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Willis Takes on Your Questions

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Hey Willis,
I’m installing a ramp on one of my jazz basses to try it out. I’m not sure what the clearance between ramp and strings should be. I know it’s probably different for everyone. But to give me a ballpark figure, could you tell me what the clearance is between the G-string and the ramp on your bass when you press the string down on the last fret? I guess the clearance at the E-string will be the same right?
MikkelHey Mikkel,
How about .07 millimeters? At first, instead of estimating a number, I tried to insert a CD between the ramp and the G-string and it wouldn’t fit. I thought that the downward curve of the ramp was keeping me from getting the CD at the perfect angle. So I found a CD that somebody gave me who’s music really sucks and I broke off a little piece (all in the name of scientific research) and it still wouldn’t fit. ‘Turns out that CD’s average somewhere between 1.1 and 1.5 millimeters in thickness. So I had to eyeball it.

Anyway, I’ll admit my fingers are “smallish” so I make up for it by setting the ramp closer and driving a big, really big SUV.

Also, the B-string had the same spacing.

Also, I actually don’t drive a big SUV – I don’t even own a car. Public transportation in Barcelona really makes it hard to compensate for “digit envy”.

__________________
Hey Willis.
What type of cabinets do you use and in what combination? Do you use a different setup depending on the gig?
Bill

And now a word from our sponsor . . .
OK Look, I used to design and build my own cabinets using 7-ply baltic birch and subframe techniques so it’s not like I’m just some corporate shill. So Bill, my normal cabinet setup is 3 single Aguilar GS 112’s. Obviously, having three 12’s allow you to configure your setup for the situation. Back in October I played a classical concert on acoustic bass guitar in a huge cavernous cathedral with just the single 12.

__________________

Hey Willis,
There’s a lot of information on chords, scales and intervals these days. But… I’ve started to think more and more about the whole form of the solo from start to the end of the song. For example, how do you think about a) two bar phrases vs. next two bars b) four bar phrases vs. next four bars c) eight bar phrases vs. next eight bars. d) chorus to chorus to make it interesting and a musical experience for the listener? I think I have to somehow find balance and contrast between these elements: 2, 4, 8 bars, Chorus-to-Chorus, Song-to-Song, Set-to-Set, Gig-to-Gig… Tension and release, register, rhythmic activity… I´m on my way but you are “maybe” a little bit deeper in these things so HELP ME/US wrestling with these things!
Jussi

Hey Jussi,
First of all, congratulations on finding gigs where you get to solo. It appears you’re soloing more, even more than once per set. So on behalf of the large percentage of bassists out there who are not so lucky – we salute you!

Of all the elements you included in your question, believe it or not, you left out the most important thing… the end. Seriously, one of the biggest challenges bass soloists have, and most other soloists don’t, is that we have to make the transition from soloing back to our support role. It doesn’t matter if you play an outrageously good solo, if you mess up the transition, the audience (not to mention the rest of the band) is just going to end up confused.

You (we/us) should work as much on the transitions as much as we work on everything else. Every solo has to stop, right? Try practicing one chorus solos. Add a few bars of the next chorus just to complete the transition.

As to the micro to macro elements (from 2 bar phrases to gig-to-gig), those are definitely things to be aware of, but they’re totally dependent on your vocabulary. It’s very important to have that micro to macro awareness, but while you’re playing don’t try to think too much. For me, the more I think, the worse I play. With enough time practicing and enough experience on stage all these elements will become subconscious. Eventually you want your phrasing to be fluid and independent of those symmetric 2, 4, 8 bar phrases.

Everybody’s ideal is to have a big enough vocabulary that they can make each solo unique. It also requires a big vocabulary to contrast the final elements you mention: tension/release, register, rhythm – but you’re off to a great start now that you have the awareness.

Speaking of awareness, you probably do this already, but record your gigs and record yourself soloing when you practice. When you listen back without the bass, you can get into an editing mind set that will let you evaluate what’s good or bad or what’s missing in your vocabulary.

