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John Entwistle's bass action

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by - Brady -, Aug 9, 2017.


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  1. - Brady -

    - Brady -

    Aug 3, 2017
    Hello, I'm a big John Entwistle fan, and for months have been trying to figure out how he attained such a super low action, for his "typewriter" technique. It's been said that it's a "lower-than-low" setup, and I've tried for a very, very long time to adjust my Dean John Entwistle to as close as a low setup as possible. I have had some luck over the last several months by de-tuning the strings a certain amount and then adjusting the truss rod, but it just seems at this point that its just going in a circle, and not doing anything anymore. I can do his typewriter technique with thecurrent action, but itdoes take a lot of effort considering that I knowthe strings aren't as low as the could potentially be.

    Does anybody here know exactly John lowered his action and setup the strings for that height? Or just how to lower the bass action to thatheight? because thesaddles on the bridge really don't do anything. At all. At least in terms of a John Entwistle string height. I'm about to receive a buzzard replica I ordered not long ago, and it's a neck-through, just like a real John Entwistle buzzard. My dean is a bolt on, however. I'd really like to know how you lower the strings on these bassesto an Entwistle action! If anybody can help, I'dappreciate it!
     
  2. fakeneckplate'65

    fakeneckplate'65 Supporting Member

    Feb 4, 2014
    Columbus, OH
    I'm curious how low " lower-than-low is " actually is? That's a vague phrase without actual numbers.
     
  3. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    From some videos I have seen I think he used (in his later years, certainly) super low tension strings. And, Rick Turner, IIRC, said that John asked for his action to be set so that the strings were coming out of the back of the necks on his basses. :roflmao:
     
  4. - Brady -

    - Brady -

    Aug 3, 2017
    That's the thing. There's no information on it. Really what I'm trying to get at is,...what do you have to do to the bass get the strings as low as possible, to the pint of touchingl the fretboard, regardless of numbers? What technical thing has to be done, with what tool(s)?
     
  5. Gully Foyle

    Gully Foyle Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2014
    Near Boston
    I recall a video of John talking about this technique, and demonstrating it, but do not recall the strings laying on the board? I can do a poor facsimile, and just did, with a bass with a standard med-low action? Why does it have to rest on the board? I suspect John had prodigiously strong hands and perfect control - wouldn't that be the key, vs setup?
     
  6. PhatBasstard

    PhatBasstard Spector Dissector Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2002
    Las Vegas, NV.
    John himself had a couple of good ones.
    When a bass mag interviewer asked if, because of his super low action, if it bothered him if he got fret buzz in a few spots. John said "Yes. I want them all to buzz evenly."
     
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  7. Nev375

    Nev375

    Nov 2, 2010
    Missouri
    What kind of bridge do you have that the saddles don't do anything? Do you mean that the saddles are already lowered to the bridge plate and can't physically go lower? If that's the case, you need to shim the neck.

    Do you mean there are no adjustment allen screws? Then that's a weird bridge. Almost all bridges on electric basses have screws for adjusting the intonation length and allen screws for adjusting the string height.

    In addition to possibly needing a neck shim, you might also need to adjust the relief of your neck. That is done by adjusting the truss rod nut which might take a large screwdriver, allen wrench or possibly a specialized wrench. For ultra low action you want the neck to be nearly straight, but just an ever so slight curve at tension.

    The lower the action the more fret wear becomes an issue. If your frets aren't perfectly levelled you are going to have buzzes or dead notes.

    And in addition to all that you will need to play using the right technique. Super ultra low action is not easier to play, it's harder to play cleanly because you need to have a very light and consistent touch. Higher tension strings may help.
     
  8. You need perfectly level frets to get John's style of action. He actually smashed up a Warwick (?) Buzzard that couldn't be adjusted to his specs. I imagine you need a perfectly straight neck with zero relief, and perfectly level frets.

    I think extremely action that low isn't really all that useful; more of a numbers game and proof (if needed) that you can sink the action on your bass and the fretwork is good enough to get the job done. You lose a lot of dynamic range with low action. Anything beyond a certain note velocity is simply translated into more clank on the front of the note rather than dynamics or phrasing. John wasn't really about dynamics as much as playing constantly and busily at a loud volume, with enough overdrive to 'music up' the fret buzz and clank. John's tone in the '80s and '90s was brutally bad! His ultra low action meant that he could keep firing the notes out, which is what he was all about.
     
