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How to get really low action

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by faulknersj, Nov 9, 2018.


  1. faulknersj

    faulknersj Supporting Member

    Apr 4, 2008
    Scottsdale Az
    This is my process. What is yours?

    1) make sure to push down on the strings on the neck side of the bridge saddle to get a clean break angle on the string. These are called ‘witness points’. You don’t want the string to curve over the saddle and down the neck, but rather to come over the saddle with a very pronounced break angle down the neck. Do the same on the headstock side of the nut.

    256AF285-8818-4B70-B035-3379622B0F40.
    DF67D936-726D-47C9-B521-D168BF71E0F7.
    E9A39408-1D1E-4D1F-BC4E-8395FF1367FB.

    2) if issue with action/playability/fret buzz is frets 1-5, gobto truss rod adjustment. If it is from frets 6 - the neck heal, adjust bridge saddles.


    3) adjust the truss rod clockwise (to the right) to get the upper portion of the neck to straighten (I’d say 1/2 a turn to start but don’t be afraid to go further if you need to. The neck may take a day to fully settle). You may need to adjust bridge saddle up from there.

    4) if you have fret buzz following a truss adjustment in frets 1-5, turn truss rod counter clockwise in tiny increments until it the buzz is minimal, or gone.

    5) subtle loosening and tightening of neck bolt screws can help to make tiny adjustments at the neck heal if there are playabilty issues their.

    6) if none of these work, remove the neck, lay the heal over a business card, trace the heal with a pen or marker, and then cut it out with scissors. The width from front to back on the shim will change the pitch angle of the neck; start with this measuring about an inch.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
    Alik, osv and PullThePlug like this.
  2. lz4005

    lz4005

    Oct 22, 2013
    Getting low action depends entirely on having perfectly level frets.
    If your frets are uneven you'll get buzz and choke on individual notes before the strings are super low.
     
    Axstar, osv, five7 and 6 others like this.
  3. faulknersj

    faulknersj Supporting Member

    Apr 4, 2008
    Scottsdale Az
    I am able to get nice low action on all of my basses using the process above. I would be shocked if all my basses have perfectly level frets...especially my vintage Fenders....
     
  4. lz4005

    lz4005

    Oct 22, 2013
    "Nice low" and "really low" are totally subjective.
    The limiting factor is always fret level if you're trying to get the strings as low as possible.
     
    rockinrayduke likes this.
  5. FunkHead

    FunkHead Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    If you have been playing your Vintage Fenders for a long time, then they will have worn in to your playing technique. Frets do wear and essentially they get better and better over time.

    Or I could be totally wrong.

    It's just my theory after playing electric bass for 40+ years.
     
    Northfear and faulknersj like this.
  6. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i just removed the threats, er...i mean frets. removing the frets allows for some really low action. try it and see for yourself! :D
     
    aldaa, Wisebass and faulknersj like this.
  7. GBBSbassist

    GBBSbassist I actually play more guitar... Supporting Member

    Nov 23, 2010
    Chicago
    You can try all you want, but you won't get your action lower than this.

    lowest action.
     
  8. Wisebass

    Wisebass

    Jan 12, 2017
    Lost in Space
    Hi JRA :)

    This thread was just moved to "Hardware and Repair"

    And without frets, no need to play low, you can even play "high" :laugh:


    Someone should move this to "Humor" :roflmao:


    greetings

    Wise(b)ass

    btw: Without kidding! Setting witness points is great for a good intonation!
     
    JRA likes this.
  9. Northfear

    Northfear

    Mar 15, 2017
    I have the same experience. Never leveled the frets on my main, but after 10 years of playing they kind of leveled themselves. The action is super comfortable and low.
     
    FunkHead likes this.
  10. lz4005

    lz4005

    Oct 22, 2013
    In theory if you spread the wear out evenly that might happen, but if you play in some keys more than others you'll wear those frets down unevenly. My dad's Jazz that he gigged with multiple days a week for 20 years before retiring, for example, has double the fret wear from the 3rd to 7th as compared to everywhere else because he played in C and D most of the time.
     
