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Tech: guitar action high or low

GUEST,Guest- Helen 08 Jun 09 - 02:32 AM
Murray MacLeod 08 Jun 09 - 03:13 AM
Richard Bridge 08 Jun 09 - 04:01 AM
Backwoodsman 08 Jun 09 - 04:20 AM
Richard Bridge 08 Jun 09 - 04:35 AM
GUEST,Helen 08 Jun 09 - 07:46 AM
Richard Bridge 08 Jun 09 - 09:20 AM
Richard Bridge 08 Jun 09 - 09:21 AM
GUEST,Grab 08 Jun 09 - 10:33 AM
Backwoodsman 08 Jun 09 - 10:36 AM
Richard Bridge 08 Jun 09 - 12:15 PM
GUEST 08 Jun 09 - 03:04 PM
Backwoodsman 08 Jun 09 - 04:06 PM
Stringsinger 08 Jun 09 - 06:14 PM
GUEST,Lock and Key 08 Jun 09 - 06:18 PM
GUEST,Lock and Key 08 Jun 09 - 06:31 PM
Backwoodsman 09 Jun 09 - 03:02 AM
GUEST,Helen 09 Jun 09 - 05:21 AM
Richard Bridge 09 Jun 09 - 06:48 AM
Stringsinger 09 Jun 09 - 10:18 AM
M.Ted 09 Jun 09 - 11:43 PM
Richard Bridge 10 Jun 09 - 04:29 AM
M.Ted 10 Jun 09 - 07:10 AM
Richard Bridge 10 Jun 09 - 07:48 AM
breezy 10 Jun 09 - 08:38 AM
M.Ted 10 Jun 09 - 09:19 AM
Backwoodsman 10 Jun 09 - 09:27 AM
GUEST,Midchuck in Montana on son's computer 10 Jun 09 - 11:18 AM
Backwoodsman 10 Jun 09 - 11:36 AM
GUEST,Helen 10 Jun 09 - 09:09 PM
Luthier2b 10 Jun 09 - 10:13 PM
GUEST,DonMeixner 10 Jun 09 - 11:25 PM
Tim Leaning 10 Jun 09 - 11:42 PM
Backwoodsman 11 Jun 09 - 03:16 AM
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Subject: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST,Guest- Helen
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 02:32 AM

can anyone give me a summary of the different actions on guitar the pros and cons of having a high action and also a low action. At the moment i have a low action on my guitar and i use exlir light gauge strings does that limit the dynamics of my playing etc
Helen


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 03:13 AM

this will get a slew of responses, let me just say that you are sure to be told that a high action makes the guitar louder, which is simply a hoary old myth.

if you play "hard", with a flatpick or even while fingerpicking, then a high action will reduce the incidence of buzzing, but it won't make the guitar louder.

the increased break over angle of the string at the saddle with a high action has a theoretical beneficial effect on the sound, but that is not a function of high action per se.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 04:01 AM

Well - the sound of a guitar comes from three things, the vibration of the strings, the vibration of the guitar body (mainly the top) and the vibration of the air in the body cavity which in turn is partly caused by the vibration of the body and partly by the excitation of the air by the strings in front of the soundhole (a little bit like blowing across the top of a bottle. Next time you have the strings off, try three things - tap the bridge and listen to the pitch of the resulting sound, put a tuning fork on the bridge and listen to there the sound comes from, and sing into the soundhole and listen to the resulting sound.

Now, the teoretical maximum amplitude (ie loudness) of the sound from the strings is limited by how big the vibrations that they make are. Hit a string too hard (I often do) and the strings hit the fretboard which immediately reduces the amplitude of the fundamental frequency of the string to the height of the action at the mid-point of the string. So too low an action will in fact make the guitar quieter. Many of us will have experienced this as a guitar has aged and lost its sound - only to have it miraculously revived by a good refret and setup.

Next, what causes body vibration? Two things (mainly). The in and out pressure on the saddle caused by the string vibration and the twist in the top caused by the tension in the string. Both of those forces are greater the tighter and heavier the string (but overdo it and the guitar is hard too play and overdo it too much and you can twist the top or even break the guitar in half). The lighter the strings the less they can make the top move.

If you are a reasonably experienced player, with no hand problems, and the guitar is well set up you will get a bigger, rounder, more responsive sound by playing 12-53s or 12-56s than 11-49s ("lights" - usually, but string brands vary) or even 13-56s or 12-58s (if your guitar will stand it, some were not designed to take it). Back in the 60s 13-56s were the norm, but many players today use 12s in stead. I nearly wrecked my Mugen THE-78 by playing 13-58s on it, but it sounded huge!