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Hey Willis,
What is the best microphone for the bass in a live performance?
Keith

Hey Keith,
I stopped mixing microphones and bass a long, long time ago. In a controlled recording situation, as soon as you introduce a microphone into the signal path, you’ve introduced hundreds, possibly thousands of variables into getting a good sound: which microphone, which amplifier, what amp settings, how loud, mic placement, mic angle, which room, where in the room, etc. So you can imagine how much less control you have over a microphone signal in a live situation. I think you’ll find the most consistent results with a good D.I., or better yet, a great amp with a great D.I.

__________________

Hey Willis,
I’m playing the GWB35 and wanted to know what effect I can use to get a little more sustain without compromising the tone?
Azaan

Hey Azaan,
It won’t come from an effect. The most important element is the setup. On any fretless, when you get the string height and truss rod adjustment just right, there’s kind of a sweet spot where the notes have enough room to “breathe” but there’s still enough of that characteristic buzz that makes it sound like a fretless and sustain longer. The next two things are how hard you play and where you play. Playing softer while turning up the amp will let the string vibrate at a volume closer to its natural vibrating resonance with more sustain. Playing softer will also allow you a lower setup which will help this as well. Properly adjusting the ramp height and angle will help you to maintain this lighter touch. It also gives you a consistent sensation when you play further away from the bridge (where you play) which also increases the sustain.

__________________

Hey Willis,
My name is Greg and I would like to know what type of bass strings you use for your basses? I have recently started to play fretless bass, and have yet to find the right strings. Any suggestions?

Hey Greg,
Please sign this disclaimer stating that you are not a current employee of D’Addario Inc. or any of its subsidiaries or contracting media partners. Otherwise, people are not going to believe your question is real: disclaimer.pdf

OK, now that we got that out of the way, I’m assuming that your fingerboard is either synthetic or a hardwood like ebony or has some kind of a protective coating. If so, then roundwounds are the way to go. I use D’Addario XL’s – specifically, the EXL165 set with an XLB135T tapered B string. I’m also a fan of their EXP coated Nickel Roundwounds – the EXP165 set with the EXPSLB130 B string.

If your fingerboard can’t handle roundwounds then you’re stuck with some version of flatwounds and even then, some sort of fingerboard wear and tear is pretty much unavoidable.

__________________

Hey Willis,
Would you please add me to your Myspace page, pretty please?
<insert disgruntled myspace member name here>

and another:

and for future reference:

Dear Mr. Willis,
Please take a minute and add me to your <insert latest flavor of the month social networking site name here>

To Whom it may concern,
Really, the only reason I’m on MySpace is because my profile was there being operated by someone else (not maliciously) and I thought the safest thing to do was to take it over and while I was at it, see what all the fuss was about. At first I added friends selectively, but soon after I felt guilty and started being more inclusive – even adding a guitar player here and there. But finally, the heavy burden of the whole approval/denial process involving absolute strangers is just too much for my guilt-prone procrastination-obsessed conscience. MySpace page maintenance has sunk to the bottom (invisible) portion of my to do list.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to give the impression that I’m so popular that I’m inundated with thousands of Myspace and Facebook requests – more like dozens. But it adds up over time. Or at least I think it does, since it’s been a couple of months since I’ve logged in. Anyway, if I don’t add you to my friends list or accept your Facebook invitation or join the latest greatest favorite social networking site… in the words of Zefrank: “It usually means that I’m doing something else.” I didn’t forget about you though. I like you.
. . . really . . .

 

Bass CDs

New Album: Jake Leckie, Planter of Seeds

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Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

Bassist Jake Leckie and The Guide Trio Unveil New Album Planter of Seeds,
to be released on June 7, 2024

Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

What are we putting in the ground? What are we building? What is the village we want to bring our children up in? At the core of the ensemble is The Guide Trio, his working band with guitarist Nadav Peled and drummer Beth Goodfellow, who played on Leckie’s second album, The Guide, a rootsy funky acoustic analog folk-jazz recording released on Ropeadope records in 2022. For Planter of Seeds, the ensemble is augmented by Cathlene Pineda (piano), Randal Fisher (tenor saxophone), and Darius Christian (trombone), who infuse freedom and soul into the already tightly established ensemble.

