Open strings sound weak

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by jpmcbride, Dec 22, 2017.

  1. jpmcbride

    jpmcbride

    Aug 31, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    I just bought a 2016 Gibson ES Les Paul short scale bass. I noticed immediately that open strings sound really weak compared to fretted notes.

    This points to a nut problem, right? It was a floor model so its been around a while. The seller may have put new strings on it and maybe they're too big for the slots in the nut. I eyeballed the nut and it looks like the string is seated in the slot, but I'm not really sure.

    Any thoughts on how to troubleshoot this, or what could cause it?

    Thanks.
     
  2. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    Loose nut maybe?
     
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  3. Killed_by_Death

    Killed_by_Death Snaggletooth Inactive

    How many wraps are on the capstans & how far down the capstan do they go?
    The break angle from the nut to the capstan is important.
     
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  4. jpmcbride

    jpmcbride

    Aug 31, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    The nut doesn't seem to be loose ... but I suppose I need to take the tension off all the strings and really check.

    About 3.5 wraps on the low E string. The break angle looks pretty good. I even tried pressing down on the string above the nut to see if that was the issue. No effect.

    I adjusted the action, set the intonation, and adjusted the pickup height. Now I can get a better picture of what's going on. Everything sounds good now except the low E string. Its still weak. Something is missing in the tone. It has kind of a hollow tone if that makes sense. Is it possible I have a bad string? I've never had it happen before.

    [Edit] I forgot to mention that the low E string is sitting really high in the nut. It seems to be fully seated in the slot, but about half the diameter of the string is above the nut. Should I file down the slot so the string sits deeper in the nut. Could that cause this?]

    Appreciate the advice ... keep it coming ... I'm new to doing my own bass setups and I'm still learning.
     
  5. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY

    The only reason to file a nut slot deeper is to lower the action at the first fret or to widen the slot so the string fits down to the bottom. Doesn’t matter how much string is buried below the top of the nut. If you can’t eyeball if the E string is sitting down, find a twist tie with a very thin wire and use the wire to probe under the string. If the wire slides under the string, you’ll need to WIDEN the slot.
     
  6. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    Twisted string?
     
  7. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    This was my thought, too. If this isn't the case, and the nut /nut slots are OK, and the pickup heights are also OK? Then yeah, a bad string; or one of those brands of strings that just take a while before the E string comes up to speed. The Strings Forum is full of "weak E string" threads...:thumbsup:
     
  8. jpmcbride

    jpmcbride

    Aug 31, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    Twisted string? Really? I've never heard of this ... are you serious? I'll unwind it and rewind, but I feel like someone might be playing a joke on me here :)

    I adjusted the PU and that helped some. The PU was as high as it could go on the E, so I lowered it on the other end to even things out better. But its not just the volume of the E string ... something tonally is wrong with it. I wish I could come up with a better description that weak, but that's all I've got.

    Playable now, but the E string is still too weak for my liking. I'll try rewinding it and use 96tbird's method to check the slot in the nut. I ordered some La Bella Flat Wounds today, we'll see if that helps.
     
  9. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    You don't need to unwind the string completely. Loosen the string until the ball end at the bridge is free to turn, and starting at the nut run you hand down the string toward the bridge then tune. This is a rather big issue with thicker strings and especially through body strings. It is from incorrectly winding the string initially. Many people put the string through the bridge and then wind the string around the capstan, every time you take a turn around the capstan that twists the string, as long as the ball end is free to turn it is no big deal. When the ball end can't turn for one reason or another and the string is wound around the capstan then it gets twisted. On through body instruments the only sure way to avoid twisted strings is to use the key for the entire winding of the string.
     
  10. jpmcbride

    jpmcbride

    Aug 31, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    OK, the string was not twisted :)

    I looked at the slot in the nut under magnification and you could see the slot was uneven and the string was not sitting perfectly even. I filed it slightly with a small round hobby file ... just enough so that the string would seat fully in the slot, but not lower the string. This made no difference in the sound.

    At this point I'm wondering if this is just the tone of this particular bass. It is a semi-hollow body bass. Maybe this is just how the E sounds. I played the open E over and over while twisting each of the EQ knobs on my amp to see if I can tell what's missing from the sound. Maybe this will tell me what's making it sound "weak". My Roland amp has Bass, Low-mid, high-mid, and treble. Its clearly the low-mid that is missing. If I turn the low-mid up, much higher than I usually do, it brings the tone of the E string a lot closer to what I'd like to hear.

    So I'm convinced at this point that its the tone of this bass, or its a bad string. I ordered La Bella "Deep Talkin" flat wounds. I have these on a Gretsch short scale and they're incredible. Hopefully this will get the E to where I want it.

    LesPaulESbass.jpg
     
  11. did you plug the bass to your computer and measure the volume of the open strings vs the fretted ones?
    Or it just happens acoustically?
     
  12. jpmcbride

    jpmcbride

    Aug 31, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    Through the amp. Not measured, just loudness determined by ear.
     
  13. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician
    Can't tell for sure from the pic, but it does look like the bridge pickup is a bit on the high side under the E string. Lower it quite a bit and see what effect it has. Do the same with the neck pickup.
     
  14. jpmcbride

    jpmcbride

    Aug 31, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    Lowering the pickups allowed me to even things out quite a bit. Still not quite right, but a lot better. We'll see how the new strings help wen they get here.
     
  15. What happens when you play an F at the first fret on the E string? Does it sound full, or weak like the open E?
     
  16. jpmcbride

    jpmcbride

    Aug 31, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    ]

    Better/fuller than the open E.
     
  17. How about when you play the open E while pressing down on the string between the nut and gearhead? I'm thinking you have a bad nut, or not enough back angle on the string.
     
  18. You can quickly check the nut slot depth. Fret the string at the 3rd fret; while holding it down, look at the clearance between the string and the first fret. It should just clear the first fret without touching it.
     
  19. jpmcbride

    jpmcbride

    Aug 31, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    There is enough clearance as you said. Actually I could file the slot in the nut slightly deeper to lower the action. I'll probably do that because the saddle has been lowered as far as it can go and the action is still a little higher than I want.

    I've spent a lot of time on this and I feel like its resolved now that the bass is setup correctly, and the pickup height is adjusted for a balanced sound (string to string, and pickup to pickup). I still think the open strings (mostly E and A) are a little weaker than I'm used to, but I've come to the conclusion from spending a lot of time playing and listening to this bass (and feeling it vibrate) that this is the tone of a hollow body bass. It should have been obvious to me that a hollow-body Gibson bass would not "feel" and "sound" like a Fender solid body. But the combination of me having never played a hollow-body, and the bass needing a setup badly, threw me off. With a good setup, and the amp set right, and after getting used to playing it, I REALLY like the sound of this thing. Its different than I'm used to ... but that's good.
     
  20. jpmcbride

    jpmcbride

    Aug 31, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    Well, final resolution to the weak sounding E string on my Gibson ES Les Paul bass. It was the nut and I have to take the blame. When I setup the bass I filed the slot for the E string to lower the action. I went too deep and had 3/4 or more of the string inside the nut slot. I filled in the slot with bone dust and super glue which was no easy task considering how big the slot was. I sanded and refiled it and this time set the string in there properly - about half of the string, maybe just a little more, down in the slot. Now the E string rings out great, and I have a nice balance in volume across all 4 strings.
     
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