High bass action = punchier tone?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by joelb79, Dec 17, 2013.

  1. joelb79

    joelb79 Supporting Member

    Mar 22, 2006
    Lansing, Michigan
    I've been edging my setup higher and higher off the fret board and have found myself twisting knobs less, getting more tones with my right/playing hand and punching through the mix better. Its not any harder to fret, and it makes me more of a pocket player. Consequently, I can still play fast enough for the work I'm doing..

    What gives? Have I matured? Or is it just not possible to get a good punchy tone with low action? Before you say I was buzzing out and choking notes off; nothing could be farther from the truth. I had no fret buzz with >3/32".. but < 3/32" is where its at for me.
  2. RSBBass


    Jun 11, 2011
    I think you have matured. It is much easier to get a good sound with a reasonably high action. You can really dig into the string and get all the overtones going.
  3. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    I've tried lower action but always raise it back up because I get a better, to my ears, sound.
  4. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    I'm in the 'playing softly with low action' camp, so I'll share my thoughts. My bass teacher at uni told me to dig in, so I did for a while, but switched back for various reasons.

    I find that a note played hard creates a louder attack but quicker decay, while a note played softly but with the amp turned up creates a similar attack but sustains for longer and with more fundamental. I think there is some science behind this but I'm no expert in physics.

    I also find that playing softly allows more headroom for dynamics, although you do have to develop good right-hand control. Some other benefits I've found is that a softer attack allows me to be more efficient, a lower action is easier on the left hand, and the approach is overall less fatiguing.

    So from a tonal and physical perspective, I prefer to play softly with low action. But that's just me, and I thought I'd just share to give people food for thought.

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  6. GK Growl

    GK Growl

    Dec 31, 2011
    I prefer around 3/32" across the board to cover a variety of styles. I can get clean tones when I need and get some grind/buzz when I dig in for styles that require it.
  7. Slowgypsy

    Slowgypsy 4 Fretless Strings

    Dec 12, 2006
    NY & MA
    All this means is that there is no "standard" setup that's perfect for everyone. As playing experience grows, that intangible element called "feel" starts to have more meaning. I don't really measure my relief or action presets anymore... I just play for a few moments and I know just what needs to be adjusted cause it don't "feel" right.
  8. shawshank72


    Mar 22, 2009
    Im one who loves the low action.
    Its just makes my playing so easy and relaxed and mobile.
    I have a p bass that needs a fret level so in order not to choke out notes it is set up high.
    Even though its the better sounding bass i keep going for the other bass which has low action with only a slight buzz when i dig in.
  9. pacojas

    pacojas "FYYA BUN"

    Oct 11, 2009
    low action is a must for me! i get waaaay more punch without much effort. YMMV:)
  10. Stone Soup

    Stone Soup

    Dec 3, 2012
    I remember when part of Carvin's sales pitch was 'guaranteed 1/8" action'. These days, 1/8" seems high to many people.

    Normal, for me, is 3/32" on all strings. I think that's great action, myself. I have a couple basses with 1/16" action on the treble side. To me, that's pretty low, for a bass.

    I notice problems with having the action so low. Difference in tone isn't one of them, for me. I have a 'lazy habit'. I sometimes let my fretting arm hang on the neck, while I'm playing. It pulls the neck a bit and can sometimes choke the notes, if I'm not mindful of it.
  11. invalidprotocol

    invalidprotocol Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2008
    North Texas
    I ran my action higher for a long time because I wanted none of the grind and long sustaining notes. As I've matured I've found I prefer slightly lower than manufacturer spec to dial a little of that grind back in.

    When digging in you lose some sustain and the tone isn't as pure but that was an acceptable trade-off. It's all about what feel and tone you want out of your setup and playing style.
  12. Yes, I would say cleaner punchier tone. Also, stronger fingers and hands.
  13. NYCbassist

    NYCbassist Supporting Member

    I like my action a little high too. The tone does change a bit but the real payout for me is the Groove that gets going. I just don't like to go too high because the "outward" tension will increase exponentially as the action raises. This will put more strain on the neck. It's not a big deal on a chunky P-Bass neck but on skinny necks it can become a problem over time.
  14. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    In general: 1/16" (G) - 3/32" (E) with just enough relief...which is highly subjective! I like to think that I've struck a balance amongst set-up parameters which provides:

    *Moderately low action.

    *Fingerboard "bounce"...impossible to define but you know what it is.

    *Balanced string-to-string response without have to overthink / overstress muting technique(s).

  15. P. Aaron

    P. Aaron Supporting Member

    Lowering mine these days, arthritis-trigger finger has set in. On a Fender, this isn't the easiest thing to do but...
  16. there's no reason to setup your action high if you dont get any buzz or sustain loss with low action...Plus with high action you stretch the string more when pressing so you are more out of tune...
  17. I think you phrased that backwards. ;) I also prefer less than 3/32".

    Perhaps you dig in slightly more with higher action giving it more punch. Maturity is overrated anyway.
  18. markanini


    Jun 25, 2008
    Measured at which fret? 1st string fretted?
  19. Stone Soup

    Stone Soup

    Dec 3, 2012
    12th fret, open strings.
  20. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    A lot of players I know like Michael Rhodes and Larry Paxton favor a high action for tone.
    My friend Victor Wooten has an action lower than mine. So do Brian Bromberg and Jimmy Johnson. It depends on what you're going for. If you are mindful of your touch either works.
    Since I'm playing a lot of DB these days as well my action has gotten a bit higher so the two instruments are balanced in feel.
  21. Melonthief


    Jan 25, 2013
    The interface between player and instrument is so personal and subjective that there is no right or wrong.
    I have witnessed people sounding incredible with both high and low action.
    So much of tone is in your hands and not the instrument itself that it is silly to try to standardize high action =good tone for sophisticates and low action= crummy tone for hacks.
    Adjust it how it feels good for you, don't worry about if it's "right" or if the bass hero du jour does it this way or that.
    Set it up so that you can play it and start grooving.