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Willis Takes on Your Questions

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Meet Willis –

Hey Willis,
I am very impressed by the sound of your bass on all of your recordings (I am, also, very impressed by your playing and musical ideas). Although I am usually turned away by effected and processed sound, you seem to have perfected it in company of your playing, appearing less processed than the keys or guitars and cutting through the mix as a solid, almost analog sound. The sound is less raw, but the playing isn’t.

Even with Lale on the Timeline release, you allow certain rawness in for specific and intentional sounds, while otherwise excluding it to highlight your ideas. I want to know how you get your sound so clean, rounded and isolated. Your playing style is light, but rarely can I hear your hand movements along the strings and neck, unless it is intentionally included and appears focused into the mix. How do you manage this with the volume up, and especially with bright, new-string bite? I continually battle against the sound of the string hitting the fretboard & the sound of my hand dragging along the strings. When recording, I usually mic my bass amp and use a direct signal from the amp or go direct from my bass, but I still have trouble removing the fret, fretboard and string surface sounds. My sound ends up very edgy and raw but detracts from my ideas and can blur rhythmic phrasings and note definition. I have, also, read about your use of the Roland V-Bass, and have been impressed by its versatility.Would you please advise me of your setup, from bass to cabinets to mixdown (as appropriate), including whatever accessory technology you employ and how & why you use it in conjunction with your playing style and desired sound…? Also, Is the elimination of hand sounds from the mix primarily from your playing style or from manipulation of the signal? Please advise me as to how this is achieved.
Thanks Willis, your time and contribution to bass are much appreciated
Matt

Hey Matt,
Thanks for the kind words and observations.
It’s true that I turn up and play very light. Most people that pick up my bass when it’s plugged in are surprised at how loud the volume is.
The first thing I’d recommend is that if your strings are hitting the fingerboard, you’re still playing too hard.
A couple of things are at work here. One is that because you play too hard, you have to keep the action of the bass higher. When the strings are higher, they require more left hand pressure. This left hand pressure becomes apparent when shifting – as well as cutting down on mobility.
Another thing I’ve discovered an almost direct relationship between playing hard with the right hand and squeezing hard with the left. If you squeeze hard with the left, then you’re pretty much guaranteed to make more sound when you move your hand around.
Another element at work is my right hand 3-finger technique. I keep my thumb and 3rd finger on the strings at all times. This give me an “anchor” (although that’s a bad word choice since it implies pressure) for feeling my way around the right hand duties. Since I try to keep fingers on strings at all times, it’s much easier for me to keep strings and noises quiet.
Finally, the ramp on my basses (that I’m starting to see a lot of other players use) also serves to keep your fingers ready to play with exactly the amount of finger necessary to get the sound you want, but prevents playing to hard.

For recording, I never use a microphone. I always record direct to the converter. For Slaughterhouse 3 is was Apogee’s Mini-Me. For Actual Fiction is was the Apogee Ensemble and I used TC Electronic’s Studio Konnekt 48 for Triphasic’s Shaman. Always having the direct sound recorded as well as a separate track for effects gives you the option to go back and make changes – either in what I played or the sound of the effect. I’ll listen to the effects to monitor when I’m tracking but I’m not stuck with a particular effect mix since the dry track is still available. I’ve used a really wide range of effects for recording, starting with Roland’s V-Bass, all the processing available in Logic Studio, as well as sometimes TC’s G-System and Native Instrument’s Guitar Rig 2.

Finally, the elimination of hand sounds comes from my playing style. The loud volume of the bass (relative to how others approach volume) does have the benefit of a really fat sound and low action but definitely requires a some kind of system from the right hand to keep things quiet. In taht respect, I suppose I was lucky to not have a bass teacher. Curiously, the very first thing I did with my right hand when I got a bass (13 years old) was to put thumb, 1,2 & 3 on the string to keep them quiet.

