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String height: point of diminishing returns.

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Feb 12, 2006.


  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Yesterday, on a lark, I jacked up the string height (Dominants on a hybrid LaScala) on my bass on the break of a gig to about 9mm(G) and 12mm(E), and immediately, the drummer and pianist looked over and asked what just happened - they really liked the resulting pop, and I found that I had more control over the tempo habits of my bandmates immediately. It got me to thinking about when Dennis Irwin borrowed a bass from me to play a gig at the U with the Vanguard band, and he cranked the strings up so high that you could drive a semi between the board and strings....and sounded absolutely great.

    Of course, there has to be a point where the height is too much, where you start to cripple your left hand, etc. But I wonder if I haven't been erring on the side of caution up until now and keeping them low (usually about 6 and 9mm for the sake of LH facility. Maybe I should just play with them higher for a while and build up my LH technique instead. Just wondering if any of the rest of you lot have any stories about how you've settled on the string height that you ended up with.
     
  2. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    If you forget about how high the strings are for a moment on the FB and measure how high they are off the top of the Bass in the center of the Bridge you will see a whole new type of thing. There is a height where the Bass will sound it's best. The top has no eyes and cannot see how your neck is set or how high or low the strings are from the FB. I have 2 Basses with low string height and the Bridge is about 7" off the Top. On other Basses of mine they average from 6-6.5". Imagine your string height at the highest it has sounded good at and then imagine the neck moved out and/or re-pitched so you have low string hight at the end of the Fb with the raised bridge. What has happened is that you got to hear the Bass with different levels of pressure vibrating the top.

    If the Bass ever goes in for neck work or re-set, remember the height it sounded best at and set the neck there.
     
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    For any bass, the two things are what KSB just said, plus string-to-fingerboard. I think what Ken is really talking about is the angle of the strings across the bridge. The more acute the angle (toward the body), the more tension. I think bridge height has more to do with clearing the body with the bow and the amount of wood changing the sound, where angle is all about tension.

    String-to-Fingerboard: If the strings are too low against the fingerboard, the string will mute itself. Picture the shape of the area that the vibrating string encapsulates. It's a bit like an enlongated football. If the strings are too low then too much of the end of the football is right on the fingerboard, muting (restricting) it's travel. After a certain height it makes almost no difference at all, except that the further up the neck you go, the more you change the hight of the string, making arco tricky. For the modern jazz sound players like to hear some fignerboard/string interaction (growl), and the thump-dudes :))) like none at all.

    If your bass likes a lot of tension (the angle of the strings too flat across the bridge) then heavier gauge strings can straighten that out.
     
  4. My is set at a tad over 9mm according to my vernier calipers. It was set that way by my luthier who pulls an almighty face when I talk about lowering it (or fitting adjusters for that matter) but hell it does sound good (for a cheap bass especially so although as I've commented elsewhere this is only in a warm environment). The e is in the clouds by virtue of an overcut bevel but even that has advantages.

    I find I do the following:

    My right hand floats above the strings ie: it doesn't start on the fingerboard and drag accross the strings.

    To play fast I don't play as hard but I have to remember to start with lots of amp head-room ie: make sure it's turned up a little more than it needs.

    I also want to turn it up a little more than it needs because I have more ability to accent and dig in and if I forget to crank it that touch - like I do sometimes - life is hard.

    I use more variety of stroke and each has a different sound. On the e and to an extent the a by virtue of an overdone bevel I can whack the string almost vertically. This gives lots of growl or I can go more accross which is more mellow.

    On all strings I can have a stroke tha moves more into the fingerboard. I prefer this sound but done as into the fingerboard with the calloused tip of my fingers it gives a hard bite whilst a side of the hand stroke is beautifully mellow.

    You can accent notes and go with the bands increase in volume.

    Talking of cranking the amp up, when I have played accoustically I've probably played louder than I needed to. I think the dynamic range is worth having.

    Thumb position is getting more and more do-able and agile but it's no-where near as easy and fluid.

