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Will Lee's sound on Letterman

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by ganttbos, Dec 2, 2005.

  1. ganttbos

    ganttbos The Professor Supporting Member

    Dec 18, 2001
    New Orleans area
    I was just reading Rob Desantis's comment on another thread regarding Will's Sadowsky. I also love Will's sound and play a Sad PJ fiver (reversed P). A comment was also made that Will's sound is mostly achieved with EQing, although I didn't take this as ignoring the obvious contributions of a Sadowsky.

    Can anyone comment in general on Will's sound? A specific question I have concerns last night when Oprah was on the show. The band broke into Can't Hurry Love before a commercial break, with Will playing Jamerson's classic intro. What astounded me was the clean separation between notes and the percussive attack of each note. I use a mute and TI flats to play Motown stuff, which gets me good separation between notes and that good old thump. Will is not using a mute nor flats (I don't think) - his notes don't sound muted, but the separation and punch is terrific. So what gives? Is it simply million-dollar compressors and other tricks out of the reach of typical live-sound small rigs?
  2. pointbass

    pointbass Jersey to Georgia Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2004
    Acworth, GA
    Endorsing Artist: FBB Bass Works
    I would agree that a big part of it is the equipment these players use, both basses and amplification. I remember listening to Ricky Minor playing that Sadowsky on American Idol and thinking that was the cleanest-sounding bass I had ever heard, then he picked up a Smith and it sounded equally as clean and precise. So sure, the equipment has a bunch to do with it.

    Of course, these cats are also superior players ...... :cool:
  3. marwady

    marwady Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2005
    Northern Michigan
    I had the pleasure of recording Will 20+ years ago when I was a recording engineer in NYC.

    He would be on various sessions for jingles, film, records, etc. 3-4 times a week. Mind you, this was before Sads and amp modelers and his sound was KILLER! Usually it was a P-Bass direct with a good compressor.

    Being a bass player and a fan, it never ceased to amaze me on how good he sounded. There were a lot of really good NYC session players that came through the studio but, Will always had that sound that was just a cut above.

    Will's talent and technique are responsible for most of his sound. A Sadowsky and EQ are just icing on the cake for a great player.

    Just my .02 :cool:
  4. Big +1.
  5. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    Will is one of my favorite players, and a hoot on Letterman. I have heard that he plays with very high action, too, and among other things, I would think that this might contribute to his tone.

  6. beadgc


    Oct 10, 2003
    Brooklyn, NY
    I think it's million-dollar chops. I suspect he would sound really good playing an MIM through a Peavey combo.

    I went to a taping of the Letterman show a long time ago, and he was cooking up a storm. It's worth doing if you're visiting NYC. Tickets are free, the band plays a lot (right through the commercial breaks, usually) and they are LOUD in the theater.
  7. Before he became a permanent fixture on Letterman, Will played on a couple of Spyro Gyra albums. He was incredible then and he's incredible now.
  8. The Lowest

    The Lowest

    May 17, 2002
    New Jersey
    Probably Will is muting with his fingers.
  9. Lonnybass

    Lonnybass Supporting Member

    Jul 19, 2000
    San Diego
    Endorsing Artist: Pedulla Basses
    Not to mention that the Late Show crew has had years and years to refine and perfect each instrument's place in the mix - night after night - and designed to sound awesome even through crappy TV speakers. Will Lee's degree of cut amazes me sometimes.

  10. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA

    Having had the humbling experience of playing next to Will onstage at the bass extremes concert - I can tell you - Will Lee's sound is totally a function of how he plays the bass - rather than what bass he plays.

    And FWIW - he's one of the few players we would actually say that about.

    I'll be the first to say that gear contributes much to most modern bassist's "sound" - but Will just flat out plays great. When you play great - you sound great. Will Lee rules.

  11. ddnidd1

    ddnidd1 Supporting Member

  12. ganttbos

    ganttbos The Professor Supporting Member

    Dec 18, 2001
    New Orleans area
    Great to see that most of the posts so far focus on chops and not gear. I didn't intend this to be a "gear and production tricks" thread, although re-reading my original post it even confused me.

    So: Tom's comment about high action is a good one. In the 60's I played with very high action. This was as much because I knew little about neck adjustments as by actual choice. I got a good sound then judging by old tapes. My present gig bass is such a fine instrument I can easily get the action real low and I tend to play it with lower action than my fairly hard finger attack may warrant. (Note to self: raise the action and experiment).
    The comment about finger muting (Lowest) is also interesting. We all finger mute strings to some extent, but I know you're referring to muting specifically of the string being played. But you're referring more to muting by lightly laying a finger on the played string (a la Rocco), right?