So, chicken and egg, some manufacturers have lightened their tops and bracing, so that bodies move more, and produce more sound...

If your guitar action is too high, fretting the strings will pull the guitar further out of tune, and you will notice this more the lighter the string. The forward progression (or relief) of the neck should not usually be more than 0.25mm. I play 2.7(bass) - 1.9 (treble) action at the octave, a bit less on a 12-string. There is only one right height for the action at the first fret - it is so that the action at the first fret is the same as it is at the second fret if you put a capo on the first fret. If your guitar is set up like this you should find that you are not pulling it out of tune when playing.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 04:20 AM

"I play 2.7(bass) - 1.9 (treble) action at the octave"

That sounds extremely low, Richard. What are they in real money (i.e. fractions of an inch)? 32nds and 64ths are what old geezers like me understand! :-)


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 04:35 AM

Just under 7/64 on the bass and a bit under 5/64 on the treble.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST,Helen
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 07:46 AM

so basically i will get by with my low action. I have a hand built guitar and do not want to go straight with guns blazing.
My next action is probably trying cleartone strings but that is going to be a personal preference.
Thanks guys for you input


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 09:20 AM

Check that the action is as described. Personally, I actively like the sound of the Elixir nanowebs (rather than the polywebs) and do not know the Cleartones.

Have you asked the maker of the instrument what gauge and brand of strings they suggest? Respect the former info if given.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 09:21 AM

PS, if the guitar is very new it will take a bit of time to settle down and for the sound to open up.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST,Grab
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 10:33 AM

About the only reason for playing with a particularly high action is for slide. A *seriously* low action will cause buzzes or rattles if you hit the strings hardish, but it's quite possible (with a properly set-up guitar) to have a fairly low action and not have problems on that score. If you're digging in very hard with a flatpick then a slight raise in action can help, but that's into the realms of fine-tuning for your own playing style, and if you need to ask the question then you're probably not at the point where you need that kind of fine-tuning yet.

As Richard says, lighter strings will give less volume. Although it's also possible for significantly heavier strings to load the top so much that it can no longer resonate properly, causing reduced volume. 12s are usually about the ideal - heavy enough to give a good volume, whilst not too hard on fingers or guitars.

String-wise, I've personally found Elixirs to be a little bit on the dull side. I use Newtones, and I know a lot of other people swear by them too. String choice will always depend on your guitar though. If your guitar is naturally a bit lacking in top-end, brighter strings will help. But put bright strings on something with a complex sound like a Lowden, and you'll just get a mushy undefined "zing" out of it.

But most of all, dynamics will depend on your technique, and on your familiarity with the guitar. With my Lowden, it's like the guitar gets sulky when it's been ignored. ;) If I don't play it for a while, it'll still produce a tune for me, but it's not as clear and responsive as when I've been playing it every day for a week.

Graham.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 10:36 AM

"Just under 7/64 on the bass and a bit under 5/64 on the treble."

Aha! Sounds good - I have mine at 7/74 and 5/64. Apologies for my higgerance, I was brung up in the days when Metric measurements were pretty much non-existent in the UK, hence they mean very little to me! Thanks for clearing that up.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 12:15 PM

I have tried Newtones twice since I know serious musicians who love them. I am not one (on either count).

The CGS system was just getting cracking when I did physics O level and MKS came later. When I was doing thermodynamics at university, although the BTU had largely gone, that strange hybrid, the CHU (the amount of heat required to raise one POUND of water through one degree CELSIUS) still raised its ugly head occasionally.

Brian ROdgers my guitar tech works in metric. It confuses me on scale lengths.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 03:04 PM

Jeff Beck plays with very heavy strings and can still bend them as if they were extra light!


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 04:06 PM

I use Newtone 'Custom Light' 12-54's on my Lowden - they sound effin' good on that one, but the Martin hates them. I use either D'Addhorrible 12-53's or Martin Marquis 12-54's on the Martin (it's an OM) - much better result.

I always use PB's, not 80-20's or others.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Stringsinger
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 06:14 PM

Helen,

I like the light mediums John Pearse on my 0021. The action is pretty comfortable.

Django Reinhardt used light gauge strings on a longer neck scale which also influences
dynamics. They worked on his particular small round hole style Selmer.

