Why is one of my basses so much more difficult to play?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by sterlingray34, Jun 13, 2020.

  1. sterlingray34


    Jun 17, 2019
    I have three basses, one jazzbass, one p bass, and one stingray (all high quality thirdparty brands).

    I notice a drastic difference in playability, with the stingray being the easiest to play, then the p bass, and the jazzbass the hardest to play.

    with 'playability' i mean, the ability to play precisely, tightly keep a rhythm etc. And this only/mainly affects the right hand.

    I prefer the sound of the jazz bass, but the difficulty to play it precisely puts me off a bit. the stingray is the easiest to play precisely but has the most boring sound of the three.

    initially i thought this might have to do with the string tension, but i have the same strings on all the three basses, and the problem remains.

    can it be the string action? or the neck curve? the stingray is more or less flat, and the p bass and jazz both have a slight curvy neck. the string action follows the neck curve.

    anyone have an idea what influences the 'playability' i am talking about?
    Mr Cheese and Ellery like this.
  2. idi0tf0wl


    May 30, 2020
    In my experience, a lot of that will have to do with how much more sensitive Jazz-style setups tend to be, meaning they tend to put out exactly what's put into them, whereas Ps and MMs sort of "smooth over" the action. It will make you a better bassist in the long run.

    Of course, the above doesn't account for arguably simpler factors like your hands just preferring the layouts of your other two basses or whatever, but I think what you've just described is part of why J basses tend to be so divisive, even within the same person.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2020
  3. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    In my experience the J should have the thinnest neck and should be easy to play.

    you will probably need to adjust your action to match the Stingray which you find easiest, neck thickness may feel different but they should all feel familiar if set up properly.
  4. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Could be any number of reasons. I am comfortable with P width necks (40 years on them), so I am not comfortable with thinner necks.
  5. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    So you are saying the Jazz is a difficult bass to play. Could you describe exactly what your right hand is doing.

    ATM I don't know why that should be. Do you get the problems standing up or sitting down . . or both? Maybe change the position of the strap?

    If you like the sound so much, I'd put the other basses away and focus on the Jazz until it feels like home.
  6. sterlingray34


    Jun 17, 2019
    the problem is not related to the neck or the fretting hand. the thin jazz neck is fine to play.
    but when it comes to the right hand, i noticed that i end up playing much more sloppy than on the other two basses. i am not as tightly locked in with the drums etc (when playing along backing track).

    i play sitting or standing, strap length seems fine, and is consistent with the other basses.

    all i can think of as a cause is the string action, but i can not lower the action any further due to buzzing.
    maybe i ignore the buzzing for now and change the action anyway, just to find out if it changes the 'playability'.

    i agree with you that focusing on that bass is a good idea. that's what i did for most of last year, but i still want to find out what the issue is here.
  7. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I suspect that it has to do somehow with the placement and/or angle of your right hand when you pluck. For example, if you tend to anchor your thumb on a pickup, then your hand will be in a different place on each bass because the pups are in different places. Or, maybe the different body shapes cause you to play closer to or further from the bridge (where the stiffness of the strings differs) on one bass versus another. Or maybe you just need to adjust your strap length differently for the different bases due to their varyious shapes and sizes. There are probably other possibilities too, but you get the idea: Look carefully at the position and angle of your right hand when you play each bass -- perhaps by playing in front of a mirror -- and see if you can spot a difference about your right hand when you switch from bass to bass. If you're finding one bass the easiest to play and another the hardest, you might focus on those two because any difference should be most apparent between the extremes.

    I'll be interested to hear if this helps you figure it out....
  8. RattleSnack


    Sep 22, 2011
    First make sure your Jazz has propper, and by that I mean factory recomended setup. You can find specs here. Yes, it is very good idea to start from there. No, most people can't do good setup by eye, no matter how much they insist on it.
    Than, take it in sitting playing position and look at it from above. Body, than space beneath the strings, than strings. That space is VERY important, because it dictates the angle of your picking hand wrist. Check that space (and angle) on all three of your guitars.
    I'll bet you are like me, less than 1 cm (1/2 inch), and angle is uncomfortable.
    If it is so, than reply and I'll give you advice how to fix this.
  9. Vinny_G


    Dec 1, 2011
    Yes, it can be that, and it can explain this:
    comatosedragon likes this.
  10. Since the OP specifically said that the playability problem "only/mainly affects the right hand", then, assuming he's right handed, I don't think all the comments about neck curve, action, etc. are likely to be relevant. Those would affect the left hand more.

    The first thing I would look at is the string spacing at the bridge. Since the basses in question are not actual Fenders or EBMM's, but "high quality thirdparty brands" (whatever that means), it's not clear how close they are to actual Fender or EBMM designs. For actual Fenders, I would expect the spacing from the center of one string to the center of the next to be about 19mm at the bridge, while an EBMM StingRay would be more like 17.5mm (at least, that's what it is on my Ray 5 -- not sure what a Ray 4 would be as I've never owned one). If these basses are like that, it could just be that the OP's right hand is more comfortable with narrower string spacing.

