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String height

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by pedro, Jun 12, 2002.


  1. pedro

    pedro

    Apr 5, 2000
    Madison, WI.
    Never having played upright my only exposure to the instrument is as a listener and the occasional plucking of my son's school bass. The action on my son's bass would probably have James Jamerson muttering about hand cramps. I realize that there is some trade off between volume and playability but it would seem that with good amplification and pickups the former would be a distant second consideration. I'm curious how low the action on an upright can be set and what are the considerations in doing so? How is your URB set up?
     
  2. Monte

    Monte

    Jan 9, 2001
    New Albany, MS
    It depends on the bass, the strings, and the player. I use gut strings which need enough clearance to vibrate without buzzing, as do most low tension strings. There is an optimum height which each bass has where it puts out the most sound. Too low it won't put out much, and too high it will choke the string. My strings are all about 7-10mm at the octave. They have been higher, but I'm experimenting with them lower right now. Some jazz guys go way low, in the 4mm range. I can't dig in to the string at that height. You are partially right; if you rely on amplification for your sound, with a good fingerboard you can go pretty low. A matter of personal preference. I prefer for my sound to come from my fingers with just a little reinforcement from the PA or amp.

    Monte
     
  3. I think it's pretty objective depending on your bass and your playing style. There are a lot of things to consider, but I would definitely set my bass up to sound as good as it can BEFORE amplification.

    There are luthier-recommended string heights (I don't have the numbers at my fingertips), but those should be used as a guideline.
     
  4. pedro

    pedro

    Apr 5, 2000
    Madison, WI.
    [ I use gut strings which need enough clearance to vibrate without buzzing, as do most low tension strings.

    I would assume that the lower tension would somewhat compensate though for the higher action. What are other 'non gut' low tensions strings.

    [I prefer for my sound to come from my fingers with just a little reinforcement from the PA or amp.

    Seems like a lot of work.

    [but I would definitely set my bass up to sound as good as it can BEFORE amplification.

    Even at the cost of your ability to play?
     
  5. [I prefer for my sound to come from my fingers with just a little reinforcement from the PA or amp.

    Seems like a lot of work.

    [but I would definitely set my bass up to sound as good as it can BEFORE amplification.

    Even at the cost of your ability to play?

    Pedro, do you remember starting out? When I first learned the BG I always tried to make my strings as low as possible. The level that seemed ideal to me was always to low to avoid fret noise, this was before I learned how to adjust the truss rod, but even after I learned how to do that I found I would loose some tone with the strings too low.
    When I started on DB I couldn't play on a bass with the action too low, I couldn't produce a tone. I lugged my bass to lessons even though my teacher had a bass I could use in his studio. I also lugged it to jam sessions where there was a house bass because I knew I couldn't get a tone from it. Now it's not as much of an issue, I learned how to "pull" the sound from the bass. My point is it will always take some work, and what may seem "harder" isn't really bad. I would suggest though, look into low tension strings and having bridge adjusters but on the bass. This will help a bit, but your son will still have to work at getting a sound from the bass. I would also recomond that you try to learn some DB which will help you understand. I forgot what what the begining was like until I started DB.
    As far as amplification goes, it's not an answer to the problem. If the work is done the problem of string height/playability gets dealt with. The tone of a DB is best when it is unaltered by pick-ups and amps.
    Mike
     
  6. pedro

    pedro

    Apr 5, 2000
    Madison, WI.
    [Pedro, do you remember starting out?

    LOL! I believe I took up the instrument during the Ice Age.

    [When I first learned the BG I always tried to make my strings as low as possible.

    I still opt to have 'em as low as I can. Sure I don't want any fret noise but this can usually be managed and still provide for a fairly low action.

    [When I started on DB I couldn't play on a bass with the action too low, I couldn't produce a tone.

    I'm confused, do you mean 'too low' or 'too high'?

    [My point is it will always take some work, and what may seem "harder" isn't really bad.

    Well I'm sure you build up strength and get used to exerting a certain amount of effort. But surely there is some happy medium.

    [This will help a bit, but your son will still have to work at getting a sound from the bass.

    It's not him that has a problem its me. He's been playing DB for five years. (I do think a good set up and good instrument would do a world of good for him.)

    [As far as amplification goes, it's not an answer to the problem.

    Well I see what you're saying but its been my experience that all too many upright players ignore good amplification. And what you get when you run a $5,000 carved bass through a $75 amp is garbage IMO. I can think of only a couple of instances where I thought the live upright sounded deep and full with a full band - the most recent was John Pattituci w/ Wayne Shorter. A Walter Woods head with an Aguilar 4x10 cabinet. So from that respect, I think you're selling the importance of adequate amplification short. Never the less, I have to agree that there is an optimal height that balances sound and playability.

    [The tone of a DB is best when it is unaltered by pick-ups and amps.

    Unfortunately, most situations I've encountered require amplification for the bass to be heard.
     
  7. [When I started on DB I couldn't play on a bass with the action too low, I couldn't produce a tone.

    I'm confused, do you mean 'too low' or 'too high'?