Eight original compositions were pristinely recorded live off the floor of Studio 3 at East West Studios in Hollywood CA, and mastered by A.T. Michael MacDonald. The cover art is by internationally acclaimed visual artist Wayne White. Whereas his previous work has been compared to Charles Mingus, and Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet with Charlie Haden, Leckie’s new collection sits comfortably between the funky odd time signatures of the Dave Holland Quintet and the modern folk-jazz of the Brian Blade Fellowship Band with a respectful nod towards the late 1950s classic recordings of Ahmad Jamal and Miles Davis.

The title track, “Planter of Seeds,” is dedicated to a close family friend, who was originally from Trinidad, and whenever she visited family or friends at their homes, without anyone knowing, she would plant seeds she kept in her pocket in their gardens, so the next season beautiful flowers would pop up. It was a small altruistic anonymous act of kindness that brought just a little more beauty into the world. The rhythm is a tribute to Ahmad Jamal, who we also lost around the same time, and whose theme song Poinciana is about a tree from the Caribbean.

“Big Sur Jade” was written on a trip Leckie took with his wife to Big Sur, CA, and is a celebration of his family and community. This swinging 5/4 blues opens with an unaccompanied bass solo, and gives an opportunity for each of the musicians to share their improvisational voices. “Clear Skies” is a cathartic up-tempo release of collective creative energies in fiery improvisational freedom. “The Aquatic Uncle” features Randal Fisher’s saxophone and is named after an Italo Calvino short story which contemplates if one can embrace the new ways while being in tune with tradition. In ancient times, before a rudder, the Starboard side of the ship was where it was steered from with a steering oar. In this meditative quartet performance, the bass is like the steering oar of the ensemble: it can control the direction of the music, and when things begin to unravel or become unhinged, a simple pedal note keeps everything grounded.

The two trio tunes on the album are proof that the establishment of his consistent working band The Guide Trio has been a fruitful collaboration. “Santa Teresa”, a bouncy samba-blues in ? time, embodies the winding streets and stairways of the bohemian neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro it is named for. The swampy drum feel on “String Song” pays homage to Levon Helm of The Band, a group where you can’t always tell who wrote the song or who the bandleader is, proving that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Early jazz reflected egalitarianism in collective improvisation, and this group dynamic is an expression of that kind of inclusivity and democracy.

“The Daughters of the Moon” rounds out the album, putting book ends on the naturalist themes. This composition is named after magical surrealist Italo Calvino’s short story about consumerism, in which a mythical modern society that values only buying shiny new things throws away the moon like it is a piece of garbage and the daughters of the moon save it and resurrect it. It’s an eco-feminist take on how women are going to save the world. Pineda’s piano outro is a hauntingly beautiful lunar voyage, blinding us with love. Leckie dedicates this song to his daughter: “My hope is that my daughter becomes a daughter of the moon, helping to make the world a more beautiful and verdant place to live.”

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Bass CDs

Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

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Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

In a thrilling solo debut, bassist Nate Sabat combines instrumental virtuosity with a songwriter’s heart on Bass Fiddler

The upright bass and the human voice. Two essential musical instruments, one with roots in 15th century Europe, the other as old as humanity itself. 

On Bass Fiddler (Adhyâropa Records ÂR00057), the debut album from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and bass virtuoso Nate Sabat, the scope is narrowed down a bit. Drawing from the rich and thriving tradition of American folk music, Sabat delivers expertly crafted original songs and choice covers with the upright bass as his lone tool for accompaniment. 

