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How high is your action?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Sam Dingle, Feb 8, 2017.

  1. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    New Orleans
    I have my action at about 6mm on the G string and 9(?) on the E. Any higher than this and my arms start to hurt after playing. I've read that people have their string hights higher. I'm wondering how people do this and potentially how I can gain the strength to play with them higher. I'm talking non gut string heights here.
  2. baileyboy


    Aug 12, 2010
    I don't know the mathematical height of the strings, I set them by feel.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I keep mine between 6-9mm and 7-10mm.

    I think of string heights in terms of a punching analogy. High string heights are like trying to box wearing a 3 lb. set of brass knuckles. You won't land nearly as many punches are the person fighting barehand, but every punch is a potential knockout. It's kind of a sonic philosophy: Do I have more chops at lower heights? Absolutely. But it's at the expense of sonic weight. I'd rather come at the idea of building chops from the standpoint of always building them with the sound that made me fall in love with the bass in the first place. Everyone has their own take on this paradigm, and that's as it should be.

  4. I like that. I think about the same (except that I really don't have that much technique to begin with). I tried lowering the strings a few times in order to gain facility, but I've always been disappointed with the change in sound. The opposite is true too; I tried going even higher than what I currently have (somewhat similar to your setup), but the sonic gain did not warrant the difficulty added.
    lowplaces and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  5. Scott Lynch

    Scott Lynch Supporting Member

    I've been experimenting with this a bit. For the the last few months my bass has been set at 5 mm at G and 8 mm at E with 4/4 Mitts.

    Dropping the Mitts down to 3 and 6 mm, respectively, increased my ability to play fast, but definitely at the expense of volume and projection. There's also a softness to the attack and a different type of bloom and sustain to the notes, relative to higher action, that sometimes I like, sometimes I don't like as much.
    I've a got a set of EP weichs going back on the carved bass, and the action will go up again to 5 and 8 mm, or maybe 6 and 9. That said, it'd be nice to have a second bass with a heavier set of Spiros, such as 3/4 Mitts, set low for that particular sound.
  6. Reiska


    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    Great question, as it leads to differences in technical and physical approaches playing the double bass. There`s a fantastic thread about the issue here:Force vs Finesse?

    Particularly Ed Fuqua`s posts on that thread caught my attention and since then I`ve been using low tension strings set up at what people may call medium - high setup. I have my G string ( a wrapped gut string, I`m sorry, nylon wrapped Pirastro Pizzicato ) at 8mm`s. It`s the lowest I go, every now and then I try high tension strings set lower, G at 5-7mm`s, most recently a full set of Evah requlars, and it`s nice in the living room and particularly with the bow, but in a real life playing situation with others involved it seems just impossible for me to pull a sound I can hear myself with, and I feel like I was playing a EUB, amp heavy.

    It`s weird how much difference a millimeter can make, again for me etc. Anyhow, I feel that if one is aiming for a what you might call old school pizz tone, which is what I`m aiming for, the lower tension strings set up higher seems to be the key, for me at least. My strings are at the moment Evah weich EA, Garbo D, Pizzicato G at 8-11mm height, on 42" scale bass. This setup can be bowed and slapped, but I`m waiting for a change to get Oliv DG for bowability and general awesomeness.

    I`m very willing to hear masters ( Chris and the kind ) insights on the issue!!! :)

    edit: @geoffbassist, it would be great to see your take on this
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2017
    Jason Hollar likes this.
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I've had a very slow ongoing bass nerd conversation with Lluthier Nnick Lloyd about setup/string/bass construction issues. He crystalized something for me when he introduced me to the concept of "perceived tension" versus "actual empirical tension", which he calls "resistance". This article, entitled "String Theory", discusses many issues related to the interaction between string choices and setup. with lots of great input from Nnick.

    Personally, I can't quantify it with math, but I would also say that strings, setup, and the bass itself are all factors. The intangible that it took a long time for me to absorb is the notion that there is no division between "feel" and "sound", since if something doesn't sound good, it doesn't feel good (and for me, the reverse is also true). If we as players have a sound in our mind's ear that we are going for, the bass/strings/setup combination will only feel good when we are getting that sound. To me, everything else is secondary. For this reason, I am resigned to a career of likely never becoming much of a "chops" player, but fine with that because I enjoy getting a particular sound even if that sound limits my technical facility.

    If for whatever reason I had a gig that required more speed/facility to cover the material, I'd likely lower the strings to play it, but would raise them back up again the moment it was over.
  8. There also may be a point at which the strings simply become too low; they are too close to the fingerboard. I have found when this happens that my pizz finger cannot get any "dig" from beneath the string but merely glides across it. Weak attack, weak note.
    Reiska, james condino and BobKay like this.
  9. Jmilitsc

    Jmilitsc Supporting Member

    Sep 22, 2013
    Fairfield County, CT
    Agreed - Not to mention low height setup strings can't fully vibrate when bowed without super annoying fingerboard buzz.