________

Hey willis!!
As a student of the bass (grade 5) which of your books should i study first:
Ultimate ear training, or fingerboard harmony?
I dont want to study them the wrong way round.
Many thanks and best wishes
Rob

Hey Rob,
I didn’t know there were grades of bass study. (maybe this is strictly a UK phenomena – since your email originated from there)
Even if you already have a great ear – I would definitely start with Ultimate Ear Training. Having a great ear, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s connected to the fingerboard. It might just mean that you excell in the testing environment. Establishing that connection from your ear to the fingerboard will serve you the rest of your bass playing days, no matter what you’re doing. The Fingerboard Harmony book is a little more advanced and serves as kind of a global foundation for when it’s time for you to choose how you want to play over chord changes. (fills, grooves, solos, walking, etc).

________

Hey Willis,
Another outer fringe bassist here with some technical questions regarding setting up downloads from your host site. I admire how you’ve incorporated instant pay and download mp3s on your site, and I’m looking to do the same with mine. I’ve looked into a bit of Paypal’s developer partners, but I’m curious to what back end service you use to have your listeners pay via Paypal. If you wouldn’t mind, could you shed a little light on the subject?
I enjoy your work, and I find your treatises on the current music business model enlightening.
Thanks for all that you do.
– Benjamin

Hey Ben,
Thanks for the kind words and for noticing integrated download system. It’s actually a combination of 3 things. It begins with Vibralogix LinkLok for PayPal . A PHP system that works with PayPal’s instant payment notification process. The interface is a Flash component package that I customized called PPCC – and although its website is defunct, the flash code and components still work to communicate with the Vibralogix PHP. The audio portion is something I adapted from an article by Drew Maclellan called Flash Satay which prevents audio from continuing to download if it’s not currently playing.

…while the system has worked pretty much without incident, a recent hosting switch has resulted in empty downloads for some users – a problem that seems to be related to a bandwidth limit that I haven’t had time to troubleshoot – still, users get their link emailed to them. I use the same hosting company for triphasic.net and it works fine there…

________

Hey Willis!
First of all I want to send thanks for doing all that wonderfull music!
Most of musicians that I want to thank to are dead so I’m glad you are still alive and hope, doing well :)..!
I have a question about bass that I will buy finally.
I am wondering if it is possibile not to put epoxy on fretboard of Ibanez GWB35 bass and still have it in a perfect condition?
I have no expirience with ebonol and as it is man made material I susppect that it is not wearable?
By the way, I use roundwound strings.
Thank you very much for your answer and continue being creative.
Many greetings
Andrej,

Hey Andrej,
I’m quite pleased to know that you appreciate my not being dead – and thanks for the kind words, and I’m doing fine, thanks.
The ebonal material is quite durable. I have had zero problems with wear on my fingerboards and only use roundwounds. The only compensation that you need to keep in mind when playing a fretless is to avoid the old (fretted) way of getting vibrato by pulling on the string. This grinds the string across the fingerboard and will eventually cause wear. Obviously, because there’s no frets, you should get your vibrato by moving your hand and fingers paralell to the string.

________

Hey willis,
So… i already started to integrate the 3 finger technique and i can say that 95% precent of the time i play i use it
(although i had a realy realy difficult time to switch…)
By now im starting to feel it was all worth it…
Except when i mute the strings with the right side of the hand …and then i find it extremely diffiult to play with the ring finger ..let alone to keep it on the next string..
i checked some video’s and it looks like you are using your thumb as an alternating finger..
(of course i can be wrong)
i would appreciate if you could explain on the matter..
thanks
Uri

Hey Uri,
Glad to hear you’re taking advantage of that 3rd finger.
Actually, I don’t use the 3rd finger that much at all when I palm mute. It will stay resting on an upper string and play the occasional note but I use a LOT more thumb than 3rd finger while I’m palm muting. Unless something is kind of fast, I’ll stick with Thumb, 1 & 2 (not in any particular order) and generally stay on the B, E and A strings. If something’s faster or needs playing on the D string then I’ll add the 3rd finger.