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  9. BruceWane

    BruceWane

    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    It's already been mentioned - your truss rod needs to be set so that the neck is dead level, zero relief. Frets must be absolutely leveled as well. If your bridge saddles aren't able to go low enough, you need to shim the neck to make it lay back a touch.

    HOWEVER - be aware that setting up a bass like this will get that sound, but it also means that this is the pretty much the ONLY sound you're going to get out of it. Everything you do is going to have a LOT of clank and buzz.

    I could see setting up a bass like this if you've got a few basses at your disposal - have the one clanky buzzy bass for Who stuff (also good for a lot of metal stuff, and two-hand tapping techniques), and another bass with a conventional setup for traditional deep clean tone.

    But for me, I wouldn't be comfortable having this kind of setup if I had only one bass.
     
    songwriter21 likes this.
  10. Its so subjetive. We dont know how low was low for him.... We dont know at what height his bass started to buzz either
     
  11. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    I've heard some isolated recordings of Entwistle' bass lines and they sounded really clacky and buzzy. Consistent though, and it seemed to work in the mix. Wouldn't work in a lot of bands though.
     
  12. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    Aside: Listen to Ox's solo in My Generation on Live at Leeds. Whatever he's was doing setup wise, it's rock bass supremacy when combined with the ODriven head.

    Killer sound if you're rocking hard all the time. Wouldn't work in a typical cover band though.
     
    mdogs likes this.
  13. Badwater

    Badwater

    Jan 12, 2017
    I don't think his action was super low, he was a dynamic finesse player who at times attacked real hard. In videos of him playing you can see those strings move a lot.
     
  14. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Or recess the bridge, no?
     
  15. songwriter21

    songwriter21 Involved with two girls. Cirrus and Milly. Supporting Member

    Jul 31, 2005
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Sponsored by Hipshot
    I don't agree with the comments about limited dynamics. I think it's all about technique, as I've been used to "guitar-low" action for a while now. My Cirrus has the G a little over 1 mm at the 12th fret, along with my Millennium that's not much higher. Yeah I get some buzz, but because of the fret jobs being damn good, it doesn't interfere much for me. I can get a reggae thud-type sound, for example, by just palm-muting...same with a pick. Another example, is that I have no problem playing with the pickups almost right under the strings, because I can still dig in from being used to the action. Billy Sheehan is a great example, too. People can't stand trying to slap on his sig bass, because of that big neck pickup in the way. Billy has no problem with it whatsoever, though (even if he doesn't slap that much). It's all about how you handle the feel, at least imo.

    John, btw, also said that he liked his action "on the other side of the frets". :laugh: Seriously, he probably had a bunch of custom mods/specs with his bridges, strings, frets, etc.

    I do agree with everyone else here, though, saying that a perfect fret job is the main factor.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2017
  16. songwriter21

    songwriter21 Involved with two girls. Cirrus and Milly. Supporting Member

    Jul 31, 2005
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Sponsored by Hipshot
    Also, I made up a combo/hybrid bridge for my Cirrus, to achieve the action I like. I shimmed the Millennium for the same thing.
     
  17. John was into gear customisation in a big way. Peter Cook built him those 'Fenderbird' basses in the early '70s that combined the elements John preferred from both Fender and Gibson designs. He also used stock Thunderbird IVs during this period, before moving on to Alembic. I'm not sure how many Alembic instruments he commissioned versus simply picked up, but his basses were pretty much custom pieces from then on.

    This is what he did to a Warwick Buzzard that couldn't be dialed into his specs:

    Smashed%20Warwick%20Buzzard%20bass.
     
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  18. NoiseNinja

    NoiseNinja Experimental-psychedelic-ambient-noise-drone Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2011
    Denmark
    That's a hack of a bass smashing job!

    The neck is almost still intact! :rollno:
     
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  19. PhatBasstard

    PhatBasstard Spector Dissector Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2002
    Las Vegas, NV.
    Some had full graphite necks. Hard to break.
     
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  20. Ross W. Lovell

    Ross W. Lovell

    Oct 31, 2015

    I saw him close on his solo tours, usually less than ten feet from stage with packed ears.

    I didn't think his setup was particularly low.

    I did note that his pickup gain was waaaaaaay up. His typewriter technique definitely had some force to it but it was augmented by the volume being pretty cranked. Obvious when the tech was going through sound check with his instrument.

    Been also expirementing with his techniques, using a fretless TBird and a fretted Alembic. Neither has excessively low action.

    What or where is this manifesting in your playing that gives you the idea it isn't working?

    It's a technique developed over a lifetime of playing and while you certainly can emulate it and master it, I doubt it will happen as fast as you'd like.