Ask Willis - June - 1999

Hey Willis,
I have a question that is a little hard to ask electronically but I'll try my best. I attended M.I. in 1990 and among the many things I picked up from you was your right-hand technique. It works very well for me and is very logical, but in my specific case there is one problem that I've not been able to completely overcome. As my hand moves up to the G string to where I'm in the closed position playing the G string, I find that because of the curvature of my thumb, the E string is left open so that it can vibrate and produce unwanted sound. This only happens when I move up the G string. I've tried not moving my hand up so far so that the thumb joint can still rest on the open E string, but I like to have the tip of my thumb up that far so that my index finger strikes the tip of the thumb with each note played. That way it is a consistent feel no matter where my right hand glides over the strings. Since you da man, I figured you could help me out.

Thanks Dude,
BTW, I play a 5-string.

Hey M.E.
'Glad to hear the 3-finger thing is working out for ya, so far. As you can see, I have the same problem. But, most of the time, I don't put my thumb up on the D string as it is here. When I do play in this position it's probably for only jjust a few notes so if the E string does ring, it's not very loud at all, or for very long. I wish I had an answer, but we're talking about basic anatomy differences now, so I'm not sure. You could try to change the rotation of your hand, but I wouldn't want you messing up something that's working fine otherwise. BTW, why are you playing all those notes on the G string anyway? You know there's no money up there;-)

Hey Willis,
I'm very interested in buying your new signature bass, since I'm ready to throw myself at playing fretless! So Give me 5 good reasons why your Ibanez is better than other basses in this price-range,like Warwick etc. What is so cool about this bass of yours, and how does it sound without any effects at all(even compression etc.)? Have you recorded anything with just your bass plugged into an amp without anything added to the sound?
Thanx a lot,
CJ from Denmark

Hey CJ,
Drumroll please...... (honest folks, I didn't plant this question)
#1. One of a kind, custom Bartolini pickup
Thanks to some Bartolini VooDoo magic, it has individual coils for each strimg, but it's humbucking.
It's got the sound of my previous custom-wound Bartolini 59V, but also has the option of being active with stacked bass and treble control. The active electronics are tuned to match the passive sound, but allow the bass to work in a system where, for instance, you're using another active fretted bass. (there's a trim pot inside the cavity so you can set the max volume to work with your system). The placement of the individual coils are fine-tuned to move slightly away from the bridge as you get to the G string. This keeps the low strings punchy, but helps adds a little warmth to the upper strings. The pickup surface is shaped to match the curvature of the fingerboard and the ramp to give a consisten playing feel from string to string.
#2. Select Light Ash body
I've always said, if you get the right wood with the right pickup in the right place, you can have a great sounding bass. Light woods resonate lower frequencies better that dense, hardwoods. Also, the bolt-on design allows more light, resonant wood in the body than a neck-thru, so it is able to have more low-frequency resonance. The full cutaway on the body allows you to keep your fingers parallel to the fret lines all the way to the 24th fret.
#3. The Willis Ramp
Everybody likes to play over the pickup. Playing over the pickup gets you a nice punchy, mid-range sound. But, there are a lot of times, especially on fretless, where it's necessary to play closer to the neck in order to get full, deeper sounding notes. On most basses, this will put your right hand in kind of an uncomfortable "no-man's-land" with nothing under your fingers. The ramp, as well as the pickup, is shaped to match the curvature of the fingerboard so that anywhere you play, from the pickup to the neck, has the exact same feel for your right hand. You can adjust the amount of space between the strings and the ramp to suit your playing style. It also helps prevent "digging in" too hard, a commom problem with fretless.
#4. The Neck
The neck itself is pretty simple: 3-piece maple neck, ebony fingerboard with maple lines. I think a "lined" fretless is a must. To me, intonation is initially "hand-eye" coordination. Then eventually it becomes muscle memory. The maple lines are a little darker and more natural looking than plastic lines, not so "in-your-face". The neck and side dots are configured as a fretted would be, so it's not confusing to switch instruments. One of the main differences in the neck is the 2-3 headstock. This allows us to move the E and Be string tuners about a half inch more from the nut than where they would be with a traditional 3-2 headstock. This adds tension to those strings, especially the B string. B-strings are notorious for being too "loose", so this helps solve that problem.
#5. The Tuners
We re-designed the tuners for a couple of reasons. When you build a bass with a lighter body, having 5 metal "wings" on the end of the bass sometimes makes it hard to balance, the headstock wants to "dip". These tuner "wings" are molded ABS plastic, strong and light. The tuner mechanism works the same, but instead of a single "wing" there are 3 "wings". This allows you to get easy leverage from any angle. Plus, the corners of the "wings" are smoothed to becomfortable from either angle (remember, the A, D & G string tuners are upside down). Between each of the 3 wings is a finger-friendly "slot" that allows you to easily spin strings on and off when you change strings.

