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String Height v. Technique

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by bassist1962, Jan 17, 2013.

  1. I have seen several threads that state 'the lower the string height, the more technique required - less technique is required with the strings being higher.'

    Could someone please clear this up? I am not sure what this means. More/less technique in what area(s). Reasoning?

    I am considering lowering my string height to make it easier to play, but am wondering if certain things are going to be harder due to technique issues.
  2. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I don't know what that means. You'll have to find out for yourself how it impacts your playing. You'll certainly save your chops which can't be a bad thing. Lower string height may require you to adjust certain aspects of your playing such as bow pressure. Lower height will free up your left hand, IMO.

    Give it a try.
  3. Proraptor


    Apr 19, 2012
    I prefer a higher action cause i use a pick and am very hard on the strings
  4. MaxJohnson


    Jan 29, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    As a generalization: The lower the strings = a smaller and quieter sound, and the strings will be easier to play. The higher the strings = a bigger and louder sound, and the strings will be more difficult to play. You find what works for yourself.
  5. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Augusta GA
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Look everyone, Proraptor is LOST!

    John, that sounds backward to me. A higher string height is going to ask MORE form physical approach, not less...
  6. Edvin


    Feb 25, 2010
    is that entirely true? The higher string height, the more force required to play. Though, in my experience, you don't get a bigger sound with more height unless you have a string height that bothers the strings to move freely. It differs between classical and jazz playing, though.

    Ray brown and many with him had a crazy low string height but had a bigger sound than anyone else.
  7. MaxJohnson


    Jan 29, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    There is a point of diminishing returns, but the physical force required to move a higher string length will vibrate the bass more violently, resulting in more sound. It may not be a better sound, but it will be louder, although after a point it starts getting harder for the string to move, and then makes the sound harsh and inconsistent.

    BUT, comparing Ray Brown to other people is moot because you haven't really heard alot of other people on his bass, which was inherently loud. Granted, the guy got a great fat sound although saying it's "bigger" than anyone else defines definition. Also, the reference to his low string height is also moot because at the time when his strings were super low, he was using steel strings and... and amplifier!

    I have however noticed that with every instrument, combined with your choice of tailpiece, tailpiece wire and strings, has a golden ratio of where the bass gets the best sound. Some instruments need more tension, some need less, but your setup, and "accessory" choices make that ratio differ.
  8. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    I like playing on my Kay with gut strings and higher string height because it really helps promote good, uniform left hand shape up and down the fingerboard, which I then try to transfer when playing my Lang hybrid that's set up for orchestral/etc playing (the string height on the Lang isn't super low either though, since I'm working more on orchestral stuff now rather than solo, but definitely nowhere near the Kay's string height).

    In terms of what makes a bass loud or soft, don't forget about the player's technique/hand. When I need to play a forte pizz on my Lang, the more force/power I put into it the less sound I get. The slower and gentler I pull away from the strings, using the whole arm (and of course using the meatiest part of my index and middle finger for classical pizz helps too), the more the string vibrates. It's like with the bow.. pressing = killing the sound. Contact + pulling = huge sound (the Kay is also great for bowing because it really keeps me in check in terms of pressing or not pressing). Anyway, just my 2 shillings.
  9. I am part of a songwriters circle that tells me that they can't believe how loud my bass is. I also am learning to just let gravity and arm weight do it's thing when I play both arco and pizz.

    I saw or read an interview with Christian McBride talking about Ray Brown and the attitude on string height. He stated that even with the low height and seemingly light touch, the majority of sound was coming from Ray's bass.

    Danny Thompson stated that his sound is from (after someone pointed it out to him) when he learned to play, there were no amps for the bass.

    I agree with Ed that A higher string height is going to ask MORE form physical approach, not less. Wish I could find the thread(s) I read this in. Although I don't see the why the left hand technique should change at all, I am trying to ease up on my left hand due to health issues, my concern is right hand technique. I know I wont be able to dig in as hard, but what else would I need to change?
  10. Edvin


    Feb 25, 2010
    yeah you got a point, but he's not the only one. Larry Grenadier played my bass and got a much bigger volume than i did. Also, if i don't play for a week my output get much lesser. I've experimented a whole lot with this and you get to a point (round 6,5 mm on my bass) where you don't get greater volume with the same force.
  11. Chris Symer

    Chris Symer

    Dec 13, 2009
    I think what the OP is refering to is, for lack of a better word, a more "refined" technique with lower string height, which is an attitude that I generally agree with. Yes, it takes more strength to play with strings that are set higher, but higher strings provide a much greater variety of ways for your right hand (pizz) to address the string; i.e. how much of the finger you get on the string and at what angle. So the technique required to play this way is actually fairly forgiving with plenty of room for us all to have our own approach and sound. While lower string heights are much less forgiving in that regard and tend to require you to play just so at any given moment and leave very little room for anything else, at least that's how I see the situation.
  12. Yes, Chris, something like that. What adjustments did anyone here have to make - considering the length of time some here have been playing?
  13. Chris Symer

    Chris Symer

    Dec 13, 2009
    John, for me the adjustment to lower strings, as far as the right hand goes anyway, feels like I have to play with my fingers a little flatter on the strings since there is not as much room underneath the string. In order to get a decent amount of flesh on the string I end up playing a bit more across the string with the widest possible amount of the pad of my finger getting contact with the string. Higher strings give me more of a sense of "pulling" the string, lower strings it begins to feel a bit more like "rubbing" the string. At least that would be the closest way I can think of to describe it at the moment.

    Lower string heights are also less forgiving of the set up on the rest of your bass. Small inconsistancies in the camber of the fingerboard will be much more noticable and can cause tone problems that weren't there before. The dynamic range available with very low strings is drastically reduced, especially when playing arco. I find it unrewarding also when walking on really low strings as I feel like I am missing too much power, but goofing off in the upper register ends up entertaing as hell.

    I would assume that you don't have adjusters on your bass at the moment? It is pretty easy to give them a turn in either direction and see what happens. I seem to be on about a six month cycle changing between higher and lower. There are lovely aspects to both.
  14. said it all.

    Also each wrapping like steel strings, hybrids (e.g. Eva Pirazzi), nylon, gut, each one responds totally different to a certain string height, and even more different to each pizzicato style (index or both middle and index, straight finger, picking, curved like John Clayton, towards down or to side, etc.)
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