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Setup/action vs experience question...

dewey decibel

Member
Messages
10,677
I understand and almost entirely agree with the sentiment here suggesting that I find and be happy with “what works for me”. Where I have the tiniest bit of hesitation is in the acknowledgement that some things that “work for us” as neophytes are the result of working around issues we’ve failed to address, and these work around scan be limiting and harder to correct once they’ve fully taken root.

Happy for all the input though!
I can dig it. I think the first thing to consider is “as low as you can go without buzzing” isn’t actually true, it’s just easy to say. If we add, “as low as you can go without buzzing and easily bend strings” maybe that makes more sense?

I do agree with the others in that this is all a feel thing. I mean you have to start somewhere, and that’s where the above or going by factory recommended specs is good, but after that you should not worry about numbers and go by feel. But understand it’s always going to be a compromise -one setup will be better for fast single note lines while another for barre chords, etc. So be sure to try a variety of stuff while you’re making adjustments.

And lastly, while I agree to do adjustments without measuring, once you get it dialed in do take measurements so what you did is easily repeatable (write them down)!
 

JosephZdyrski

Member
Messages
3,432
I prefer what I call medium low... low but not as low as possible. I initially thought this was a low set up but some people really take low to an extreme that I just personally find takes something away from the guitar and it has more to do with tension and overall feel than bending for me.
 

Jim85IROC

Member
Messages
2,449
I'm still a pretty new electric player (~1.5 years) and I have a question regarding setup preferences for action as a function of experience: In the beginning I thought the "goal" of a setup was to allow the lowest action possible without experiencing any functional issues with the guitar (buzzing, etc.). I've become very familiar with guitar setup (a fact I'm actually quite proud of) and can do quality setup work that achieves low action, but I've found that when I do so I struggle with bending notes. Specifically, I have pretty big meaty hands and when the action is low I find the B and sometimes the G strings tend to slip down under my finger when I try to bend the adjacent string rather than being pushed up against my finger that's fretting the note I'm bending. Because of this I started raising the action until I can reliably get those adjacent strings to sit on the finger tip without sliding down underneath.

So is this a technique issue or a just a reality associated with my anatomy? To be clear, I'm not experiencing any real issues playing the guitars with the action set where it is presently but I wonder sometimes if the (relatively) higher action might be a disadvantage to other aspects of playing, and if so if it's better to sort out any technique issues now (early) rather than getting totally used to higher action that will be hard to get away from perhaps farther down the road...

Any thoughts or suggestions?
I have the same issues. I've arrived at a preferred height of 4.5/64ths on the treble side and 5/64ths on the bass side. On guitars with jumbo frets I can lower the action more because it still gives me the same string height off the fretboard that I need to be able to bend. I have noticed that over the years, as my playing improves, I seem to be comfortable bending on lower action. I assume that this will continue to evolve as my technique evolves/improves.
 

Low Watts

Member
Messages
199
Bring it to a luthier are a good tech. She or he'll probably ask you question about your playing and your preference and set up the action at a good starting point. After that you can always adjust if required.
 

noisebloom

Member
Messages
1,196
When I first attempted setting up my guitars, I did it by feel, and the results left a lot to be desired. :facepalm

I tried to eyeball string heights by what I thought the radius should look like across the saddles. :D (The first time I adjusted saddles, I actually gave them a curve [i.e. adjusted each one off level] because I thought they should follow the radius curve. :facepalm :facepalm :facepalm)

Then I tried setting string heights by setting strings way too low and then raising them up until they didn't buzz anymore. :facepalm

It wasn't until I read about setup standards that I had those examples to follow. That made it much easier to understand how to do it.

As for the experience factor, it is important to know, for example, why a string height is too low or too high, or why a poorly adjusted truss rod is a detriment to a good setup. Experience will give you that perspective.
 