A lot has to do with musical style. I use light mediums to cut through a rhythm section when playing hard with a flat pick. I don't like any of the pickups I have heard so I am experimenting with different mics. The mics inside of the soundhole tend to sound
boxy to me. I think that the guitar was constructed to be heard in front of it, not inside.
If it's a nice guitar, a good condenser mic should bring out the natural tone. Playing
through different amps is a mixed bag. I think a good P.A. system is best. Rare Earth
has put out a portable one for acoustic guitar.

The most important aspect of the strings for me is the balance of the tone. My 0021 is evenly distributed with the Pearse strings so that it's not too shrill or boomy. For this,
I think the 12-58 is the best compromise. Fingerstyle guitar seems to favor lighter gauge strings unless you're a thumper like Big Bill or Leadbelly.

Guitar action should always be comfortable and not have the strings be shredding
your callouses. This is a function of the strength of the fingers and hand as well.
B.B.King and Jeff Beck may be able to bend wires but for most of us, not having to
work that hard is better. A good luthier can set up the appropriate action for a specific
guitar.

Much of this is subjective. How does it feel and how does it sound to you?
What venues are you playing? What sounds good in the living room may not work
on stage. There are so many variables with the action of an instrument and you
really have to explore uncharted territory yourself and find what works for you.
But the good news is that there are a lot of possibilities.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST,Lock and Key
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 06:18 PM

1) I think extra-light strings are a mistake
2) You would want action on the guitar that is comfortable for you, the music you play and the way you play it


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST,Lock and Key
Date: 08 Jun 09 - 06:31 PM

The 'extra-lights are a mistake remark' is something from my past. I found that pressing on the strings too strongly/firmly caused the strings to play notes a bit above what they should be thus making the instrument sound out of tune.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 09 Jun 09 - 03:02 AM

Yep to that. Some players try to "mash the strings down to the 'board" (to use an expression I hear frequently) , which is a waste of time, effort, and is counter-productive. They only need to be pressed down to the fret, pushing down any harder - "mashing them down to the 'board" - (esp. with very light strings) is a sure-fire way to sound out-of-tune, and adds nothing to the sound.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST,Helen
Date: 09 Jun 09 - 05:21 AM

when i first started this thread, Murray said i would get a slew of feedback. well i have and it has all be so useful, people have so many different views, sounds, etc.
Frank it is a nice guitar i had it built for me. i am a lefthander so very hard to find something special out there in the market. I am going to look into cleartone lights first. but someone has mentioned newtones now and also John Pearse strings so gees opens up another can of worms for me. Where i come from i have to import strings as these sorts of strings are not available on shelf


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 09 Jun 09 - 06:48 AM

It's almost always cheaper to buy strings on the internet.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Stringsinger
Date: 09 Jun 09 - 10:18 AM

Helen, there will be strings that work for your guitar that are better than others. Of course I don't need to tell you that you have to hunt for them. Once you find them, that solves the problem. If lights or x-tra lights work for you, then that's solved.

It would be advantageous for you to record your guitar. At least you would have a better
idea of its sound provided you use decent recording equipment.

A lot of this talk of strings is highly subjective. There are no real valid principles involved.
It depends on the instrument. You might inquire as to what the maker of the guitar would suggest. They build the instrument to their specifications and know what they want to bring out.

Strings do differ.

As to the action, be comfortable with it. Motivation for practice depends on this.
There are differing levels of strength in the fingers and levels of dexterity which are
in part hereditable. I am totally convinced there is a guitar gene for virtuosity.

The most important factor is that you enjoy the sounds you are making.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: M.Ted
Date: 09 Jun 09 - 11:43 PM

I second Frank's idea about talking to the luthier who made the guitar--they, after all, designed the thing, and know what it's capabilities are. And not just the custom makers-- you can even talk to the folks who make production instruments, and they always tell you useful things that you didn't know--


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 04:29 AM

Funny, I thought I said that, not Frank!


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: M.Ted
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 07:10 AM

Whatever your thoughts, Richard, Frank did say,"You might inquire as to what the maker of the guitar would suggest. They build the instrument to their specifications and know what they want to bring out."


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 07:48 AM

Agreed. I thought it was a reference to my earlier post "Have you asked the maker of the instrument what gauge and brand of strings they suggest? Respect the former info if given"


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: breezy
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 08:38 AM

If you get fret buzz when fretting, try a slither of credit card under the saddle, preferable to use an old card though in some cases not.

