge that had the slightly smaller string spacing. 'Turns out I preferred the 16.5 and we switched back to that when production returned to be hand crafted Japan.

Hey Willis,
I have had the GWB1 for nearly a year (got it second hand) in Flat Black finish and lemme begin by saying that I totally love it! I play rock/pop covers and the use of fretless in a rock context gives me a different approach to things that I'm sure fretted bassists don't have. It's my only bass, by the way.
I'm curious to know why your new GWB1005 series isn't offered in black or the corresponding fretted versions. For the former, is it due to the thicker finish's effect on tone? And for the latter, is it just due to demand and supply?
Thank you for your time!
Yong Xi

Hey Yong Xi,
Good to hear that the bass is working for you in those diverse situations. The Flat Black finish is on the GWB35 - so that's probably what you have. The GWB35 is made with a basswood body. Basswood doesn't have much of a grain to look at so a clear or stained finish just doesn't work. It's true that painting a GWB1005 would require extra sealers and finish that would compress the tone quite a bit. But, I can special order you a fretted version of the

GWB1005 (only available through me) . Send me another email and I can give you the details.

Hey Willis,
What is the decision process for using extensions like a 9th, #11, or a 13th instead of a regular 7th chord? Is there voice leading involved or is it more a matter of a "denser" chord? I know "because It sounds good" is a legit answer but I was hoping for some insight on the subject of using chord extensions.

Hey Kevin,
On a regular, functioning (means it's part of chords that are in the same key) 7th chord, the decision process goes something like this:
Do I want to keep my job and play with this band again?
If yes, go on to next question, if no, then play whatever you want.
Are there "style" constraints that, if ignored, would get me fired (or at least not called for the next gig)?
If yes, then go on to the next question, if no, then play whatever you want.
Does the context of this song allow me to be creative with my note choices while still fulfilling my role in the group?
If yes go on to the next question, if no, then in the famous words of Ron Carter "just play the letters, not the numbers".
If you've got this far, then the answer depends on your role: soloing or reinforcing the harmony.
In either case, the natural 9 and 13 are safe bets to work while still allowing you some degree of creativity in soloing or a support role.
The #11 you mentioned is not diatonic and should be reserved for soloing - It's often necessary in soloing to use non diatonic chord tones to create interest and tension. The natural 11 is an obvious bad choice because if its conflict with the major 3rd sounding an interval of a minor ninth below. All circumstances require an understanding of voice leading since often your extensions need to be resolved by your successive note choices. Some situations even allow you to alter the 7th chord's extension (b9, #9, #5, etc) and so you have to be even more conscious of voice leading and how your extensions should resolve.

Hi Gary,
Im preparing for an admission test to attend a jazz course at university here in lisbon (Portugal) and i met a teacher who works there... at a gig and he told me that they really value the ability to effectively walk on jazz changes, thats a big one for them... ..the thing is its really to difficult to emulate the traditional walking on the electric bass ...i got your book fingerboard harmony and im a huge fan of your work on Allan Holdsworth "None too Soon", can you give some info on how to become a little more efficient on playing walking bass on electric ?
Thank you

Hey Sérgio,
Eventually, the book will give you a global approach to harmony that will let you create really smooth, efficient walking bass lines (as well as smooth solo lines, fills, etc). Remember that the "feel" that you're trying to create has very little do to with the physicality of the acoustic vibrations of a acoustic bass (big wooden box). Upright players in a jazz setting actually have it easier (harmonically) since the pitches are less discernible and the notes decay rapidly. Effectively walking over jazz changes involves a few different skills that you may not be able to develop in a short period of time. First, you need to be able to analyze the harmony immediately. Once you're able to diagnose the different kinds of chord sequences and key changes then it makes it easier to connect your lines to become more efficient. Having a subconscious vocabulary for what happens in a given key and putting your hand in the best position to play in that key is another goal of the book that, of course, takes time. Another thing that really helps is memorization. The quicker you are at memorizing and not having your eyes glued to the paper, the more you'll be able to listen and interact musically with the band. Other things like having a good sense of time, tone, form (the structure of the song) and style are also very important but are still difficult to improve rapidly.

Hello Gary!
Hope all is well with you. 9 months left on my course and I'm out there into the big bad world of music. I'm pushing real hard to develop your technique properly, and I know you say about buzz with left hand muting. If for example you were to play the first 7 notes of teen town, how would you personally go about muting the strings once you'd played them? I've tried slowing it right down and using my middle finger to dampen both the A and G when I do the octaves and can't get the speed required from the damping finger.
Would be great if you can point out anything I might have missed, trying to keep my playing free of left hand buzz and darn open strings ringing as I'm playing a fretted 6.
The books are great by the way, fingerboard harmony and 101 bass tips so far. I'm hoping Santa will bring me some more! =P

Hey Joe,
One of the ways to see if the right hand damping is working is to do what you're talking about: slowly play every note of a phrase short and damped with the right hand. In this case I would play all 3 of the low C's with the first finger and the upper descending C, Bb & A all with the 3rd - each finger dampens its own note. The last g could be played by the first or 2nd finger. BTW, this is starting with the C on the E string and avoiding the open G.
Best of luck with Santa and graduating to the big bad world.