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Is low string action always the best?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by landsalmon1, Aug 18, 2005.

  1. landsalmon1


    Aug 17, 2005
    Hey everybody, I play on a Musicman Bongo bass and I love the hell out of it for almost everything, except lately I'm noticing that when I go to slap the D string (or the occasional G) I'm not getting much tension from those strings. The action on my bass is very low and I was wondering if maybe a little higher action would cause more tension in the strings. If anyone has any info I'd really appreciate it. I need more tension in my higher strings and don't know what to do. Maybe heavier strings? I dunno.
  2. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Higher action gives you greater tonal variety - and some would say better tone in general.
  3. Still others would politely disagree, pointing out that learning to bash one's bass just to get a sound out of it won't teach one much about tone, nor about how it is affected by technique.

    My apologies, I know this doesn't answer your question.
  4. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    +1 with Pacman. Heavier strings might work, but I'd try raising the action first. However, it's not always desirable. There are some bassists who dig the sound of the strings vibrating against the frets, and there's players with a light touch who like low action.
  5. seanlava


    Apr 14, 2005
    my solution is very low action, coupled with a medium gauge, high tension string. I'm currently using DR Lo Riders (.100s), and i'm able to keep my action very low, without getting any fret buzz or string rattle.
  6. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    I started with low action. Now-a-days, my action really high. Also, I don't like any fret buzz what so ever.

    I use standard gauge 105-45
  7. Vox Populi

    Vox Populi Reggae Loving Honkey

    Jan 27, 2004
    Poulsbo, WA
    I prefer my action a little bit higher than some. Not too high, but not low either.

    I do like my strings to have a little less tension though.
  8. jetsetvet

    jetsetvet Banned

    Mar 24, 2005
    On a 83 G&L L2000E I've had a while, I used to feel that very little neck relief - low action with tighter heavy gage strings was the best, but over time I like a medium string like 45-105 with a medium-low action achieved in part by allowing just a small touch more relief to the neck. Having this slightly higher action freed up my dynamics because I knew I could play a note hard without fret buzz when I wanted to.....I could play hard with emotion with less clams than before. Also, by adding relief to the neck the D and G strings became less "clacky" and would not slap against the frets if attacked hard. That L2000E plays and sounds better than ever now.

    864f955e. 045a02b5. c57541e7.

    On a bass I have with Thomastik flats, which are really small gage/low tension, I have the action a little higher to prevent buzzing and I really like the feel of playing it. It is no harder to play because the low tension strings don't fight back at you, but it feels "springy" because of the slightly higher action. It makes me feel like I am digging in an really playing bass, and it sounds expressive.

    I did not know how much I would prefer lighter strings/lower tension/slightly more neck relief/slightly higher action, until I tried it. So go try it.
  9. Futurebass


    Jun 22, 2005
    Low action is bad because it forces you to play with poor technique. If you can't play a full dynamic range because hitting the strings too hard makes them choke against the fingerboard, you are reduced to letting your amp make all of the sound. If you have high action you can hit the strings as hard or soft as you like and gives you a lot more control over bending notes and vibrato.
  10. Never heard that before...

    I use higher action on my upright (with lower tension strings) and low action on my fretless. I like the higher action on the upright to compensate for the lower volume of the lower tension strings. I like the lower action on the fretless because it allows me to use a lighter touch and allows me to play faster and makes sliding a bit easier.

    I think that saying low action is bad because it breeds poor technique is probably not particularly helpful . Nonetheless, I think that it can be a matter of preference. I tend to like higher action on fretted basses because I don't like fret-noise. That being said, my friend has a early 70s Precision bass with Roto nylon wound flats and his action is very low and it was one of the easiest set ups I have played. It sounded great and my friend could fly with that bass with perfect one finger per fret technique.
  11. I think part of the issue is that no one has defined--or perhaps even could define--exactly what low and high action are. When I think low action, I don't think of strings almost rattling against the frets, which is what some of you guys seem to be envisioning. I mainly just think of low action as the minimum height necessary. My own preference is for action that's as low as I can get *while still allowing me the range of plucking dynamics that I use*. I don't have any use for making the bass harder to play than it needs to be, but if you use any RH dynamics at all (which IMO you should), you need to have some string clearance off the FB.
  12. I have low action to help me tap.
  13. AGCurry


    Jun 29, 2005
    Kansas City
    High or low action has nothing to do with string tension. But, as others have said, it does affect how hard you can "dig in". I think the best advice is that you need to experiment to see what works best for you. Try higher action. Try heavier strings.
  14. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    My experience with basses set up too low is, the more you dig in the quieter they get. Anti-dynamic. :meh:
  15. Futurebass


    Jun 22, 2005
    That's correct. A lot of players not only use low action, but also compression. Then there are no dynamics. It's a percussion and rhythm instrument just as much as it's a harmonic instrument. With no ability to play dynamically so much potential is lost.
  16. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    I would agree there about compression. Too much compression, and it really does reduce dynamics. I guess there's always a trade off between too much, or too little, high action vs low action. I think the trick would be learn how to use BOTH sides of the coin.
  17. el_Kabong


    Jul 11, 2005
    Maybe that's the difference between 'low' and 'too low'?
  18. chaosMK


    May 26, 2005
    Albuquerque, NM
    Hi-fi into an old tube amp
    I like having some fingerboard impact when I pluck hard, when playing metal. If I were playing smooth jazz, I'd probably want the action higher up. I like the action on the lower end, and find it preferable for slapping too.
  19. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
    I use DR Lo-Riders: 45, 65, 85, 105, 130. They are higher in tension...I really don't use low action (I play on a $150 bass), but I do use a ramp. I have seen that most people with ramps use low action, but as long as I can get the strings close to the ramp, i'm happy....

    I prefer medium action.
  20. Time Divider

    Time Divider Guest

    Apr 7, 2005
    My motto is to set it as high as you can tolerate. It's always a trade-off between note and fret buzz.