What's a good height for strings?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Doug Ring, Jul 21, 2004.

  1. Hello, I'm a new (3 months) DB player after 30 years on EB, and I'm wondering what would be regarded as a good string height for jazz pizz playing?

    I had my new bass set up by a jazz-playing luthier, and although he put an adjustable bridge on it and made it sound nice, the minimum string height at the bottom of the adjusters was a bit of a shock to a Fender Jazz player, but I figured he'd know what was best.

    Then yesterday I had the chance to play another bass belonging to a gigging jazz musician and the string height (do you guys call it "action" at all?) was about half what mine is. His bass was really easy to play compared to mine.

    Mine must be close on 1cm at the octave; I reckon his was half that. He still got the occasional buzz on the E string, but then, so do I, even with the higher action.

    What do you guys consider to be a good action for pizz playing? Is there a trade-off between action and volume, or action and fingerboard buzzing? Or can you dress a fingerboard so that it won't buzz with a low action?

    Appreciate any advice here. I know I could get this from a teacher, but I haven't found one in my area yet.
  2. Go to the Setup and Repair forum and click the search forum button. From there enter height and you will find plenty of reading material on this topic.

    That said, I would suggest you experiment by gradually lowering the action until you find what you are looking for. At first it is easier to get volume and tone with higher strings but as your technique develops you can get the same results (or even better) with a lower action.

    Also, fill out your public profile. Once folks know where you are, they might be able to make some recommendations on teachers.
  3. azflyman


    Apr 24, 2004
    Astoria, OR
    My strings are about 1/4" off the board at the end. I have no buzzes unless I am so agresive that the bass sounds crappy and that is only on the E string (prob. me, not the bass). 1cm is about 3/8" and that sounds a bit high at the octave but I have seen worse. With an adjustabe bridge you shoud be able to get it lower than that if the fingerboard is planned correctly. Does the luthier you used do basses? I think you need a specialists.

  4. Good call, Steve. I thought I had but I see it's not showing anything. For the record I'm in Edinburgh, Scotland.

    The luthier who set my bass up is also a jazz bass player, so I was a bit surprised to see how high he'd left the strings. The 1cm height is as low as the adjusters will go. Some wood would have to come off the top of the bridge to get the strings any lower.

    I'll go and look at the newbies stuff now, but I'd still welcome comments.
  5. Playing with a highish action has meant that I couldn't carry accross bg technique and had to develop a proper db left hand, not that it troubles some famous UK jazzers. Having said that - 10mm at the bottom of the adjusters - wow - that's not right - even if this is only the e string.

    Any adjustment of the bridge should be done by a luthier, even if - like me - you got people who tell you to just get a file out - don't.

    And on the subject of high action, it does allow a piz stroke that moves slightly into the fingerboard which IMHO gives me a better sound or the one I like anyway - I find it darker and richer.
  6. Don't take it off the top of the bridge - take it from the adjusters…

    - Wil
  7. Thanks for that Wil - so should that be above or below the adjusters? And can you say why would that be better than off the top?
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Well, if you're one of the macho "No Amp" old-school guys, a reasonable height seems to be about 6' on the G string, moving up gradually to 8' on the E string (all heights measured from the fingerboard to the bottom of the string at the end of the fingerboard). I'm a bit more of a WUSS myself, so I keep mine at 7mm on the G and 10-11mm on the E.

    Ask 10 different players, get 10 different answers. The real answer is whatever works for you after you have experimented with all of the most reasonable options.

    Yes. In general, higher action = more front end attack and less sustain. But again, a lot of experimentation is the best way to go.

    Keep looking! If you find a good one, everything will seem a lot easier. In the meantime, the guys here are good as well if you can deal with a little dry irony and sarcasm now and then. :)
  9. kip


    Sep 11, 2002
    Sausalito, Ca
  10. I can't decide if you're being ironic here Chris - a wuss over here is a namby pamby wimp (girlie man? :confused: ) - not a stark weilding action hero with stratospheric action! :D
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Only slight irony...I consider myself a girly man because I almost always take an amp to the gig, since I like to be in control over whether or not I can hear myself. If I were a REAL MAN, I'd use gut strings with action measured in feet rather than mm, and play outdoor festivals for 70,000 people with 47 piece big bands using no amp.