    Playing amped I have to be far more delicate or in-control of the piz stroke because of the variety of sound and the potential for uneven volume.

    I believe I can get a more springy boingy sound and feel that swings more and if I want to stick a staccatto note it can ring like a bullet.

    The influence of the left hand in the sound is quite pronounced IMHO.

    Is it worth it? Since there are no adjusters (and Arnold's sugestion that we don't go in for them coz they were invented in the US might have some milage but they are popping up on the odd orchestral bass - my luthier swears by the solid bridge but there you go) I haven't been doing too much comparison. I've played basses with very low action and hated it. Having moved from reeds to bg what I hated most was the lack of ability to articulate and this is how I feel about low strings on a db but maybe I haven't got the technique to do it.

    I do keep thinking about changing things and having a adjusters put in but I do love the sound and variety. I thnk in general in the amateur circles that I'm in and even the odd pro I play with, bass sound is not something people are paying as much attention to as say I do. I always ask and 'sounds good to me' doesn't really help. The ex-pro drummer I olay with always tells me he can hear me where he couldn't hear other db players and it's not volume and I don't have a cutting peizo trebly sound either.

    There is a thread going about European and US rythm section swing and I'm not sure that this side of the pond we listen to enough and appreciate it enough. Consequently i often feel like having an on-the-floor action and playing really fast stuff that pops into my head form time to time. Fantasys apart, a sound that has to be carefully wrought from the bass makes you play differentlly - not like Haden but not treating it like a fingerboard of notes either. I do like it - love ti in fact.

    This is a post where I've blurted out rather a lot in no particular order and whilst I haven't put too much thought into ordering this into shape - sorry folks but there is only so much time in the day - it's something I think about quite a lot and I will be interested in any comments peole have on this.
     
  5. Reuben

    Reuben

    Aug 8, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    String height is a very personal choice, and what is low for one player is high for another...

    For years and years I struggled with higher actions and loved the sound, in fact every time I lowered the action I couldn't get comfortable, feeling like my notes had no impact. Then I started asking other players whose sounds impressed me if I could check out their basses. 90% of the ones who played on steel strings like mine had noticeably lower string heights than mine, and they sounded great. After more than 10 years of playing I figured I'd had enough time to get physically used to the greater height and if I still couldn't play what I was hearing there was definitely something wrong.

    So now I play on what I guess would be called a medium-to-low action (not sure of the exact measurement, not sure if it would matter). And I have found that when my action was higher I wasn't as accurate (with either hand, but especially the right) and the extra effort was more-than-often going to waste. Now I conserve energy, play with more agility and better intonation, and still get a big sound. Through an amp I sound much like before, and acoustically I've lost a tiny bit of volume, but not tone. No one complains about my sound.

    There can be a point of diminishing returns in either direction though. There's a fine balance for my taste. Just a little in the wrong direction and it's either too hard to play or too whiney and thin. Find what works for you!
     
  6. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Ray, thanks for elaborating on the String height from the FB thing. You were more clear than I was BUT, my point was the Height of the center of the Bridge from the Top and not necessarily the Angle of the Bridge top curve.

    If a neck stand/angle is set low like with some Basses, 5.5" seems difficult to get low string-to-fb height. I was referring to having a better neck set where 6.5 inches were average. For clearing the Bouts with the bow, some Basses need more than others depending on how the Bass was made. On my Basses and for my playing I need no more than about 4mm height on the G at the end of the FB to be able to play passages across the strings smoothly in Thumb position with the Bow. This is how I set my measurements. Also, I am using higher tension Flexocor Stark/thick-heavy gauge 92s and set my Tailpiece for tight but playable tension with minimum scoop in the FB. For Pizz, I might like a tad less for upper FB soloing but then again, you get into that 'muting' problem that Ray just mentioned. These days, when I play Jazz and get a Solo I stay lower than when I was younger for the most part. It's a maturing thing I guess. The Sax and Trumpet already soloed up in that range so I like the challenge in the mid-range part of the Bass rather that up in the 'flute' register. Don't get me wrong, I do play plenty in the Thumb position but I don't 'park-and-ride' up there for the entire solo.
     
