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Low Action vs High Action

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by activa44, Apr 24, 2019.

  1. activa44


    Dec 17, 2018
    Can you tell me what are the differences in sound?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. MattZilla


    Jun 26, 2013
    That's a lot of typing you're asking for.

    They're different, but they're still bass guitar.

    Dial in a buttload of relief on your neck and discover how your bass sounds with high action. Then dial it as straight as you can without the notes choking on the next highest frets and enjoy that sound.
    activa44 likes this.
  3. bearfoot

    bearfoot Inactive

    Jan 27, 2005
    Chittenango, NY
    The higher the action, the louder the acoustic sound, to a point of diminishing returns. How that translates to magnetic pickups, I am not sure. But suspect it makes a "bigger" sound in the pickups as well.
    activa44 likes this.
  4. Depends on the bass and technique.

    Some basses might sound a little anemic with low action. Some might sound fine. Certain pickups might want higher action and a heavier handed technique. It's worth noting that some basses don't quite have the fret work to achieve low action. I got my start on the Peavey Cirrus, which is both capable of low action and sounds good. I tried to put that action on a few Fenders and wasn't happy. Too much fret buzz and didn't sound great.

    Technique is another part of the equation. Playing low action with heavy technique seldom sounds good. High action with light technique lacks juevos. Low action with a softer technique and more amp volume tends to have a nice bloom and sustain.

    As for acoustic guitars, I spend a lot of time in this area. For flat picking and volume in an ensemble, a medium to large acoustic with higher action is necessary to be heard. Outside of an ensemble and/or amplified/mic'd, not nearly as important. There is a good amount of fingerstyle players who use fairly low action and let the mic do the work when in the studio.
  5. activa44


    Dec 17, 2018
    I've got a MIM P-Bass with low action and I pick hard, but I think it sounds good.
    Mostly I asked because I'm thinking of changing pickup and I'm thinkin of the EMG GZR, and I've heard people saying that's very sensitive to how close the strings are to the pickup, the height, etc... that stuff sounds like aramaic to me...
  6. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    While it can be achieved, Fenders are the worst to adjust for low low action. Fret and nut-work need to be perfect and they don't come from the factory that way. Some need shims. Pickups will need adjusting as well. You don't want strings right on top of the pickups. I hate Fenders but love the Fender aesthetics. Go figure. Best bass I ever owned and had the lowest buzz free action was an Ibanez. Strings damn near on the fret-board and zero fret buzz. My Lakland has pretty low action. My experience with high action was also high string tension. Made it taxing to play. Sound wise, not bad but it will wear you out quickly unless you dig that.
    activa44 likes this.
  7. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    I guess the science behind it might be complicated, but literally all you have to do is spend a few minutes raising and lowering the pickup with a screwdriver until you find the place where it sounds best to you. Which you should probably do with any pickup on any bass, from time to time, to make sure you're getting the most out of it.
    activa44 likes this.
  8. Gravedigger Dav

    Gravedigger Dav Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Springtown, Texas
    Low action is faster, but it also limits what you can do with dynamics. I use a height I saw Scott (Scott's Bass Lessons) talk about. I set them high enough so that playing normally or quietly with my playing the sound is pretty clean, but when I dig in, I can get a hint of fret buzz. It adds some growl to the tone.
    activa44 likes this.
  9. activa44


    Dec 17, 2018
    so, low action = more growl, right?
    DWBass likes this.
  10. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    Along with playing style. Aggressive playing will definitely get you some growl.
    activa44 likes this.
  11. activa44


    Dec 17, 2018
    So, I've got low action and pick like if I'd have to tear the strings apart... but it isn't enough growl, in my opinion.
    Have you ever found stock MIM Precisions to have growling qualities?
  12. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    Honestly, I don't play Fender P's. I have a Bacchus P. My main experience is with Jazz basses. Still, you should be able to get some growl with aggressive playing. It won't sound like a jazz. Maybe you need a little tube drive in your sound if that's what you're looking for.
    activa44 likes this.
  13. Gravedigger Dav

    Gravedigger Dav Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Springtown, Texas
    Sort of. Too low and it is just rattle. You have to raise it a little so it is just barely touching when you dig in and doesn't touch if you don't dig in.
    activa44 likes this.
  14. When things sound good, ya leave it alone. ;)

    Like others have said, adjusting pickup height is a pretty quick and easy process.
    activa44 likes this.
  15. guts


    Aug 13, 2018
    The growl you want is not an effect of the bass alone, but a combination of the bass and any signal processing and the amplifier you plug it into.

