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Willis Takes on Your Questions : Ask Willis

Hi Willis,

I watched your Setup Advice video (at and noticed that some of the statements you make are contradictory to those given in your Setup Instruction Manual:
‘”to set up the intonation on a fretless, you have to make a decision of where you want your finger in relationship to the fret line, to be in tune. Pretty much most people do it dead centre.

I learnt the hard way that even though I prefer my finger here [indicating behind the fret line], it creates problems up and down the neck: it makes it more difficult to play in tune. You’ll have an easier time playing in tune if you set it up dead centre”. I personally find it much harder to play in tune if a bass is set up this way: for me, the necessary compensations don’t come naturally the way they do when I play as if I have frets (of infinitesimal height). It would be very helpful if you could explain how you came to decide to set the instrument up so differently, presumably quite recently.

Hey Niklaus,
It’s true about the discrepancy between the recent video and the older setup manual but I haven’t changed how I intonate my bass. A couple of years ago when Ibanez decided to hand-build the GWB1005 using master luthiers, it was an opportunity to rethink the design and I was determined to see if I could solve the problem. I did a lot of experiments – relocating the nut, moving the bridge – etc. The final result was that if you want to use the lines on a fretless as a reference, then you’ll get the most consistent relationship by intonating the bass with the line directly in the center of your finger. At the time (some 20+ years ago) I was still switching between fretted and fretless and I was determined to try to take advantage of the muscle memory that I had built up by playing fretted just behind the fret, so I intonated the fretless the same way. What I didn’t realize is that it throws off the whole scale length of the fingerboard and creates the inconsistencies. Around that same time, I had noticed a company called Novatone making swappable magnetic fingerboards that had the lines on a fretless with independent lines for each string with lots of variations in the fret lines from string-to-string, so I assumed that these discrepancies were normal. So I taught myself the wrong way to play in tune and have been doing so ever since.
As for your own inclination to compensate for this kind of setup – well, if it ain’t broke . . .
But if you’re just starting out, make it easier on yourself and put that line down the middle!


Hey Willis,
Just to say first that I have been using the light touch along with your 3 finger technique for quite a while and I love it.
My band is always recording stuff in a home studio and every time I record some bass lines (I go direct to the interface) some there is always the problem that there isn’t much volume output from my bass (passive). I love the sound of the pickup that I’m using, and to be honest I don’t want to play hard (I don’t think I’m playing too soft) or use a preamp (at least the ones I tried colored the sound too much). A friend said to go for a bass booster before the Audio/MIDI interface. What do you think of that, any other suggestion?
P.S. Triphasic rocks man
take care

Hey Franklin,
A passive bass will have to go through some kind of preamp to get the level high enough for recording. It’s true that preamps can color the sound. Most interfaces have a mic-pre that will get your level up high enough for recording. These don’t usually affect the sound that much – and unlike a regular bass preamp – since they don’t offer any EQ and there’s less chance of altering your sound. I’ve gotten good results with TC Electronic’s Studio 48 and before that I was recording with Apogee’s Ensemble.


Hey Willis
I’ve been a fan for a long time and have adopted your right hand technique and many of your other tips and tricks over the years.
With that said, I’ve watched you play many times and have always commented on how well you utilize/capitalize on how you traverse the fretboard with your left hand.
Do you have any suggestions/exercises on moving to different positions on the fretboard? I ask this because when I have transcribed some of your music and then see you play it later on I notice that your fingering is usually different (more economical) than mine.
Peace and good grooves,

Hey Gerry,
That’s actually kind of a trick question – My vocabulary for bass is built on how I look at the fingerboard. Which is explained in glorious detail in my Fingerboard Harmony for Bass book. So how I visually organize the fingerboard influences the possibilities for the ideas I have access to. So, I have been able to maximize what’s available under my hand but moving to different positions is what helps to keep things from feeling static. One important aspect of this visualization is to develop the ability to immediately “see” what’s in the next position up or down the fingerboard. One of the most obvious ways I try to get people to work on this is to limit yourself to 2 strings. Even if I’m only using 2 strings, my hand is “seeing” the underlying harmony as it moves. So there’s a method to arriving at these positions but getting to where you can use them fluently involves more than just a few exercises.


Hey Willis,
What program do you use for video?
Also , you run Logic Pro onstage… right?
What audio interface do you use while on stage?

