Action: How low can I go?

Discussion in 'Acoustic Instruments' started by Analog Assassin, Feb 14, 2008.


  1. Analog Assassin

    Analog Assassin Senior Member

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    I'm pretty much an electric player who's getting used to playing acoustic. I've got a Yamaha FGX-413SC, a nice guitar for about $400, and I use light gauge strings.
    I plan to eventually change the saddle with Tusq, so I've been sanding down the saddle little by little, seeing how low I can get it. I figure if I take it too far, I'll start over with the Tusq saddle, and a better idea of how low I can go.
    I've been sanding it down, following the contour of the bridge, and I've got it pretty comfortable. The saddle has got about 1.5x the thickness of my bass string sticking above the bridge itself. I don't have any high-precision rulers, so that's my frame of reference. There's no buzzes or anything, but I'm wondering how much further down I can go. I like really easy action.
    Any tips, hints, tricks, etc.?
     
  2. pipedwho

    pipedwho Member

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    I have my acoustics extremely low. If you never crank hard on them, acoustics can down as low as an electric.
     
  3. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    Adjusting the saddle is among the last adjustments that should be done. Nut height and truss rod adjustment should be done first, though when making very fine final adjustments they should be all be considered to some degree.

    As to how low you can go, the only limit is your playing style and how much rattle or buzz you're willing to accept in the context of playing. Height of the saddle above the bridge itself is irrelevant, as it tells you nothing as to the height of the strings above the frets.

    As to final specs, after the nut is cut as low as possible (not so simple to explain how, but Yamaha nut height is often much better than Martin, Gibson, Taylor, and many others straight from the factory) and the neck is adjusted near straight (perhaps .003"-.005" relief), then string height at the 12th is what you should be measuring. A hair under 4/64" treble and 5/64" bass is what I would consider very low for an acoustic with the above relief, and I would reserve only for players who are not heavy pickers, doing mostly chord strumming and runs with a lighter attack.
     
  4. jpfeiff

    jpfeiff Member

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    If you are plugging in to get your tone, go as low as you want. Low action and light strings will allow you to play it more like an electric. However, for true unplugged acoustic tone, a bit higher action with a steeper angle where the strings bend over the saddle will generally produce a more pleasing tone with better volume. I played acoustic for 20 years before joining a band and finally picking up an electric--to me, they are almost like different instruments and I prefer to approach playing them quite differently. I'm still working on lightening up my strum and picking and not playing my electrics like acoustics!
     
  5. Brion

    Brion Supporting Member

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    You should be sanding the bottom of the saddle. It sounds like you may be sanding the top when you mention following the contour ?
     
  6. Analog Assassin

    Analog Assassin Senior Member

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    A luthier told me you want to sand from the top. Sanding the bottom could result in an uneven surface and less vibration transfer.
     
  7. Brion

    Brion Supporting Member

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    Well, one of the prominent makers of aftermarket saddles of bone, ivory and fossilised walrus ivory, Bob Colossi, suggests sanding the bottom as the top is contoured for the fretboard radius and in the case of my guitars compensated for the b string intonation. Unless you're using a radius guage you won't be able to sand the top correctly. You can however sand the bottom flat by sanding on a flat surface such as a tabletop. The bottom is definitely the place to sand.
     
  8. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    Sanding from the bottom will only result in an uneven surface it you sand it uneven. A flat piece of glass, marble, table, etc., and a pencil line on the bottom will help you keep it flat. The vast majority of factory instruments need this leveled out of the box anyway.
     

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