Action Height

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Darth_Linux, Feb 1, 2003.

  1. Darth_Linux


    Oct 12, 2002
    Spokane, WA
    the "Action" thread in the newbie links is broken so I've got a question here I hope you won't mind.

    the action on my A and D string is 7/16" and on my E and G 3/8". How high is this compared to an average? It seems pretty high to me but I don't know.

    This is measured at the end of the fingerboard, without pressing down any notes.

    thanks in advance. bass is a 52 Kay.
  2. I remember my luthier mentioning that he uses 8mm on the E, and 6mm on the G, measured at the end of the fingerboard, as the starting point. I suppose it depends on how you like to play, and how you want to sound...

    - Wil
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    It looks like the links are working now. See if this one comes through:

    String height is a very subjective personal preference. I've just been through several soundpost adjustments only to find out that the "problem" I was dealing with was a combination of string height and bridge foot placement. 3/8" could be pretty high for the G, but it depends on what style you're playing - gut players and slappers typically prefer higher action than steel string players.

    If you'll P.M. me the broken link, I'll try to fix it.
  4. Darth_Linux


    Oct 12, 2002
    Spokane, WA
    ok thanks for the feedback. 6mm is a 1/4" and 8mm is 1/3" so it seems my action is nearly double what the typical action is. I don't have an adjustable bridge so I'm kinda stuck with it until I get one.

    I want a decent sound of course, but right now, it's really hard to play: no point in raising the action for a bigger sound if I can't even finger the note!

    thanks again!

  5. MacDaddy


    Jan 26, 2002
    Provo, UT, USA
    Hey Darth-
    If you don't want to fork out the $100 for an adjustable bridge, you can always have your current one filed down. Note of warning: do not go to Hoffman's for it. Yikes they tried it on mine and botched it like no other. Go to Lundin's, they're the best. A little out of the way, but they're worth it. Decent prices too. They do all my work.
    Also, you may need to get a good setup (i.e. planing the fingerboard) to get good action out of it. Knowing the loaner basses they tend to be in poor condition.
  6. Darth_Linux


    Oct 12, 2002
    Spokane, WA
    yeah, I just got the junker back from Amend and I asked them to lower the action but they didn't really appear to do much of any thing.

    I can get an adjustable bridge for $70 from Bob G, but I'd have to trim it myself . . .

    I don't think the bass is worth the cost of a finger board planing to be honest. I know it's whacked. I'm just gonna live with monster action for now and when I get a real bass it will be easy to play.

    MacDaddy we should get together sometime and trade some tips since you are here in the Can!

    PM me and we'll swap phone numbers
  7. I am wondering if experienced bassists can hear the difference between higher action basses and lower action basses? The bowing sound on harmonics is very loud, clear and multi-dimensional with a higher action. Although I am wondering, if there is a warmer and greater sustaining sound for pizzicato playing with a lower bridge height?
  8. I am not sure about this difference in string height between Paul Chambers and Ray Brown, but I am wondering if PC's lighter bouncier sound could be partially influenced by a higher string height, while Ray Brown's richer, more full-bodied, larger and more sustaining sound could be influenced by a fairly low string height on the bridge?
  9. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Ray used Weichs, and I think Chambers used gut. That could be a huge difference....
  10. That's interesting, Pacman, about the differences in strings. Also, Ray plucks often with his finger pointing almost vertically downwards almost parallel to the string towards the bottom of the fingerboard, while PC, I think, often plucked the same string with two fingers together in a more diagonal hand position to the strings higher up on the fingerboard. Do you think that Paul Chambers used a higher string height?
  11. sean p

    sean p

    Mar 7, 2002
    eugene, oregon
    pc's guts would have required a greater string height (higher action) than ray brown's spiros, so it's safe to assume so, david a.

    sean p
  12. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    Also, sounds like your bridge curve is off.
  13. Ray Brown interview posted on This was conducted in '63.

    There's also a great one there about the sound of the bass.

    Tell us about your bass, Ray.

    The one I'm using on this tour is a small French bass made by Silvestre. It's about a 100 years old, violinshape with a swelled back. My best bass is an Italian around 200 years old. That's also violin–shaped, but with a flat back and it's a large bass. The machinehead keys are unusual because they are open through their centres.

    What type of string setup do you favour? It's according to what suits the particular instrument. On this bass, I have rope–cored steel strings. The Italian bass gives in best results with a gut G and D and a metal A and E. Lots of orchestral players use all metal strings: they're good for bowing. For pizzicato playing, the metal G and D b strings tend to cut into the fingers. I prefer the gut; they have a more flexible ‘feel’.

