Guitarist turned bassist looking for action (not that kind of action)

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Ben Decko, Feb 8, 2021.

  1. Ben Decko

    Ben Decko

    Dec 13, 2020
    Hello, All—

    I am a guitarist mostly, who plays bass on a handful of tunes in my band. I bought my own rig recently: a used American Jazz Bass deluxe. I’m wondering if you can diagnose a playing problem for me.
    When I play bass I try not to use a pick, but when I use my fingers, my E string gets pretty “clicky” on the fret board because of my right hand technique (or lack thereof) I’m slapping the bass without trying to. The bass I have been using is a Mexican jazz bass and a great bass in its own way, but I don’t have that problem as much with that one, but My playing style is the same.
    Apart from the “touch” problem I likely have, is this a neck-action problem...a string-gauge problem.... or a “you bought a nice instrument...take the brick off your right hand” problem? Something else? I haven’t gigged with it yet, so I don’t know how it sounds live through an amp versus what I hear from my own low-volume practicing, but right now it sounds like movie sound effects of a passenger train car clicking along the tracks.
    Also, this doesn’t really happen when I’m using a pick.
    Please and thank-you....
  2. knumbskull


    Jul 28, 2007
    You could try raising the action a bit.
    Doctor Morbius and Jeff K like this.
  3. 4andnomore


    Nov 14, 2008
    Hm. Could just be technique or possibly minor setup issues i.e. neck relief/string height. I'd start by making sure the bass is set up properly and go from there. As has been mentioned, maybe raise the strings a little.Meanwhile keep working on that right hand technique and don't forget muting extraneous string noise with a combination of both left and right hand techniques.

    Also, on bass a certain amount of fret noise can be good thing depending on your style and tonal goals. Rock on!
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2021
  4. JW56789

    JW56789 Guest

    Feb 18, 2017
    First, plug it in and see if it gets through the pickups to the amp. I adjust mine to where I get some clickety-clack unplugged, but not through the amp. You may be there.

    That it doesn't seem to happen with a pick makes me think it may be more right hand than setup. On a Jazz, lots of guys will park their thumb on the top side of the neck pickup as an 'anchor point'; if you're not doing this, you might try it to cut down on handling noise you're only hearing on your top string.

    But for sure, plug it in, THEN see where you're at.
  5. I know exactly what you're talking about. I had the same problem when I tried to learn how to play with my fingers. I gave up. You could just use a pick all the time. I played guitar for six years before I picked up the Bass, so playing with a pick was easy and cut way down on the learning curve. I tried to learn how to play with my fingers for years off and on and it just doesn't feel comfortable. If Paul McCartney can play with a pick all the time, I guess anyone can... Haha.
    Doctor Morbius, jd56hawk and B-Mac like this.
  6. B-Mac

    B-Mac Happiness is a warm puppy and a great bass Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Not to mention Greg Lake, Chris Squire, Peter Cetera, Roger Glover, Dave Hope, Carol Kaye, John Lodge, Jon Camp, Steve Swallow, Anthony Jackson.....
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2021
  7. Personally I would not raise the action before trying to work out the issue in another way, especially since you're trying a new technique. If you can't address it through modifying technique, you may have a mechanical issue. Raising the action will not help you identify a technique problem or fix it, it will only give you a more narrow range of technique to work with, if technique is the problem.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2021
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  8. jd56hawk


    Sep 12, 2011
    The Garden State
    Don't shy away from the pick?
    Not a guitar pick, of course, but one designed with bassists in mind.
    Tried out a Schecter Stiletto Stealth and a Peavy Max 100 last night at Guitar Center. Must've been the fifth or sixth time someone came up to me and asked me about my pick.
    bholder and B-Mac like this.
  9. B-Mac

    B-Mac Happiness is a warm puppy and a great bass Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member


    These are awesome.
  10. Eddie LeBlanc

    Eddie LeBlanc

    Oct 26, 2014
    Beaumont, Texas
    Don't create no problem, won't be no problem.
    Sounds like you are digging in a little. You can try and halt that with technique improvements. I have a tendency to dig in myself. So I do set a little higher action as I am a pretty aggressive player. But try to let your amp do the work for you.

    I am an experienced finger player and been using no picks since I started High School, that was 54 plus years ago. I had seen too many finger players and finally decided to teach myself to use my fingers. (BTW I started playin bass when I was 12) The way I was able to do it was to throw the picks away. And after time, I improved, because I had too. Now I have many basses, fretted and fretless, and a couple of double basses. Use all sorts of strings and some differing gauges on different basses. Everything from rounds, to tapes, to coated, and even guts. (I don't care for flats myself, even though many swear by them.)