If the action is too high then lower the saddle by shaving it.

A chisel works better than a razor.

Now what is the widest transducer available these days and how much?


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: M.Ted
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 09:19 AM

Sorry to say I didn't make it through your earlier post, Richard--you lost me after "theoretical maximum amplitude":-)


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 09:27 AM

A hardwood shim, preferably ebony, glued to the bottom of the saddle is even better than a credit card, Breezy. And if necessary you can lower the saddle a tad by sanding the now-shimmmed bottom on a flat surface, exactly as you would a non-shimmed saddle. No chisels or razors necessary and no finger-ends lopped off by ham-fisted amateurs like me! LOL!

It has the added advantage of making the card easier to use when you need money out of the hole in the wall! :-)


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST,Midchuck in Montana on son's computer
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 11:18 AM

Some random thoughts:

The right action height is as low as you can have it and not have the strings buzz, when played in your particular style. A guitar set up right for bluegrass rhythm would be useless for subtle, quiet fingerstyle, and vice versa.

Action height is a function of:

- saddle height above the top surface,
- nut height (and depth of nut slots),
- angle of the neck set (join of neck and body),
- amount of neck relief (curve in the neck - there should be a teeny bit),
- amount of "belly" (or, hopefully not, sinking)of the top - again, there should be a teeny bit of bellying up),
- gauge of strings used, and whether standard tuning is used, or one where some strings are tuned lower.
- and maybe other factors I don't even know about.

So adjusting the action is often a professional operation. An amateur can sand down or shim the saddle, or mess with the truss rod, but that's about it. And it's easy to make things worse.

Note that the bellying or sinking of the top varies with dryness or dampness of the wood, and therefore with humidity in the atmosphere. If humidity varies, the action may go up or down on its own.

If you live where humidity goes up and down a lot, it's a good idea to have spare saddles in different heights.

P.


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 11:36 AM

The bottom line, IMHO, is:-

1)take it to a good, competent tech or luthier,
2)talk to him about it and how you envisage the result,
3)let him hear you play,
4)leave it with him,
5)go back when he's done,
6)play it some more in his shop and let him hear it,
7) if it's not how you want it, talk it through with him and let him go on it again,
8)repeat 5, 6 and 7 until it's good to go (shouldn't really be necessary).

If it's a quality instrument, it's worth the time, effort and cost.

IMHO! :-)


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST,Helen
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 09:09 PM

have emailed the luthier who made my guitar in Australia again about strings and actions.
I am so pleased i started this thread as it has opened up my eyes abit more in the more intricate sounds that can be available for a good guitar. I can read these conversations all day they are so open to ideas etc. As far as strings go my budget is low so experimenting too much is going to be to costly but i love my guitar and that is what is important i guess.
Helen


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Luthier2b
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 10:13 PM

String guage, action/setup, and string types are one of the subjects which never end in the realm of debate. I am very glad that you have contacted the Luthier as that person can offer an intimate insight and perspective.

You have received a lot of answers but I feel that we need to know a little more to offer good guidance. To offer an informed answer I would also want to know what styles of music you play, when the guitar was built and by whom, is it a straight neck or a relieved neck (plus how much relief), what type of setup you think you prefer, when was the last time the instrument was professionally setup.

I am guessing that you and many people that are pondering this issue are unaware of the variables and the questions which need to be answered to get to a useful answer. Many players play what they play and it does occur to them that some players do things very differently.

The answer I would give for a pre-WW1 parlor guitar primarily used for finger style is completel;y different than the answer I would give for WW2 vintage Gibson L5 which was used for playing Big Band Jazz.

The action and string gauges typically preferred by bottle neck players are usually very different from what most fingerstyle players would prefer.

-E


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: GUEST,DonMeixner
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 11:25 PM

Have some one who knows how set up your guitar so

A: You like the sound with the strings and picking style you like to use.
and so

B: It doesn't hurt you to play the guitar.

You can read and study all the science. You can ask everyone who plays what they think. But in the end it will all boil down to points A and B.

Good luck, guitar playing been one of the best things I have done in my life.

Don


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 10 Jun 09 - 11:42 PM

Ok ok ok
BWM
I put some strings on the bloody guitar
How much more technical can I be?


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Subject: RE: Tech: guitar action high or low
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 11 Jun 09 - 03:16 AM

LOL!


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