Low Action - Downsides?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by phnord, Dec 21, 2012.

  1. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    I've been trying my hand at tapping for a while, and have written a few things in that regard. I work at Sam Ash, and I noticed today that there was one bass that was ridiculously easy to tap on - it felt like I didn't even have to touch the strings to make a note.

    I went home, and decided to experiment a bit. I've setup basses before, but mostly by guides online. This time I decided to take a look at the actual engineering of the instrument and see what I could come up with to reduce string tension.

    After sketching out some ideas, I finally decided to lower the saddles on each string until just before the third-highest-fret started to buzz. My plan was to then give the neck more relief if I noticed excessive buzzing as I headed towards the nut.

    After doing so (and adjusting the intonation on each string), the strings feel... ridiculous to play. I feel like blowing on them would produce a pitch. And I didn't need to give the neck any relief; there's very minimal to no buzzing when playing at reasonable dynamics.

    I really can't think of a downside to this setup. I mean, yes - if I were to *really* dig in, I'd probably get some buzz... but I now have a dynamic range from ridiculously soft touches to a pretty normal playing-style.

    So considering that and considering the ease of playing (and especially tapping), would there be any downsides that I'm overlooking to such a low-action setup?
  2. Smilodon

    Smilodon Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2012
    The downside is that such a setup will require very even frets and a stable neck (or adjusting the truss rod often to compensate for movement.)

    The lower the action, the less room there is for error.

    Other than that there shouldn't be any downsides as long as this is a setup you are comfortable with. :)
  3. Epitaph04

    Epitaph04 Supporting Member

    Jul 5, 2010
  4. mech

    mech Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2008
    Meridian, MS, USA
    The only downside I've found to really low action is that the instrument will need the truss rod adjusted more often for seasonal type temperature changes. When you run on the edge, just a taste more back or forward bow will be noticed by string buzz (back bow) or slightly higher action (forward bow).

  5. bertbassplayer

    bertbassplayer Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    DFW, TX
    I've always played with really low action. I've never really had issues with seasonal changes too much, but I did have issues when I was travelling. I live in Dallas which is pretty temperate most of the time, and I was did a week long thing down in South Padre Island. The second day I pulled out my bass and the strings were laying flat on the frets. However, that's the only time I've ever had any issues.
  6. RedMoses

    RedMoses Supporting Member

    Jul 4, 2012
    Low doesnt fight back at all, you loose "Punch" the lower you go, i find that you need some string height to get that punch from the strings. Low action usually makes too much fret buzz for my taste, even with perfect frets.

    I think you have to find the happy medium between punch and comfort. On my new Marco Bass i used 100's (usually use 90's!) and it would bottom out on this Bass, i play pretty hard and rely on the snap you get from bieng aggressive on the strings, when i get on them hard the 100's would hit the board and they would ring freely, i had to raise the action considerably and still did not get the tone i wanted. I moved up to 105's and i am not able to lower the action and get aggressive on the strings without them bottoming out and im still able to get the punch i want while the action gets low enough for comfort. I may move to 110's, i would never dream of playing strings this heavey but every bass has its own personatliy.
  7. bertbassplayer

    bertbassplayer Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    DFW, TX
    Marco is pretty good (bad?) about sending all his basses out with pretty low action. I've never really had the issues you speak about, I don't know if it's just a technique thing or what. I've always had plenty of punchy and not bottomed out (unless I wanted it to). I play pretty hard though I've never played anything as light as 90's. I usually play 45-100 or 45-105.
  8. RedMoses

    RedMoses Supporting Member

    Jul 4, 2012
    Marco makes his action SUPER low and people love that but i dont really enjoy Basses with action that low, i prefer it to fight back a little bit. The bottoming out is more my technique and the light strings more so than the Bass.
  9. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    I'm surprised by the even-handedness of the comments so far. I agree with them too.

    I think a lot of guys who play with really low action (me included) play close to the back pickup, to keep the level of string movement in check. Doug Johns is an exception - that cat uses the "string touches the pickup" sound to really cool effect in his music.
  10. El-Bob

    El-Bob Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2006
    Hamilton, ON
    Down sides... um. It promotes good technique, and lowers the risk of injuries like carpal tunnel and tendonitis. Oh, and when your technique is good, you can adjust your attack for clean playing with strong, clear fundamentals, or dig in a bit for some extra grind. Those are the downsides... tragic, I know.

    Almost forgot: Better intonation as well. Terrible stuff that low action...
  11. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    New York, NY
    Was the bass that USA Lakland JO5 with the preamp?

    The down side to having very low action is that, IMO, your tone and expression are going to suffer. The less room the string has to vibrate, the less the pickup has to work with. Also, to accomplish very low action successfully, you need perfect fretwork and a truly straight neck.

    I prefer medium-ish string height. Best of both worlds. The string can speak more freely, and I can let the notes really bloom and develop when I need to.
  12. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    So long as the strings vibrate freely when you pluck, it makes no difference if they are a thousandth of an inch or ten yards from the fingerboard/frets. Touching is touching. Not touching is not touching. The difference is only how hard you can pluck before the strings start to contact frets. Higher action - more clearance, more room for harder plucking.

    So start with how hard you want to dig in. Then decide if you want a bit of fret buzz when digging in that hard. Adjust accordingly.
  13. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    No downside to very low action to me. Sounds and plays better that way to me.
  14. Love low action.
  15. One more for the Low setup. I used to hate it, but that was back when I couldn't play
  16. Jerry Ziarko

    Jerry Ziarko Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2003
    Rochester, NY
    I may be on the other side of the fence here. While I do keep my action low, I've played and received basses which as the OP described, you just had to blow on the stings. I seem to lose the feel of the fingerboard when the bass is set up like this. Also, after raising the action a slight amount, the notes especially on the G sting fattened up. Lastly, I will adjust the truss rod when needed, but constant tweaking drives me nuts. As a side note I read that Jamerson's action was extremely high. I guess whatever fits your style, go for it.
  17. No downsides. If you have set the bass up this way, removed significant relief, and you don't get excessive clank when playing with a relatively lighter touch, yet still have a range of expressive dynamics to use, then you have done well. I would say the bass must have had a good fret level job done in the factory, a pretty important aspect of low action. Congrats, enjoy. I wish more players would do these simple experiments.

    IMHO, there is no benefit to digging in as hard as you can, and lots of drawbacks. You don't really produce enough extra volume to warrant the extreme buzzing and sharp notes that can occur. You change the tone of your bass, circumventing the design and purpose of the signal chain/amp. I sometimes like the clank of a Ric with low action, but you still don't need to dig in that hard to achieve it. Sometimes it's more about strike angle than strike velocity.
  18. +1. I'm with RedMoses. I personally don't like the super low setup. I play upright too, so maybe that's a factor.

    I will say though - to each his/her own. It's all good if it's the way you like it and play best. :bassist:
  19. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings
    I prefer the action to be as low as possible without buzzing.
  20. hotbass57


    Nov 27, 2011
    +1 as low as you go and then raise until no buzz.