# Do the E string determine lowest possible heigth for the other strings?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by makz, Oct 14, 2011.

1. ### makz

May 16, 2009
Why I'm asking this? well, lately I've been trying to lower the action of my Hagstrom HB-4 bass. It has a 15" fretboard radius, I'm using a gauge to measure the radius from the top of the strings.

In order to follow the fretboard curvature, as I understand it, the E and G strings should be a bit lower than A and D.

First, I try to get the E string as lower as I can with an almost straight neck. Then I try adjusting the other strings following the curvature.

But the end result is that the E string feels to me much lower than the other strings in comparison. Due to the other strings not being as thick as E, I have to raise them more, it feels like the less thick they are, the more I should raise them, so the G string ends up too high to my taste but looking ok from a radius point of view.

To me it feels more comfortable to arrange the heights of the strings in a flat, non curved way. Am I doing something wrong?

2. ### 202dySupporting Member

Sep 26, 2006
String height is measured from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string.

Given that, your perception is correct. Since the E string is thicker it is closer to the fret than the A string, even if the strings were set flat.

3. ### Showdown

Jan 21, 2002
Honolulu, Hawaii
I've found that the E string (and B if you have one) vibrates in a wider arc than the other strings because of the lower frequency, so it has to be a little bit higher than the others.

The method I use is to set the relief, then lower each string until it just starts buzzing at all frets (which it will do if you have the relief right, if it buzzes only on lower frets you need more relief, if it buzzes only at higher frets it needs less relief), then raise the string until it stops buzzing all up and down the neck when played as hard as you typically play it. This is the lowest action possible for that string. You can raise it from there if you like higher action. Repeat for all strings. I don't worry about matching the radius of the strings with the fingerboard, that takes care of itself.

As always, YMMV.

4. ### makz

May 16, 2009
That's why I don't understand. Should I aim for an equal distance from the top of the frets to the bottom of the strings even if that means not following the radius curvature or should I aim for getting the right curvature even if that means getting diferent distances from the frets to the strings in all the strings?

5. ### TurnaroundCommercial User

May 6, 2004
Independent Instrument Technician
The actual measurements don't have any meaning at all. None. What counts is if the bass plays well for you. The rest are just guidelines to help you achieve that playability.

6. ### TurnaroundCommercial User

May 6, 2004
Independent Instrument Technician
Gosh this is a wide spread misconception. You can generalize to a degree, but the last half of this statement is patently false. If it buzzes on the upper frets you have the saddles too low. You may have them too low because you are trying to compensate for too much relief, but it's not the relief that is causing the buzz. Period.

7. ### grendle

Mar 4, 2011
Central FL
+1

Lower them till they buzz like hell. Then bring the height up in 1/4 turn increments until the desired amount of buzz is obtained, or no buzz if you like it like that. Acoustic buzz and amplified buzz are usually different. The E will usually be a little higher than the rest. I do that purposely because I play it a bit harder also.

8. ### grendle

Mar 4, 2011
Central FL
Not according to the guy in the lakeland set up video. Just sayin.

9. ### TurnaroundCommercial User

May 6, 2004
Independent Instrument Technician
See - here's the problem. Carl says that "generally, if you are getting buzzing below the fifth fret you need to loosen the trusrod. If you are getting buzzing above the fifth fret you need to tighten it". Gary Willis says the same thing.

Now Carl knows his stuff. Both Carl and I have done tech work on Laklands - Carl in the Lakland factory, and myself in Toronto as an official service centre for Laklands. But I guarantee that if you confronted him with it he would admit that problems of buzzing in the upper reaches are not because there is too much relief, but that you have the saddles too low to compensate for too much relief. It's a question of what the root cause of the problem really is.

10. ### Showdown

Jan 21, 2002
Honolulu, Hawaii
It may be true that if the saddle is low it will buzz in the upper frets, but it will buzz on them also if there is too much relief. Try it.

If you follow the procedure I wrote (that you responded to) it will not be the saddles. Remember, I said lower the saddles until it just starts to buzz. If it wasn't buzzing, and it just starts to buzz on only the upper frets it is the relief. If the relief is correct it will buzz equally up and down the neck when you lower the saddle just enough for it to buzz.

11. ### Showdown

Jan 21, 2002
Honolulu, Hawaii
Gary Willis also:

Also, my own experience. All you have to do is try it. Loosen the truss rod a little and you can see for yourself. It will buzz on the higher frets first. Tighten it until the neck is straight and it will buzz on the lower frets first. It is a simple thing to see.