    Another possibility is that his third-party StingRay simply provides him with a more comfortable place to anchor his right thumb while playing.

    The advice to start from a proper factory-standard setup is good in any case, but it may not be directly helpful to solving this particular issue.
    MynameisMe, bholder, dkelley and 8 others like this.
  11. 7615

    7615 Guest

    Nov 19, 2015
    You say all strings are the same. My experience is same strings different bass - not the same. Strings on one bass do not necessarily sound or feel the same on a different bass.
  12. bobyoung53

    bobyoung53 Supporting Member

    I missed that thanks, I wish people would call these for what they are: copies, or for example Jazz inspired:laugh: to make it easier to answer these kinds of questions because I was thinking, well, a Jazz and a Precision have the same string spacing at the bridge so I was kind of confused.
    Rip Van Dan likes this.
  13. cableguy


    Jun 4, 2009
    North Bend, WA
    This is me as well. I find many of my bassist friends who started on guitar play J-basses which makes sense, coming from a smaller neck. I fumble all over myself on a J-neck. Give me a nice P-neck and I'm in my happy place.
    Huw Phillips likes this.
  14. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    My first 5 string was a Fender AmDlx J5. It just never felt right to play with my left hand (right hand was fine.). I later got a G&L L2500 and a Rumblefish 5. I asked my repair guy why those two played great and the J sucked. He told me they all had the same strings and were all set up with the same action. He said he had noticed the same thing but couldn't put his finger on what the issue was.

    Well, that adds exactly nothing to the solution, eh?
  15. luciens


    Feb 9, 2020
    For me, difficulties with the right hand are generally caused by a) no ramp/pickup face under the plucking fingers, b) too wide of a body, or some strange body shape or c) untreated neck dive.

    c) is the deceptive one, since, because we're all so accustomed to playing Fender style instruments where neck-heaviness is basically built-in, we often are trying to hold the instrument in place with the plucking arm without realizing it. On some basses we can cope with it, but on others with different shapes, pushing down on the body with the forearm interferes with free movement of the plucking hand a little more, causing more problems.

    a) is something I suck too bad as a player to adapt to, so I practically have to have either a ramp or a pickup face to pluck over. I envy all the great players who sound great plucking over totally dead air.

    But because of that, a thin jazz pickup at the bridge is the only one that gives slight problems. Only the inner parts of my fingers come to rest on the PU faces, and the outer part of the pad kind of falls off. In the past, I've fixed this with goofball attachments on the sides of the PU body to make the face a little wider like a soapbar PU size. I'm in the process of making one for my current jazz bass right now. But if it has a nice fat humbucker at the bridge (or a ramp) I play significantly better.

    Anyway, a couple of ideas to take a look at and see if that helps uncover what's ailing your playing on the one bass....

    dkelley and Cliff Colton like this.
  16. Real Soon

    Real Soon

    Aug 15, 2013
    Atlanta, GA
    How's the string spacing compare between the "Ray" and the J?

    I've gotten way better at adjusting on the fly over time, but for the longest, even small adjustments in string spacing gave my right hand fits. And going from a narrow spacing to a slightly wider spacing was almost harder than going from narrow to much wider, though the latter was/is tough for fast passages.

    Wrist angle mentioned above is definitely a strong factor, and among other things, it can affect your plucking fingers' angle of attack, resulting in possibly dirty thumps and weird tactile feedback from the string, which might in turn throw your muscle memory off.

    They are different instruments and it makes sense that each should be played a bit differently from each other....like language dialects that can be understood by each other's speakers, but not necessarily easily without practice.
    stigbeve likes this.
  17. darwin-bass

    darwin-bass Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2013
    Salem OR
    Good that you're using the same strings / pitch (therefore the same tension) but you need to eliminate the other variables before you can blame the basses for the playability differences.

    Get the action on all three basses set to the same. Probably 3/32" at the 20th fret. This may involve adjusting the truss rod, bridge saddle height and may even require neck shimming. Until they have the same action, they will feel different when playing.

    Also play attention to where your R hand is plucking the strings. If you're playing closer to the bridge on the Stingray then the strings will feel tighter and it will be easier to play faster / cleaner.

    Report back when you've equalized the playing field (pun intended).
    Pazelaya93 likes this.
  18. who


    Apr 20, 2007
    How exactly are the two connected?
  19. Jeff Hughes

    Jeff Hughes

    May 3, 2020
    Maybe this was addressed already, but the string spacing and where you pluck are something to examine. Maybe your saddles don’t follow the radius correctly.

    I mostly play a P, but when I had a jazz, I found the spot above the bridge was too stiff and above the neck pup was too loose.

    I had a tech make a thumbrest to go between the two pups for the best thumb anchoring for me.

    Muscle memory is a powerful force.
    LBS-bass and Elusive1 like this.
  20. FantasticFour


    Dec 14, 2013
    Being mostly a Precision player, I'm not a fan of resting my thumb on a J's pickup.
    It's slippery, and narrow.
    I'm working on it but it's taking more effort than I had imagined.
    DavidEdenAria likes this.