  7. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    As far as tension on the top, though, the height of the bridge has no effect. It's the angles with which the strings break across the bridge. If the angle is 1 degree on both sides of the bridge -- tailpiece and neck -- no matter how high the bridge is there will be very little pressure on the top of the bass. If the angle across the bridge is 90 degrees (string perpendicular to the body of the bass) you could probably pull the bridge through the front of the bass by the time you get the second string up to pitch. I've never really checked out what the average is -- the tree doctors could prolly tell us -- but it seems to me that it's probably around 30 degrees, give or take.

    So, I think what ends up happening is that you have to determine how much tension the bass wants, which is determined by the combination of the angles of the string-break over the bridge, then you have to find a neck overstand and angle that gives you that break across the bridge and allows you to reach around the bass at both hands while keeping the bridge a reasonable height. Too high a bridges mutes sound and too little sounds too present and nasty.

    As far as I understand it....
     
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Interesting stuff, this - thanks for the replies. I had only considered the height from string to board, and the rest gives me something to think about. On the NS hybrid, the neck angle is very comfortable, and the bass seems to like the extra tension. The Dominants really POP at that height, and TP is still workable, although I'll need to clean up my string crossings a bit if I want to keep the strings that high.

    I guess this makes me a tension junkie, huh? :help:
     
  9. Uncletoad

    Uncletoad

    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    The insane tweaker in me was very enthused by this thread. I started experimenting with string height in practice tonight. I didn't realize how low I had gone with it. It was sitting at 4mm to 7mm. Duh. So I started cranking it up a bit at a time until I got to 7mm to 10mm. It started choking the top just a tad and the E string started to quiet down a bit. I backed it off to 6mm to 9mm and it woke back up again. I couldn't get near that 9/12 thing. I wonder if some of that is my technique isn't up to it. Could be a ply top thing too. Seems a bit crisper up higher. Doesn't seem to loose any of the puff I like so much. The pickup and mic work much better up higher. Bowing is a tad easier. Maybe once I get used to the 6/9 thing I'll try other heights again. Be interesting to hear how it sits in the mix this weekend.
     
  10. Several things:

    1/ Uppping hte strings does give more tension but with the extra clearance your stroke probably isn't as horizontal as it has to be with the strings on the floor. If you have or want a horizontal stroke there is definately a low hieght of no return judged from the ability to whack the hell out of them sideways without coming anywhere near a slap - as indeed is the case with mine. IMHO the differnet angle of attack is the biggest contributor to the different sound. An experiment you can do is to just detune a semitone and see what you think. This will take a touch of tension out but leave you with the height of course. edit: OK I just tried it again - dutuning that is - and now i'm not so sure. C'est la vie.

    2/ Having pondered US vs UK/euro rythm sections and Arnold's comment (on the NS web site I think) about UK attitude to adjusters, I popped into a top local luthiers (he works on BBC symphone orch instruments and basses) for a case and the man himself was serving at the counter. Whilst I was trying the cases on the basses I asked him about adjusters and action (his word - sorry Arnold).

    On adjusters - "they come with the bridge (er no) there's no demand - oh those - I did have some in once".

    On hieght - mine in particular - "it's not that high - the symphony boys have them way up" although he said some jazz guys 'want it on the floor'.

    Now having read Ken's post and others, it is apparent that US players on this board seem to have their strings a lot lower. I think their could be a Uk tradition here. This is the third really top luthier who's seen my bass and told me that they are not that high (a tad over 9mm on the g).

    You might wonder where I meet these guys but I assure you they have pedigree. He did tell me that it might be best to go to a bass specialist. These are few and far between.
     
