Does raising action change tone?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by greendayjustin, Feb 7, 2004.

  1. Hey, I was wondering if making the action higher on my bass would effect the tone that I'm getting. The reason I would to raise my action is to avoid buzz, but I am really satisfied with my tone otherwise.

    Thanks, Justin
  2. Depending on how much you raise the action, you may need to raise the pickup(s) to ensure the same out put prior to the change.

    Other than that, your tone should stay the same.

  3. Raising the action to keep from buzzing should only be done AFTER the neck's relief has been set to optimal. If the bass is a bolt-on, the neck angle should also be looked at in case that needs adjustment too. Simply cranking up the string height only, will make playing a little more difficult over what you're used too.

    I should also mention that IMO a little buzz acoustically - little enough that it doesn't come through the amp - is fine in my book. I'm not talking about a constant braaaaaap sounding buzz, just a little zzzzzz that comes and goes with subtle changes in the fingering locations and how hard I play. If I don't hear it in the amp, I don't worry about too much.
  4. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    I have found that raising the string height does change the tone of a bass. The attack is more pronounced the higher the strings are.

    Those of us who play URB know for sure that a higher action definitely has a different tone than low action. The same is true with EBG.

    Harrell S.
  5. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    The pickup-to-string distance certainly will impact the tone, and you do change that when you change the action unless you adjust it as well. To what extent depends on the severity of the adjustment and the PU itself.

    Although increasing the distance between the strings and the PU doesn't always lower the output. In fact, it can increase the output. In other cases the change isn't noticable at all.

    I don't have any experience with A/Bing a bass before and after action changes in order to monitor tone differences, but I will say that attack certainly impacts tone. Since guys that dig in need it high, and light touch players tend to drop the strings right on the frets, you are going to hear differences there. But that is really more about touch than the setup itself.

    But action changes can easily change your playing habits, so you have the old chicken-egg thing going.

    In your case, if you aren't changing anythings in your style and raise the PU the amount you raise the strings, I can't imagine it will change the tone of the bass noticably.
  6. Yes, raising the action will have an effect on tone, but how much of a difference it will cause depends on how much you're raising the action, where your action currently is, and how sensitive your ears are. If you're adjusting the saddles to their maximum height from almost buzzy low, you'll definatley notice a change in the sound of the initial attack, the length of sustain and the overall timbre. If you're raising the saddle 1/32 of an inch from normal action, you likely wouldn't notice a change unless your ears are incredibly sensitive to minor equipment tweaks.
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree and if you think about it, it's obvious in many ways. So - you can change tone by how you play and left hand technique comes into this a lot - the higher the action, the harder it makes left hand technique, you have to use a lot more effort.

    Also - players will exploit different parts of strings to change tone - so playing close to the bridge will sound very different to plucking over the fingerboard - by raising the action you are changing these areas.

    So in my experience, with low action it is tauter and hence allows you to play faster close to the bridge. Raising the action changes this and makes the sound more like an upright bass - so many early players coming from Upright - like Jamerson, played with a very high action as this was closer to what they had been used to and this sound is very different to other players with lower action.

    If you want more of a "thud" and rounded tone, then go for higher action, if you want to play Jaco-like, fast, fingerstyle funk/jazz then go for a lower action.

    I have noticed a huge difference in my EUB's sound, just from raising the action - low action = lots of mwah and big fretless bass guitar sound like Jaco. High action = "classic" Jazz pizz. Double Bass sound.
  8. dave251

    dave251 Wendler Instruments

    Feb 5, 2004
    Lawrence, KS
    Here's an observation, and it comes more from my experience with acoustic instruments, rather than as a bassist(which, although I have played bass since the mid 60's, it's always been as a "third" instrument).

    Higher action opens up tonal possibilities. The lower the action, the more it forces the player to play with a consistent and lighter touch, limiting not only dynamic range, but also the variability in harmonic response during the attack transient. In otherwords, the harder you pluck or attack the string, the more harmonic content and harmonic shading is available to you. And that only comes when you jack up the action a bit.

    I remember hearing a blues bassist, on an ancient pbass, with action a mile high...he was playing that thing like he was shooting arrows with an archery bow....absolutely took command of the whole room, without being loud or stepping on the drummer or guitarist. AMAZING...I could never play with the action that high, but you certainly couldn't argue with the tone from the POS PV amp he was using and that pbass with flatwounds. He could make it growl, he could tickle it, with one of the widest palette of tonal colors I'd ever heard from the lowly pbass...the tone was in his hands, and was opened up to all the possibilities by his high action.

    Bluegrass guitarists do the same thing...raise the action so they can dig in. While they can still get the "pretty" tone by playing lightly, all of the balls are still available when they dig in.
  9. Excellent post Dave!
  10. Thanks Dave251-----I only wish I had been there to hear that blues bassist as well----that kind of sound IMHO is what it's all about----not being just a zillion note-a-minute player on a 12 string bass.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I tend to disagree - there is a difference, but I don't think one is better or has more variety.

    I have been playing various basses for about 25 years and have tried to do my own setup most of the time.

    I prefer the sound of basses with low action and I think you can still get huge variety of tone - especially witha 5-string bass. So - the sound of a note played at around the 10th - 12th frets on the B string are hugely different to notes "popped" around the 1st to 3rd frets on the G string.

    However - with high action - it is very hard to play "clean" notes high up on the B and E strings, without flubs or extraneous noises - so this tonal variation is lost to you, with high action.

    I have taken basses to pros for setups - but I tend to find they go for a "middle of the road" setup. I discussed this with the tech at the London Bass Centre and he said that he goes for a setup that sounds best across the whole bass - a kind of compromise. Whereas, he believed that higher or lower action would mean that parts of the bass sound better - but others would sound worse.

    So, I think it depends on your playing style - presumably the blues bassist described above, with the high action - had a playing style that suited high action - whereas, I know from experience that my playing style sounds better with low action!

    This is why it is important to be able to do at least part of setup for yourself - so you can set it to your preferences and playing style!
  12. dave251

    dave251 Wendler Instruments

    Feb 5, 2004
    Lawrence, KS
    I do agree wholeheartedly that doing one's own setup work is extremely important, and valid. If you know what you're looking for in terms of response, and are willing to take the time to do what's right for your playing style, that's really the "bottom line".
  13. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I think we are all saying the same thing. Touch impacts your tone, not the action. But the setup has to reflect the kind of touch player you are.
    Bass. likes this.
  14. I for one, prefer the sound and feel of lower action. High action just sounds to plunky. It's all attack, and no sustain. However, it is more like most upright basses, and I can see how it could be desirable to certain players. However, I play a lot of different types of music (including blues), and I like the sound I get with low action, no matter what kind of music I'm playing.