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string height dilemma

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by AZNBassist, Oct 20, 2006.

  1. AZNBassist


    Jan 14, 2004
    Well, I guess this isn't too new for some people, but for me this is the first time I've faced this dilemma of the string height of the action of my upright bass.

    To start off, when I started playing my upright, I had no idea the action could be adjusted (the bridge adjusters were as low as they could go and the strings were still an inch off the fingerboard, I could stick my fingers under the string), so I just got used to having extremely high action, playing jazz and classical music.

    Later on, my classical teacher (and other jazz teachers) commented that I should get a luther to come and lower my action, since with the action of my bass, thumb position was next to impossible.

    Needless to say, I brought it to a violin shop and had it lowered. Now, my action now isn't super low (like Stanley Clarke's or NHOP), but its about medium height. But it was much lower than before as now I could play much faster (I can use two fingers now instead of just one), thumb position is much easier, and the sound is now more sustained.

    Here is my dilemma though. The thing is, having played with high action before, I've gotten used to having that tension in the strings, having that punch, loud acoustic sound, and the way the E string rumbles when you pull it with all your might. Right now, I miss being able to get that punch when pulling the high action strings, yet, I enjoy being able to play with much more ease (especially in thumb position)

    Any thoughts or comments?
  2. bassist14


    Oct 17, 2005
    hi AZNBassist,

    i know the problem, playing several basses with different string height .
    you could experiment with the direction in wich you pull the strings.
    try to let the string vibrate parallel to the fingerboard, then you call pull harder, as if the string vibrates up and down (sorry for my bad english, hope you know what i mean)
    and try differnt positions where you place your right hand.

    hope this helps

  3. James Lithgow

    James Lithgow

    Oct 19, 2006
    I've got my current bass set up by a luthier in VIctoria named Jim Hamm who built a replica of Gary Karr's Amati...he won't let me use one of the adjustable bridges and I'm happy for that. The bass, a 150+ year old mid-European built instrument is set up quite high for many other players but I like the power and umph like you said...so I'm not whizzing around the fingerboard but the bass has such drive that it is totally in the drivers' seat.
    I think you'll also find switching from pizz to arco is better with the action set higher.
    I did sometime ago find website where some guy had done a study on different types of bridges and their transmission of sound but I'm afraid I didn't bookmark it....besides a higher action gives you more hand strength after a while.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    The other obvious solution is to get some heavier gauge strings and set them where the tension feels right. Unless you were using Spiro Starks before, you can always move to a string with more tension and split the difference. I know exactly what you mean about "missing the tension", which is why I like stiff strings set at about 6mm (G) to 9mm (E). Good luck.
  5. joel kelsey

    joel kelsey

    Aug 1, 2006
    Chicago, IL
    I think string height partly depends on the bass. With my plywood Kay I had the action very high to get the sound that I wanted. So when I got a carved bass, I put the action just as high and the bass was very loud. However, after listening to some recordings with the high action, I noticed that tone was not as clear and my legato playing was thunkier and uneven (space between quarter notes when walking and thunky eight note lines). So I lowered the action and the bass sounds much better, though not quite as loud. So, I say set strings at a height that sounds the best for you and your bass. I am not sure if louder is always better. Good luck.

  6. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Why doesn't he want to set you up with bridge adjusters? Most pro players I know have them. They give you control over string height and I don't understand how that could be anything but good unless they affect the sound of your bass in a negative way.
  7. James Lithgow

    James Lithgow

    Oct 19, 2006
    Mr. Hamm is a purist to the n-th degree and the bass is in near original condition so he wants me to keep it that way...I'm sure if I seriously wanted an adjustable bridge he would put one in for me but the bass sounds so darn good the way he's set it up I don't worry about it anymore.
    I figure if Gary Karr lets him take the Amati apart to replicate it then I wouldn't question his judgement on my instrument...and besides I've known the guy so long I just trust him.
    I don't know if this should go in another thread or not but, he's part of a small number of buillders using balsa wood and carbon fibre material to build cheap but fantastic sounding violins..anybody heard anything about those?
  8. Audiophage


    Jan 9, 2005
    If you've grown accustomed to higher action you could always take the bass back and ask for the strings to be raised a bit as sort of a compromise between playability and tone.
  9. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Bingo. I believe that above a certain point, raising the strings does nothing for volume or response. In fact it can deaden the sound, because you have less string involvement with the hard fingerboard, and more with your soft fingers. One of the advantages of bridge adjusters is that you can raise and lower the strings until you find the height at which the bass sounds best.
  10. James Lithgow

    James Lithgow

    Oct 19, 2006
    Hey Ken,
    I will bow to your obviously superior knowledge on the subject since I haven't seen Jim or Mr. Karr in some time...but I do recall an article from an English newspaper which commented on the "Amati"...mind you I rarely believe everything I read anyway. I've never experienced any need for adjusters, but then I'm not playing classical music and use the bow primarily for the big endings these days. I think I had adjusters on an old Kay some 20 years ago when I was playing orchestral music but I can't recall ever having to adjust them.
    That is somekind of beautiful wood on the bg to your webpage!
  11. AZNBassist


    Jan 14, 2004
    Hey everyone, thanks for all the helpful replies.

    Anyways, to follow up on this, its interesting because on the positive notes, its been a relief for me to play the classical pieces I've been working on (since with my previous high action every time I went to thumb position my hand felt like it was about to break), as for my jazz playing, my bandmates actually dug the new sound of the bass (more sustain and smoother sound, I have Thomastik Spirocores) as opposed to my previous sound (more paul chambers/ray brownish punch). I guess theyre more "modernish" jazz kind of people.

    As for me, I still sort of have this question in mind, since I miss my old sound, though my new sound isn't terribly bad, just different. Though I still miss the punch/bounce and force, playing classical and learning bebop solos/melodies has become way more easier on my hands. I think ill probably stick with it for a while and see what happens. Anyways, thanks for all the help guys!
  12. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    The height of the bridge and the height of the action aren't inextricably linked. If you lost a lot of sound by lowering you bridge, maybe you should return the bridge to it's original height, and have the neck reset so that the FB will be closer to the strings. It's a bit involved, but worth the effort.
  13. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Last night on my gig my bass felt tight and sounded choked, particularly on the E and A string. The strings seemed to have more tension than usual. Maybe the ever changing Chicago weather contributed to this, I don't know, but, I decided to lower the strings a bit (one-sixth of a turn) and that did the trick. The bass came back to life sonically and played with ease once again.
  14. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    There's a reason for those wheels!! I adjust mine all the time.

    If I am playing in an Orchestra setting, I generally play the strings as high as I can and still finger the notes. It depends on the piece.

    For bluegrass and folky stuff. Same deal. No amp and I dig. But if I have to play amped anyway, I'll lay them down as low as they will go and lighten up with the right hand. It does change the tone, but once you are amped, you are amped. I prefer the ease of play in that situation.
  15. It's not an Amati. There was an article in the ISB magazine about a year ago talking about what it really is.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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