Ask Willis - February - 1999

Hey Willis,
Great site and tons of great info!!!
I was wondering if you could offer any suggestions as to how I can make the volume of my low B-string more comparable to the other 4 strings...I play a fretless 5-string through 4x10 and 2x10 cabinets (all Carvin gear). Are there things that I could try that would bring those low notes out more (w/ EQ, speaker size, pickup height...) other than simply playing the other 4 strings more lightly?
I was terribly disappointed when Tribal Tech cancelled the show in Mlps.
(MN) last Sept. -hope you can make it out soon!

Thanks SteveO
First look at your individual saddles and make sure the B string isn't raised much higher than the other strings.
Then try the pickup height adjustment. Raise the B string side of each pickup (if you have 2) and try to get a balance. (stuff foam underneath if it won't stay up). If that doesn't work, try lowering the G string side of the pickups. T his isn't as good a solution because it results in less overall output.
A bigger B string (I use a .135) helps solve some problems.
First of all, a smaller diameter B string (.128 for instance) will have less tension on it , which makes it likely to buzz more (it's looser). Raise the B string and you can stop the buzzing but now it's further away from the pickup than the other strings so you have to play it harder to get it to balance. Playing it harder makes it buzz more....etc...etc.
A bigger B string has more tension on it so it's less likely to "flap around" than a smaller string. Because it's less likely to buzz, you can lower it closer to the pickup. Which means the pickup "sees" more so you don't have to play it as hard to get it to balance with the other strings, which results in less buzzing as well.
Sometimes the bass/pickup design might cause problems.
Take a close look at exactly where the B string crosses and mark it with a pencil. Now, loosen the string and pull it out of the way. Take the tip of a phillips screwdriver and tap from the top edge of the pickup to the spot where you marked. Listen to this tapping through an amp. Pay careful attention to where the sound starts. If you don't get a full "thump" at some point right before you get to the center of where the B string would be, then you're not getting full volume from the pickup. At that point it's a design problem that means probably moving some things. Maybe move the saddles if they're adjustable, less likely the bridge ( because it's much more tricky). Worst case would be a new pickup (Bartolini, of course). But you could start with a "Willis" set of GHS progressives (CU-GW5) .135 B string included;-)
Keep me posted.

Hey Willis,
Every time I check the U.S. release date of Thick, it keeps getting pushed back. Why is that? BTW, I haven't been up on the MTB mags, but what is Captain Dondo's new name? (Is that the same Captain Dondo I'm thinking of?)...Cliff

Hey Cliff
I was misinformed and probably had to tweak the date once or twice. It's definitely a March 16th US street date. Stay tuned, I'll be selling "Thick" from the site.
The columnist formerly known as "Captain Dondo" still writes (quite well, I might add) for Mountain Bike uner his real name "Don Cuerdon"

Hey Willis,
I am interested in mountain biking but, I am concerned of the damage it can cause your wrists. Have you ever looked in to this matter?

Hey TC
I have looked into it, and there's good news and bad news.
The good news is that there's equipment out there that'll keep your wrists and hands relaxed and your bike in control (so you won't be landing on your wrists).
The bad news is that it comes at a price.
Serious front fork suspension is the answer. If your front end is bouncing all over the place (as in poor suspension or no suspension), you have to squeeze much harder to keep control. The more you squeeze, the stronger your forearms get but you'll lose independence and flexibility in your fingers. Having 100mm (4")of finely tuned travel up front makes all the difference. The front end isn't bouncing everywhere so you don't need a death grip to hang on. I've got a '97 Marzocchi Z-1 Bomber. Sure it weighs maybe a pound more, but the performance is way worth it. You can find even later models for under $500.
Good brakes make it a lot easier on you hands as well. Shimano's V-Brakes are inexpensive and allow you to lock up the rear tire with one finger. (don't lock up the front unless you've picked out a nice, soft landing spot).
Happy Trails, & Playing

