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Optimal action and string height?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by nonsqtr, Mar 18, 2004.


  1. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Hi everyone, I like low action (for slapping and fast fingerstyle), but recently I've been noticing that my bass sounds a lot better (fatter, more solid) with higher action. When I lower the action, it starts sounding thinner, and some of the midrange "thump" goes away. Is this due to the particular pickups I have, or does this have something to do with the strings themselves?
     
  2. dabshire

    dabshire

    Dec 15, 2002
    McKinney, TX
    I know a shred guitar player who says the same thing. Not sure why it happens (maybe because of the string height vs the pickups? but I'm not sure). Anyway, I know you do lose some tone when you go to a lower action, just not sure why.

    Can you find an "in-between" where you raise the action enough to get the sound you want without sacrificing the speed of the low action you need?

    Don
     
  3. Halftooth

    Halftooth Supporting Member

    Nov 24, 2002
    Tri-Valley, NorCal
    I've noticed this myself as well. If you think about it logically, you should have more output, even a distorted sound with lower action, but for whatever reason that's not the case. I remember my tech telling my the reason, but I really can't entirely remember what the reasoning was. I go back and forth on this all the time, do I have great tone or great playability? Recently, I have raised my action in search of better tone. As far as a spec goes, I know that my tech seems to think that 3/64 or 4/64 on the G at the 12th fret seems to be the best compromise.
     
  4. The most common reason for decreased tone when you start getting the action really low is the strings "slapping" the next higher fret(s). There is a narrow range of height where the strings are actually barely buzzing against the next higher fret, but not hard enough so that you hear a buzz or rattle. They are just brushing against the next fret enough to start to strangle sustain and suck tone. This is really noticeable on guitars. Asking for "the lowest possible action without (audible) buzzing" will often get you into this zone. A slightly higher action allows the string to vibrate without any interference from the next fret(s) and often yields a bigger, clearer tone, for only a little more left hand work. Having your pickups too close to the strings can also cause this sort of problem. The magnetic pull of a pickup that is adjusted too close can "damp" the vibrating strings, pulling on them so hard that they cannot vibrate freely, especially when you play in the higher positions. I usually keep the pickups adjusted very low when I do a set up, and as the second to last step, I slowly raise them, one at a time, until I start to get weird overtones ("wolf tones") when playing in the upper register. Then I lower the pickup until the wolf tones go away. This gives you the highest output, with a fat bottom and middle, without interference from the magnets pulling on the strings. Then I drink beer.
     
  5. dabshire

    dabshire

    Dec 15, 2002
    McKinney, TX
    Thats is the most important step...

    :)
     
  6. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Hi all, thanks for the input. You guys were absolutely right, after considerable experimentation I did find "the perfect setting". It is indeed very narrow, I spent almost an entire day tweaking the bridge saddles to get it just right. Here's what I arrived at: there's a setting where you get a useful fingerstyle range across the range of the strings, from the bridge saddles to the neck. If you play down low near the bridge, you get the solid fingerstyle sound that's free of buzzing and other artefacts (although, it's pretty precise, you have to play cleanly to dial it in, and it doesn't take much finger pressure, it sounds best if you play very gently). Then as you start moving up the string towards the neck, the sound gets "dirtier", you start getting some string noises and a little bit of the buzzing you were talking about, but the tone becomes richer and deeper. Then when you get almost up to the neck, you get the "plunk" sound that's great for slapping, and fingerstyle in this position will give you a very punchy growly sound with lots of string noise (although it's consistent, I wouldn't even call it "buzzing" in this position, it just becomes an integral part of the sound of the instrument). This setting of the action gives you a great deal of flexibility across the playing range of the strings, and wide variety of tone and feel that you can dial up "on demand". It's pretty low, action-wise, which makes the fingerstyle lightning-fast, and it's very comfortable to play. Anyway, it took a while to get this adjusted correctly, but now that it is, I'm very happy with it. Thanks everyone for your input and help!