    If you've got your action low and you're having to pluck too hard to get any growl at all, change the settings on your amp first to see if you can adjust it to get the growl to be more prominent. Try EQing your amp. You may have to add a bit of overdrive or even distortion to get the amount of growl that is called for by your taste. Maybe your amp has the ability to dial in some distortion, it's a pretty common feature. Those are the first things to try before you start spending money.
    activa44 likes this.
  16. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    "Growl" needs to be defined before you go chasing it with a pocket full of greenbacks. To some it is a bit of fret buzz that you get when you dig in. No amp setting will give you that. To others "growl" is a bit of overdrive distortion which you won't get from adjusting your string height. And others find the "growl' they want from a choice of string that emphasizes mid-range frequencies. And for others it's a sound you can only get from a fretless bass. Then there is the myriad combinations of these and other factors.

    I'm not sure we are all on the same page.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2019
    activa44 likes this.
  17. activa44


    Dec 17, 2018
    You're 100% right. Growl (as any other ''bass tone term'', I think) is pretty subjective.
    I can't define what I mean for ''growl'', to be honest... a bass could be distorted to white noise and still not be growling, in my opinion. And it can be clean but growling. I think I refer to it as a certain quality in some basses that growl by themselves. You can use different amps, cabs, EQ settings, pedals... of course! But the growl is still there, just more or less accentuated.

    It's ''that something'' that makes your bass sound and feel not very polite, not really ''someone who it's easy to get along with''. It's that scruffy, raunchy and despisable feature that makes your tone always feel like it's on the verge of exploding.

    You probably still don't know what I mean, I'm not good at describing my feelings, but that's what I call a growl.

    Example (don't mind the band, the ''solo'', or else, just the tone):
    Hear the sustained notes and bendings at the beginning. That's growling A LOT!
    Rilence likes this.
  18. activa44


    Dec 17, 2018
    Of course, you're right. But I play the noisiest forms of punk and the most extreme old-school metal genres, so I'm really used to distorting my bass signal (I NEVER play clean, it's just not my thing). I also like to EQ the amps in a very growl-friendly way and so far I haven't got a proper bass amp yet so I either just use my guitar combo or use (again, guitar) simulations of Marshall tube amps from my audio interface. That should growl like heck! But I still don't get ''that feeling''.

    Check out Cronos' bass solo (that I linked to Turnaround) to hear an example of what I mean for growl in bass tone.

    Also, some basses growl even when DI'd into the mixer, with no effects or whatever.
    That's what I'd want.
  19. activa44


    Dec 17, 2018
    Oh, I think I found the words!

    More than a growl it's a bark, to be honest. I mean, of course growling is part of the bark for some dogs.
    Imagine a big dog barking... or a man with a really damaged voice, because of smoke (of course Lemmy comes to mind). Yep, the smokey voice is the best example (and Lemmy is the best example of all, of that..). Convert that to a bass tone, and it's growl!

    That unstable and non-linear crunch. A heavy crunch, shall I say, I would dare saying ''fuzzy''. And clippy, to some degree. That clipping crunch. Of course it's easier to get that with tube amps (I think), bass a part, but I think that some instruments growl no matter what you plug them into. And strings help as well, I guess...
    Also, I think that (although that implies distortion, and some basses can growl even when clean) the deterioration of the clipping as the sustain of the notes dies is common in growling tones. That ''rotten'' feeling.
  20. guts


    Aug 13, 2018
    After seeing the video I'm actually even less clear on what you're looking for now. That sound the bassist has in that video does not come from the bass itself in any way. There is almost nothing of the original tone of the bass left in that signal.

    It is so thrashed and distorted that I couldn't possibly tell you exactly what he did to get that sound, but I can tell you that it's not difficult to achieve something like that.

    To get that sound the main thing you're looking for rather than overdrive or distortion, is fuzz. It's that over the top nasty messed up distortion that makes normal distortion sound tame. You're going to have to shop around to get one that suits you though because they tend to vary widely in the types of tone that they create. Some can be quite mellow though they are extremely distorted, but some are aggressive and harsh just like in that video.

    If you only need one sound then a purpose built pedal might work. If you want to come up with any number of sounds you'll be a little limited by just one pedal. They tend to do one or two things, but not much else. There's a bunch of fuzz pedals out there that would work though, you just got to listen to them and see what you like.

    If you don't mind using a plugin and being tied to a computer for the sound. My recommendation is Izotope Trash. You can get an endless variety of tones like the one in your video out of any instrument you plug into it.
    activa44 likes this.
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