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How is a high action a good thing?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Squidfinger, Oct 6, 2004.


  1. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    I've been doing some reading lately and have come across some posts that say there are actually benefits to having a high action.






    I really don't understand this. My next bass will have vintage frets and I want to know what JPJ is talking about.
     
  2. Figjam

    Figjam

    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    Fretnoise comes from strings hitting the frets, thats a given. If the fret is smaller, there is less mass for the string to hit against, therefore the buzz is less and less loud as well because the fret is smaller, therefore does not buzz as loud.

    What he means by the fact that no one NEEDS large frets is because as long as a fret is there to distinguish the note, thats all you need. Having the extra string clearance that is present with larger frets doesnt technically matter as far as most things go. Smaller frets will be lower, thefore the string height will seem higher because the fret does not come up as high, so you have to push down farther to reach the fret.
     
  3. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    So two hypothetical perfectly identical basses, except one has vintage frets and the other medium-jumbo, would have the same exact distance between the wood of the fret board and the strings? The action would just seem higher on the one with vintage frets because the frets are smaller? So if you refretted a medium-jumbo fret bass with vintage frets you wouldn't need to do a setup?


    Also, according to what JPJ said, how does a higher action give truer tone and better intonation?
     
  4. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    toms_river.nj.us
    Endorsing Artist: see profile
    first thing I do with about EVERY bass I've ever owned is set more bow to the neck and raise the action.

    I prefer to have some wrestling room... I'm heavy handed and notes choke (for me) when the action is low. Also (for me) I get *my* tone by have the ability to use harder and harder right hand tech to increase dynamics.

    Keep in mind, I find speed as important to my opinion of a line or player as wardrobe.
     
  5. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA

    I'm the exact opposite. I play fingerstyle softly and set up my basses with minimal neck bow and a low enough action where I still have plenty of enough room for dynamics but will buzz if I dig in really hard or use a pick. Also speed means nothing to me, zip, nada. I ass-umed a high action would hinder speed.
     
  6. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    bump
     
  7. Look at it this way. Low action is good, but there's a limit to how low you can go before it sounds bad because of your plucking style or preference, right? Take James' example, now. He likes to play harder, and doesn't like his notes choking or buzzing a lot. His limit is the same sot of limit you would set, only higher. Different strings. Ideally you're looking for your preferable setup height. For some, high action is better. It's hard to say that certain things are better or sound better with high action, because it's kind of ambiguous. It's hard to pinpoint the advantages and disadvantages since everyone plays differently.
     
  8. One distinct advantage of a higher action is that it's easier to mute with the left hand. Really low actions can get noisy using this techniqe.
     
  9. cb56

    cb56

    Jul 2, 2000
    Central Illinois
    I nominate that line for Post of the YEAR!!!
     
  10. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    There would be for me if I had the mind and finger strength of James Jamerson. :D
     
  11. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    toms_river.nj.us
    Endorsing Artist: see profile
    :cool:
     
  12. Steve

    Steve

    Aug 10, 2001
    Because with low action there is a limit to how hard you can dig in before you start picking up fret clacks. If the action is stiff you can still play lightly if you want what that brings and you can dig in hard if you want to get what that gives you.

    It give you a few more right hand options in exchange for a few less left hand options. Good or bad depends on your style and what you do. Live situations are a lot more forgiving to fret clack than the studio.

    I learned a long time ago that nothing brings on the evil eye faster than one crummy clack pooching an otherwise good take. Sure you can punch it in but, that ain't exactly the X ring of the bullseye.
     
  13. secretdonkey

    secretdonkey

    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Yeah, I'm dealing with this. I've had some problems (tendonitis) in both hands, so I'm forcing myself to play with lower action, and it definitely IS helping both hands. But, I find myself instinctively wanting to dig in deeper with the right hand to get "that sound" I'm used to. Enter clack and rattle. So I force myself to back off, but I feel I'm losing something. I also find myself playing a bit closer to the bridge than I'd really like, for the sake of keeping a clean sound. I'm still working on refining my technique (changing old habits after 20+ years is hard), but I feel that even if I become a master of light touch on the right hand, there will be something I'm giving up, something I'm losing, even if I gain some other advantages...
     
  14. JPJ

    JPJ

    Apr 21, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    Wow, talk about old posts! :p I think that long-winded diatribe must be close two 2 1/2 to 3 years old! :D It's always touchy taking a quote out of its original context (I belive the original post was about fret size and not necessarily action), but I think that everyone who has posted so far has reflected my thoughts and intent very well.

    To answer Squidfinger's question more directly, there are a few reasons why someone would want to have high action (talking more about the set-up of the bass here and less about fret size, etc.). First, it could be personal preference...as is the case with me. I learned how to play on a Fender '62 Reissue that had REDICULOUSLY high action. Eventually, the action problem was fixed, but most of my early learning was done with action that would send most guys running from the room in tears. :crying: You really can't argue with personal preference, and when it comes to action, this is a major factor.

    As some posters have already said, high action (or a neck with more relief than your avereage modern bass is set up with) is necessary if you play aggressively or with a heavy hand. Sometime this is a result of the music, sometimes just personal style. If the action is too low, the string will not ring true as it is plucked because it's eliptical path will be swinging into the frets. THIS is what I referred to briefly above as low action potentially having a negative impact on tone. The higher action allows the string to vibrage in its full eliptical path, without interference, thus leading to a full, true, tone.

    Also, if your bass has a poor nut, poor fretwork, or has a trussrod that is stuck, you may just be forced to play with higher action. Low action on a bass with a poor fret job might be impossible if a high fret causes serious buzzing. If the string is making contact with the fret, it isn't vibrating to its full capacity. This will have a negative impact on tone, unless you're shooting for that clickety-clack, Fieldy sound of strings raking against frets thing. :D :smug:

    I'm sure that there a number of other reasons why high action would be preferred, or at least necessary, but it doesn't sound like this is an issue that should really have an impact on your new bass. As long as the nutwork and fretwork are done well, you should be able to get the action nice and low and should be able to play with a nice, soft touch. Burn up those frets, Squidfinger!!! :bassist: ;)
     
  15. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    Thanks for the reply JPJ! :bassist:

    That pretty much cleared everything up for me. :)
     
  16. JPJ

    JPJ

    Apr 21, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    No problem...glad I could help. :)