The concept was born a decade ago when Sabat began studying with the legendary old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky at Berklee College of Music. “One of Bruce’s specialties is singing and playing fiddle at the same time. The second I heard it I was hooked,” recalls Sabat. “I thought, how can I do this on the bass?” From there, he was off to the races, arranging original and traditional material with Molsky as his guide. “Fast forward to 2020, and I — like so many other musicians — was thinking of how to best spend my time. I sat down with the goal of writing some new songs and arranging some new covers, and an entire record came out.” When the time came to make the album, it was evident that Molsky would be the ideal producer. Sabat asked him if he’d be interested, and luckily he was. “What an inspiration to work with an artist like Nate,” says Molsky. “Right at the beginning, he came to this project with a strong, personal and unique vision. Plus he had the guts to try for a complete and compelling cycle of music with nothing but a bass and a voice. You’ll hear right away that it’s engaging, sometimes serious, sometimes fun, and beautifully thought out from top to bottom.” 

While this record is, at its core, a folk music album, Sabat uses the term broadly. Some tracks lean more rock (‘In the Shade’), some more pop (‘White Marble’, ‘Rabid Thoughts’), some more jazz (‘Fade Away’), but the setting ties them all together. “There’s something inherently folksy about a musician singing songs with their instrument, no matter the influences behind the compositions themselves,” Sabat notes. To be sure, there are plenty of folk songs (‘Louise’ ‘Sometimes’, ‘Eli’) and fiddling (‘Year of the Ox’) to be had here — the folk music fan won’t go hungry. There’s a healthy dose of bluegrass too (‘Orphan Annie’, ‘Lonesome Night’), clean and simple, the way Mr. Bill Monroe intended. 

All in all, this album shines a light on an instrument that often goes overlooked in the folk music world, enveloping the listener in its myriad sounds, textures, and colors. “There’s nothing I love more than playing the upright bass,” exclaims Sabat. “My hope is that listeners take the time to sit with this album front to back — I want them to take in the full scope of the work. I have a feeling they’ll hear something they haven’t heard before.”

Available online at natesabat.bandcamp.com/album/walking-away

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Gear News

New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

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New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass…

Esopus Guitars is proud to announce the new “Tailwater” bass guitar, from legendary bass luthier Stuart Spector. This 32” scale bass is handcrafted by Stuart using the only finest woods and components at the Esopus Guitar workshop located near Woodstock NY in the Catskill Mountains. 

From its fully carved spruce top (the top is carved on both its exterior and interior surfaces) with a thumb rest that is elegantly carved into the top, to its custom-made Fishman piezo pickup and super hard Carnauba wax finish, every detail of the Tailwater is part of creating the ultimate playing experience.

The Tailwater bass features a fully chambered spruce over alder body (15.5″ lower body bout width, 2.25″ body thickness measuring from the peak of the carved top) that delivers a super comfortable tonal tool for all your low-end needs.

Each Tailwater bass is hand-signed and numbered on the back of the peghead by Stuart Spector. A very limited number of Tailwater basses are handcrafted each year at the Esopus workshop. 

“I am proud to present the Tailwater bass, a bass that I have spent the last three years perfecting. The Tailwater is a culmination of all of my 45 years of experience, knowledge, and passion for bass guitar crafting. I am so eager to hear what fellow musicians create with this exciting new instrument.” -Stuart Spector

Direct Pricing : $4995.00 plus options. 

For more information about Esopus Guitars and Stuart Spector’s handcrafted instruments, visit www.EsopusGuitars.com.  

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Bass Videos

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

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Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Ian Allison Bassist extreme

Most recently Ian has spent the last seven years touring nationally as part of Eric Hutchinson and The Believers, sharing stages with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Rachel Platten, Matt Nathanson, Phillip Phillips, and Cory Wong playing venues such as Radio City Music Hall, The Staples Center and The Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN.

I had a chance to meet up with him at the Sellersville Theater in Eastern Pennsylvania to catch up on everything bass. Visit online at ianmartinallison.com/

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @officialspector @bqwbassguitar @brute_bass_guitars @phdbassguitars @ramabass.ok @tribe_guitars @woodguerilla_instruments @mikelullcustomguitars @jcrluthier @elegeecustom

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