Fingerstyle aggression and massive confusion

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by secretdonkey, Feb 20, 2003.

  1. secretdonkey


    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    I have to confess that although I've been playing for many years, it's only quite recently (thanks in no small part to discovering Talkbass) that I've much considered how my technique might be similar or different to other players. I simply played, hardly ever crossing paths with another bassist whose opinion I'd value.

    Now that I've crawled out of my cave, I see myself as playing with a higher action than most (not just awfully high, mind you), due to a fairly aggressive right hand on fingerstyle. I simply set my strings up so that I can avoid fret buzz unless I am really trying to get a buzzed-out note (which certainly has it's place). I think I use a fairly bright tone out of my amp, that reveals the slightest hint of buzz, and this may be part of it.

    In any event, I was at a music store the other day, told the bass guy that I was looking for a nice J-style bass, and he puts a Lakland Joe Osbourn in my hands. Very nice bass, but I felt like a bull in a China shop - I had to try really hard to play it without buzz, enough so to take the fun out of playing the thing.

    Okay, so I've got this complex now that I'm just a right hand brute. I'm not about to soften up my attack up by very much, I'm happy with my approach, but I'm still trying to understand how my approach compares with that of other players. The thing that is really throwing me for a loop at the moment is the fact that I get the impression that string-breaking is reasonably common on bass. I have only broken a string one time in my entire playing career - and that was one that had been boiled and put back on the bass. I figure that if I'm THAT much more agressive than most guys, I'd be breaking strings, at least occasionally.

    Can anyone help me to figure out what the danged deal is with my right hand? I don't really want to change it, I just want to find some context... :(

  2. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I also play with "high" action & I do tend to pluck harder than most here(I'm assuming)...
    My fretting hand is where I want to concentrate on playing with a "lighter" touch.

    You're not alone, trust me.
  3. You want high action? With the first fret depressed on the E string, I have 11/64 of an inch! Yes, I set it up that way, I really cannot stand having low action, but I have a friend whose bass is set up at 5/64 of a inch, but I get no buzz just fine. I guess I have pretty good control of my dynamics with my right hand. I guess if you wanted to go and play some basses at a music store, just ask em to set it up a little higher, it shouldn't take too long. It would be easier to change your technique though, it's not at all difficult, and just takes a bit to get used to.
  4. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    Hey. If it's workin' for you, stay with it.

    Many recommend lower action for the long haul; physical problems can develop that can be remedied by playing softer and letting the amp do the work. I myself have a little more fun playing when I can express a little nuance by playing gently, but I like playing heavy too on the Stevie Ray covers. So I wind up adjusting my volume knob frequently.

    But I will admit that my basses are set up rather on the sissy side...
  5. I play pretty hard too.
    once another bass player in the audience at a gig asked me "how low do you have the action on that thing?" and was surprised that the action on my P bass was a fair bit higher than he expected- I tend to dig in and angle my fingertips more perpendicular to the bass to emulate more of a pick sound, and vary the amount of string-fret contact adding a percussive element.

    the trouble with the "play soft and let the amp do the work" approach for me is that I find there isn't enough note definition for rock playing with heavy guitars- you get the brightness of the string, but not enough punch to the attack of each note.
  6. secretdonkey


    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Hmmm... thanks all for posting. I'm feeling a bit reassured - maybe the low action types on TB are just more vocal about their preferences. ;)

    One of the guitarists in my current band is a pretty respected guitar teacher in the area, and he also teaches some bass, as well. He has ragged on me about my high action, yet when he picked up my bass the other day, I caught him commiting the fingerstyle sin of banging the string off the frets, giving him lots of that clackity-clack noise. I grinned and suggested I could raise the action for him a bit more. :D

    Is there a technical term for banging the strings off the frets or 'clacking' as I sometimes call it?
  7. try raising the pickups. the harder you play, the lower your pickup should be, IMO.

    i have medium-ish action on my main bass. i've played basses that made me feel like a "bull in a china shop" and others that felt unbearably clumsy.
  8. i also play really aggressively. my action is pretty high; except on my fretless, of course. i don't really feel at-home with very low action.
  9. it's not the output from the pickups, more the string-callous interaction that's the issue.
    if you take Jeff Berlin's tone, for example, as being a result of light strings and a light touch with the amp doing the work, and put that in the context of heavy guitars , eighth notes would lack definition- it would just be a blur of sustain.

    Geddy Lee plays pretty hard.
    so does Billy Sheehan.
    Steve Harris reportedly uses a light touch, but his action is so low that his attack comes from the strings clattering against the frets- not a useable sound for every situation.
  10. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    I play with action so low, when I switch to drop D, I have to lean forward to prevent it from buzzing ;)

    I should fix that....I play REALLY fast and I can get pretty aggressive, but more in a jaco shredding way...I don't know..I listen to a lot of jaco :D
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well, I think the point is that if you want to play faster then people are going to say - lower the action and use light touch - so what you are seeing are the answers to lots of questions about this. Of course if you don't want to play like this, then it doesn't matter.

    So there are many schools of thought - if you are playing Jazz and want to solo like a horn player, then you might struggle with high action - also, low action on fretless helps "mwah".

    But on the other hand, Double Bass players are used to much higher action and more physical effort than any BG - so will probably feel that a low action is very strange and unnecessary.

    So there are many other arguments either way - but the reason you see so much about low ction is because most of the poster/question askers want to know how to play faster, more intricate lines - they have difficulty with this kind of thing, but not the sort of "normal" bass lines that don't need greater levels of technique etc.

    Of course there are lots of people out there who feel it sounds better to them - but they don't usually need or ask for help, so you don't read about it.

    "Is there a technical term for banging the strings off the frets or 'clacking' as I sometimes call it?"

    I'm not sure, but I think you have it wrong about the solution to this - I would say this is one of the big symptoms of high action and is one of the main reasons I would always go for a low action.

    So high action can be very hard on your left hand/wrist/arm and cause fatigue RSI etc. Double Bass teachers are very keen on stressing proper left hand technique with the high action you get on DB and that otherwise you can cause injuries. The higher the action, the more effort it takes to hold down the string with your left hand.
  12. secretdonkey


    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    thanks for the response, Bruce. Re: the string clacking thing, this would seem to imply that clattering the strings off the frets is inevitable and a high action is going to emphasize the noise since there's more travel and therefore more momentum when the string hits the fret. With low action the clattering is there, but is less noticeable. Is that an accurate understanding of what you mean?

    Also, I wonder if some amount of buzz is tolerated by the low action guys. The Joe Osborne Jazz I mentioned in my initial post was set up so low that I found it almost impossible to get a clean note on the E string - and trust me, I am not THAT brutish and indelicate as a player. Can you comment on this, Bruce (or anyone else)?

  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    In "bad" shops, I have come across basses that are set up with the action so low that they are unplayable - I mentioned this to the staff, in one shop and they just said : we were busy and wanted to get them up on the wall, so we didn't have time to set them up since shipping! :rolleyes:
  14. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    I've found that a certain amount of fret buzz, clearly audible unplugged in a quiet room, does not seem to come through my amp. So to answer your question, yes; a little buzz CAN BE tolerable. But then, I favor a warmer tone and therefore do roll off some treble; my rig is also a 1-15 with no tweeter. Those with a preference for more highs and a tweeter might be able to tolerate less fret buzz.

    FWIW, I do keep my fretted bass set up a little higher than my fretless; I am not an "ultra-low-action" fretted guy.
  15. Funkster


    Apr 6, 2000
    Wormtown, MA
    I find the same thing,