Hey Willis,
I am proud to announce that I finally have all of the TT cds after a couple years of painful painful search! The last one (Nomad) I got a couple days ago and I could not believe it was not an import.Here are a couple questions: if Thick is all improv, how is going to be like playing cuts from it live? How come the US is not even listed in your tentative tour schedule? - you may say it does not cut it financially but damn it I am willing to pay whatever to see you guys, doggone it I need to hear good music!
PS: I played KB for years and I gave it all up for bass 6 months ago! You are the man! BTW Bent
is awesome! Take care. Walid

Hey Walid
Congratulations, we should come up with some kind of a medal for the few die-hards like you.
The tunes off Thick were "jammed/composed" in the studio. Most of them sound like compositions but they're just a lot fresher sounding, especially to us because they haven't been subjected to the microscopic editing process that happens when "composing".
Tour? As the Jazz station in Springfield advertised "152 Americans Can't Be Wrong".
---Supply and Demand--- we'll see, stay tuned.
Good to hear you're not having to keep up with the "Synth Jones" technology that makes every keyboard obsolete in 3 months. Of course, you are obliged to update to the latest version of the Willis bass;-)

Hey Willis,
I noticed that you are very fond of dogs (so am I). As a matter of fact, a few days ago me and my fiancee got a 4 1/2-month-old Basset Hound. We are crazy about him; I will send you a picture as soon as I can (now I have to split my time between our puppy and my bass). Trouble is, we don't know much about housebreaking or training a dog, and sometimes it gets a bit frustrating. Could you give me any advice or at least point me to any web sites/books you consider worth checking out on the subject?
Thank you. Best regards,-AG

Hey AG
Cool! , send me a pic. The first thing to do with your puppy is have his digestive system removed. Most vets will do it for free. Of course you'll be feeding him intravenously , but it bearts cleaning up the mess. Actually, one thing we learned is don't live upstairs (like we did when Buster was a puppy). It all just took that much longer for him to learn where "outside" was. Josie learned in 3 days because we had moved and "outside" was just out the back door, not a long flight of stairs. Catching them in the act and carrying them "data stream" and all to where it's OK, is a positive way to get a message across and it seemed to work with Josie. Otherwise, If it's over, it's over and they won't necessarily know what they're being punished for.
Good Luck, woof!

Hey Willis,
u r really great! I'm not a bassist, but your magnificent style force me to play better on my keyboard! You know, there is a lot of your fans in Russia, how 'bout visiting us sometime? Best wishes!....JuggO

Hey JuggO
Thanks for your kind words. Of course, my plan all along was to force people to play better whether they liked it or not, especially keyboard players;-) Now if I could just force guitar players to turn down....
I hope to visit Russia someday, too..thanks.

Hey Willis,
Thank you so much for your reply. You put my mind back in the right perspective. I guess I had been obse ssed with sight- reading because I play with some great horn players who "can read anything " (I always thought this is impossible, though). At sessions they make me feel like a second- class citizen. Truth is, they don't know how hard it is to sight-read on bass (right?). Also, sometimes a keyboard player would write out a very intricate bass line, which may be playable on the keyboard, but a nightmare on the bass. He or she will be looking at me and wondering "what's wrong with this guy?". So, did the other guys in Tribal Tech (or any other group) ever write out something like that for you and, how did you approached such a situation? Did people understand if you needed to bring the charts home and practice them? Anyway, thanks again for your advice.
Best regards,.....AG

Hey AG
I knew that I'd have to live with my decision to work on other stuff besides reading so for that reason I never really pusued situations that were "reading-only". Almost all the bands I've played in had demo material that I could listen to and learn from, or I'd make sure and get the charts ahead of time.
It's probably a little harder to sight-read on bass but what's hard for some people is a piece of cake for others, I don't know.
Actually, because I 've written mostly at the keyboard, I'm guilty of coming up some pretty ridiculous bass linest to play, but they worked for the tune, so I had to learn 'em.
As far as other situtaions, I've never had a problem telling people up front that I'm an awful "lines" reader, but I feel like I've done my homework in other areas so that I can learn and memorize lines and tunes by ear really fast. And, a lot of times that's more valuable in a creative situation, anyway.