  11. jmpiwonka

    jmpiwonka

    Jun 11, 2002
    my bass is in the shop getting adjusters installed and the bridge string spacing fixed.

    i asked for the luthier to set up the bridge so that the string heights are 7,7,8,9 with the adjusters turned all the way in. if the g needs to go down some i'll have him file it down. that way my bridge will pretty much be solid unless i want to take my strings up higher. i just don't like the look of bridges with the adjusters crnked up so that you see a half in ch of threads between the legs.
    i can't wait to experiment with the string heights, the g was at 4.5-5mm before and it was just too low, i couldn't get my pizz finger on it to really dig in. i also think that it was making the g string sound unnecessarily twangy.
    the new luthier also said that the bridge could be planed down quite a bit so i'm hoping that there will be a noticeable sound improvement to compliment the better feel of the bass.
     
  12. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    When I got my Dodd Bass directly from London the strings at the nut were spaced 12mm, the height at the nut was almost 2mm off the FB. The Bridge was spaced at 27 mm and the height of the bridge/ strings off the end of the FB was 'painful'!

    I didn't bother to measure but two things had do be done right away. First a new Nut for 'humans' cut with the Strings almost touching the FB and the non-adjustable Bridge top re-cut and spaced for normal people until I can get a new Bridge made as this was not a great bridge anymore regardless. I ended up still with 26mm at the bridge and 11mm at the Nut. The Bass was very playable after I did all this not to mention the Tail Wire/CABLE from the Brooklyn Bridge exported to London Snapped and I replaced it with the normal 1/8" steel strand cable and then did a Concert with the Bass as-is. It was very playable but still needed tweeking for the long haul.

    This is a big Bass to begin with and the Neck is a bit on the wide and deep side for my taste. I recently had Arnold make a new Bridge with adjusters and re-camber the FB. He said my 'Nut Job' was fine. I think he was referring the the Bass but not 100% sure..lol
     
  13. jmpiwonka

    jmpiwonka

    Jun 11, 2002
    i'd rather not hear bragging about the quality of your nut jobs, :eyebrow:
     
  14. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.

    Bragging? Did you read in another thread how I fixed the 'D'-neck stop and String length on my Loveri buy making an in-Laid Extended Nut? Now that was a Nut job to be proud of...;)
     
  15. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    DURRL- I dunno, I'm a big believer in low tension with some height. My previous-to-last trip down south I was loaned a bass that was a nice old Tyrolean that was set up primarily orchestral. But the string height was actually lower than my bass, even though the strings were higher tension. The amount of effort you had to put into that thing to get a sound out was MUCH more than you would have to put into mine.
    Have you tried a lower tension string with higher than usual (for you) action? The higher action may give you the resistance that you seem to like but the lower tension string may give you a soun dthat projects more...
     
    BrettBelanger likes this.
  16. How much of that do you put down to the qualities of Anima strings Ed or your particular bass or indeed a happy marriage of both (it's Valentines day and this does appear to be a happy menage a trios).
     
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Ed - haven't tried that, but would be interested to see what it feels like. Rufus' bass is set up kinda like that. It felt okay to play on it, but i didn't really get to spend enough time to see if i would really dig it in the long run or not. I've got a laminate LaScala on order for my office, and I may try experimenting with that.
     
  18. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Me, I like 'em lower and tight. Faster setup, airier (vocal) sound. I play a lot of duo and trio and play note-y stuff, so a narrower, tighter sound works better for me. With the Flex 92's I also now have 'dark' to add to that list.
     
  19. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Must be a "quick thinkers" thang, Dave Finck's bass seemed to be set up the same way. Although he didn't seem to have any trouble getting around on mine.

    Just by the by, Neal Miner plays a lot of duo and trio and I would say he could be described as "note-y" (i guess?), his set up is pretty similar to mine.
     
  20. But CF seems to like it both tight and high. 'Go figure' as you say on your side of the pond. It does seem that a bass set-up can't generally accomodate a split personality. Most instruments don't. i.e: to get a fat tone you lose in the high register or in agility or both to a degree (I'm not thinking basses here). Just like swapping reeds and mouthpieces I guess we gotta swap strings and hieghts although some people find a skin they feel best in and carry the same personality round with them. I wish. Meanwhile Rufus is on Animas like Ed too is he not? Someone described their response as slow though in the strings forum - Pcoco I think.