    What about the string height from the fingerboard? You have to decide that according to the type of playing you want to do, and how responsive your bass is. The higher the strings, the bigger the tone. But for speed solo playing, you need to press the strings down easier, so they need to be closer to the fingerboard. If I put the third finger of my left hand flat on the fingerboard at the bottom end, and it slides comfortably under the strings, that's the height that suits me. The curve of the bridge is related to the curve of the fingerboard.

    It should allow you to bow any of the strings in the high register, without the bow touching the next string. The D and A strings are set the highest. I like all four to be as near the same relative height as possible.

    What height do you set the bass for playing? It depends on the width of the shoulders, etc: but should allow you to reach all the notes as easily as possible. I have mine five inches from the ground, with a wooden peg of fixed height. As it suits me, it doesn't need adjusting.

    Can you tell us how you pick the string? I wrap the first section of my index finger round the string and snap it back. Usually just the index finger, but occasionally with the second. I come from the older school, where one finger for picking was the thing. The twofinger style. has come in with the younger men.

    How hard do you pull? You find out what the instrument will take without killing the tone. The tone has to sing. With the left hand you apply an equal pressure to match the pull of the right hand. In each position, the fingers should be over their respective notes, ready to press when required. I keep my left hand as relaxed as possible, and don't hold the fingers rigidly in position as though a teacher were standing over me.

    Did you study with a teacher? Well, I learned in a class at school. Actually, I was a pianist at the start. I felt, though, that there were plenty of pianists in the class, girls included, who were better than me at execution and reading. The piano playing got kind of hard for me.

    There weren't many bass players, though, so I picked up a bass and tried it, thinking: "Here's an instrument I could learn quickly." I didn't realise then just how long it does take, but I stuck with it. I learned the basics in class and the rest I taught myself. I'd never be ashamed, even now, to take a lesson from anyone who could do something I wanted to know.

    Any advice on building lefthand fingering strength? Just practiceand more practice. Bowing is a great helpsustained notes. I practise a lot in private. I like bowing.

    You may be interested to know—I've written a 144page book on bass playing that will be out in the USA and Canada in about three weeksand probably in England, too, pretty soon.

    It contains all pizzicato exercises which can be bowed as well. They are pretty difficult, but they will enable a player to develop a sure, positive execution in all keys.

    Copyright ©2000 Jazz Professional. All rights reserved.
  14. That's a very interesting interview considering that would have been about the same time that Paul Chambers was on the scene. It would be really interesting to see an interview with Ray in his later years and compare how his opinions on these matters might have changed over the past 35-40 years.
  15. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    I believe this interview took place before the advent of the Sprirocore strings. The jazz set up before Ray(and then everyone else)went to Sprirocores was: Artone gut G & D strings and Lycon E and A. I think someone recently mentioned the Lycons in another post. I used this set up for years, and they were a wonderful combination, but for those of us long in the tooth, I'm not sure I'd ever go back to the guts because although they were great strings, they had problems with sustain, staying in tune and not lasting all that long. The Lycons, as best as I can remember, were similar, at least in sound, to the Spirocore's. Someone told me a few years back that Artone still makes their gut strings, but I haven't been able to find them from any source.
    It's interesting that Ray didn't mention that he studied with Clements who was first chair in the Pittsburgh symphony.
  16. When Ray came to Kansas City in the late 1960's, he was using Lycons on all four strings and playing through to then new Polytone brass cylinder pickup and Polytone amp (B100 model if my memory is correct).
  17. Thanks, David Kaczorowski for that terrific Ray Brown interview. I noticed that the website that the interview was conducted by Les Tomkins and Arthur Johnson in 1963

    There's a more recent interview with Ray Brown, where he describes he two basses in this way,"My good one is, oh man, maybe 175-180 years old! The one that I carry on the road maybe 80-100 years old. My good bass I got from my teacher, he used to play it in the symphony in 1929 in Pittsburg. That's 70 years ago and it was by no means new, it had come from a long way then."

    +++Conducted maybe in 2001? by Tanya Almor Gambale and found at the following website:
  18. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Ray is still listed on the Thomastik website as a spirocore user. This confirms what I read in the Bass Player article, shortly after his death.
  19. It's aways fun to read read quotes from the master. I especially liked this one.

    "An upright electric bass is like a blow up doll!"

    Only Ray could have put it so well.