Hey Willis,
I would like to buy a copy of your ear training book/CD package. I'm based in the UK, so how much extra would you like me to add for packaging and air-mail? And in what form do you prefer payment from overseas?

Another question; this one relates to your fingerboard harmony book (which I think is excellent, thanks). Regarding the exercises that you present before the "moveable patterns" section of the book, is there anything special about the keys you have chosen -- for example, are they the more commonly used keys -- or did you choose them arbitrarily?

Hey Frank
Thanks for asking. The $15 price for the ET book is adding on a couple of bucks so if it costs more than that to ship, just consider it "almost free shipping". A cashier's check (drawn on a US bank) works without me having to pay an extra $15 processing fee.
I mainly chose the keys based on trying to move the information around, although they are pretty common keys. I thought about introducing the "moveable patterns" right away in the book, but that probably would have been a little too much to digest at once.

Hey Willis,
How can I be the first one on my block to have all the Tribal Tech CDs? I can't get a hold od Dr. Hee, or Spears any where. Were these ever on CD?
Do you have any ideas where I can get them? I've got these two on scratchy vinyl, and I've got the rest on CD. How can I collect and trade with my friends???!!?? DAVE!

There were CD's made of those two but I think they were made later. We can't get any ourselves (those CD's) . But you know how supply and demand works. Try Audiophile Imports or GEMM they might can find something. BTW, what's vinyl?

Hey Willis,
You said in your january questions that you don't warm up before a gig as you have trained yourself to relax while playing so your muscles are already ready. Did you use any specific techniques to learn to play relaxed (are you some sort of freaky human oragami guy?) or are you just really aware of relaxing? Looking forward to getting Thick.
P.S. How can I get my dogs to stop eating the couch?

Hey Antony
How'd you guess?, I actually am a freaky human oragami guy. BTW, your dogs just want you to buy a new couch. Besides smell, they have a keen decorating sense, didn't you know? You should take them with you when you pick out a new couch....
...I used to play hard and have callouses and have to shake out my hand during and between tunes to try to keep it loose. Then I decided that I liked the sound better when I played softer, so I spent 2 years of constantly having myself louder than was comfortable (practicing & playing) in order to learn to relax. I know it's a contradictory instinct but the goal is to be able to stay relaxed, even when things get loud and intense.

Hey Willis,
What was your approach to playing over tunes with fast tempos and chord changes such as Giant Steps or Grand Central? I say "what was" because you can probably hear and play whatever you want at this point. I saw you do Giant Steps with no comping and I could hear the changes perfectly. I know you can't outline every chord at those tempos, so do you focus on keys? Also, I see guys like you and Patitucci reccomend Paul Jackson from Herbies band long ago. What CD's is he on that you know of?.....MV

Hey MV
Thanks, although I wish I could play whatever I want, it's one thing to play whatever you want, it's another to want to play good ideas. Thats always a work in progress.
'Don't mean to be too simplistic, but to get any line (quarter notes to 32nd triplets) to suggest harmony means getting the right note on the right beat. Part of it is focusing on the keys, but that's just to get your hand in the best place to have access to your vocabulary. Your vocabulary is built up by internalizing (making subconscious) the decisions about what note goes on what beat.
Definitely check out Paul Jackson on Herbie's Thrust, Flood (import) and a few cuts of Man Child .

Hey Willis,
When is the official date on your bass hitting the stores? I'm very interested in the GWB-1 but so far in Philly all I get is blank stares from the sales boys (kind of like when I ask a guitarist to turn down his amp).....CC

Hey CC
Currently, it looks like they might ship in late March. Production has started but they're holding back the first batch just to make sure the process is gets the results we want.
Funny, the Ibanez US headquarters are right there in'd figure the stores there would know.

