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How to properly measure action

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by kennyhoe, Feb 24, 2004.

  1. Hey,

    I've been reading up on action settings for a while, and it seems that some people have extremely low action settings. I take a look at my Stingray, and I figure that it is pretty medium. However, when I measure it, it comes out to like 3/16", which seems quite high.

    So, I'm just wondering how you guys measure action, like where do you put your ruler or measuring device? I tried using a ruler, but realized that the "0" was slightly indented, which didn't work well. I ended up having to place the ruler beside my neck to try to get an accurate reading.

    Any suggestions? Thanx in advance.
  2. Giraffe

    Giraffe Supporting Member

    Nov 6, 2003
    San Diego, California
    Here is the method most techs use. You need a capo, a set of feeler gauges, an accurate measuring device, and good vision! Get the feeler gauges at most auto parts stores for about $5. Go to a hardware store and get a 6" stainless steel ruler with 1/32" (or better yet 1/64") graduations. General makes one that doesn't cost more than $3, and this is a tool you will use over and over. Put the capo on your bass behind the first fret. Holding the bass in normal playing position (It might be easier to do this sitting down.), fret your E (or B, or whatever is on the bottom/bass side of the neck) at the highest fret with one hand. The string now gives you a straight line from the top of your lowest fret to the top of your highest fret. Now with your other hand start sliding the feeler gauges under the string at about the seventh or eight fret, which is about halfway up the neck of most bolt-on necks. You want to measure the distance from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string. This measurment is your relief, or the amount of curvature in your neck. Keep sliding thicker gauges between the bottom of the string and the top of the fret until you can't get the next larger gauge under the string without moving it. Usually you want from .010 to .015 here, on the higher side if you hit it hard, and on the lower side for players with lighter technique. Now check the relief on the treble side of the neck. It should be about the same. If there is a big difference, you may have a twisted neck. If it is a serious twist, this can be a serious problem, and needs professional help. Now, take the capo off, put the bass in normal playing position on your lap, and stand the ruler up on the twelfth fret, so the flat part of the ruler is just touching the lowest string. Try to keep the ruler perfectly perpendicular to the fingerboard. You are going to measure the distance from the top of the twelfth fret to the bottom of the string. A good starting point is about 3/32" on the bass side, and about 5/64" on the treble side. These are just starting points. There are some wonderful musicians out there playing instruments with actions so high that most of us couldn't play them at all. And don't obsess about getting a really low action. Most players find that the lowest action they can play without getting buzzes doesn't yield the best tone. The strings slapping against the frets sucks tone and sustain. Sometimes a slightly higher action yields the best balance of tone and playability. Experiment and have fun!
    Sa564 and Bass Man Dan like this.
  3. Wow, that was a great answer! Thanks again! Now to go out and get me some tools... :bassist: :)

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