________

Hey Willis!
Im wondering why there is a drastic price difference in your signature basses..Is there that much difference in sound and quality?
Jerry

Hey Jerry!
The prices are deceptive on both counts. The GWB35 has a great sound that I’ve performend and recorded with and its quality is great considering its ultra-affordable price. Obviously, the GWB1005 sets the standard for tone and craftmanship that to me represent the “perfect” bass – hard to put a price on that but considering it’s hand-built, owners have consistently reported they’re worth every penny.

________

Hey Willis,
First, thanks for taking the time to answer questions from us and your website is excellent. I’ve been working on learning theory and walking over standards for a few months. I know that’s an important part of jazz bass but soloing is another part. I’m not sure at what point would be appropriate to start. Ergo, I ask, when should someone start working on solos?
Thanks,
Black Dog

Hey Black Dog,
i would hold of on the soloing a little longer and first spend a good bit of time learning melodies. First of all, melodies help “glue” a song together for memorizing and for associating ideas with harmony. After you’ve learned to play a dozen or so melodies, go back and start learning how to interpret them. Learn how to make them different that what’s on the page. Learn how to make variations (changes in rhythm, pickup notes, phrasing) and carry those through so each succesive idea so that playing the melody becomes more personal. Melodies are great target ideas for development. Learning how to interpret melodies will give you a great head start on how to interpret your own ideas when you start to work on soloing. (big emphasis on the “idea” part of soloing) To me, interpreting and developing an idea is the key to communicating when your soloing.

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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Features

Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

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Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

Checking in with Bergantino Artist James Tobias

James Tobias, Bassist for psychedelic, Reggae-Rock titans Audic Empire shares his history as a musician and how he came to find Bergantino…

Interview by Holly Bergantino

James Tobias, a multi-talented musician and jack-of-all-trades shares his story of coming up as a musician in Texas, his journey with his band Audic Empire, and his approach to life and music. With a busy tour schedule each year, we were fortunate to catch up with him while he was out and about touring the US. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Dallas, Texas and lived in the Dallas area most of my life with the exception of 1 year in Colorado. I moved to the Austin area at age 18. 

What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate to it?

I honestly started playing bass because we needed a bass player and I was the one with access to a bass amp and bass. I played rhythm guitar and sang up until I met Ronnie, who I would later start “Audic Empire” with. He also played rhythm guitar and sang and we didn’t know any bass players, so we had to figure something out. I still write most of my songs on guitar, but I’ve grown to love playing the bass. 

How did you learn to play, James?

I took guitar lessons growing up and spent a lot of time just learning tabs or playing by ear and kicked around as a frontman in a handful of bands playing at the local coffee shops or rec centers. Once I transitioned to bass, I really just tried to apply what I knew about guitar and stumbled through it till it sounded right. I’m still learning every time I pick it up, honestly. 

You are also a songwriter, recording engineer, and a fantastic singer, did you get formal training for this? 

Thank you, that means a lot!  I had a couple of voice lessons when I was in my early teens, but didn’t really like the instructor. I did however take a few lessons recently through ACC that I enjoyed and think really helped my technique (Shout out to Adam Roberts!) I was not a naturally gifted singer, which is a nice way of saying I was pretty awful, but I just kept at it. 

As far as recording and producing, I just watched a lot of YouTube videos and asked people who know more than me when I had a question. Whenever I feel like I’m not progressing, I just pull up tracks from a couple of years ago, cringe, and feel better about where I’m at but I’ve got a long way to go. Fortunately, we’ve got some amazing producers I can pass everything over to once I get the songs as close to finalized as I can. 

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.

I honestly don’t know what my style would be considered. We’ve got so many styles that we play and fuse together that I just try to do what works song by song.  I don’t have too many tricks in the bag and just keep it simple and focus on what’s going to sound good in the overall mix. I think my strength lies in thinking about the song as a whole and what each instrument is doing, so I can compliment everything else that’s going on. What could be improved is absolutely everything, but that’s the great thing about music (and kind of anything really). 

Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference and inspired you?

