Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten

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Victor Wooten playing fretless bass guitar

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Victor Wooten 01
Victor Wooten

Fretless Questions: Victor Wooten

FB: How long have you been playing fretless bass?
Victor Wooten: I started playing electric bass around 1967. In 1977 I got an Alembic Bass guitar. It was my second bass, so I took the frets out of my first bass. You can probably tell that my influences were Stanley and Jaco.

FB: What influenced you to play fretless?
Victor Wooten: Jaco, of course.

FB: Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
Victor Wooten: I am pretty much self taught even though my brother Regi started teaching me when I was very young. I have never had formal lessons but living with excellent musicians is better than any other kind of lessons.

FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences or favorite players?
Victor Wooten: Jaco, Alphonso Johnson, Gary Willis, and Steve Bailey all have unique sounds that I have benefited from, but there are other fretless instruments that have helped me with my fretless playing. Upright bass players, violin, cello, trombone, and vocalist have all helped my bass playing. I don’t have one overall favorite fretless player. They are all so different. I like everyone for what they do. It would be hard and ridiculous to choose just one.

FB: Do you play upright, electric, or both? Which do you prefer?
Victor Wooten: I am primarily an electric player but I make sure that I am capable on all of the above as well as cello. Keyboard bass playing is also important to me even though I don’t play it well. I think that bass players should explore all the different bass instruments, even tuba.

FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it? Have you had or played others?
Victor Wooten: My first bass became my first fretless bass. It was a Univox. It is pictured on the front of my “What Did he Say” CD. It was fretted when my parents first bought it for me but my brother Regi helped me pull the frets out of it when I got my Alembic bass around 1977. Yes, I still own it. My favorite fretless is one that I own that was built by my friend Joe Compito. I use this bass all the time with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The song ‘Flight of the Cosmic Hippo’ is a great song to hear the amazing sound of this bass. I own a Compito, a Univox, a Taylor, a Conklin MEU, a Zeta, and a Fodera fretless bass. I think that’s it.

FB: What types of strings and fingerboards do you prefer?
Victor Wooten: I’ve always heard that you should use flatwound strings on a fretless but I like roundwounds better. So, that’s what I use. Nickel Roundwound strings made by Fodera. I don’t even know what the fingerboards are made of on my basses.

FB: What playing styles do you use?
Victor Wooten: Thumb, fingers, pick, tapping, each style offers me a different sound and a different feel so, I make sure that I am comfortable using as many different techniques as I can.

FB: What bands or projects feature you playing fretless bass?
Victor Wooten: I did a tour with the Jaco P. Word of Mouth Revisited Big Band and I played fretless the whole show. It was a great experience. I had planned on using my fretted bass but the day of the show I changed my mind. I don’t know why but I’m glad I did. It made me play different. I also play fretless on all the Flecktones CDs as well as my own CDs.

FB: Do you have a favorite song you played fretless bass on or some notable songs or experiences?
Victor Wooten: One of my favorite songs is ‘Flight of the Cosmic Hippo’ because I got to really slide around and use the low B string. Speaker companies tell me that they use that song to test their speakers. I love it. I also took a solo on my Taylor acoustic fretless on a song called ‘Prayer.’ It’s on my Soul Circus CD. I am very happy about how it came out.

FB: What would you say is unique about your fretless style?
Victor Wooten: Well, I have a tendency to play sharp on fretless. I don’t know if it’s unique but it is a part of my playing. I need to fix this problem.

FB: Are you still actively playing fretless bass?
Victor Wooten: Yes, all the time. I’m on tour right now with Bela and I play my Compito fretless every night.

FB: Do you have any basic advice for bass players looking to take up fretless or those who are currently playing?
Victor Wooten: Yeah, I would say to really use your ears and your feelings. Yours ears will help you to stay in tune and four feelings will help you speak, like a voice, through the instrument. Also, learn to vibrato but don’t do it too much. A subtle vibrato on a fretless bass is a beautiful sound.

FB: Do you have websites or social media sites you would like to share?
Victor Wooten: People can visit me at www.victorwooten.com. I would also visit www.stevebaileybass.com. Very soon www.thebassvault.com will be opening. It is a site for musicians, especially bass players. Check it out! You won’t want to miss this one.

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