Neck-through basses allow lower action?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Bruce Lindfield, Feb 26, 2002.

  1. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I have always thought that although there are advantages to both methods of contruction and of course - how much care, attention and skill goes into a bass matters more than the method - I still have this feeling that you can get a lower action from a neck-through bass.

    So, I was in a bass shop yesterday and tried two basses that were pretty much equivalent and well set up - but ones was bolt-on and one was neck through.

    So I was comparing the Warwick Streamer LX - wide neck 5-string (bolt-on) with the Yamaha TRB5P (neck though). As I say both were well set up and of pretty high quality for production basses - in the same price/quality bracket.

    BUt it was very noticable how the Yamaha had a much lower action all ower the fretboard - right up to the 24th fret, making it very much easier to play in the upper register. Whereas the Warwick's action was higher as you went up the neck. Looking closely at both basses - the only reason I could see for this was that the Warwick's neck joint meant that the angle was such at the higher register that it was impossible to get a lower action. The neck joint was very good and tight, but it seemed to impose an angle that mean the strings couldn't be low at this point.

    The Yamaha had no such problems - and the through neck mean that the string height was even all the way.

    So - is it always the case that all other things being equal (of course cheap neck-throughs will not be as good as high-end bolt-ons!) that a neck through bass will have lower action and improved playability in the upper register?
  2. Intrepid


    Oct 15, 2001
    I was able to obtain a much(well maybe not much) lower action without fret buzz on my Sting Ray then on my Rick, so I think it just depends on the bass...
  3. john turner

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

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    well, all my conklins have really good action - my bolt on fretless has awesome action, hardly have to press at all.

    i think it's mainly based on construction quality.
  4. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Like you, I like my necks pretty flat, so this is important to me, too.

    The bridge type hasn't been as much of a factor to me as the fret wire. The jumbo, high profile, stuff turns me off because I almost always can't get the neck flat enough without buzz or clank.

    I can see why some bassists like Sklar tried mandolin wire.

    Then again, it almost seems some luthiers don't expect anyone to play above the 15th fret. :confused:
  5. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    I agree. I think it has to do more with having a good fret job, and a good true neck.
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    This is something I didn't think about, but the bolt-ons I have looked at in shops tend to be that much higher, that the sort of distances we are talking here wouldn't come into play. I suppose it surprises me that fairly expensive Warwick basses with bolt-on necks can't seem to be set up to get a low action.

    I think there may also be something in the fact that I have noticed a lot before, which is that Warwick tend to go for pretty chunky necks which are thick from front to back and Yamaha go for much flatter profiles. I can ony imagine that Warwick users don't want high register access?

    I suppose, what I am really saying here is that I try a lot of basses in shops in London and find very few which feel comfortable to play all across the fretboard - the high end Yamahas are very much an exception - but it was only the TRB5P at £1649 (!) which felt right to me.

    OK - I know that there must be more basses in the US, but surely the ones we get are representative of the whole? I just can't believe that so many people put up with basses that are so hard to play?
  7. Steve


    Aug 10, 2001
    Neck radius plays a big part in how low you can go.

    Flatter= lower. Having the frets leveled properly is a big deal as well. High performance is always high maintenence. As the humidity goes up and down an unsealed fretdoard will move and swell in some places more than others complicating the issue.

    We're talking thousandth's of an inch difference between buzz and no buzz if you want action that low.

    Exactly how low are you talking about? I find anything less than 3/16 at the last fret on a B string is a real pain to maintain.
  8. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    A factor that you seemed to bring up surprised me that it didn't get more attention is the issue of neck angle. It's known by some better luthiers and repair shops that this problem exists on bolt-ons. The way that this problem is often minimized is to use neck shims.

    I don't know this for fact, but I thought I'd read where Roger Sadowsky used them (or uses them) to keep bolt-ons' action lower and the necks straighter.
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I suppose this is one of the reasons that Sadowskys are so sought-after - you can get it set up to exactly your spec by an expert. I think this is the problem I am seeing in most of the "off-the-shelf" bolt-ons that I try in the shops. I was trying in my original post to describe this phenomenon.

    This is a difficulty for me - I have played and tried hundreds and hundreds of different basses over more than 20 years and know by "feel" and playing the actual bass what is good and bad about it - but I can't always describe it in words.

    This is why I have avoided custom basses so far, as I don't know how to describe my "perfect" bass, although I would know it instantly if I picked it up and played it for a few minutes! ;)

    OK so it's "neck angle" that prevents a low action on most factory built bolt-on basses?

    I wonder how many people have asked a luthier to adjust this with shims to get a lower action in the higher register?

    Maybe I'll start a new thread to ask this, if I don't get many replies here.....
  10. You know, I thought about this for a long time last night and I think I may have something.

    I think wood bass necks have to be reasonably thick unless they're reinforced with graphite or have a huge truss rod in them - and a huge truss rod adds weight.

