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Benefits of High Action?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by jnevi9nr, Apr 19, 2010.

  1. jnevi9nr


    Aug 17, 2009
    Washington, DC
    Are there any benefits of having high action with your strings?
  2. CapnSev


    Aug 19, 2006
    Coeur d'Alene
    No fret noise and you'll get a strong left hand.

    Downside: Intonation goes berserk if the action is too high.
  3. Jeff K

    Jeff K Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2005
    Memphis, TN
    Clarity of notes.
  4. bobwhite


    Mar 11, 2010
    If you play rock, with a pick especially, and hit the strings pretty hard, the higher action gives you a clearer tone and less buzz. If you have a very soft right hand you can get away with lower action.
  5. kreider204


    Nov 29, 2008
    I've heard it may improve sustain, but I won't swear to that.
  6. MNAirHead

    MNAirHead Supporting Member

    you can play more percussively
  7. gre107


    Dec 25, 2005
    Tendinitis and early retirement....
    Oleg BassPlayer and panm like this.
  8. Tim C.

    Tim C.

    Feb 4, 2010
    My strings are low as hell and I still play percussively, with the added benefit of not having to work nearly as hard.
  9. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    If the strings are too close to the fretboard, there isn't enough room for them to oscillate without colliding with the frets unless you pluck softly. What's the unofficial TalkBass axiom? A bassist's sound starts with his hands.

    I'm so used to playing DB and electric basses set up with relatively high action, that I find it frustrating to play an instrument that's set up with action that's too low because of the attendant fret clatter and buzzing; I can't dig in the way I'm used to. When I turn up my amp and pluck softly, I don't achieve "my sound." As a consequence, I prefer action that's somewhat higher than a lot of my TB brethren.

    I saw a video in which Rocco Prestia was playing a bass someone else had provided; he was becoming frustrated for the same reason (the action was so low he couldn't dig in), and asked for an instrument that would allow him to play the way he was used to.
    rudy_zulkarnaen likes this.
  10. SanDiegoHarry

    SanDiegoHarry Banned Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2008
    San Diego, CA
    Not to mention hand fatigue and it being hard to play quickly...
  11. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Looking for a gig around East Islip, NY!

    Jan 13, 2008
    In my experiences you seem to get a slightly fatter/fuller tone. Past that, nothing.
  12. And, massive callouses!:p

    I can't stand high action.
  13. Double Agent

    Double Agent

    Mar 10, 2006
    Lakeland, FL
    My experience echoes both of these posts above as true. That does not mean you have to set your action really high to hear a difference. For so many, the object of their set up is get the strings as low as possible with little or no fret buzz. But, you would be surprised what raising the action just a little can do for your tone, unless you are going for the crazy-low action, Geddy Lee style fretbuzz and clank. I think that works well for more aggressive styles of music. But, for most music (i.e. classic rock, blues, R&B, etc.), I prefer medium action, maybe even a little higher, so I can dig in when I want to, but still get a clean, fat tone.

    But, then it depends on the bass sometimes too. My Cirrus has crazy low action, but it doesn't buzz at all, so I leave it that way because it's easier to play. My Fender, OTOH, sounds a lot better with the action set higher. YMMV.
  14. nic salsus

    nic salsus

    Mar 16, 2010
    You pretty much nailed it. People often set basses up to play the way they want ignoring what the bass wants. They're all different and individual and should be setup accordingly.
  15. Rudyboy98


    Jan 25, 2008
    South Bay, CA
    +100000 for that one! :smug:

    IME: Higher action might be better for a beginning bass player to start with. Then it can be modified to his/her taste or style. Beginners usually don't understand concepts such as high/low action, fret buzz, intonation. It takes time and training to teach players what that means and the benefits of all of them.

    I like low action myself, but I will also agree that some basses do sound or play better when the action is not necessarily low. Many Fe**ers come set up high because that is what the manufacturer suggests. Is it wrong then? I don't know the answer to that one!


  16. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    Might be nice if we defined terms: what constitutes "high action?" Does the definition depend on the string gauge as well as your playing style?

    I found an article from Bass Player magazine (September, 1996) in which Mr. Sadowsky describes a bass with low action as having 1/16" between the bottom of the G-string and the top of the 12th fret and 3/32" from the bottom of the E-string and the top of the 12th fret while the string being measured is being depressed at the first fret; high action 3/32" beneath the G and 1/8" beneath the E. In the case of the G-string, that's a difference of only 1/32", but it's a 50% increase.

    Here's one example from the article: Will Lee used to prefer high action (1/8" on the G, and 5/32" on the E), but now uses 3/32" on the G, and 1/8" on the E.

    How do you define low action? High action?
  17. Low all the way for me....love a bit of fret clank!
  18. I'd love to play with a higher action in terms of tone.

    Unfortunately it's just not possible if I want to keep playing music for my whole life.
    To some low action isn't a choice, it's a requirement.
  19. Randall


    Aug 6, 2009
    As a starting point I take a penny and a dime and slide under the e string on top of the 12th fret for a rough measurement. The bass determines how low I can go under that. Pedulla rb rapture wins so far lol ;)
  20. Greevus


    Apr 15, 2009
    i've always had relatively high action. what i call "low" is pretty high to most. i'm a pick player and bang it pretty hard. i like the sustain it gives me. i do have carpal tunnel and tendonitis. lotta tradeoffs with bass guitars huh?

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