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Willis Takes on Your Questions

Hey Willis,

Ok, so I have your fingerboard harmony book and I’ve seen some of your videos on Youtube. I really like your idea about going from one chord to the next and only having to move at most a halfstep. The one thing I’ve never seen you address is about switching positions in order to go from a higher to a lower register or vice versa. So what are your thoughts about at what time you should switch positions during a phrase?

Hey Joel
It’s true, one of the principles of my system is to learn what’s under your hand first before you start moving around. One thing I didn’t include in the book but work on a lot with students is confining yourself to 2 strings and a few adjacent positions or sometimes 2 strings and the whole neck. This is done shifting with positions in mind, even if it implies one based on a string you’re not using. It helps you to start to visualize a bigger picture than just what’s currently under your hand.

I don’t really follow any rules for shifting when it comes time to create. Sometimes the direction or intervals in the line I want to hear will cause a shift. Other times it’s the preference of the sound of certain notes in one register versus what they sound like in another part of the bass. When I’m using pentatonics (which is a lot of the time) the main rule I follow is to never stay in one place too long – the more you shift, the better.

Hey Willis.
How can I purchase one of your ramps & how much do they cost?

Hey DG
Sorry, I doubt you’re going to be able to find one for sale anywhere. There are so many different bass designs out there and every one requires different dimensions for a ramp so it’s impossible to design a one-size-fits-all ramp. There are luthiers that include ramps by request on their instruments so they might be able to indulge you. If you enjoy working with your hands then you can give it a try without the risk of damaging your bass. Otherwise, I can sell you a very expensive ramp that comes with a free bass ;-).

Hi Gary,
i have some question about ur bass setup guide on ur web page, yes i know that i should not mail u for this but i think ur the best person that can help me on this…
1. Can u tell me what is the exact distance of action on the 12th fret for each string on the bass? (If u know also for 6 string would be great), ibanez page just talks about bass and treble side distances, but what do they mean with that, who are the bass side strings and who are the treble side strings exactly.
Thx for ur time my buddy i really appreciate ur help,

Hey Erik,
Nothing against first names, but since I’m from Texas (technically the south) calling someone by their last name is an accepted form of familiarity. After all these years “Gary” seems so wrong – like I’m in trouble from my Mom or something.

Anyway, yes you should definitely mail me for this – who else? Now, on to your list:
1. The bass side they talk about is for the lower (bigger) strings – treble for the higher strings. While Ibanez makes its recommendations, there really is no “exact” distance or standard height. It depends on too many things. First of all, if you play harder with your right hand you’ll need higher action to keep the notes from buzzing. Another reason some players prefer higher action is because of left hand dampening – the string will “jump” away from the fret more cleanly if it has further to go. I tend to do a lot more right hand dampening and I play softer with my right hand so both things allow me to keep really low action. When I set up a bass, I always try to get the action as low and as easy to play as possible while keeping it high enough to prevent unwanted buzzes and fret noises. As you learn to make your own adjustments, you’ll probably also find it necessary to adjust your playing style. What seems really low and noisy today might be the perfect setup a few months from now once your hands and technique adjust.

Hey Willis,
Do you or have you ever used a boost of some sort for your live solos? By boost I mean either a volume pedal, a preamp or gain boost, or an adjustment in EQ settings on the bass’ onboard preamp or by way of a pedal.
Thanks. Lee

Hey Lee,
I’ve always used a volume pedal – but except for tuning and some volume swells it stays all the way up. I’ve never used a boost in EQ or volume when it’s time for a live solo. One of the advantages of keeping your normal right hand intensity at “medium” is that it give you headroom to make things louder.

Hey Willis,
Do all 5-string basses have active pickups? And are active pickups always battery powered?
Thanks, Guy

Hey Guy,
No and yes. My original Ibanez 5-string fretless was passive (no battery ). Active pickups are always battery powered. The volume and treble controls in a passive pickup system are only capable of subtracting sound. When the controls in a passive system are turned up all the way – it’s like they’re not there – like plugging the pickup directly into the amp and bypassing the controls. The treble control only reduces treble – it can’t make it brighter than it is. An active system contains a small preamp that can amplify as well as reduce frequencies as well as the overall volume.

Hey Willis,
What’s your opinion on all those “designer” cables out there? Can you really tell the difference?

Hey BL,
Back before Ibanez made my bass into a production model, I was using passive pickups, and I really was able to notice the difference. My Bartolini pickup at that time was “hum canceling” which meant that the signal was traveling through the same 2 coils as a humbucker but only had magnets in one coil. So, without a preamp in the bass, the signal was subject to “cableization”. Passive pickups (see question above) are much more likely to benefit from better cable design than ones in an active system. It has something to do with impedence but I couldn’t tell you exactly how. My quest for all things bass-construction-related seems to stop at electronic theory. I looked it up to try to help answer this question and found this:

“The typical electric guitar pickup is a inductive magnetic transducer with frequency-dependent impedance. At high frequency, the mutually induced pickup voltage is dropped across the pickup-coil self-inductance (back EMF) if the pickup load impedance (i.e. amplifier input) is too low. Therefore, a high impedance amplifier input is required to prevent high frequency “loading” effects which are audible as a high-frequency attenuated “dull” sound.

So anyway, with the active Bartolini pickup and electronics I use now, the difference is much more subtle so the rule would always be “try before you buy”. And if you have an active system odds are you’ll notice the effect less.

BTW, next time you forget your speaker cables – just go looking in the nearest closet:

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