My dad exposed me to a lot of music early. I was playing a toy guitar while watching a VHS of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble live at SXSW on repeat at 4 years old saying I wanted to “do that” when I grew up. I was the only kid in daycare that had his own CDs that weren’t kid’s songs. I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Doors when I could barely talk. I would make up songs and sing them into my Panasonic slimline tape recorder and take it to my preschool to show my friends. As I got older went through a bunch of music phases. Metal, grunge, rock, punk, hip hop, reggae, ska, etc. Whatever I heard that I connected to I’d dive in and learn as much as I could about it. I was always in bands and I think I kept picking up different styles along the way and kept combining my different elements and I think that’s evident in Audic’s diverse sound. 

Tell me about Audic Empire and your new release Take Over! Can you share some of the highlights you and the band are most proud of?

Takeover was an interesting one. I basically built that song on keyboard and drum loops and wrote and tracked all my vocals in one long session in my bedroom studio kind of in a stream-of-consciousness type of approach. I kind of thought nothing would come of it and I’d toss it out, but we slowly went back and tracked over everything with instruments and made it our own sound. I got it as far as I could with production and handed it off to Chad Wrong to work his magic and really bring it to life. Once I got Snow Owl Media involved and we started brainstorming about a music video, it quickly turned into a considerably larger production than anything we’ve done before and it was such a cool experience. I’m really excited about the final product, especially considering I initially thought it was a throwaway track.

Describe the music style of Audic Empire for us. 

It’s all over the place… we advertise it as “blues, rock, reggae.” Blues because of our lead guitarist, Travis Brown’s playing style, rock because I think at the heart we’re a rock band, and reggae because we flavor everything with a little (or a lot) of reggae or ska. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio Systems?

Well, my Ampeg SVT7 caught fire at a show… We were playing Stubbs in Austin and everyone kept saying they smelled something burning, and I looked back in time to see my head, perched on top of its 8×10 cab, begin billowing smoke. We had a tour coming up, so I started researching and pricing everything to try and find a new amp. I was also fronting a metal band at the time, and my bass player’s dad was a big-time country bass player and said he had this really high-end bass amp just sitting in a closet he’d sell me. I was apprehensive since I really didn’t know much about it and “just a little 4×10” probably wasn’t going to cut it compared to my previous setup. He said I could come over and give it a test drive, but he said he knew I was going to buy it. He was right. I immediately fell in love. I couldn’t believe the power it put out compared to this heavy head and cumbersome cab I had been breaking my back hauling all over the country and up countless staircases.  

Tell us about your experience with the forte D amp and the AE 410 Speaker cabinet. 

It’s been a game-changer in every sense. It’s lightweight and compact. Amazing tone. And LOUD. It’s just a fantastic amp. Not to mention the customer service being top-notch! You’ll be hard-pressed to find another product that, if you have an issue, you can get in touch with the owner, himself. How cool is that? 

Tell us about some of your favorite basses.

I was always broke and usually working part-time delivering pizzas, so I just played what I could get my hands on. I went through a few pawn shop basses, swapped in new pickups, and fought with the action on them constantly. I played them through an Ampeg be115 combo amp. All the electronics in it had fried at some point, so I gutted it out and turned it into a cab that I powered with a rusted-up little head I bought off someone for a hundred bucks. My gear was often DIY’d and held together by electrical tape and usually had a few coats of spray paint to attempt to hide the wear and tear. I never really fell in love with any piece of gear I had till I had a supporter of our band give me an Ibanez Premium Series SDGR. I absolutely love that bass and still travel with it. I’ve since gotten another Ibanez Premium Series, but went with the 5-string BTB.  It’s a fantastic-sounding bass, my only complaint is it’s pretty heavy. 

Love your new video Take Over! Let us know what you’re currently working on (studio, tour, side projects, etc.)

Thank you!! We’ve got a LOT of stuff we’re working on right now actually. Having 2 writers in the band means we never have a shortage of material. It’s more about getting everything tracked and ready for release and all that goes into that. We just got through filming videos for 2 new unreleased tracks with Snow Owl Media, who did the videos for both Love Hate and Pain and Takeover. Both of these songs have surprise features which I’m really excited about since these will be the first singles since our last album we have other artists on. We’ve also got a lot of shows coming up and I’ve also just launched my solo project as well. The debut single, “Raisin’ Hell” is available now everywhere. You can go here to find all the links distrokid.com/hyperfollow/jamestobias/raisin-hell

What else do you do besides music?

