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Stringheight on fretless

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by wilper, Oct 3, 2008.

  1. wilper


    Oct 3, 2008
    Hi! New to the forums, and new to bass playing.

    I bought a cheap bass oneline to get started. A 5 string fretless Harley Benton ( http://www.thomann.de/gb/harley_benton_hbb500fltbk_5string_fretless_ebass.htm ).

    I guess it is a somewhat odd choice for a beginner but I play a 5 string Ergo Instruments cello usually and wanted something less cumbersome to sit back in the sofa an play with. :)

    I don't know much about basses but I wonder if the string height on my instrument is not a bit too high. I used a ruler to measure at the nut and it is about 2mm on both treble and bass side. When I play it feels like I have to push the strings so far to get them in contact with the neck. Much further than on the cello and my thought was that they should be somewhat similar in that respect.

    I did some searches on the forum but found no good answer to my question, so I ask:

    Is my string height too high? Or is it something that I just should get used to since it is different on basses?

    If I want to lower it, how should I go about doing so? Is it an expensive to have the guys at my local guitar-store do it for me?

    Also I consider changing the strings, remove the low B-string, and add a high C or something like that. Then the grooves in the nut would become a bit too wide. So if I have one thing fixed, should I do the other at the same time?
  2. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 14, 2008
    Durango, CO
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    Hi wilper,

    In my experience, an action that is 2mm at the nut isn't that bad for a cheap bass. If the action gets a lot higher as you go up the figerboard though, then it is probably too high...

    You could lower the action yourself at the bridge , but it may be very frustrating and difficult to get good results if you don't have any past experience doing guitar or bass setups.

    If you took the bass to a repair tech or luthier it would probably cost you around $30-60 for a full setup. That should include lowering the action, checking intonation and truss rod, and improving its overall playability. You'll want to make sure the tech/luthier has a decent reputation too.

    Keep this in mind though: since the instrument is relatively cheap, even the most skilled tech in the world may not be able to lower the action without causing excessive buzz on the instrument. If the fingerboard is not extremely level (as is the case on many cheaper instruments), then you'll have to keep the action high to avoid string buzz.

    You could have the fingerboard levelled by a skilled luthier, but chances are that will cost you more than you paid for the bass.

    As far as re-stringing the instrument to EADGC, you might be able to get away with not modifying the nut. BUT, sometimes extra-wide nut slots can cause buzz and tuning issues. So, yes if you get the bass adjusted and are set on re-stringing it EADGC, you should have the nut modified or replaced at the same time.
  3. peakdesign


    Aug 25, 2008
    Welcome to our little world. It all depends on whether you are a tinkerer with some mechanical aptitude, and of course money vs. time. It's very convenient to have the first setup done by a pro, but not as instructive. The setup controls what we call "the action", or string height, as well as intonation.

    There is nothing difficult about doing your own setup, look in the sticky post at the top of this forum for links. Basically the parameters are neck straightness, string height at the nut, string height at the bridge, tuning and intonation.

    Neck straightness is controlled by the tension on the strings vs. the adjustment of the truss rod in the neck that imparts a concave bow as it is gently tightened with the strings loosened or while applying a little back bow with the knee (to prevent stripping the threading on cheap steel). An infinitesimal concavity is what is desired. Using lighter strings generally requires slightly loosening the truss rod screw/nut.

    The nut is filed to snugly fit the strings and to lower string height at the nut, or a new nut is cut if you need to start over.

    The bridge has adjustment screws to raise and lower each string's saddle. With the instrument set up as you like, horizontal adjustment screws at the bridge are optimized for each string to give you a perfect octave at the octave point on the neck.

    Very simple, the only unknown as mentioned is whether the neck is well made enough to allow it to be perfectly flat under different string tensions.

    An electric bass has a lot of flexibility compared to an acoustic instrument. Most fretless players like a very low action to where the strings buzz a little, making that specific fretless bass "muaa" sound. No neck is 100% perfect, but a bad neck will go significantly s-shaped as you adjust the truss rod. If you run into that, it needs to be replaced under warranty rather than sanding ("dressing") it. Everything else is doable as a matter of course in a couple of hours of trial and error. Lovingly setting it up is a nice way to get to know it over an evening with a glass of wine :p. Have fun.
  4. the low one

    the low one

    Feb 21, 2002
    For you guys with a really low action, do you play in a band situation with the bass set up like that? I can get a low action on my fretless Jazz playing at home and it sound great but playing with my band where I tend to dig in a bit more I get too much clanking fingerboard noise. I find an action of about 3 mm works for me, it’s a good compromise. Reading other threads that sounds like a medium action.

    It’s interesting reading interviews with other fretless bass players too such as Tony Franklin who likes a medium / high action, and Percy Jones who likes a high action.
  5. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    The action on my main bass is 2.5mm at the nut.
    I like it like that.
  6. the low one

    the low one

    Feb 21, 2002
    What's your action at the 12th fret? I find 3mm at the 12th fret works for me.
  7. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    String to board is 4.5mm at the 12th fret.
    It's usually at about 3mm tho, but the neck needs straightening .
    ...5min later...now it's 3.5.
  8. When I make my fretless basses I cut the nut slots even with the fingerboard. The necks I make are pretty fat and assymetric for ergonomic reasons and because of their thickness they are also extremely stable so the lack of relief in my necks doesn't change regardless of the weather or type of strings I install. The action is very low, about 2.5mm - 3mm at the first harmonic node depending on the bass and I'll use them occassionally when gigging with my band even though the 'mwah' factor is pretty high. I play fretless with a very light touch and allow the amp to do the work of cutting through the mix.
  9. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    I got 3.5mm at the 29th fret.
    That usually works very well. i just put on strings though that my neck doesn't like so much ( a set by a manufacturer I no longer use but I still had that set of strings).
    What material do you usually use for your necks?
  10. Maple, mahogany, cherry, purpleheart, oak, walnut and various other woods... I like experimenting.

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