Hey Willis,
I was studing with Dave Graber, and now I am studying with this guy, Dale James, you know them I guess. Just wondering if you ever plan on comming up to Calgary to do a clinic or TT tour sometime? Your welcome to stay at my place, forget hotels man! We'll feed you rice and beans and other beaner food here!! Anyways, what can you tell me about walking? It's hard, but how would you go about improving your walking. DJ's got me into working with drones and walking on just one string, to keep and idea alive longer I guess; of course, slowly. But I guess what I am looking for is creativity; creative ways of going about it. Beaner music is my passion and thats what I'm really into, naturally, but I want to check out other things too. I figure it'll be good for my playing. (Your probably wonderin' what a beaner is doin' up in COLD Canada! hehe) Well, I am having a hard time disciplining myself to work on my walking, I always end up workin' out more beaner grooves and figuring ou things with the clave...etc... But everytime I put down my bass, or pick it up again, I WANT to work on walking, but I just can't stay there long enough to progress anywhere. I know it will take long, but I guess I need an idea that will get my attention and keep me there. I tried hiding my beaner discs for a while and listening ONLY to guys walk to see if it would force my mind-frame there, but it hasn't worked. I guess you can't deny your passion, I know, but I think it's important for me to check out other stuff too. HELP!! Well, thanks a bunch man, hope to hear from you soon.

Hey D.C.
I don't know about Dave, but you should definitely stay away from that Dale guy;-)
I hope to get up to Calgary, hopefully this year. Thanks for the invite, put medown for some beaner food. (i'm just using your terminology, so hopefully I won't get slammed for the ethnic thing) btw folks D.C.'s last name appears to be of an origin which would make it OK for him to use the word "beaner".
I wrote a whole book on walking. I know you don't want to work on walking, but smooth walking lines guarantee that you know the neck well enought to create whatever kind of lines/grooves/solos you want.
As far as the discipline/creativity goes. The best advice I ever got was "you end up doing what you want to do". If your creativity is focused on beaner (i suspect you mean Latin) grooves, then go for it, knock yourself out. Eventually, you might find that you want to know more about the neck in order to connect your lines better. That's where the walking comes in. There's all kinds of ways to be creative, 1 string like you're doing, 2 strings. Try walking with every note higher than the next until you're out of room ,then descend the same way. Try keeping everything on 2 strings and 5 frets. I could go on, but you'll get into it, once you're into it.

Hey Willis,
Okay, here is my question: Even after 10 years of playing bass -4 of which I attended Berklee College- I still haven't found a logical way to approach sight- reading on the bass. Yeah, I heard about playing in position; if the tune is in A then place your hand in a way that will allow you to cover the notes of an A scale...right? Well, I am confused because there are so many different ways to play the same scales, notes, even the same bass line, and it is hard for me to know what is the most appropiate way to play it on the spot, because it depends how well it will connect what you just played and the notes you have to read next. I have tried reading by intervals (memorizing the fingerings of intervals and how they look on paper, thus reading the distance from one note to the next instead of the note names) but as soon as I get a note which is not covered by my hand position I am lost!. Also, I've found that certain fingerings work well at slow speeds but, -at least to me- are almost impossible at high speeds. My left pinkie does not seem to have enough independence or strenght to do this. How can you look at a piece of music you have never seen before and be able to instantly sketch in your mind where on the neck your left hand is going to play?. I hope you can help me.
Thank you in advance. AG

Hey AG
You want a good laugh? Put a chart in front of me. My sight-reading sucks. Basically, you're asking the wrong guy. I can read chord symbols and rhythms, but lines? .....Sorry you had to type so much for not much of an answer. My solution to sight-reading....."Just Say No" (or ask for a tape). The only thing I remember that might help you (and I'm sure you've heard it before) is to scan the chart for the highest an lowest notes, then break down positions/keys and try to plan your shifts to accomodate the low and high notes.

