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Low action and Digging in: Is it just give and take?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Ezmar, Jan 6, 2013.

  1. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    So I've felt lately that playing is a little hard for me, and being under 20, I know it's not due to aging. Some of it is due to playing unplugged/at low volume (College living), so I use more force than necessary, but I also feel like the action may be too high for my taste.

    The problem is, I sometimes like to dig in and play aggressively, mostly when I'm doing Rush stuff, rocking hard, etc. A lot of people say that a lighter touch is better, to which I say that I CAN play with a light touch, but sometimes you can't get the same energy without going a little crazy. Anyway, I digress, that problem with digging in being that I get a lot of fret grind. Even my Light touch can get pretty hard when I get into the groove. It feels especially hard on my fretting (Left) hand. Which I think would have a lot to do with string action. It's not all the time, mostly when I'm playing fast or difficult passages, my hand wears out. I know that hand fatigue is normal, but some of it is more than just fatigue, it just wears out my hand.

    So the basic situation is this: How can I lower action to be as low and easy as possible, without running into problems when I play? I don't necessarily dig in to get a whole bunch of fret grind, Mostly It's for the change in initial attack sound. I don't like any sort of noise from the string vibrating against the frets, but if I lower my action, that would only get worse, wouldn't it?

    Thanks in advance for replies.
  2. Epitaph04

    Epitaph04 Always puts some stank on it Supporting Member

    Jul 5, 2010
    Dont lower the action so much?
  3. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    Well, it's not so much that I'm running into issues with lowering the action, I actually haven't tried lowering it yet. (I know, it's kind of dumb to ask before actually trying, but still) The issue is more with the fact that I already sometimes get more fret grind than I would like, and I feel like trying to lower the action at all would just worsen the problem. I mean, fret noise is affected by neck bow and string height, so I guess I'm wondering if there's some way to lower action while minimizing buzz. Maybe kind of a foolish question, but you know how it is.
  4. twangchief

    twangchief Supporting Member

    Oct 30, 2003
    Altoona, PA
    I've found that by adding a little more relief in the neck allows me to play more aggressively with a lower action. This will vary with different instruments.
  5. scottfeldstein

    scottfeldstein Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2011
    West Bend, Wisconsin
    I'd take my guitar to a good tech and have a conversation about what you want.
  6. Floyd Eye

    Floyd Eye Banned

    Feb 21, 2010
    St. Louis
  7. wmheilma


    Jan 5, 2010
    This is a good idea. Pay attention to what the tech does, and you may learn some new stuff about the best set up for your style. Wooden necks respond to the climate, so it is an ongoing battle. I love my wooden basses, but the drought this year has presented a challenge. Enter the Modulus Graphite Q6 which has stayed set up exactly like I set it up way back when dirt was rocks :)
  8. GK Growl

    GK Growl

    Dec 31, 2011
    How much fret grind/buzz are we talking here?? I understand the desire to not hear any but for certain styles of music (Rush, Yes, etc.) this is part of the character of the tone. Some buzz is a good thing IMHO as long as it's not choking the tone completely. There is a huge difference in a little grind and a note that will not ring out at all. Also, keep in mind that what you hear acoustically isn't always as audible through an amp or at loud volumes with other musicians.
  9. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    Don't worry too much about a little buzz. Most of that doesn't make it through an amp anyway.
  10. GK Growl

    GK Growl

    Dec 31, 2011
    I find this video of Billy Sheehan for those of us that play more of a rock style rather interesting. At about 3:35 he goes into some pretty good detail about fret grind/buzz. I know that he usually isn't sustaining notes for long in his style but...

  11. scottfeldstein

    scottfeldstein Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2011
    West Bend, Wisconsin
    Cool video.
  12. He makes good sense about the marker with the file BUT BUT BUT he didnt mention having the truss rod adjusted without string tension on the bass. If there is any relief in the neck whatsoever wont the frets not be measured equally?
  13. kylejamesbaker


    Jul 7, 2011
    I found that when I play very aggressively with my right hand my left hand tends to want to fret much harder. It takes a while to separate the hands and play hard and loud with the picking/plucking hand while still keeping the fretting hand relaxed.

    check out this video of Gary Willis talking about finger pressure.

  14. Gasman

    Gasman Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2007
    South Carolina
    The answer is a bit complicated. You have to decide, first of all, how you like to play. If you like "digging in" a lot, then the answer is different. I can't give you the straight answer you want, but regarding setup (and there's a lot of articles that can articulate it better than me), here's my take.

    Your setup depends upon multiple factors. The simplest (in regards to action) has to do with your truss rod, the saddle height, and the saddle length. You can't just raise or lower the saddle to get higher/lower action. As you will find, if you lower your saddle, you will have to increase your string tension, and vice versa. So if you are getting undesired fret buzz at your current settings, raising the saddles won't fix it because you will have to lower the string tension to stay in tune. The truss rod allows or inhibits the bowing of the neck. When you pluck/pick/slap a string, it moves in 3, not 2, dimensions. If you like a lighter gauge string, then you will need more relief from the truss rod than a heavier string because it requires less tension, hence the string will have more "3-D" movement. Your saddle height, IMO, is a minor piece in terms of action. It has to be coupled with saddle length, and that is your intonation. Intonation means when you fret at a certain place, the note played is in tune. I use the 12th fret for intonation, but others use different places (5th or 7th, for example). Every instrument will be imperfect to some degree in regards to intonation, so you just have to decide for yourself based upon where you tend to play most of your notes.

    If you want a lower action and want to dig in, then you may want to experiment with heavier gauge strings (again, higher tension, less movement). Keep in mind that with heavier strings, as you straighten your neck with the truss rod, you may need to adjust your saddle length and height. Also, the feel of higher tension might not be for you (if you bend strings a lot, it's less desirable). It takes a bit of time at first, but if I can do it, then certainly you can too. I agree with the above sentiments regarding going to an expert, but only if you stick around to learn what he/she is doing. Then you will save yourself the dough for future setups.

    To give specific examples, if you are wanting to tap, I'd recommend heavier strings and a fairly straight neck. If you're slamming away with a pick like Dee Dee Ramone, I'd recommend lighter strings and more relief in the neck. Just my thoughts.
  15. abemo


    Feb 27, 2012
    Arvada, co
    One note as to technique (because I used to have this issue, and for me it was all in the hands), is that "digging in" doesn't have to mean beating the h*** out of the strings, especially if your concern is the initial attack. Its far more effective to hit the string lightly but fast. What I mean is, pull your plucking finger up as far from the string as you can without moving your full plucking hand, then move your plucking finger down as fast as you can just barely grazing the string. You don't put a ton of meat on it, just speed (think nunchucks vs baseball bat, you want to be the nunchucks, if that makes any sense). I don't have the link right now, but bryan bellar (dethclock, the aristocrats, etc) did a fantastic video on this for bass player a few years back called "strikeforce" if I recall.