    Seriously, you think 7mm for G and 10-11mm for E is "stratospheric"? Hmmm, maybe my biceps have grown since the last time I checked...
  12. I know a few players who do - how? - because my action is just a little higher than that and I get a growl when they try to play my bass - and its not from the strings. I always thought that if you were going to use starks you'd put the action on the floor. I know from an earlier post you don't but was still suprised how high for a string so strong. :hyper:

    (I'm using wimpy superflexes at thed mo BTW)

    BTW Doug: Will will no doubt return eventually and say something like - the top of the bridge is tapered (and rounded on the kneck facing side) to an optimum thickness to allow just the right amount of flex to let your strings vibrate at their best. Take wood off the top and you are moving down the taper, the top of the bridge no longer has that optimum thickness and your bass won't sound as good. Take time to look through the set up and repair section and you'll pick up the gen from TBs highly esteemed luthiers.
  13. "Doug of the Rings" :D

    Thanks for the advice guys. I've been spending time on here reading as much as I can on the lore of this mysterious instrument, but the answer doesn't always come at you as clearly as you'd like, so I appreciate you guys taking the the time to help. Stuff like "higher action = more front end attack and less sustain" is invaluable.

    Well, I got the ruler out last night and she's definitely too high!

    E = 10mm@ the octave, 12mm@ fingerboard end
    G = 7mm@ the octave, 8mm@ fingerboard end.

    I'm using Spirocore Weichs, but it still feels like too much hard work. I didn't expect it to be easy, but I can barely get through one number at the moment without my left hand cramping up. I know I need experience and tuition, but I'm fairly sure that life will be easier with a lower action. Anyway, if I need to, I can always put it back up again with the adjusters - at the moment I don't have that option.

    Interesting that a lower action will give more sustain, too - she's already got a nice singing sound, so if I can have more of that I'll be a very happy bunny :cool:
  14. At the fingerboard end, I have G @4.5mm, E @ 7.5mm. I get no complaints about not projecting.
  15. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Your action is a little higher than mine, but with a much floppier string on (Weichs), it is likely that many of the left-hand issues you are experiencing are due to lack of technique rather than murderous action. When I hear the words "my left hand cramping up", it immediately makes me think that the person speaking those words is squeezing the back of the neck with the thumb (the squeezing is what causes the cramps) rather than using the chest, back, and shoulder muscles to control the weight of the arm and letting the arm weight press the strings down. We're glad to be here to help, but a teacher can clear up a lot of these issues about a hundred times quicker, and can help you avoid all kinds of bad habits that you'd spend years trying to unlearn later. And lest you think I'm some crusty old veteran who came up by Simandl and Simandl alone, do a search in the DB forums for "self-taught", and you'll see why I'm telling you all of this. :eyebrow: :)
  17. Nick Ara

    Nick Ara

    Jul 22, 2002
    Long Island, NY
    Doug, don't forget the string height at the nut. Most of the time (especially as you begin to learn DB) you'll be in the first position or so. That said, you'll be more impacted by this measurement. Optimum heights vary between players as stated earlier.
  18. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Trust me, on the new bass, they're not bad at all. Sure, they could go a lot lower, and sure, my excuse for not having any speed chops to speak of is built in :D, but I just set the strings where I can dig in and get the best sound...and on the new bass, they sound GLORIOUS at that height.

    Life is like a package of new strings - you never know what you're gonna get 'til you throw 'em on the bass and start playing. :bag:
  19. kip


    Sep 11, 2002
    Sausalito, Ca
    Doug, that cramping reference is real familiar to me. There is a thread in "technique" that was titled "left hand agony" I think. It proved an immense help to me in overcoming bad habits developed from years of Fender bass pattern playing. (Thanks again y'all).
  20. Dude Ranch?! You guys translating names into Russian then back again? :D

    Chris, I know you're right about my lack of technique, and I will address that asap, but work's getting in the way at the moment. I like to spend time with my bass when I get home, but I'll try not to play too much and get into bad habits.

    Kip, I'll go look at that thread now, thanks.