    Also it may be lower tension strings on your bass. If they are real floppy, that can be an issue also. So check the strings and see if a higher tension set can help. Just remember, if those are the strings that were on the bass from the dealer, it is likely a very inexpensive set. I never have kept a set of strings on any bass that came on it from the dealer.

    So just keep working at it. You'll notice improvements.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2021
    thabassmon and LBS-bass like this.
  11. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    Some suggestions, in my order of preference:
    - Pluck lighter
    - Pluck with your finger tips
    - Pluck closer to the bridge
    - put your finger on the string and then pull it instead of “hitting” the string
    - Bend your fingers a bit and pull the string parallel to the top of the bass, instead of pushing it into the face.
    - Turn the tone down or eq your highs or hi mids down a bit
    - Raise the E string a bit
    - use flatwounds
    mmon77 likes this.
  12. B-Mac

    B-Mac Happiness is a warm puppy and a great bass Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Bobby Vega: "I wasn’t that consistent with my fingers, so I got dexterity and stamina from the pick" | Guitar World
    jd56hawk likes this.
  13. Ben Decko

    Ben Decko

    Dec 13, 2020
    Thank you, all....

    my biggest takeaway so far... bass picks are a real thing. Never knew that. All I have now is the snap of a blue tortex
    mmon77, B-Mac and bholder like this.
  14. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    I like Easy Action. :p
    jd56hawk likes this.
  15. groove pump

    groove pump

    Oct 24, 2006
    Among the replies above, I didn't spot the suggestion to try turning your amp up a good bit. That way it will be a little too loud if you dig in and play too hard. I've made this mistake here and there myself. I forget that I have a volume knob on my amp and instead try to make my volume by "playing harder", but that just stresses my hands.

    Turn up to help you get used to playing with a more moderate touch.
  16. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    also, OP: you're a perfect candidate for 1-2 bass lessons to specifically look at your 'problem'/issue. you'd also get an opinion(s) on your ax, setup, etc. good luck! :thumbsup:
  17. B-Mac

    B-Mac Happiness is a warm puppy and a great bass Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Many here like a very low action and play with a light touch and turn up the amp to hear it.
    I do not follow that convention as I am a pick player and there are many other pic players who also do not.
    It truly depends on what type of music you'll be playing and what style fits best. The pic players I mention above are not the limp wrist type of player. That is something to consider.

    But then watch Geddy play with his fingers as well as Entwistle. Neither play with a light touch with their fingers.
    They attack the strings with their fingers and in Geddy's case his finger nails too. Ultimately it is your choice because it is you who is playing and it will be your sound. Bobby Vega plays with a pic, fingers and thumb (slap), but he started with a pic because he knew he was lacking with fingers at that time and as a result he ended up being noticed very early with his pic playing rather than waiting to get his finger playing 'right'.

    'Proper' technique is only 'problematic' when someone else doesn't approve of your playing style. There are many great bassists that never had a lesson and have their own unique way of playing that they didn't learn from a book or teacher. They learned by doing. Otherwise we'd all sound the same and never have a Chris Squire or Bobby Vega or Stanley Clarke or Jack Bruce or Jaco or.....the list goes on and on.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
  18. I will share a personal story here that might help the OP decide what to do. When I first started playing bass, the bass I gigged on for about ten years was a pretty awful instrument that had sky-high action, but it sounded pretty good. I played that bass for three sets over four or five nights a week, for many years and, because that bass could take the abuse without getting clanky, I developed an extremely aggressive right hand.

    I've never been a pick player, I've always played fingerstyle, but I beat the heck out of that bass. In a sense, the bass created my technique because the bass didn't give me enough information to register that my right hand was so aggressive.

    So that's why I'm giving the advice I'm giving above. It's not because I'm being snotty about fingerstyle playing; it's because now that I'm able to afford a nicer instrument, I wish I had learned better technique early on. I had no real way of knowing that the way I was approaching that instrument back in the day was problematic. The best time to fix a problem is before you develop it. IMO, YMMV and all that.

    I do play sometimes with a pick nowadays, it's rare, but I appreciate the idea that players should be versatile. That includes the ability to apply light touch when it's needed. I don't think it's wise to assume the type of music you play now is the same music you're going to be playing ten or twenty years from now.
    Eddie LeBlanc likes this.
  19. B-Mac

    B-Mac Happiness is a warm puppy and a great bass Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    different way of using finger (nails)
  20. Ben Decko

    Ben Decko

    Dec 13, 2020
    Follow up....
    I played for a while at a closer-to-stage volume, and my amp isn’t picking up (and reproducing) all my noise. I have a decent amount of headroom on my GK Mb112 and powered extension mbp cab (which I love) and if I let it do the work for me I can drive it pretty hard. Perhaps there’s an advantage to having your amp a little too loud if it forces a more refined touch. I ain’t playin’ Motörhead.
    .... but perhaps I should be
    Malak the Mad and mmon77 like this.