Hey Willis,
You've got a new CD, that's the best news I've heard all year! I've just about worn out NO SWEAT, so it's good to see another. I just rushed over to my favorite on line source and ordered it. YOU ARE MY IDOL!!! So when are you gonna be in Cleveland next (like anyone would want to admit)? Any chance of a live Willis and/or Tribal Tech CD? Your site (also new to me) is great, I found on Scott Kinsey's site. Thanks much for such wondrous

Thanks for the kind words. As far as Cleveland, we always had fun playing down around the flats. We'll have to wait and see, though. I keep a schedule on my site so keep an eye on it. I wouldn't mind trying a live CD at some point, but we had so much fun in the studio making the latest TT, we'll probably do it that way again.

Hey Willis,
I really love your solo cd,s.I met you in Rochester,N.Y.about four years ago at The Penny
Arcade.Then I moved to Boston and I seen you at Johnnys Ds. You turned me on to Edan amps.Its the best sounding rig i ever had.Thanks for the tip.
Will you be playing in Boston or doing any clinics ? If so maybe Icould get a lesson from you.let me know. Groovedog

Hey Groovedog,
Yep, Eden is the ticket.
I'll be doing more clinics this year so I'll be out on the east coast at some point.
I'll keep the info on my site. If you see I'm headed your way, remind me and we'll see if we can work a lesson in. Of course, you know that you'll be competing with mountain bike riding for my free time. Rainy weather could be on your side.
'see ya soon.

Hey Willis,
Given the nature of geopolitical flux and the ever-widening scope of national policy, coupled with prognostications about the potential for more volatile outbreaks in unstable regions, please elaborate on your thoughts surrounding the recent change from the heavy cream-like filling of original Twinkie snack cakes to the more frothy, used-toothpaste texture that graces the current instance of said product.
Yours truly,
Hank Kingsley

Dear Mr. Kingsley,
The "volatile outbreaks" in "unstable regions" may very well be in you own Pacific Palisades backyard. I'm talking about Y2K, and there IS no escape. National policy is indeed widening its scope at the expense of solving this inescapable catastrophe. Withdraw your cash, dig a bunker, arm your family, but DO NOT stock up on those watered-down, half-assed, has-been imitations. Make your own and scoff at the Hostess snack-lords as their empire tumbles around them come Jan. 1, 2000!!!
Here's a recipe for your cook. (courtesy "Top Secret Recipes" by Todd Wilbur)

nonstick spray
4 egg whites
6 ounces golden pound
(or sponge) cake mix
2/3 cup of water
2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup of veg. shortening
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 drops lemon extract
spice bottle
(approx. size of a twinkie)
one dozen 12x14 inch pieces of aluminum foil
1. Preheat oven to 325
2. fold doil pieces in half twice, then wrap around spice bottle to create a mold.
Leave the top open for pouring in the batter. Arrange molds on a cookie sheet. Lightly coat the inside of each mold with nonstick spray.
3.Beat egg whites until stiff. Combine with the cake mix (ignore instructions on box) and water, and beat about 2 minutes.
4. Pour the batter into molds, filling each about 3/4 inch. bake for 30 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown.
5. Prepare the filling. Cream the butter and shortening. Slowly add the sugars while beating.
6. Add the evaporated milk, vanilla and lemon extract.
7. Mix on medium speed until completely smooth and fluffy.
8. Poke 3 small holes in the bottom of each cake. Move toothpick around the inside to creat space for the filling.
9. Use a cake decorator or pastry bag to inject the filling.
10. Go to your nearest 7-11 (crippled by the Y2K bug) armed with a couple of UZI's and a truckload of these babies and name your price. You'll be the Czar of Brentwood in no time.