    I mean too low, I couldn't hook the string when I tried to play pizz. It has gotten much better, especially because I have had adjusters put in my bridge and have lowered the action a bit. The main thing to keep in mind is that string height takes a back seat to your ability to pull the sound out of the bass.
    Well I'm sure you build up strength and get used to exerting a certain amount of effort. But surely there is some happy medium.

    Of course there is a happy medium, but at the same time don't look for an instant cure. I thought all I needed to do was lower my strings and all would be great. Needless to say I was sorely disappointed, while it helped I still needed to get my approach correct.

    As far as amplification is concerned, yeah it is sometimes needed, but for alot of places it really isn't, once again it is about getting the bass to sound. Now yeah John Pattitucci has a good sound, he is also endorssed. I have used an Ampeg svt3 pro, with a hartke 4x10 cab with my DB and yes I will say it worked nicely it still wasn't the same. I am now using a Polytone, it's ok, but I am interested in an SWR workingmans 10 or 12. Although laziness (I ride the subway clear across NYC for a saturday night gig in Brooklyn) has made go to gigs without an amp, so I have discovered that it is possible to get the bass heard in most situations.
     
  8. pedro

    pedro

    Apr 5, 2000
    Madison, WI.
    [I thought all I needed to do was lower my strings and all would be great. Needless to say I was sorely disappointed, while it helped I still needed to get my approach correct.

    I'll certainly keep that in mind.

    [As far as amplification is concerned, yeah it is sometimes needed, but for alot of places it really isn't, once again it is about getting the bass to sound.

    Well in my experience, aside from a guitar/piano and bass duet in a very quiet setting its almost always needed as soon as you add a drummer and or several horns. I can't honestly think of the last time I saw anybody playing an URB unamplified.

    [Now yeah John Pattitucci has a good sound, he is
    also endorssed.

    I don't believe for an instant that John would start using a WM 12 if God forbid Aguilar dropped him as an endorsee.

    [it still wasn't the same.

    You mean the same as unamplified? No I'm sure you're correct and I think most would prefer the 'pure sound' of the upright. But what sense does it make to have the perfect 'sound' if nobody can hear it? The fact of the matter is that most people in the audience wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the 'pure sound' and the amplified sound. However, they do know when they can't hear the bass. When I listen to a jazz recording the bass is clearly heard and that's what I think should be the case in a live setting.

    [I am now using a Polytone, it's ok, but I am interested in an SWR workingmans 10 or 12. Although laziness (I ride the subway clear across NYC for a saturday night gig in Brooklyn) has made go to gigs without an amp, so I have discovered that it is possible to get the bass heard in most situations.

    LOL!! Yes, I suppose negotiating an UR and the subway and a decent sized bass amp is a problem. If its a coffe house with acoustic guitar or low volume electric guitar or piano I'll buy into no amp (barely) but if you're playing hard driving jazz with a hot drummer or got a big band you need to bring enough amp muscle to cut through.
     
  9. To answer Pedro's pregunta directly: With Tomastik steel strings, 4.5mm under the G, 7.5mm under E. I don't vary the string height between amped and unamped. With Obligato synthetic gut (perlon), maybe 5mm and 8mm. I strongly advocate adjustable bridges for weather changes, which can significantly alter string height.
     
  10. pedro

    pedro

    Apr 5, 2000
    Madison, WI.
    [With Tomastik steel strings, 4.5mm under the G, 7.5mm under E.

    Do these come in different tensions or gauges as they do for electric?

    [With Obligato synthetic gut (perlon), maybe 5mm and 8mm.

    Do you use both? What are the characteristics of the Thomastik vs. the Obligato?
     
  11. Oversimplifying for brevity's sake - Spirocores are high tension, great jazz pizz, scratchy arco. They deliver THE SOUND. Obligatos are relatively low tension, good for both arco and pizz. I have used them on both my jazz bass and my orchestra bass.
    A trifle less volume and sustain than the Spirocore, but only a trifle on my basses
     
  12. pedro

    pedro

    Apr 5, 2000
    Madison, WI.
    [Spirocores are high tension, great jazz pizz, scratchy arco. They deliver THE SOUND.

    Are those the same as Thomastik Spirocore orchestra strings?

    [Obligatos are relatively low tension, good for both arco and pizz. I have used them on both my jazz bass and my orchestra bass. A trifle less volume and sustain than the Spirocore, but only a trifle on my basses

    Why do you use two different kinds of strings?
     
  13. Thomastik calls them orchestra strings. Why, I'll never know.
    I use different strings to produce the sound that I want at the moment.
     
  14. pedro

    pedro

    Apr 5, 2000
    Madison, WI.
    Don can you suggest some recordings that would illustrate the differences in the sounds of both types of strings?
     
  15. robw

    robw

    May 14, 2001
    Long Beach, CA
    Going back to the original question, maybe the string height at the nut is also very high on your son's bass, which would make the bass hard to play.

    I use gut strings, and like a setup that works for slap style, so I have my strings about 1/2" off the end of the fingerboard. But the string height at the nut is just high enough to keep them from buzzing, and the result is a pretty comfortable and playable bass. When a bass is shipped from a factory it usually has way too much string height at the nut, which makes it murder to play.
     
  16. That's virtually impossble.
     
  17. pedro

    pedro

    Apr 5, 2000
    Madison, WI.
    Ah come on. (Pedro pleading.)