    As Chris said it's all about that trade off. Great article btw!
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  10. My bass is at the luthier. I think I will ask to have my Lenzner guts at 10-12-13-14 mm's respectively. Hard in thumb register, but I was never fantastic at that anyway.
  11. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    New Orleans
    Nice to read the replies here. I actually forgot I posted this. I'll take look at the force/fittness article soon. I find that I love playing whole notes with the string hight at 7 on the G but once I walk for a long time it gets too hard for me. I guess its about finding balance.
  12. ericsmith


    Dec 22, 2008
    I've found that a good setup can do wonders to get steels feel and sound good. Even with a medium string height and a bass that might feel stiff.

    Guts were also a big leap forward for me , stamina and strenght-wise but also technique -wise.
    I was suddenly able to get a good sound from steels (borrowed basses for example) easier than before...

    I don't know whether it's psychological or physiological or whatever... But the gut-workout worked for me. And I'm still at the gut-gym.
    Naplesllew and Reiska like this.
  13. matt holt

    matt holt Supporting Member

    Apr 5, 2005
    Cincinnati OH
    Holy crap, I feel like a total wimp; my strings never go above about 5 mm on the G, even for classical (maaaybe 6 if I'm playing Mahler or something) and for jazz I usually keep them between 3-4mm on the G. I frequently play duo And trio gigs without an amp, and I've always found a 4-7mm spread to be sufficient, in fact finds it going much higher than that tends to cost me some growl, particularly on the E and A strings above first position

    I am using Kaplan's, which I think are fairly high tension strings, and I've never done the gut thing. Still, though, 10mm on the G is impressive
    FritzM likes this.
  14. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I don't even think about string height anymore and never really bother to measure. It's all about perceived tension.

    This is how I approach it:
    1) Are the strings so low that I feel like I'm stubbing my left hand fingers? If so, I'm def going higher
    2) Are the strings so high that my finger joints hurt trying to finger the notes? Hurting oneself is bad, lower the strings and try again in a few weeks.
    3) Are the strings so high that my pizz fingers are curling underneath the string? (To which I really have to adjust my pizz technique)
    bskts247 likes this.
  15. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    New Orleans
    I've noticed that you need to analyze this for a bit. I brought my string hights down and found that i was fine, but noticed that my technique wasn't perfect, so I started analyzing that. I raised the strings again and noticed that there was my sound, but I think I can keep up with it as long as I don't over exert myself. I realized that with a lighter touch with higher strings I can get the same sound as playing hard with lower strings.

    The journey never ends.
  16. kirus

    kirus Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2011
    Las Vegas
    Just my humble observations... and I am no luthier nor a great player... I noticed that different strings respond differently to my pizzicato style in regards to height for my left hand and also for my right hand, and I am talking mostly about different kind of steel strings... So for each set, I try to find the best height to accommodate both hands.
    As the left hand likes less height and the right wants more "grab", what I did is tapered the end of the fingerboard slightly on the last 4-5 inches... that gives and "adjustable" grab in that area... Of course, a lot of grab and very little string height will buzz... so you need to find the sweet spot where the string height is good for the pull you want to use.
    Another observation I had is that the height of the bridge and the string tension is proportional... that's all in the construction of the bass but even 1/2-3/4 inch difference makes a huge difference! A shorter bridge will make the Spiro meds be twangy ... So some of the string tension issues might be in the instrument construction... :) ... just my 2 cc... Maybe all this is well known but I didn't find anything mentioning it...
    Jason Hollar likes this.
  17. the_Ryan


    Jul 10, 2015
    I don't know my exact measurements, but it's high enough that with the proper bow angle my G string won't rattle and low enough that my RH fingers don't fit under the strings.
  18. devnulljp

    devnulljp Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2009
    BC, Canada
    Admin on the D*A*M Forum
    How do you set the action on your bass? Thinking especially of those of you that mentioned trying a few different heights or doing it by feel.
    The action on my bass is too high, making it uncomfortable to play much past the 3rd position. I do it, but it's a strain.
    I don't have a bass tech near me, and I'm reticent to ask a guitar tech to do a setup on it. Also, gigging too much to take it to someone and leave it there for ages while they get round to it.

    Do you just sand the bottom of the bridge? I have adjusters on the bridge but it's pretty much bottomed out and I can't get the strings any lower that way.
  19. Selim

    Selim Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    New York City
    You don't kneed to take it any further than this right here.

    It's the sound that counts. For me, anyway.
    Povl Carstensen likes this.
  20. Scott Lynch

    Scott Lynch Supporting Member

    Not sure how far you'd need to travel, but even a day or two spent taking the bass to a reputable luthier is worth it. There are too many factors at risk to chance it if you don't know what you're doing.

    Besides, if you mess it up, you'll end up needing it take it in anyway - might as well just do it right the first time.

    As far as lowering the action - once you have some more room to work with, drop it in 1 mm increments and take note of how the both feel and sound change. Find the compromise that works best for you.