Silver

Member
Messages
2,402
I used to suscribe to the 'low as possible without issues' idea too, but think I was spoiled by one specific guitar that really 'liked' it that way. Had a hair under a mm on that thing and it played great and rung like a bell. Pretty sure it had a good going over by a pro tech before it got to me, frets, everything, were perfect. I tried to replicate that action on various instruments and, ofc, it never worked.

For me now, I go by the guitar. Even accounting for things like the nut, or whether the frets are perfectly level or not, some guitars just seem to sing better and come to life with more of a medium action, others can take it lower without losing anything. I guess things like fretboard radius, trem or hardtail, play a part in that. The (slight) variance doesn't bother me and I see it more as part of the character of the guitar now.

Therefore, I'd say it's hard to answer without knowing the guitar type, it's specs, or even seeing it in person.
 
Messages
1,000
The low action thing is good for feel, bad for tone.
Lift the strings right up, and you get another sound happening in your tone.
It's the ' snap off' effect, it's 3d, and it's very, very good.
A lot of people won't like the thought of it, because looks and feel are where it's at for them.
You won't like the thought of it either when you try it, but you'll like the sound.
Lift it up at the nut too, big hands will appreciate that tone-wise, as you have the power to take advantage of this ' snapping off' business.
 

Angstwulf

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,113
My take is that learning to do setups is more about finding what you don't like. Until you find some setups you don't like you're not likely to hone in on the options that will suit you best. Making mistakes is highly educational. I've gotten pretty good at setups, do them for a lot of musician friends and folks really like the results. You do enough setups on enough different guitars you start to get a feel for the zone where playability, intonation, and tone all come together. It varies on different guitars and certainly personal preference plays into it. If I do a setup for someone else I quiz them about what it is that bothers them in their current setup and what are thy trying to achieve - lower action, better bending, improved tone. Also, changing string gauges makes tweaking the setup almost mandatory to get the best results. I think some folks change gauges and are disillusioned because they didn't adjust to compensate.

For my own stuff I also sometimes just change things up a bit to see what that brings out. If I'm bored with a guitar I can awaken some new vibes by changing the action a bit. I honestly find that adjusting the setup is better than a lot of other much more radical changes to hardware and electronics. Little things add up to big changes in overall feel and playability.
This.

Learning to set up guitars in a small way helped me not only understand the how and why of my guitar but in a small way improved my playing since I can figure out what I want out of any particular guitar.

Eg: I like my PRS SE set up to be low and slinky. My strat uses heavier gauge strings and I sometimes play slide on it. Different set ups.
 

Krausewitz

Member
Messages
2,995
I'm still a pretty new electric player (~1.5 years) and I have a question regarding setup preferences for action as a function of experience: In the beginning I thought the "goal" of a setup was to allow the lowest action possible without experiencing any functional issues with the guitar (buzzing, etc.). I've become very familiar with guitar setup (a fact I'm actually quite proud of) and can do quality setup work that achieves low action, but I've found that when I do so I struggle with bending notes. Specifically, I have pretty big meaty hands and when the action is low I find the B and sometimes the G strings tend to slip down under my finger when I try to bend the adjacent string rather than being pushed up against my finger that's fretting the note I'm bending. Because of this I started raising the action until I can reliably get those adjacent strings to sit on the finger tip without sliding down underneath.

So is this a technique issue or a just a reality associated with my anatomy? To be clear, I'm not experiencing any real issues playing the guitars with the action set where it is presently but I wonder sometimes if the (relatively) higher action might be a disadvantage to other aspects of playing, and if so if it's better to sort out any technique issues now (early) rather than getting totally used to higher action that will be hard to get away from perhaps farther down the road...

Any thoughts or suggestions?
Raise the action and this won’t happen.

“Low action” is a hangover from 80s shred. It is rarely appropriate or comfortable (in my experience).
 