Hey Willis,
First time to your site & it's a great one! I'm delighted to see you're a mountain biker! How long you been riding? Have you ever wondered what it is about riding and bass playing (not neccessarily at the same time) that makes both so satisfying? Or maybe it's something best left as it is and just accepted... I hear from my favorite music store (Motor City Guitar) that you're coming for a clinic in March. There's a lot of nice riding in the area and we've got extra bikes if you're into it (though the ground is likely to be pretty messy that time of year). In any case, I look forward to the clinic and to hopefully meeting and talking with you. And if you need a place for some quiet seclusion to chill before or after you'd be most welcomed!
regards, RW

Thanks RW,
'Bout 4 years. (give or take a couple of winters). I think the MTB appeal to bassists is that it's a totally independent act-where playing in a band is built on co-dependency.
The clinic in March is news to me. I expect to be doing a lot more clinics this year, but I don't expect to get started any earlier that May. 'Hopefully I'll get to Motor City Guitar with my bike in tow and maybe it'll be drier in late spring, early summer. 'Thanks for the invite, 'hope to see ya then.

Hey Willis,
I am a guitarist who was lucky enough to have you play bass during one of my master class sessions with Scott Henderson last summer in Freiburg. I was the American who played "Solar" till Scott wanted to puke. When I was doing my improv work over your bass lines the chord changes really stood out in a way that made following them a joy and a pleasure rather than a struggle to keep my fingers and my brain in stride with the music. Was it just my imagination or were you doing something to accentuate the chords and the changes? Do you have a goal in mind when backing a soloist?

I really enjoyed the class and meeting you at Freiburg. Your night concert for us students was exceptional. I especially enjoyed you and Scott burning on Wayne Shorter's "Witch Hunt." The Jazz Rock Schule musicians did a great job of supporting you two stars as well.

Hope to see you again sometime soon. Now I'm in Baltimore. Let us know when your coming out here.............MD

Hey MD,
Henderson has his "Heimlich Maneuver" tunes, I have mine, don't take it personally.
On bass lines, I just instinctively put chord tones in particular places to make the changes sound like they're happening. I wrote a whole bass book on it, but you can also work on it for guitar . Practice soloing without any harmonic accompaniment. Work on soloing so that anyone listening would be able to clearly hear the changes. Eventually, you'll learn to make more critical note-choices that point the harmony in the right direction.
As far as backing a soloist, it depends on the situation, but I try to make the time and the changes feel like they're there (when necessary) but I also try to make the soloist feel like they're being listened to.

Hey Willis,
First I have to say you rank up there with the all time greats like Nikki Sixx and Jimmy Bain. I have been listening since Spears and the first time I got to see TT was in New Jersey a few years ago and I have to say I was a little disappointed. With all the great material TT has, you chose to play about 4 blues tunes, a drawn out version of Shining Star and an Encore of Hound Dog. What gives? I think I should get a discount when I order your book. What's your favorite Anthony Jackson recording? The Scofield stuff and early Camilo is killer.

Dougnuts, is there nothing they can't do?....Trek7000

Hey Trekkie,
Thanks for including me in such esteemed company, (who's Jimmy Bain?)
Like I always say, " if you've heard one blues, you've heard 'em all". We probably did 3 at the most, but who's counting? Now you've got to admit, a whacked version of Shining Star and Hound Dog for an encore was the last thing you expected, no?
Honestly, the old TT material is so "composed" that it's only fun to play for about a week. We're closet jazz musicians (except for the one nameless blues junkie) so we need room to create otherwise we might as well be in a Top-40 band. Anyway, we solved that problem on the latest: "Thick" . NO Blues, No Covers, No Compositions.
I especially dig AJ on Eyewitness because of the space afforded him in the tunes.

Send me a dozen chocolate glazed (fresh?) and I'll send you a free book.

PS, don't use cherry-filled for tire-blocks while working on your transmission.