What can a luthier do to make my bass easier to play?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by nandinga, Jul 9, 2017.

  1. nandinga


    Nov 11, 2013
    Barcelona, Spain
    I have been searching for a more confortable bass (lower action, softer feeling, easy/fast playing) than what I've got. Sold my Schecter Stiletto Elite 5, not only because I preferred a more Fendery sound, but because it was just too hard to play. It was a 35" with a neck-thru-body that happened to be difficult to properly adjust. No wonder it was a "super special sale" from a tiny shop...

    While I find a better fit for my needs under a grand, I'm playing a Squier Vintage Modified PJ that I like a lot (for which I paid pennies ;p). But playing some of my teacher's instruments I can say my Squier is, although not bad, definitely harder to play (as espected).

    I understand changing the sound of it is another story but: can a luthier do anything to an already well set-up instrument (the Squier VM) to make it softer to play?
  2. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    First, why do you think it's well setup? Because it's more comfortable to play than you Schecter, or because you've had it set up? Having it set up by a competent luthier can do wonders for an instrument. From the factory most nuts are too high. the frets leveling may be iffy to non existent and the action is going to be middle of the road. Invest the money to have a good setup done, have a conversation with the tech and advise them on your desired action.
    Expect to pay about $100 for a nut adjustment, fret leveling, and setup.

    OOPs You're in Spain, forget the price reference.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2017
    pacojas likes this.
  3. I made myself a 31" scale 3-string with super low action. Easy to play simple lines on.
  4. RSBBass


    Jun 11, 2011
    First, a 35" scale is going to be harder to play than a 34" for most people. There was nothing wrong with that bass, it just had a scale that was too long for you.

    It would be helpful to know what it is about your teacher's bass that you find easier to play. It likely has a better setup. It is also possible that it has more responsive electronics and without knowing it you are using a lighter technique.
  5. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician
    Maybe. Low action without fret buzz is possible most instruments, but everything needs to be dialled just right. My guess is that you will need a to have the frets levelled and re-crowned, and then have the instrument setup. Special attention should be paid to the nut after the fret levelling and basic setup - most require attention to play at their best.
    Hopkins and pacojas like this.
  6. What instruments is your teacher playing that feel good?

    On the VM you can go to lighter gauge strings for 'softer' play. Sometimes that helps.

    String brands can vary quite a bit in 'softness' and playability due to gauge and tension be they flats or rounds.

    Personally I wouldn't blow a ton of money on releveling, crowning and fretwork etc etc etc. I would just try to find a bass that feels good to start with.

    Usually 'lower action' means easier to play.

    That means getting the strings as low as you can without buzzing yet still have the correct relief in the neck (truss rod adjustment).
    Badwater likes this.
  7. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    I or any other skilled luthier can do many thing to an instrument to make it play better. it all depend up where it is and where you want to go with it -and if the instrument can take you there as well structurally speaking.

    find a luthier who will take the time to watch you play and who studies your ergonomics and listens to your requirements. if he/she does none of the above, go somewhere else.

    fwiw, good solid work costs a little more and takes a little more time.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2017
    pcake likes this.
  8. Flippy


    Jun 9, 2017
    I had my bass for several years, and this year I took it to a luthier to have the frets leveled. The luthier did that but also filed the nut, which was the best thing that happened to this bass ever. It feels like a much more expensive/premium instrument, I'd even say that the added value is greater than the cost of the service :thumbsup:

    At the same time, I don't feel it's much more comfortable to play. Yes it is feels very nice and slick, but it isn't a drastic change that would make me play like Jaco ;)
  9. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.
    A setup is probably the best place to start, the problem being that a setup means different things to different luthiers (or guitar techs, there's a difference). Find a shop that offers the service and ask what a setup entails before plunking down any dough. If I were you, I'd shy away from anybody that doesn't take a moment to find out a little about how you play, i.e. pick or fingers, do you pluck hard, slap, bend notes, etc. That information makes a big difference in setup; what one person finds comfortable or "fast" may be unplayable to another person. Having said that, with rare exception IME any bass can be made to play reasonably well, and even a low-priced axe shouldn't feel like wrestling.
    Flippy likes this.
  10. nandinga


    Nov 11, 2013
    Barcelona, Spain
    Thanks all for your replies!!

    I think I'll go for a talk with a good luthier then. Was hesitant to spend half the money I've spent on the bass for a setup but you've just confirmed my thoughts @WalterBush , nowadays with cheaper instruments being built using calibrated specific machinery, they're not so far from what a good instrument is in terms of playability (ie they have frets, nuts, etc. where they need to be).

    I'm also of the opinion that you can even make the instrument sound pretty good by changing pickups. So if you pick a bass like my VM, change a couple of components and set it up well, you'd probably get an instrument well worthy of playing and enjoying :)

    Thanks again all!! will let you know how this ends up!
  11. BlueShox

    BlueShox Registered Turtle

    Jul 14, 2007
    West Columbia, SC
    I've done my own set-ups for most of my playing career. In the last two years, my main player became progressively more uncomfortable to play and it was increasingly difficult to get a proper set-up. A friend recommended I take it to a local luthier, who suggested I need a fret-level and recrown. I had been considering switching from rounds to flats, and did that at the same time. I can say it's by far the best money I've ever spent. This was a mexican made Fender that is over a decade old, it is now simply the best playing instrument I have ever held.

    You may find this to be an expensive option for your bass, as you're likely to pay close to the used value of your instrument for the work.
  12. Generally a Fenderish bass is harder to set up than a neck through.
    All those basses had the same type/gauge of strings?
  13. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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