How Low Can You Go? (Action)

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by rickbass, Aug 28, 2002.

  1. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Let me try this again and see if it won't be diverted towards an ego-pissing contest between 2 people again;

    In the latest "Bass Player" it was noted that Entwistle mentioned in an interview that he liked his action so low, that, "I like my strings on the other side of the frets."

    The BP article said his basses were set up with the lowest possible action to facilitate his "high-speed triplet runs, taps, and slaps...."

    That is my "dream action" but I've never been able to achieve it, even though I've done my own set-ups for years and years. I've learned a bit about his "typewriter" finger style from his instructional videos but I've never been able to get a bass to play/sound like his without incurring a lot of fret noise and false harmonics.

    I've taken basses I've set up to music store tech's and they say, "You really like low action don't you?"....what they don't know is that I brought it in to see if they could get it even lower than I could without sacrificing playability!!!!

    My question is - how do you think he achieved such incredibly low action???........Maybe;

    - his use of very high-end, highly-customized, basses?

    - his ability to hire the best bass tech's?

    - his "magic touch"?

    Your thoughts are appreciated.
  2. Stu L.

    Stu L. Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2001
    Corsicana, Texas
    Hey Rick. Might it have something to do with the combo of his scle legnth and string gauges that determine the fret noise?

    And how do you measure, stick a ruler onto the fret board and count the tick marks?
  3. Given his setup before he died, I'd say that the all graphite (read: stiff), snappy Maxima strings and a *lot* of power behind him may have let him get away with a very light touch.

    Hence tapping etc. were possible while still getting that powerful sound.
  4. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    stubi - That is an area where I may lose some people.....the whole "micrometrical-fractional-lab rat" approach just puts me off.
    The best and worst-playing basses I have ever played were set up by the owners. For better or worse, the basses were tweaked so the instruments were "just right" for the owners...not for nerds in lab coats with feeler gauges who never expected to see the bass again.

    IMO, using standardized measurements results in some sort of "universal" ideal that somehow must be "right" for everyone....B.S.!!! Basses are meant to produce "art" - not sparks to gas combustion engines! Obviously, Entwistle didn't accept feeler gauge measurements copied from old issues of "Bass Player" magazine.

    I tweak the bridge/intonation screws/pup height screws/truss rod/tuning --- up, down, and all-around until I get it as best as I can.... for me. (BTW, if anyone reading this is a bass-playing, feeler gauge-addict with their Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, please don't be offended. If it works for you....that's cool!).

    But, seeing Entwistle in concert and on video, I just can't get over the effortlessness of his action and it drives me NUTZ!!!

    Just look at the fretting hand postion of that son-of-a-gun ripping off notes like he was cutting melted butter in the picture below....and he's smiling like it's nothing.......just to rub it in our faces!!!.....No wonder he was always my idol for over 30 years -

  5. Rick, this reminds me of a saying Rush Limbaugh uses. He can broadcast his daily show from his home in West Palm or from his studio in New York. Since he's sydicated, it all goes out on the airwaves the same way. But his slogan applies in this case: "As long as I am here, it doesn't matter where here is." :)

    Would it surprise you if you were to learn that your "perfect" setup fell into the range of measurements stated as being perfect? And, if it did, would you change it?

    The only reason IMO to get micrometrical (a great word by the way!) is to get back to what you know is "perfect" for you when the setup goes south. Well, that may not be true altogether. I can see the instance where, say, a kid were to come to me for a setup and says "My action is too high, I want it lower". I would take the measurements I know to work and set it up there. Now, the kid may or may not be experienced enough to say "No, that's too low for me" but I would imagine that he would feel the difference from the way it was before and think that it was perfect for him. I don't think that's a bad thing. Sure his tastes might change later, but if they did, I'd still have a point of reference to make the change - regardless of how bad the setup had become in the meantime.

    You are right when you say that someone shouldn't say that .xxx" - .yyy" is the "perfect" setup. It's purely subjective. But it's important to remember that these numbers come from some of the manufacturers themselves. The manufacturers base these numbers by and large on the components of the basses, the way they are assembled and some physical properties of things like string vibration. All of this can be quantified and, to some, these quantities become the benchmark for subsequent setups.

    YMMV of course. ;)
  6. pd_5string

    pd_5string Admin: Accnt Disabled

    Jan 23, 2002
    Couldn't have said it better myself.

    For example, unless you know that you are in the proper relief range, how do you know if the fretbuzz you are hearing is the result of a high fret, or improper setup?

    It is always nice to have a baseline, and go from there. I too was once a "feel" setup person, but I have been educated...feels kind of liberating actually!

    And by the way, Entwistle uses a a more "slap like" right hand technique, and if you are going to hammer down directly like that, string height won't be as much as a factor (I never worry about string buzz while slapping, only when playing regular technique around the neck pickup).
  7. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    Hammy has seen my odd little technique that is somewhat similar to Entwistle's "spider hand."

    I've recently begun some serious tweaking of my necks to see exactly how low I can take my action. Well, it turns out the Rockwood neck with two truss rods and two graphite rods can get pretty damn low and still not buzz.

