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Does string height = better tone?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Dreamwave, Mar 10, 2003.

  1. I have heard of this and if true what would be the optimum height for tone yet staying with as low an action as possible? Thanks.

  2. There is no optimum height given every player's touch, pickup height, string type, etc. IMO, as long as your strings aren't being choked off by buzz when you pluck slightly harder than normal, you're fine. Set your action to just such a height.
  3. 5stringDNA


    Oct 10, 2002
    Englewood, CO
    I'm not a setup expert, but I'm pretty sure as long as the strings are high enough to prevent any buzzing your tone will be just as good as if you had it cranked up high. :meh: Where's Hambone when you need him?? He would be the guy to ask for this.
  4. chucko58


    Jan 17, 2002
    Silicon Valley, CA, USA
    I paid for all my gear myself. Well, me and MasterCard.
    IME, action set too low gives a bass a "choked" tone. I prefer keeping the strings far enough off the board that I can play fairly hard without any buzz heard through the amp.

    For me this works out to .015-020" relief (usually at the high end of that range), and at least 3/32" height at the last fret for the G string, more for the lower strings. My low B is usually about 9/64" off the last fret.

    I have my 6 string bass set up a little lower than this... but only a little.

    On a fretless, you need to get it right down on the deck to get the mwah. Some experts say a dead straight fingerboard is ideal, but I've never been able to pull it off. My playing style requires a slight amount of relief, but I haven't measured exactly how much.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This is a good question, and I'll be watching the results carefully as I plan on doing some experimenting with raising the string height on my Slab in the near future. On the DB, raising the string height equates to more volume, and (depending on who you ask) possibly better tone UP TO A POINT....and beyond that point, things just start getting unplayable. On BG, I know I like to dig in more than a regular setup allows, but I just haven't had time to mess with it yet. Keep those thoughts coming.....
  6. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden

    Together with neck rigidity, pup type/height/angle, string type/material/etc, and other features, the player can adjust his/her way to attack the string and change tone.

    The "Tone shaper list", as it were:
    1 Speaker cab/room complex
    2 Player
    3 Pup placement
    4 Strings
    5 Neck-to-bridge rigidity
    6 Other electronics
    7 Body
    8 Anything else

    I suggest you address the first two, before even bothering about string height.
  7. hujo


    Apr 18, 2001
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Digging in does give you a different tone, I've found. THe question is; do you like it. I like it on some basses, some not.
  8. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    One thing to watch for is intonation. The higher the string, the more you have to bend it to contact the frets.

    If your string is not running parallel to the frets, the higher you go, the more you bend it and thus the more out of tune you'll be. Experiement, but check that you're in tune as well as getting good tone ;)

  9. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    I think I have a better tone with higher action.
    More articulate, with better definition.
    That's the way I feel, I have nothing to back it up.
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree with wulf that high action will make intonation a problem higher up the neck - it will also mean you are more likely to get noises when you fret without precise technique on your left hand - "fret clack"!

    I was talking to the guy (Chris) who sets up basses at the London Bass Centre and a point that people haven't mentioned yet is that the way you set a bass up can make it easier to play high up the neck or near the nut - so, if you play in the higher registers a lot, you may want a different setup to someone who only plays below the 5th fret!!

    On BG I don't think action height affects tone as much as it does on DB - so there a higher action will give more volume and change the decay of the note. Fretless BGers like "mwah" which requires pretty low action, but DBers don't like this and of course, raising the action also has this effect.

    But tone really come from your hands and so the setup /action thing is almost certainly a personal preference thing - some people can get the sound they like with one action, whereas another person would need more room to get their fingers under and between the strings to pull hard enough for their liking.

    This is why you need to do your own setups - so you can get the optimal action to allow you to get the tone you really want - so tone is subjective and therefore, so is setup - pure logic!! ;)
  11. Excellent responses everyone, and thank you. I guess its time to get the allan wrentch out and begin the trials and errors. :)

  12. 3rdEye


    Nov 30, 2002
    This is a very interesting thread. I think string action does affect the tone. I like very low action but so low where there is fret buzzing. In my experience low action sounds more articulate with more bite and the responsiveness of the notes are better.But it's all a matter of personal taste and style :)
  13. This is a very cool thread ;)

    I am impressed with the way you have answered such a question.. (you all agree with someone's point of view so thats a positive) So to, i might as well say thankyou to everyone (who reads this) that has been posting in Setup lately.

