Ghost in the Machine

Hey Willis, Good morning, sir. I really like the website and am very impressed both by the attention to detail you give in explaining your playing style, and by your obvious willingness to help out the bass community in general. Excellent job and thanks. My question regards the Graph Tech Ghost MIDI system for bass. Like yourself, I use the Roland VB99, and recently had a GHOST bridge (and accompanying peripherals) installed on my custom bass. The installation went very smoothly and the system is up and running fine (I also had the Acoustaphonic Board installed, and the combination of the Piezo and Magnetic Pickup sounds is really quite remarkable). Obviously the VB99 needs to be tweaked a bit to properly interface with the GHOST system and I certainly understand that, but after all the obvious noodling was completed (choosing the Piezo setting over the GK3, adjusting the appropriate string sensitivity, getting an overall good, even sound from the bridge), I’m still noticing some quirks from the VB99 models in general. Some sound just fine while many others have a distinct overdriven, bordering-on-distorted sound to them. My first thought was that I hadn’t set the string sensitivity correctly (or something similar) but it’s only for certain VB99 presets that this occurs. I turn the amp modeling off when I hear this distortion and of course make sure not to have any type of drive effects activated when previewing the models (just to make sure THAT’S not the issue). Again, some sound clear and sweet while others have an intrinsic slight distortion to them (and many acoustic and upright models... read more

3 against 2

Hey Willis, I’m originally a guitar player and when I started playing bass about five years ago I tried to learn your three finger technique. It did seem a bit complicated at first and I eventually ended up playing with two fingers instead. Do you think it’s worth the time and effort at this point to give it another try? Thanks, Jonas Hey Jonas, Some of it depends on your situation – how much time you can dedicate to it, etc. I will say this – it’s not necessary that you adopt my 3 finger technique but what is important is that you develop some kind of detailed system for how you want your right hand to work. The study of harmony (left hand) is a slow one and takes years to get an understanding. During this time, most bassists ignore their right hand since it’s fairly easy and intuitive to keep up with the left hand’s slow pace. But, during this time is when most players develop involuntary bad habits that eventually make playing more challenging ideas difficult. From my few years of guitar study, I had the luxury of being semi-satisfied with where my left hand was when I decided to get scientific about my right hand. The hardest thing to do with the right hand is cross strings going up. My 3-finger technique solves this problem for me and gives me access to intervals and ideas that are much more difficult with 3. Still, 2 or 3 doesn’t matter as much as being sure to make it your own. best of luck,... read more

9V battery size?

Hey Willis, I have the GWB-1 and it has developed a problem of the battery not sitting snug in the compartment. This causes a lovely huge pop sound if I move the wrong way. I’ve had to wedge in a piece of sponge to keep this from happening. Is this a widespread problem with these basses? Thanks, David Hey David, Actually, it’s a problem with battery manufacturers. Here’s a couple of batteries I grabbed out of my recycling box: Here’s another example from some battery experts. Since the design of the battery holder in the GWB basses depends on the reasonably snug fit of the battery to hold it in place, the solution you’re using is necessary but it’s only a problem if you happen to buy a “short” 9-volt battery. Go ahead an use the foam but remember to compare battery sizes the next chance you get to shop for... read more

Old Tricks, New Dog

Hey Willis, I’m a UK,Wiltshire bases bassist and was explaining to someone the other night about boiling bass strings. I’ve used the recipe in your ‘101 Bass Tips’ book (great book by the way!! Always close at hand) for ages, and used to do a similar method prior to finding your recipe and have had good results. However, I recently found an article warning away from using boiled water in preference to a 24hour soak in methelated spirit (or de-natured alcohol) that looks pretty good. Check here: Do you have thoughts on this as I’ll likely give it a go at some point soon. Cheers for the book. Brilliant. Cheers, Ken Hey Ken, It’s true what the link says about wanting to eliminate water – but that’s what the final step in the oven takes care of. In fact, I probably should have recommended 30 minutes instead of 15. One benefit is that the agitation of the bubbling hot water enables the elimination of deposits better than a long soak. However, if you were to use the alcohol and were able to agitate it as in a washing machine cycle, it would probably do just as good and wouldn’t require 24 hours. Now we need to invent a machine that does the job,... read more

Wrong Foot

Hey Mr. Willis I am from India. I am 21yrs old. I have been playing bass for around 7 years. I wanted to ask you how would you look at playing bass in an ensemble like John McLaughlin’s Shakti? And also I have been trying really hard to get out of the 4/4 or 6/8 frame but sadly I cannot solo over meters other than these. I can play grooves on random meters but when i have to solo i cant think of  the harmonic aspect and time aspect simultaeneously.Please help!!! Im looking for a solution to this for a really long period of time. Thanks a lot for this site. It has helped me a lot in the understanding of music. I started listening to Tribal Tech after Scott Kinsey, Kirk Covington and Matt Garrison played a gig here in my city, Kolkata. I really hope to see you and Scott Henderson play here someday. Thanks for your guidance!!! Shovon Hey Shovon, Dammit! You just blew my ages ole excuse for not being very good at odd-time music: I’m from East Texas. But then again, If you’re from India and having problems, what chance do I have? At least you can play grooves on random meters. I think my inner clock can go up to 7 but  it starts to get shaky after that. One thing that makes me not very good at odd time music is that I simply don’t like it very much. It doesn’t fascinate me and when I hear it,  I spend most of my time counting and trying to keep up with when... read more

Vice or Virtue?