    The one thing I noticed is that it is more difficult to get the notes to ring out with this technique--it seems as if I am stiffling the strings with my downward tapping motion. My left hand is barely exerting any effort to hold the string down, and it's very nice. I've been trying to lighten and adapt my right hand touch but it hasn't happened yet, so I might end up raising the action a little.

    The strings I'm using are TI Powerbass strings which have a slightly lower tension than most roundwounds (but are nowhere near as low as the Jazz flats, or rounds), so I'm sure that has an effect, as well. If I used a higher tension string, it'd probably have more fight than the Powerbass, but I love the sound, and I don't plan on switching.
  8. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Neck-string interaction.

    That is, in physical terms, what "action" is.
    So, if you have a neck that is striff enough to withstand the strain from your strings, without bending, you can have a really low action.

    Then the touch vs action... If you play with a light touch, you have less amplitude of the strings, which allows for lower action, which makes it easier to play with a light touch, which leads to less amplitude, so you can lower the action some...well.

    A stiff neck, soft strings and "magic touch" - all in the same time.
  9. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Ham, Suburban, Monkee, PD - Thank you all for absolutely top-notch input and making me think!!!

    Now you've all got me thinking - maybe a key component is a graphite neck and/or something like Basslabs builds.
  10. pd_5string

    pd_5string Admin: Accnt Disabled

    Jan 23, 2002
    Hate to say it (not really) but you should try a will be amazed at how low you can go. Stiffness of neck will play a part in lack of fretbuzz as someone said above.
  11. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
  12. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    Yep, neck stiffness will do wonders for action (as will a top notch fretjob). And, a Zon is probably your best bet at finding something in your area to try out--especially with that new satin finish on the back of the neck (droooool). But, I'd say any bass with a rockwood/dymondwood/phenowood fretboard and graphite bars will get you ridiculously low action if you have a good fretjob. Rockwood is stupidly stable.

    However, I have to say that I managed to get the action on my MIA 75 reissue about as low as my US Curbow. Granted, Curbow also said that I managed to get a "magical" Jazz bass that has the best neck and fretwork he's ever seen on a Fender. I guess I got lucky since I bought it brand new sight unseen.
  13. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Super interesting, JMX!!!......and not expensive either. I just wonder how often I'd have to get "Pleked"??? (Humidity in the southern US Mississippi River region is a killer and we have 4 distinct weather seasons).

    Hopefully, some US vendors will pick up on that technology.

    Then again, I'd love to go to Berlin and see where some of my ancestors came from!
  14. I had a prolonged argument over on the FDP about this very technique (Plek) and it led directly to me never wanting to post there again.

    I couldn't get anyone, not a soul, to understand that the system had uses here in the states. In fact, certain blowhards over there were adamant that no machine of this nature could contribute anything to a setup and I was roundly dismissed as a tech freak. That was over 2 years ago.:mad:
  15. BillyB_from_LZ

    BillyB_from_LZ Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2000
    Didn't Entwistle once say that he wanted all of the bass's notes to buzz equally?
  16. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    I think you've come to the same solution as I have. Please bear in mind, though, that when I use the term "neck", I normally mean the total connection between the string fixation on the top and that on the bottom. A.k.a. the "backbone".
    The ones I know of are some Status Graphite, Moses and of course, BassLab. Zon has a great reputation, but their "incontinuous" backbone makes it impossible to assess without test. And I have yet not come across one of those...

    The PLEK tech is interesting, but, Rick puts it on the spot: you may have to be a frequent guest at that shop!:eek:
    And you will be even more frequent than you first think, as you will have to replace the frets more often...:(

    But the combination,,,a PLEK treated BassLab,,,has some charm to it!
  17. pd_5string

    pd_5string Admin: Accnt Disabled

    Jan 23, 2002
    The Zon Legacy Elite is a set in neck. It is so smooth it is often mistaken as a neck thru.

    I never liked the vibe of this bass, and I don't like not beeing ablel to remove the neck.

  18. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    About once a year around tax time. Just like you are used to. :)

    I would agree that the graphite neck helps a great deal. I have had very good luck with my Modulus. It has a really low set up and stays that way all the time.

    It isn't all about the bass. It has a great deal to do with you. Touch, as mentioned, matters a lot. But also your wrist angle and its relationship to the string attack angle. Hand position, etc.

    All of these things will have to be considered when setting the lowest possible action for you. That's why I think it is important to learn how to set up yor own basses.
  19. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Now we've come full circle to what is one of my main points is, (no dis intended Chas!) ---- set them up according to your personal needs and desires.

    My original post is about how to realize realize one's ideal action.

    My point of reference for the tonal effect of phenolic/graphite on a Zon is Manring. I absolutely hate his tone. His "tofu/macrobiotic/California hippie-dippy mentality" comes through in in his tone, to my ears.

    Not that he can't play the socks off of me, but he sounds "sterile" to my ears. And maybe there are Zon bassists with a sumptuous-Motown sound. I don't know. I haven't given Zons much attention.
  20. pd_5string

    pd_5string Admin: Accnt Disabled

    Jan 23, 2002
    Rick, visit my website:

    Tons of tunes on there with Zons.

    Manring's tone is unique to him, and his bass is even more unique, hence the bass that was specifically designed for him, the Manring Hyperbass, which only a few people even have. The more popular Sonus and Sonus Custom models (and to some degree the Legacy Elite) sound *much* warmer than that.