    Also, I think there needs to be enough wood at the neck joint of a bolt-on bass to keep the neck jount from flexing under normal use at best, and from breaking at worst.

    Bridge design is pretty much standard and customers probably don't like really thick bodies, so maybe to keep enough wood at the neck joint they have to set the neck a little higher in the pocket than they would have to with a neck-through bass.

    It's just a theory and I might be full of hot air, but it makes some sense to me.

    I know my Cirrus has lower action than my Lakland does, but not by much.

  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think this could be right - certainly the Warwick bolt-ons I have looked at are pretty thick at the neck joint.
  12. hujo


    Apr 18, 2001
    Stockholm, Sweden
    I don't get it, sorry. If the neck is "higher" in the pocket, wouldn't that give lower action on the high frets?
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well, I think you have to think about the situation overall - you have to adjust action for the whole length of the neck.

    I think that what both Alan and RAM have said comes into play - so that is additional thickness and neck angle. To have really low action you basically need a very flat board - even across the whole thing.

    The effect of the neck angle is to create a "dip" at the high end of the fret board and cause higher action there.

    I don't think this is straightforward - or every manufacturer would get it right. So - someone like Sadowsky can set up a bolt-on just right; but I think very few can. And all the bolt-ons I see in shops have not been set up in such a way - in fact I can't see how they can be - but then not every bass is a Sadowsky! ;)
  14. hujo


    Apr 18, 2001
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Well, this is pretty abstract, I'll give you that. ;)
  15. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    There is not one iota of difference between the action potential of a neckthrough and a bolt on.

    All of the set up geometry is exactly the same for both. The only difference is that one has a fixed neck angle and the other can have the neck angle mechanically adjusted. Using shims in the neck pocket does not indicate shoddy building practice. Except for Fenders micro-tilt method, it's probably used by all bolt on manufacturers.

    If one says that action on a neckthrough is different than a bolt on, why can't the difference be quantified?

    There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what setup adjustment does what.

    In a setup there are only three adjustments that affect action.

    Nut height which dictates string height at the nut end of the neck. Exactly the same on both types of bass.

    Relief, which affects string height from the first fret through the the fifth to seventh fret. Exactly the same on both types of bass. NOT an action adjustment although it does have a very minor effect on string height when adjusted properly. On the order of .010" to .015". The relief is the only adjustment that directly pertains to fret buzz.

    Bridge height which dictates string height at the highest fret (as related to pitch). Exactly the same on both types of bass.

    If a general difference exists between the two types of construction it is because a neck through bass usually, but not always, has a higher quality of fret leveling.
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - I would say - try the test I did and which I outlined at the start of this thread.

    Go to a shop and get both a Warwick bolt-on 5-string - the LX wide neck is the closest to the Yamaha - and compare the neck with a Yamaha TRB5P neck-through.

    The difference is huge on basses which are in similar price brackets and have similar build quality.

    I really wish somebody else would do this and see if they agree with me and attempt to explain what the difference is !!

    (I did it in the Bass Cellar in Denmark Street London - I'm sure loads of shops in the US would have both as well)
  17. hujo


    Apr 18, 2001
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Well, I don't want to start a fight, but just because one of the two basses you tried didn't have a perfect setup, doesn't mean that they can't have one.

    Or, they could have been set up by two different people, with different taste in setup, and so on.

    Two basses is not enough to base your idea on.

    And even if you did set both up professionaly, with production basses like these, there will always be irregularities, but then it's not about bolt-on vs neck-through any more.

    I could maybe swallow your argument, if you had tried the neck-through TRB5 against a bolt on TRB5, that both had equally good fretjobs. To complicate this further; One could argue that neck-throughs have more stable necks. They probably do, but the curvature of the neck is in the trussrod mostly, wether it's bolt on or neck-through.

    Yadayadayada. Have a nice weekend!
  18. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.

    I completely agree that there is a huge difference between the examples that you used.

    I'm pretty sure that the huge difference that you feel is because of the quality of building/setup. Not to mention comparing two different brands.

    It seems that a fairer comparison of the two building methods, so far as action is concerned, would be to compare J.Ts bolt on Conk to his neck through Conk. They both have the same build/setup quality. They both are the same builder.

    How about it John, will you give us an A-B between the two?
  19. uglybassplayer


    Aug 24, 2001
    New Jersey
    Two more better comparisons would be a Thumb Bolt-On compared to the neck-thru version, or even a Peavey Cirrus vs. a Millenium (or Millenium Plus).

    ...Just my 2 cents on the subject.

    - Frank.
  20. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    There shouldn't be a major difference, but one some bolt-ons the neck doesn't really fit the body in terms of height.
    The singer of my old band has a 70s Fender, and it's neck is set in too low. So even when you lower the bridge all the way, the action is still (too) high.