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Low Action versus High Tension

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by ::::BASSIST::::, Apr 25, 2009.

  1. ::::BASSIST::::

    ::::BASSIST:::: Progress Not Perfection.

    Sep 2, 2004
    Vancouver, BC Canada
    For the last couple of years I have been putting a capo on the second fret of my bass. I do this to get the 30" scale AND get low action. I tune down the strings down to standard tuning. I use fairly heavy strings so that can downtune without having to deal with any floppyness. Combined with the capo I get dead low action, which I love. However, I also have to deal with fairly high tension to get the action so low.

    Recently I gigged my #2 bass which is an SX shortscale P. The action is not great, but I really like the lower tension.

    I guess I'm getting kinda tired of the high tension strings, but still want the super low action.

  2. ::::BASSIST::::

    ::::BASSIST:::: Progress Not Perfection.

    Sep 2, 2004
    Vancouver, BC Canada
  3. rythman6969


    May 29, 2007
    if you waited one more minute to post , there would have been exactly 12 hours between posts.
  4. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    Low flat topped frets?
  5. What's stopping you from setting up the bass for very low action?
  6. theaterbass29


    Nov 14, 2003
    Nashville, Tennesse
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar Amplification, Sadowsky, D.Markley, Spector
    I like Dean Markley Blue Steel strings and Thomastik Jazz Bass strings for Low Tension feel. Never tried the Capo Idea, but if it works for you, that is all that matters. Also, maybe a Plek job is in order to get the perfect setup, about $150.
  7. There are many components to low action. I'm not bashing short scales, but they're not the first thing I think of when talking about low action.

    There's definitely a sweet spot for tension and action. I tend to lean towards the route of longer scale length and thinner strings. My Conklin and Peavey Cirrus practically play themselves.
  8. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    How hard are you plucking (if playing with fingers)?

    Soft pluck = lower action possible... if that's an option you'd consider. If you love to dig in, then this may not be the way to go...
  9. savit260


    Mar 6, 2006
    Find a really good luthier in your area, and have the frets on that shorty SX leveled, crowned and polished, and the nut slots adjusted.

    You should be able to get some fairly low action after those tweaks.
  10. A lighter touch helps, although making sure there isn't any downward motion (towards the body, that is) can really help. Plucking nicely across the strings can work wonders, which is why you may see some low action gurus with ramps.

    I would think the decreased scale length would be a stronger culprit in a case like this. A near flawless fretjob might be necessary for a 30" scale, too. Hard to say.
  11. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    Glen Cove, NY
    Everything depends on how you play.
  12. rockerjeff


    Apr 25, 2009
    General Manager, Halo Custom Guitars, Inc.
    You also want to verify that the neck is straight. It can have a little upward bow, but too much will make it difficult to achieve low action.
  13. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    how does action relate to tension? i'm lost here.
  14. rockerjeff


    Apr 25, 2009
    General Manager, Halo Custom Guitars, Inc.
    I'm not sure how they relate either. I know scale length and tension have a positive correlation.
  15. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    Nut slots are probably too high, the capo giving good action is the giveaway. Too high of a nut will make the whole thing hard as hell to play no matter how much you adjust everything else.

    I'd suggest a set of nut files from Stew-mac and get to grindin'......

    As for floppiness, pluck closer to the bridge and over the bridge PU if there is one, cleans the sound right up. The extra tension on the strings there will make even plucking a lot easier to achive. It'll also allow you to use lighter guage strings which will add clarity and even some agression too.

  16. ErebusBass


    Feb 20, 2008
    Madison, WI
    You said yourself that you use heavy strings so you can downtune. Maybe that could make them a little bit too tight.
  17. Tighter has a more narrow amplitude. Loose have a wider vibrational pattern. So, take the lowest action that's a hair away from buzzing. Now drop it a step. Nine times out of 10, it won't be so buzz free.
  18. CapnSev


    Aug 19, 2006
    Coeur d'Alene
    From what I can tell, a lower tension creates a bigger vibration after it's plucked, so low action with low tension would cause more buzz. High tension has a tight vibration, and allows a lower action with less buzz.

    Being an action nazi, I'd say that's pretty true.
  19. ::::BASSIST::::

    ::::BASSIST:::: Progress Not Perfection.

    Sep 2, 2004
    Vancouver, BC Canada
    Definitely agree.

    The neck on my main bass (warmoth/geddy J) is a warmoth wenge/ebony and it is super stiff and straight with the truss rod and two steel bars. Filing the nut is one idea, but I really have no intention of taking the capo off as that gives me my 30" scale which I love.

    I am having a custom shortscale Stambaugh built, but it wont be ready for months. I think that will solve my problems.

    I think I am going to try some lighter strings on this warmoth/geddy J.
  20. I have no doubt that your Stambaugh will be great and I'm enjoying mine, but I'm not sure it will be the cure-all that you're envisioning. I'm not bashing short scales and I own one, but if short scale were the answer for lowest possible action, I'd think shredders/exhibitionists would all be using short scale basses.

    I hate to tell you exactly what you don't want to hear, but if you're looking for the ultra low action, I'd still suggest 34-35" scale. Chris's 33" scale seems to be a nice compromise of scale and still playing pretty darn low. Going fretless may be another option since you can often get the string lower to the fretboard than you can often get the string distance to the fret.

    I know you're thinking that you'd want nothing less to play something like a 35" scale bass, but if you get yourself a nice 5-6 string, you'll be able to play a lot of stuff from the 5th position. It'll just take a little rewiring of your thinking.

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