#6. Technical Support Staff: me
OK, that's more than 5, but you can email me anytime about any question you have about the bass and I promise to get you an answer as quick as I can.

#6. Identical Fretted version
I know I'm pushing my luck now, but ....Whenever you switch from fretted to fretless, for instance on a gig, it can cause problems with your intonation if the basses aren't physically identical. It's that "muscle memory" thing I mentioned before. Matching fretted and fretless=fewer intonation headaches.

As far as the sound goes, I never use compression. Compression totally defeats the natural envelope that fretless notes have. I also never mic the bass. I always go direct. So if you listen to the latest TT CD "Thick" or my latest "Bent" the sound you're hearing is direct to the tape machine.

Hey Willis,
Is there any type of epoxy treatment done to your signature bass? Also,
do you have any type of finish on your own bass?

No finish is on the ebony fingerboard. I've been told they can last up to 5-6 years with roundwound strings.
We'll see. My personal bass is the same as the production basses, no finish.

Hey Willis,
i missed your european tour with tribal tech in april! this is really hard for me and i'm heading forward to get a heart attack. So could you please come back soon to europe, especially germany, and play again? Just discuss it with the other guys and say "YES, lets go".

Hey JB,
We all discussed it, and we've decided to go ahead and let you have your heart attack. Of course, if you discussed it with your doctor, he would probably put you on a strict diet and tell you not to listen to any "stimulating" music anyway. We're probably not back until spring of 2000.

Hey Willis,
Okay, here's my question (I'm sure you must be real tired of this topic by now, but I got no one else to ask...): you played the last note with your second finger and the next note is on a lower string - do you play it with your second finger ('normal' RH style), or do you always lead with your first finger when changing to a lower string?
I recently aquired your video (with difficulty), and have tried to watch very carefully, but it doesn't answer my question. So please make me happy.
Can't wait to get Bent,

Hey Doggit,
'Sorry about the video.....long story.....
Anyway, I never "cross" my 1st and 2nd fingers. They'll end up on the same string sometimes but I don't (can't) play a note with my 2nd finger if my 1st is on a string above it. It just doesn't happen because of the angle of my hand. If I've played a string with my 2nd finger then that means my 1st finger is already on the string below ready to play. So it'll play next.

Hey Willis,
Gary I have watched Scott's video and he talked about phrasing and chaining notes up the neck and back down instead of always soloing of of the root note. Would you give me some ideas on how you incorporate those very same ideas
Thanks, AC

Hey AC,
I haven't seen that video so I'm not sure exactly what you're talking about. But it is important for bass players to get away from starting and ending ideas with the root. Especially in the bass register, it destroys the sense of separation that the melody should have with the supporting harmony. Just the simple trick of moving your hand down a string works. It puts you on the 5th. If you build a triad from the 5th, you're playing the 5th, 7th and 9th of the chord. That'll immediately get you away from root oriented ideas. Also, learn to play as many melodies as you can and that'll get you used to no t playing the root to remind yourself of where you are in the tune.