    FunkHead likes this.
  11. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Move it to humour? Really? What's so funny about playing high - it's a requirement.
     
    rockinrayduke, JRA and Wisebass like this.
  12. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto

    #1 - Yes.
    #2 - That's OK
    #3 - Adjusting the truss rod doesn't affect the upper part of the neck - it affects the middle. And buzzing may not be a consequence of the truss rod existence. It may be some high frets.. And note that not all truss rods will straighten when turning the nut clockwise - some are counter-clockwise.
    #4. - Once again, the direction of turn is not always counter-clockwise to loosen.
    #5. - Neck screws should always be tight. Always. Period.
    #6. - Not an inch. Just between the end of the neck and the screw holes.

    And "really low action" will only be achievable if the frets are truly level to start with. And don't forget that the height at the bridge is critical to success as well.
     
    rockinrayduke, lowplaces and JRA like this.
  13. FunkHead

    FunkHead Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    Yes but that bass is probably perfect for him whereas someone else may not be to happy with it. Maybe?:)
     
  14. lz4005

    lz4005

    Oct 22, 2013
    Nope, he knew the frets were worn out and bought a new american standard a year or so before he retired. He still has the old one (a 1966 custom color J he bought new) in storage.
     
  15. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    2 cents:

    -measure correctly with the best possible and appropriate tools you can afford (within reason). a piece of aluminum siding from your paw-paw's house just won't do, nor will a tape measure when working down to the 1000ths

    -write s**t down. like you did in school.

    -set critical adjustments with the instrument in the playing position. gravity is real and heavy bass strings know it.

    -be realistic in your expectations of the instrument. some can take and sustain a low action and some just can't due to construction and geometry constraints. good quality neck throughs shine here while bolt together econo axes can be problematic.

    -humidity control and acclimation of the instrument are important. sort out the working environment and let the thing adjust for a few days before going to work.

    -avoid doing a precise set-up with brand new strings that aren't fully settled. for example, i'll do a "rough set-up" and let the bass sit for a week getting played in and having the new strings normalize. then i'll come back and do a final set-up.

    -if you have a bolt on neck take it off and clean out the crap from the pocket. wood chips, clumps of paint and packed in filler, polish, and "things" do not make for a clean tight joint required for precise work. wax the screws and reassemble tightly and check with feeler gages for gaps at the pocket floor. correct as needed.

    -check everything else in the "string chain" for tightness.

    -fret work and neck condition needs to be spot on. one could write a book about it but suffice to say it's an important foundation.

    -don't forget the nut. set it up correctly and relieve the top and ramp out the slots as needed.

    -super low action requires up-keep and maintenance. more so then a more forgiving set-up. if your usual regime is say 2 set-ups per year, expect to do 4. the subsequent ones will not need be as intensive as the first -more like minor adjustments.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
    faulknersj likes this.
  16. faulknersj

    faulknersj Supporting Member

    Apr 4, 2008
    Scottsdale Az
    Good Stuff!
     
  17. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    ^^ thx.

    +2 cents more:

    -know your client or yourself in terms of tunings, string gages, favorite brand, composition, etc... if different strings choices are getting swapped in and out frequently, or different tunings are being tried out, you'll likely be needing to make minor action adjustments as well at potentially every string change until the "experimentation cycle" is concluded.

    fwiw, coming primarily from the acoustic guitar world where things get picky, one of the techniques we'll use is to plane relief directly into the fingerboard. a larger "scoop" on the bass side and a lesser one on the treble side to account for the differences in string excursion. the concept becomes one of the truss rod acting as a tool for "regulation" and maintaining the relief rather than setting it. ideally string metrics should have been worked out by the player well in advance.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
  18. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    You missed a spot. Review the photos and you should be able to spot it.
     
    sissy kathy likes this.
  19. faulknersj

    faulknersj Supporting Member

    Apr 4, 2008
    Scottsdale Az
    I assume you are referring to breack angle from the 'body through' hole to the saddle?
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2018
  20. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Yes, Any place where there is an unsupported curve in the string path is a place where over time the tension on the sting will straighten it out. As it does the string will become a bit flat. Straighten it out in advance and that bit of tuning instability is removed.
     

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