Last edited:

Gclef

Member
Messages
2,947
I'm still a pretty new electric player (~1.5 years) and I have a question regarding setup preferences for action as a function of experience: In the beginning I thought the "goal" of a setup was to allow the lowest action possible without experiencing any functional issues with the guitar (buzzing, etc.). I've become very familiar with guitar setup (a fact I'm actually quite proud of) and can do quality setup work that achieves low action, but I've found that when I do so I struggle with bending notes. Specifically, I have pretty big meaty hands and when the action is low I find the B and sometimes the G strings tend to slip down under my finger when I try to bend the adjacent string rather than being pushed up against my finger that's fretting the note I'm bending. Because of this I started raising the action until I can reliably get those adjacent strings to sit on the finger tip without sliding down underneath.

So is this a technique issue or a just a reality associated with my anatomy? To be clear, I'm not experiencing any real issues playing the guitars with the action set where it is presently but I wonder sometimes if the (relatively) higher action might be a disadvantage to other aspects of playing, and if so if it's better to sort out any technique issues now (early) rather than getting totally used to higher action that will be hard to get away from perhaps farther down the road...

Any thoughts or suggestions?
This was me for YEARS! I don't have sausage fingers either.
The answer to your question is a 50/50 to me.

Higher action allows more expression
Lower action - more speed.

Thinking about my collection, the jumbo frets have the lowest action, the medium fretted ones are a bit higher. And the low, wide frets are the highest.

I find action (string height above frets) influences how my hands interact with each other. Too high or too low and my timing/synchronization is off a bit. Nothing I can't adapt to in 30 minutes or so, but still...

I always start out super low and keep raising it until I can play how I like to on it.
 

daacrusher2001

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
6,153
I had a similar view to the OP. Lower action is better...for me, it can be too low. I recently raised it on one of my Teles as I bend a lot and I've found there is a point where it's still pretty easy to play and also good for slide...so, that's where I'm at!
 

fitz

Member
Messages
2,410
I use specs as a guideline. Sometimes they'll let you in on a couple of tricks to getting it just right. After that it's about feel.
 

Nebakanezer

Member
Messages
3,506
I have a handful of a friends guitars that he wants to off load and they just happen to be the ones he’s set up recently and have new strings. And they have been fun to play around with because he knows how to set up a guitar!! These are all well under a grand guitars and he’s in no hurry, so I can start my internets youtube car salesman slinging guitars demo series....... But seriously, I’ll demo them and take good pics and put them on the local market with video links.
 

Strummerfan

Member
Messages
1,220
Depends on your playing style, the guitar in question, and personal taste. I have an Ibanez which plays cleanly with ultra-low action, but I raise the action a touch because it just feels better to my touch. My Strat has low action, but not seriously low, and a radius of 9.5. A lot of shredders like the action as low as can play cleanly, and a flatter radius. On a vintage style Fender with a 7.25 radius, you need a bit more clearance.
 

ant_riv

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
5,611
Interesting comments about ‘feel.’
I have a friend who is an exceptional guitarist. He hears and recreates nuances in songs that I don’t always realize are there until I hear him play.

The first time I played his guitar (a ‘76 rosewood fingerboard strat) I was appalled.
Anyone who would play this guitar would call it ‘CBS junk’ because of the bow in the neck and the high action.

I told him that, if he liked, I would set up his guitar for him.
He asked why.
I pointed out the overbowed neck and the higher than necessary action, let him play my ‘74, and said I could set his guitar up just as nicely.

He said that he lost most of the feeling in his left hand fingertips when he sliced them off in a carpentry accident years ago. He told me if he tried to play a guitar set up like mine, he wasn’t able to bend properly, finger chords correctly, or solo in tune. He needed that much resistance to feel the strings.

I have learned, through playing scalloped fretboards, that I only need to make solid contact between string and fret, so I have developed a light left hand touch regardless of set up.

I couldn’t play his guitar in tune, due to the ‘set up issues.’ I wouldn’t last two songs due to the finger strength required to fret.
As soon as he started playing, glorious music poured out.

There are so many elements to a ‘proper’ set up.
One size will never fit all.
 




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