Hey Willis, Firstly – you’re a genius and thanks for existing and especially for moving over to Europe so you’re just a little closer to the UK – it’s not that bad over here is it? Secondly I’ve just asked for an espresso machine for my birthday in July and I just watched your very excellent Clouds Of Glory video – so my question is what is your attitude towards coffee? You obviously love it – and like me I’m sure as life has gone on and you have given up ‘other things’ do you think caffeine is a safe drug and one that used in the right way is actually beneficial to playing, practicing and or performing? Have a great day and I hope to hear/see you live again soon – please come and play in London sometime soon – I saw your gig with Gerard Presencer at the Vortex and it was really special. Cheers buddy, Mike Hey Mike, First of all, caffeine makes me play horribly – so I don’t recommend it for performing. I usually play better when I’m tired – my conscious brain doesn’t interfere so much with my instincts – but if I have a coffee before I play, I’m way too aware of everything that’s happening. It screws with any access to instincts. I’ve discovered my limit is about 3 a day – but I really enjoy those three when I can make them myself. I got a Rancilio Epoca for my birthday a few years back and have since started using my own grinder and tamping press. Check out this Espresso... read more

I’m back . . .

Finally finished moving, emptying boxes and setting up a new home studio and I’m ready to get back to your questions. There’s been some great ones submitted the last 6 weeks and I look forward to trying to catch up. Thanks for everyone’s patience,... read more

Wood vs. Metal

Hey Willis, How can I keep the fingerboard in good shape using roundwound strings on my fretless bass .Just got it sanded up a month ago and it is already full of string marks. Thanks for your answer, Peter Hey Peter, What is the fingerboard material? If it’s ebony, it might last for years. If it’s rosewood, then odds are it will die a slow agonizing death without some kind of protection (polyurethane or epoxy). One thing that will help extend the life of an unfinished fingerboard is to play with less pressure in the left hand and also avoid any string bending. It’s fretless, so get your vibrato the way the pros do and don’t grind the strings into the unprotected wood. Unless it’s ebony and you can develop a light left-hand technique (which requires rethinking your string height and overall setup) I’d recommend putting a finish on... read more

GWB35 GK-3B install

Hey Willis, Noticed you use the VB-99 System with the GK-3B Midi Pickup on your Bass. Recently bought the GWB35 which is an excellent bass, and perfect for those who want to make the move from fretted to fretless. My question is regarding space when installing the Midi Pickup (thinking of buying the setup for some home recording) as shown in some of your Masterclass Videos. Is it not a bit too close to the Tone Controls? Thanks and Regards, Paul Hey Paul, Before I had the Graphtek Ghost system integrated into the bass, I used the GK-3B. One very common misconception is that the GK-3B is not a MIDI pickup. The VB-99 does have the option for MIDI out but what makes the system almost latency-free is that it processes each string individually and sends the separate signals through 2 parallel effects chains that you can reorder and mix however you want. To cleanly install the GK-3B on the GWB35 without making any permanent modifications to the bass requires that you sacrifice the volume knob. The first install that I did on my GWB1005 was similar but there I sacrificed the tone controls on that one. Since the purpose is to use the V-Bass or VB-99 system, you’ll most likely be using the volume pedal on the floor for volume control so it makes more sense to me now to sacrifice the volume control. By sacrifice, I mean remove the knob and park the volume control (set at full volume) inside the cavity. Feel free to sacrifice whichever control you don’t think you’ll need to access the least. Since... read more

Flat ?

Hey Willis, I recently got a used a GWB1 and I have noticed the tone is incredibly bright when the on-board controls are set flat. I remember reading that you run yours the same and was wondering what you did to tame the high end, is it all right hand muting? Thanks, Morris Hey Morris, you’ve probably come to realize by now that “flat” is a very relative/subjective term. It really depends on the system you’re running through – whether it’s hi-fi studio monitors or an old 15″ bass cabinet with no tweeters. On the Aguilar 750 I would put the mid and treble controls at about 10 o’clock or less and run the tweeter attenuation all the way off on the GS112’s (this was before the GS112 NT no-tweeter model was available). Now with the 751 it’s closer to “flat”. But when I have to play through other systems I’ll normally roll back the Treble control on the bass. For recording I keep the Bass and Treble controls on my bass flat but I definitely reduce the highs for listening to myself while tracking. What goes to “tape” is the full audio spectrum (according to me). What gets done to it afterwords depends, but it pretty much never involves... read more
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