    Another question for those who know Will through direct personal observation. Would he be more likely to play fast 16th notes using index and middle fingers sequentially, or using one finger. (Now this thread is jumping topic into Technique?)
  13. hoel


    Jul 16, 2003
    Oppdal, Norway
    This thread is interesting and got started from what I wrote about Will in my "'64 jazz frequencies" -thread, I guess.

    What you guys write is so true: He sounds good 'cause he is a great player and it won't really matter what kind of gear he's using. It's also a combination of the bass, the amp, the technicans in the theater, leaking from other microphones and a bunch of other stuff of course.

    I just have to say this: Vic Wooten, Miller, and all these guys can be as technical as they want, but I can't say I know of any bassist in the world that sounds as good as Will Lee.

    I also must say that I didn't really mean that Will's great sound is achieved with EQing, but that the EQing helps. I'm from Norway so my english might not be too good.

    I'm gonna visit USA/New York next summer and I will definitely go to the Letterman Show to listen to the band.

    Oh by the way, I guess you've noticed all the cool twists he has on the bassline on the "Letterman Theme"? He puts a different 'feel' to it almost every night. Very cool :)
  14. The Lowest

    The Lowest

    May 17, 2002
    New Jersey
    Index and middle. I've also frequently seen Will use a pick.
  15. hasbeen

    hasbeen Commercial User

    Sep 23, 2004
    Vice President, KMC Music. Warwick U.S. distribution
    a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to play bass for Will doing a bass amp demo for Genz Benz. I was using my own, personal Lull MV4. I has Bartos and a three band Aggie Pre.

    He then asked if he could play. He didn't know his way around the pre on the bass so he asked me to EQ while he was playing. In the end, when he said he liked what he was hearing, the EQ on the bass was basically flat and he said that was pretty much his tone.

    Note separation- he was playing mostly 16th note R&B lines and was getting the separation the way most do when playing that way.....combination of muting with his left and right hand....ala Rocco ..Jaco.

    And yes, he does like a very high action. On a side note, he did some slap too which you don't get to see him do much. ....sounded wonderful.
  16. Dbassmon


    Oct 2, 2004
    Rutherford, NJ
    Marwady hit it on the head.

    You can put any bass in Will's hands and he will make it sound great. I recently saw The Fab Faux (www.thefabfaux.com) which is Will's Beatle tribute band he formed with other NYC studio players. He plays a Rickenbacker and Hoffner through a Vox. He sounds great.

    It's not the arrow, it's the archer!
  17. hoel


    Jul 16, 2003
    Oppdal, Norway
    Lots of interesting posts. Has anyone else met Will Lee and can tell us about him / his sound / preferences etc?
  18. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    He hardly ever uses a pick unless the music demands it. I can't stand watching Will use a pick! He holds it against his two fingers and plays all upstrokes, like he's playing fingerstyle. I once asked him about it, and he said, "I don't necessarily recommend it for everyone but it works for me." I tried it a couple times and thought my hand had been replaced by someone else's hand! Yep Uncle Will, you are right!
  19. Good stuff here guys!! The biggest thing Will has goiing for him is Will...I have had the privelege of recording with him on a number of occasions and he is always on the money. (I echo the action sentiment it is REALLY high for most players and too high for some. As a result of seeing his bass I actually raised mine quite a bit and strengthened my hands to compensate. Theres a difference in tone without question!!)

    See my post in Miscellaneous about being a Studio Player or going Pro (it is a sticky so it should be easy to find) to hear a really great story about him! Will uses some of the best gear there is and it only polishes what he is putting into it. I consider myself a capable player but Will is in a class by himself and is definitely one of the coolest, nicest guys in the business. The other thing that helps translate his sound to the world is the fact that they are using an SSL (VERY expensive top end recording console) to mix the audio for the show. This is certainly not to imply that he would not sound as good if they didn't, but just shows how serious they are about getting the best sound possible out to the TV audience!! Keep it coming....


  20. west*coast*bass

    west*coast*bass Supporting Member

    Dec 6, 2003
    Agoura Hills, CA

    Look again, Will was not there when Oprah was on the show. He had a fill in that night...