Hey Deveran,
For video I use Grand VJ by Arkaos running off a Mac Mini.
Onstage I use Ableton’s Live 8 on my MacBook Pro. A dedicated midi track in Live gets sent through an Ethernet connection to the Mini.
I use Logic Studio and Final Cut Studio at home for Audio/Midi and Video production.
At home and on stage I use TC Electronic’s Studio 48.


Mr Willis,
A while back I had opted out of ordering your “sure grip” machine heads while waiting for my bass to be built.
Now I am ready to purchase; however, I can’t seem to find them anywhere. Is my only option ordering the whole set of tuning machines from Ibanez?
(Part #2MH1GWB23B)
Any assistance is greatly appreciated.

Hey Branden,
The individual (knobs-only) packages are no longer available.
The options available now include the machine head:
2MH1GWB23K complete set (2-left, 3-right)
2MH1GWB23K-L for the left side
2MH1GWB23K-R for the right side


Hey Willis,
Im a regular two finger-pluckin player. I’ve spent a lot of time working on my right hand alternation, muting etc. Its become almost an obsession of mine, the whole point being that I want to be the boss of my fingers and not the other way round, it bugs the hell out of me when im trying to play a difficult(for me) line and my right hand just starts doing its own thing. I need help, I know. What I keep coming up against is a simple little thing: when I play a descending line that starts with my fretting-hand pinkie my right hand wants to pluck the first note with its middle finger, and whenever I start a line with my FH index the right hand will pluck with its index. Now I know that maybe my Mom dropped me on my head when i was a baby, but please tell me that this is a natural reflex? Or if you had to overcome this obstacle at some point while developing your technique?

Hey Steve,
Good to hear that the right hand is almost an obsession. Honestly, I’ve never run into this specific problem of right hand mutiny: LH 4 causes the RH middle to start or LH 1 causing RH 1 to start. It’s true that as soon as anyone starts concentrating on the left hand, their right hand will revert to what ever it’s learned. I would say that you should probably be a little more scientific in training your right hand. And definitely slow things down while you’re at it. The only way to change learned subconscious motor skills or create new subconscious motor skills iis to slow thing down and make everything hyper-conscious. Try playing everything you normally practice (slowly) but using strict alternation: Start everything with only 2 or vice versa. Since you’re only dealing with 2 fingers on the right hand, you should teach yourself the option to start everything you know how to play with either finger – and continue be obsessively scientific about it.


Hi Willis,
Do you make your own straps (as described in 101 Bass Tips)? If not, is there an off-the-shelf strap you would recommend?
Do you think strap design matters very much?

Hey Niklaus,
I do make my own straps and still use the one pictured in the 101 Bass Tips book. I’ve been talking with Planet Waves about developing an adjustable version of the strap from the book. Hopefully it will eventually become available. Meanwhile, I’m not aware of anything that’s manufactured with that much width. The extra width definitely helps distribute the pressure so, to me and the people that have tried and made their own, it definitely helps.


Hi Mr. Willis,
I just wanted to ask you, what type strings you use on your fretless bass.
I just ordered a set of Labella ” Deep Talkin’ ” Black Nylons for a 1994 Ibanez SR506TT (you were the feature artist in that 1994 Ibanez catalog cut for it) that I converted to fretless. I didn’t want to put an epoxy coat on the fingerboard, because I wanted that natural wood sound. I think, but I am not sure, that the fingerboard is ebony, it is very hard and brittle like ebony but I am not sure. I have a set of Labelle on my string bass (made in Germany in1823) and was just what your thoughts were on string selection as a professional player might be.

Hey James,
If the fingerboard actually is Ebony, then you can get by with using roundwounds (if you’re carefuly about your setup and technique) without a finish.
I use D’Addario XL’s (.045, .065, 085, .105, .135-tapered) and the finish on my GWB1005 is ebonol (synthetic)


Hi Gary,
I’ve got some questions for you. I didn’t see on your last videos the Roland GK-3B. Don’t you use it? I have also a Roland V-Bass.

Hey Atilla,
It’s definitely there – but I think it looks much nicer now. I’m using the Graphtec’s Ghost System. It uses piezoelectric saddles and the rest of the internal are tucked away inside the bass. The VB-99 has a setting now for piezoelectric saddles to accomodate this kind of system.

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