For work, I own a handyman service here in Austin doing a lot of drywall, painting, etc. I have a lot of hobbies and side hustles as well. I make custom guitar straps and other leather work. I do a lot of artwork and have done most of our merch designs and a lot of our cover art. I’m really into (and borderline obsessed) with health, fitness, and sober living.  I have a hard time sitting still, but fortunately, there’s always a lot to do when you’re self-employed and running a band!

Follow James Tobias:

jamestobiasmusic.com
Facebook.com/james.tobias1
Instagram.com/ru4badfish2
TikTok.com/@jamestobiasmusic
audicempire.com 

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Bass CDs

New Album: Avery Sharpe, I Am My Neighbors Keeper

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A new recording will be released on JKNM Records by internationally renowned bassist/composer Avery Sharpe, “I Am My Neighbors Keeper”

Avery Sharpe and his Double Quartet to release, I Am My Neighbors Keeper

A new recording will be released on JKNM Records by internationally renowned bassist/composer Avery Sharpe, “I Am My Neighbors Keeper” is scheduled for release in June 2024.

Sharpe has composed a new work that highlights our commitment to one another. Avery initiated the project as a response to the political and racial division that has grown over the past seven years in the country. “The U.S political climate has drastically changed in the past 40-plus years, especially during the last seven of those years. In this age of greed, which Sharpe refers to as “IGM,” I Got Mine, basic human compassion has been eroded. Racial, economic and social strides are being turned back.

“We have food insecurity, the unhoused, pandemics, school shootings, domestic violence, and an opioid problem, just to name some. There is a need to remind people that each of us is here on this planet for a very short period of time. It doesn’t matter if one has a religious approach or a secular approach, it all comes down to concern and compassion for each other. Through these compositions and recordings, Avery’s mission as an artist is to remind us that we all are interconnected and that ‘We Are Our Neighbor’s Keeper.’ When we help to uplift one, we uplift everyone,” Sharpe said.

Each movement in the piece describes the values we should strive for to help one another for this multi-media (video slide show during performance) and multi-discipline performance.

Many of Sharpe’s projects and recordings have been about “standing on the shoulders of ancestors, heroes and sheroes.” Among his recordings and projects, include “Running Man” (celebrating the athlete Jesse Owens), “Ain’t I A Woman” (about Sojourner Truth), and his most recent project “400: An African American Musical Portrait” (marking the 400 years from 1619 to 2019).

Avery Sharpe has recorded and performed with many jazz greats from Dizzy Gillespie to Yusef Lateef. He had an illustrious run of 20 plus years with the legendary Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, of which he recorded more than 25 records with Mr. Tyner and performed countless worldwide concerts.

Visit online at averysharpe.com/

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Bass Videos

New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

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New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

Spector Launches Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II…

Spector Musical Instruments expands their celebrated Woodstock Custom Collection with the Volume II series – a breathtaking series of 12 handcrafted, one-of-a-kind bass guitars, each one masterfully designed by members of the Spector team. Crafted in the Spector USA Custom Shop in Woodstock, New York, these works of art go beyond musical instruments and expand the boundaries of Spector Bass design.

Spector’s iconic design lays the foundation for the Volume II collection. Each bass showcases a unique vision, including the selection of tonewoods, electronics, captivating finishes, and intricate design details. The collection highlights Spector’s commitment to craftsmanship and artistry and the individual people and stories that make up the team.

“The Woodstock Custom Collection was such a huge success, and we had so much fun with it that we couldn’t wait to do it again,” said John Stippell, Director – Korg Bass Division. “With Volume II, we’re expanding on everything we learned from the first collection, as well as pushing our design and Custom Shop team even further. These basses are a testament to the inspiring talent, creativity, and skill of every person on the Spector team. I’m excited for all of these basses and love how they tell the unique stories of all involved.”

Visit online at spectorbass.com/

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