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High Action = Better Tone???

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by ::::BASSIST::::, Sep 25, 2008.

  1. ::::BASSIST::::

    ::::BASSIST:::: Progress Not Perfection.

    Sep 2, 2004
    Vancouver, BC Canada
    I think I read somewhere on TB that a bass with high-ish action has better, beefier tone. True?

    Does lowering the pickups give the same effect?

    I have noticed that when my strings are very low, even if there is no buzz, I lose low end.
  2. I know having a higher action allows the string to vibrate freer, I suppose that does help with tone.
  3. Coeball


    Aug 25, 2007
    Bath Uk
    I would say a high action gives a you a fabulous tone.
  4. mobis.fr


    Jun 2, 2005
    plus there is more space between the pu and the strings.
    this make a different sound too.
  5. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Pickup height is always relative. Higher action allows playing with more right hand "force", which gives a much punchier envelope, and allows for wider string vibration without fret buzz.
  6. It's subjective: An essential element of MY tone is a little bit of fret buzz. I LIKE to hear a little grit in there. And high action impairs intonation: The higher your string, the more tension required to get it down to the fret. By the time it gets there, the string is no longer the same tension as when you tuned it.
  7. ()smoke()


    Feb 25, 2006
    i used to think i preferred the sound of slightly higher action on bass, i thought i got a better sound and more thump when i really 'dug' into the string

    after buying a bass with extremely low action, i was sure i'd need to raise it to get my sound (and to get rid of the fret buzz)

    however--after adjusting my touch and learning how to use the instrument as is, i raised the action as an experiment, and i greatly prefer the sound of this bass with the lower action

    ...so now, i don't think higher action=better tone at all, it can equal different tone depending on how one approaches the mechanics of playing
  8. NickyBass

    NickyBass Supporting Member

    Nov 28, 2005
    Southern New Jersey
    I think that, with most stuff that you read here, you have to expieriment on your own and decide for yourself whether it's better or worse. In general, I prefer my action to be a little on the high side---however, I also feel that finesse is more important than digging in.

    For me, it's best not to 'confine' myself to one way of thinking. I might try something for a year and decide that I was dead wrong. Of course, the next year, I may have an epifany, and realize that I was better off before.

    People talk about finding their tone, but I think that it good to at least try something outside of one's comfort zone.
  9. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    I think that higher action makes for a better tone if one has a heavy touch and cannot play a bass with a low action.
  10. This subject is a little hard to nail down considering the the various definitions of "better" sound. I like a moderately low action, one that allows me to play a little hard without squashing the tone. There is a point where it's just not comfortable for me and I need to lower my action. So the next question would be what tone is worth a higher action?
  11. ()smoke()


    Feb 25, 2006

    :) well said
  12. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    My precision sounds best with moderately high action. It's kinda tinny with the action set super low.
  13. CapnSev


    Aug 19, 2006
    Coeur d'Alene
    I play my basses with pretty low action and still get plenty of low end. Then again, I play lighter than some, probably EQ my amp differently than some, play closer to the bridge than some, etc. etc.
  14. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    I am a low-action guy to the bone. In just about any life situation, I would rather use less effort than more to achieve the same outcome.

    There are, of course, big-name guys who do it both ways. Will Lee and John Patitucci swear by high action. Certainly Mark King, and based on the tone I hear, probably Vic Wooten and Alain Caron, are low action guys. There is no right answer.

    The argument I have heard on this topic is that the closer the strings are to the pickups, the more the magnets interfere with their ability to vibrate. The tone is, therefore, adversely affected. To me, this concept has academic value at best. I have never felt like my tone was compromised with low action. And less so because I am more comfortable and play better that way.

    So, my advice...try it high, try it low, try it in the middle, and stick with what feels most comforable to you.
  15. Alex E

    Alex E

    Mar 2, 2006
    I don't know if it's better tone, but I like higher action better than lower action. I do think it is more authentic to certain eras in pop/rock/jazz; typically older eras like the 50's, 60's and early 70's, where many of the great players were still using flats and played with a higher action.

    Intonation isn't a problem with high action, unless it is unreasonably high action. That's what truss road adjustments and adjustable saddles are for.

    The more modern stuff, especially funk and slap, are executed better, generally-speaking with low action and obviously, round wound strings.
  16. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    If you're a noodler, you will want an easily compressed tone, quick playing with little attack, short sustain and a lot of clarity. Low action is for you.
    If you're more of a pounder like me, you want to be able to have a wide range of dynamics, from very delicate to just banging the strings while retaining an usable tone and a lot of sustain. High action is the way.
  17. Bassflute


    Jun 24, 2006
    Endorsing Artist: MTD basses and strings; Bergantino Amps & Cabs
    This statement is completely and totally 100% wrong. It is physically impossible. The total opposite is true. High action you have to play hard, period, to get the string to move at all - you have to overcome it's inertia. It's like a singer yelling at the top of their lungs all the time. Also, the string will die much more quickly due to the high tension - it will want to return to rest because of the mechanical pull involved. And intonation problems, more distance from the pickup = less signal, therefore noisier, etc.

    You will get much more attack, huge dynamic range, the longest sustain possible on your bass, and a wide variety of sounds, not to mention quicker response and playability, with lower (to a point) action. Most mature players will agree - some string bass players like high action because it is less of a shock to them in switching over.


  18. lefty007


    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL
    Action is not the only factor in tone; it is an interactive element relative to string tension, string material, pickup type, pickup adjustment, plucking direction, plucking force.

    The combination of all these factors results in different types of sound, from thin and choked, to big and alive.

    I personally use light string with low action, but a pluck light and in a vertical direction with controlled force, so I get a full blooming note, or choke it easily if that's my intention.
  19. I think the "singer screaming at the top of their lungs" comments a little tenuous though. A singer doing that would ruin their voice very quickly compared to the effect of someone used to high action basses playing them for a long time.

    I'm a high action player, but can see why people favour low. For me there's alot of qualities which I prefer about high action; I like the feel of having to work for my notes to some degree, the sound is deeper on both my basses when I gave them a higher action, less fret buzz, and because of having to work for it, it stops me from going off on one too often. Low action does seem to lend itself well to more percussive players, and people who are only gonna use a very gentle touch anyway.

    I think what he meant by "more dynamics" was merely aimed at players like me that play REALLY hard sometimes. Low action give a compression like effect (not sound) when I play hard on basses like that, there gets to a point quite early on where I simply don't get more volume out of playing harder, and simply get more fret/finger/pick/string noises.

    Personally I now find it incredibly difficult to play on low action basses too, if I break a string at gigs I really worry about someone lending me a low action bass - not that I'm not grateful of course - because I know I won't be able to play it properly, and I'll accidentally fret loads of notes.
  20. mrbungle


    Nov 13, 2000
    tampere, finland
    Sorry, your physics is wrong. If the pitch is same, so is the tension. Also, it's possible to achieve similar tones by plucking with equal power, but it's possible to dig in more with high action without getting fret buzz. The pickup height is non-issue because you can raise the pups.

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