12. ### Showdown

Jan 21, 2002
Honolulu, Hawaii
If you have the saddles too low to compensate for too much relief the problem is obviously too much relief. You said it yourself, there is too much relief. That IS the root cause, not the saddle height. If the relief is right the strings will buzz evenly up and down the neck when you lower the saddle.

13. ### Nev375

Nov 2, 2010
Missouri
Tension of the strings also has a lot to do with the ability to get a low action. A loose floppy string tends to vibrate in larger arcs, but super-tight strings can get you better tone and more controllable action but also bring you into neck and relief issues.

I prefer a higher action on the bass side with slight relief and a low action on the treble with no relief.

14. ### 202dySupporting Member

Sep 26, 2006
Gary Willis is an excellent player. Some may think him a genius as a player.

The Gary Willis link was removed from the sticky several years ago. His methods have long been discredited. There are several reasons for this.

1. It is inefficient.
2. It is not repeatable.
3. Guitar techs do not do it this way.

Guitar techs make their living doing among other things, set-ups. They know how to get a guitar on and off the bench quickly. Their method is repeatable. That means a couple of things. Firstly, that the same adjustment procedure is used on every guitar. It establishes a base line. That insures that any problem will be seen immediately and can be attended to.

The other thing it means is that, given the tech keeps records, when a known guitar hits the bench they can simply pull up a record, dial the settings, check for and remedy any problems, case the guitar, and call the owner for delivery. It is eminently repeatable. Try that with Gary's touchy-feely, poke and hope instructions.

Here is an analogy that everyone can understand: Who do you want working on your car? Jeff Gordon, or Jeff Gordon's pit crew?

Respectfully submitted

15. ### john grey

Apr 19, 2011
Oracle, Arizona
It's a good analogy.
However does a musical instrument have the exacting tolerances found in a motor (or many machined items)? I'm actually not disputing the commentary. Yet it appears that wooden musical instruments could have a wider spread of variances - string alteration & design, fret wear, etc. - Perhaps on a continuum because wood under tension changes especially given factors such as physical & environmental stress.
What would be an interesting thing to explore is how many truly fine musicians "tweak around" or alter what they have to work with after they get that instrument where it's comfortable for them? I don't think there's anyway to really know, yet it may be that the individual subtly adjusts to those variances (via their technique) rather than attempt to adjust those variances to a given "point of perfection".

16. ### 202dySupporting Member

Sep 26, 2006
The fact that the tolerances are different and wood moves speaks to the methods used and the skill of the tech. It doesn't matter the workpiece is an engine, a guitar, or a scrap of DNA. It is always best to learn from those that do for others rather than for those that do for themselves because they must be more efficient.

As far as what pros require from their instruments, they know what they like but will adjust their technique to compensate for less than optimum calibration.

17. ### TurnaroundCommercial User

May 6, 2004
Independent Instrument Technician
If my bass is not buzzing on the upper frets and I loosen the trussrod, it will not start to buzz up there.

OK, look at it this way. I pick up my Precision bass and find that it is playing well except I am getting some fret buzz from the 14th fret up. No amount of adjusting the relief will fix that. And why doesn't the relief have any effect up there? - because that's where the neck attaches to the body, and there's no flex up there. The trussrod doesn't move the neck where it's affixed to the body. I have to adjust the saddles to give more clearance over the frets.

18. ### Showdown

Jan 21, 2002
Honolulu, Hawaii
But this is not what I was talking about. I was talking about setting the relief, then lowering the string until it just buzzes. You are going the other way, talking about an instrument that already has a buzz you are trying to fix. Very different things.

19. ### TurnaroundCommercial User

May 6, 2004
Independent Instrument Technician
We actually agree. And the distinction about doing a setup the way you describe and adjusting a bass that already has a buzz is key to this understanding. Too often I hear people complain that they were told that if your bass buzzes in the lower registers, you need more relief, and if in the upper registers you need less. Since their bass buzzed in the upper registers they tightened the trussrod which only made the overall situation worse. What they were told is only part of the picture.

So we really do agree on the total picture.

20. ### Showdown

Jan 21, 2002
Honolulu, Hawaii
I can agree with this.

My main point is that when setting a bass up you should start with proper relief, otherwise it will make the setup much harder.