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Willis Takes on Your Questions

First, an update from last issue’s question from Nick about wrist problems and mountain biking. I recently put Avid Elixir CR’s on my Cannondale Moto and wow what a difference. These are better than anything I’ve experienced.True 1-finger lockup and the least amount of tension on my wrists and hands that I can imagine.
Check it out:

Hey Willis,
You I noticed that you’ve started your own YouTube channel and there’s a couple of 3-finger technique exercises. Do you have anything for 4 string, or could you upload something? I’d like to see your basic string crossing exercise but for a 4 string bass.

Hey Nathan,
I’m uploading your answer as I type.

Yeah, It’s not happened as quickly as I would have liked but my plan is to answer the type of question you’ve asked and also to take requests (as long as they don’t violate YouTube’s Community Guidelines 😉


Hey Willis.
First, I have purchased all three of your instructional books: 101 Bass Tips, Fingerboard Harmony for Bass & Ultimate Ear Training. I enjoy 101 Tips more than the other two. The question is are all the examples of Key-Finger-String in the Fingerboard Harmony book written for a five string bass? Some of the finger locations really don’t make a lot of sense to an old guy who has only seriously been playing bass for a couple of years.

Hey Joe,
Speaking of an old guy, I don’t remember . . . Let me look it up . . . Nope, there’s no Key-Finger-String positions for the B string, so it’s all four string. One thing that might be confusing is that there are some K-F-S positions used for 2nd finger on the D string. This will make sense if you remember how the 2nd finger position connects to the 4th finger position below. On a four string bass, you have to imagine the root of that 4th finger position starting on a B string even if you don’t have one. The same thing happens on a five string bass with positions on the A string so don’t feel like you’re being discriminated against;-)


Hey Willis,
I’d like to know what your amplification rig was for the Progressive Bassics” Video. Were you using 15’s back then? I remember reading that you were blowing 15’s on tour with Tribal Tech around the time you discovered the Eden 10″ drivers. Now you are using Aguilar 12’s. Does this represent a compromise between the sound of a 15 vs. a 10 and if so, why?

Hey Jordan,
That rig was a Carver power amp, probably a Yamaha bass preamp and cabinets that I built myself or JBL cabs with an almost identical design. My 15″ cabinet design was basically a big speaker in a shallow box so it had a lot of definition but didn’t move that much air, but at least you didn’t hear the sound of the box that much. Most 4×10 designs use a bigger box tuned to move more air and sound bigger than 10’s naturally do. While the 12’s weren’t really an option with most manufacturers at that time, 10’s were really starting to become popular and I had much better success not blowing speakers.. Then I played Aguilar’s 10’s until I heard their single 12. I had the fortune of participating in Aguilar’s evaluation process and as soon as I heard it, I knew it had the “throaty” quality I was looking for that didn’t come from any combination of speakers or cabinet size I’d heard before. So it’s definitely not a compromise, but to me, pretty much an ideal speaker.


Hey Willis,
I’m going crazy with DVDs, books, online information. No teacher locally. WHAT SHOULD I PRACTISE? AHhhhhhh….
How do I gain the right focus?
How do I know if I’m making any progress?

All I want to do is play really really well :>)

Hey Anonymous,
IWhy is it that every one of these questions so far is making me feel old?
OK, back in my day, we didn’t have this internet thingy and this humongous warehouse of information, video, music and instruction only a few clicks away. So pardon me if I don’t sympathize too much. Still, I suppose the glut of choices might make someone feel frozen and not know which direction to go. In a way, I still feel lucky that I never had an electric bass teacher. For that reason, I feel like I’ve had success teaching people how to teach themselves. (which is what I had to do) You do have your own learning process, but maybe you haven’t zeroed in on it yet. Also, you have to realize that everybody is on their own schedule so don’t worry about comparing yourself to the latest young bass-stylist-flavor-of-the-month. Try focusing on the learning process that you’re using. Do you enjoy it? Do you feel free to create exercises for yourself? Do your ear and imagination play an important part in the learning process. If you can answer yes to all three of these questions and throw in some discipline while you’re at it, you’ll be well on your way to making progress. Stay with it long enough and you will play really really well. Now get out of my yard, you kids!


Hey Willis,
To me, the ramp is the most important advance in electric bass regarding playability since bass body shapes became contoured for us beer lovers. Adjustable
ramps are only offered by your bass and other high-end boutique manufacturers (Fodera, etc). Have the Ibanez guys thought of including ramps in other models, or expanding your signature series to fretted and 4-, 6-string basses? Please, answer yes and end my suffering.

Hey Miguel,
Your’e a genius! Why didn’t I think of that? “The Beer Ramp” Wait . . . OK, nevermind
So the answer is kinda yes but mostly no. I am able to personally offer a fretted and/or left-handed version of my signature bass, but 5 string only. Several years ago, I was shown a 4 string Willis prototype but the extra manufacturing/labor cost of including an adjustable ramp on less expensive basses doesn’t add up. The competition in the low-end and mid-level instrument market is intense. Maybe you could start a grass-roots, internet-signature-collecting kind of movement:
Yes we can. . . have a ramp on every bass . . .


Hey Willis,
I am 20 years old and I started playing a couple of years ago. Although I am happy with my progress in general, I have one persistent problem that has always remained.
Whenever I hold a chord, be it a two note, three or four note one, I cannot hold it for more than 10-15 seconds without this shooting pain in the muscles between my left thumb and index finger (I’m right handed)…this was a problem I faced while playing guitar as well (albeit to a lesser degree). I have tried all sorts of hand positions, but that pain doesn’t seem to go away, or it comes later. Are there any adjustments I could make to my left hand technique to reduce the pain or delay it?
Thanks a lot,

Hey Arunabh,
OK, first thing to do is stop playing those 3 and 4 note chords! That’s what keyboard players and computers are for! (guitar players just wanna solo and could care less about chords)
Now, the next place to start is the setup of your bass. There’s information on my site about setup (it’s kind of dated but still works).
Once you’re sure that the bass is set up with the lowest action you can have without buzzing. The next equipment consideration is the height of the nut. Compare how much the string moves when you fret a low F and while it’s fretted, press down the F#. Look to see if there’s a lot more movement when you only press the F. If there’s a huge difference, then your nut is too high. This can be addressed by a luthier or yourself if you’re comfortable with acquiring and using the right tools.
Once those two things are accounted for, then we can consider your technique.
This would be taken from a chapter in my 101 Tips for Bass book.
Repeatedly play a C on the A string but center your left hand finger directly between the frets – on top of the dot.
Continue repeating the C and gradually lift your finger until you hear it buzz. Observe how much pressure is necessary to keep the note from buzzing. Probably less than you normally use, no?
OK, now move your finger up the string until it’s almost on top of the 3rd fret. Do the same thing – repeated C’s and gradually lift up until it buzzes. Keep alternating – buzz/clean to see how much pressure is actually necessary to keep the note from buzzing. I expect you might be surprised how much more pressure you might be using than necessary.
Two things to remember – first, you’re probably using a lot more pressure than necessary to keep your notes from buzzing. Second, if you maintain a very accurate placement of the left hand fingers so that they are in contact with the fret – it will require even less pressure. Less pressure should equal less to no pain – I hope. Also remember, fewer chords on bass equals more gainful employment.

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