    Why? you ask... wel i have noticed 70% of the new threads have "i tried i search, i've found this amount of information... but i am unclear on this aspect". I feel this setup forum is really kicking along nicely like a finely tuned machine. Keep it up!


  14. tucker

    tucker Guest

    Jan 21, 2001
    North Carolina
    I read somewhere that if you lower the pick ups, it produces better tone but you lose volume. And if you raise the pick ups you lose tone, but gain much more volume. I don't know if this is helpful for you though.
  15. Brendan


    Jun 18, 2000
    Austin, TX
    I agree with Chris. I'm a ham handed player when I'm doing my thing. My basses have pretty (or really) high action above the 12th fret, but I rarely venture down there in a band situation. Though I'm not adverse to low action...in different environment (my elemnt happens to be loud, screechy death metal).
  16. Monkey

    Monkey Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Ohio, USA
    I have found that really low action may feel great for my left hand, but it really limits my dynamics with my right hand. I like a medium/high setup so that I can dig in or play softly. And when you dig in, it changes the tone.

    I've tried lowering my action way down, but the sound was weaker, and I had to play too delicately. I don't have Gary Willis technique...:D
  17. kirby


    Feb 24, 2003
    I think that the height of the nut is as important as the bridge height. I had low action with no fret buzz but with higher nut, so the string was very hard to press on the first fret, it hurt. Got myself different nut (lower) but now my action is higher to achieve no buzz & its harder to play 20+ frets. Nut can be set higher with pieces of paper under it(luthier showed me that).
  18. nivagues


    Jan 18, 2002
    I just raised this very question with a luthier in another forum!

    I have a 62 Re Issue AM J Bass. I go for paper thickness relief measured at the 5th fret while depressing the 1st and 12th. E string is 3/32" at the 12th....G is 1/4 turn lower...A and D stepped down from the E to meet the G (all measurements in the play position). Result...very low action with no fret buzz...super tone....the frets are perfect. I use a pick with medium to heavy touch.

    Why the intro?????

    Recently I decided to experiment....just to see how low I could go....and could get the strings down to 2/32"....digging in with a pick....and no buzz!!!!!

    BUT!!!!!! the tone was dead.

    Strings vibrate in an eliptical pattern...not just sideways...you can get to a point where, although you have no fret buzz, the strings will hit the frets ever so lightly...you don't hear it...it expresses itself by choking the string's vibration and dampening the tone. That point will vary depending on the player's touch.

    Needless to say, I reset the height to where I normally have it.

  19. Billdog


    Feb 27, 2003
    Austin, Texas
    I don't know if any of you have, but check out Anthony Jackson's ideas on setup that he talked about in bassplayer. Basically, he has a high nut, low bridge, and virtually straight neck. He says this gives him even height across the whole fingerboard. I'm not sure I this is the ideal setup though, because high nuts will cause low notes to be sharp (not really a problem on a fretless though, if that's your situation). If you have the buzz feiten work done, maybe it would be the killer setup to have... But, like somebody up there said, strings vibrate in an elliptical shape. This dictates neck relief (in theory at least). The problem with neck relief is it will throw off your intonation due to changes in the relative neck length and higher action in the middle of the neck. What does all of this mean? It's a trade off. Intonation vs. playability (WARNING: An extreme generalization has just occured.). As for whether higher strings change tone(after my divergence:D ), it's true that you can vary your dynamics more with higher strings, and it is true that "digging in" gives you a different tone. Whether you like it or not is up to you. Jamerson had ultra high strings, and his tone was good(WARNING: An extreme understatement has just occured.). But, like I and others said, it's tiring, hinders your speed and stamina, and can cause intonation problems... I say mess with your setup and find what you like :D Of course, that's what the answer always is, isn't it?