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Lower action, lower volume, wah

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by lermgalieu, Nov 5, 2002.


  1. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Ok, so I just got my bass worked on, and he lowered the action for me (the neck had started to bow inwards to much, and he took care of it). The problem is that now my G string is so low it is difficult to get a loud tone out of it.

    I suspect the first thing I need to do is work on my technique - get better at whacking that thing from the side (I play almost completely pizz). I am also wondering if new strings would help too. I was using the La Bella Deep Talkin' strings, but to experiment I put on an old Obligato G. Seems a little better, but I think the string is kind of dead. I went ahead and ordered a set of Spirocore Weichs since I have been looking for a change back from the tapewounds anyway. What's everyone's guess? Will this increase my G volume?
     
  2. Francois Blais

    Francois Blais Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 1999
    Québec, Canada
    Lowering the action reduces the room for the string to vibrate, so you may need to higher it again to gain volume.
     
  3. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    I understand that, I am however looking for ways to get it to play louder without raising the action. I understand that ultimately it will always be a little quieter, however I am looking for strategies to combat this as I like the strings lower...
     
  4. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    String height won't necessarily determine volume. This is all on how much tension your strings emit and how your bass responds to this.

    As far as right hand, I use a motion/technique much like the way that Ray Brown described it his book, wherein I pull the string from side to side in an arc, basically getting the string moving the way it wants to move right out of the gate. This gets you maximum string movement with the least effort, I think. It also will get you a big, warm, sustain-y tone. This also gives you a slightly softer attack than the following methods. Scott LaFaro pulled straight through the string from side to side. This gets you a similar sound to the following, but allows for the lower string height that Scotty used. The new/old school gut guys with stratospheric string height tend to pull straight into the fingerboard.

    Generally speaking, the lower the strings, the more force needed from the right hand the get the same volume.

    Also, the more that you play acoustically in adversarial conditions, (drummers, tenor players, grand pianos with the lid open) the more volume you'll learn to get -- just in self-defense.
     
  5. I've found a pretty direct relationship between string height and volume. With all else the same (string type, tension, bass, technique), lower action will almost always result in lower volume. This, of course, has parameters. Raising the action on a bass where the action is already high probably won't affect the volume, nor will lowering it slightly.
     
  6. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    That said, I can say that what lowering the action did was point out how my technique had been influenced by my string height. I was trying to hit down on the G string, and once that space was gone, this resulted in very low volume (and flubbed notes at my gig since I didn't have an opportunity to practice it with the lower height due to my gimpy finger). Playing it more from the side as Ray suggests is yielding me better results, I just have to get my body used to it. That said, it is *still* lower in volume even when I use an altered technique. This is ok, it is a tradeoff I am willing to live with.

    I find this to be less of an issue with the other three strings, both because they aren't quite as low, and because my technique seems to be better on those strings. It is only when I am reaching across the neck to the G string that I have a tendency to pluck downwards instead of sideways...
     
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I had a thread similar to this awhile back about amplified volume problems, and it came right after my teacher had suggested I lower my strings to facilitate my work in thumb position. I HATED the sound I was getting with this setup, so after a couple of gigs where my tone just didn't make it, I brought them back up to where they started (1/4" on the G, 1/2" on the E), and my tone was back again.

    The best way to get a strong pizz sound with my fingers on my bass is to play through the string by touching the fingerboard on both sides of the string while playing, almost as if you were dragging your RH finger across the board and the string just happened to be in the way. I'm not sure which of Ray's scenarios this represents, but it gets me lots of attack and sustain.
     
  8. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Sounds more like the Scotty thing to me. I start touching the fingerboard and land on the next string.

    Generally it is true that you'll get more volume with the string height change. Unless the extra tension chokes the bass -- I've seen this happen once or twice. On my basses I lower the strings until I find the point that the tone suffers and then keep it just above that line. If I can't play it there, I will then tip the bridge slightly toward the tailpiece and the raise the action back to that spot again. If I still can't play it I go see a bass doc.

    I don't screw around with mixing testosterone and bass. I was never into this, anyhow, but since the tendinitis (or tendonitis) days I actively don't flirt with danger.
     
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Friends never let friends do this.
     
  10. I try it and end up under the strings.
    Volume change as a result of typical string height adjustments probably is more a function of the string/finger/fingerboard interface than the change in tension.
    Unlike fretted instruments, the portion of string closest to the capered note is very close to the fingerboard, and the fingerboard tends to hamper the strings' vibration and mute the note near this point. Lowering the action brings the string even closer to the fingerboard, hence more muting effect. Some of this is inevitable and even desirable, and adds to the growl that modern bassists love.
    Do a little test and slip a thin strip of hardwood between the string and fingerboard and caper a note on top of the wood, much like a fret. Listen to the projection, tone, sustain and growl. Now remove the wood and caper the note as usual. In this test, you won't be raising the bridge or changing the tension, but you'll hear my point that the volume difference comes as a result of the string/fingerboard interface.
    Every bassist (hopefully) finds the golden mean of playability, volume, and tone and the sweet spot for growl.
    My sweet spot has the strings up pretty high, not driven by testosterone, but rather the style and tone I desire. I try to play within this limitation. I've seen bassists lower their action so much that they actually work harder by transferring the work over to the right hand to get their tone.
     
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    What's your definition of "pretty high"? I've had some people tell me that my action was ungodly high, and others say that it was ungodly low. This never ceases to crack me up.
     
  12. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Interesting bit on the muting effect of the fingerboard. Makes sense. This would effect the amplitude of the sustain, and not the attack, thus making lower strings a bit more thumpy at a distance?

    Ditto on the style thing. If I had my strings up to the height where I've seen a lot of basses played, there would be a spray of cartilage from the stage about halfway through my first medium or up tempo solo.

    I am a proponent of finding the balance between sound and playability, particularly with students, with a little emphasis on playability at the slight cost of tone. I tend to start students with the strings a bit lower than is good for sound. This gives them a faster track to getting some music out of the thing and time to develop the muscles and technique to then bring up the strings at a later date. They aren't going to be getting much sound out of the bass for a year or so anyhow, and if this gets them through the first year I consider it a victory.
     
  13. It would be nice to have some kind of standard by which this is measured. I would suggest that it be measured by the gap between the edge of the string and its corresponding landing point on the fingerboard on the Z axis of the instrument, measured at the octave. This would eliminate the variables of fingerboard length, relief and radius.
    As such, my strings are E - .315" (8.0mm), A - .315" (8.0mm), D - .290" (7.4mm), G- .285" (7.2mm).
    Measured at the end of the f/b: E - .500" (12.7mm), A - .500" (12.7mm), D - .440" (11.2mm), G - .410" (10.4mm).
    This is with Velvet garbo strings, which seem to need a lot of room to vibrate.
     
  14. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    That is pretty high, but guts and gut-likes are a lot floppier.

    What is the string length? I notice a huge difference in feel between 41 1/2 and 42 -- after 42 they all feel like 'dad's bicycle' to me. I'm at 42 and play the strings considerable lower than I would at 41 1/2 or less.