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Willis Takes on Your Questions


Willis Takes on Your Questions

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?

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!

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.


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

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?

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 . . .


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