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Setting up guitars. My tele sounds best when the action is set like a Martin guitar
Old 17th September 2012
  #1
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Setting up guitars. My tele sounds best when the action is set like a Martin guitar

I obviously know there is a tradeoff and maybe it is time for a proper setup. But I'm wondering if most folks favour a low action, or is there any controversy about which action is best. My neck radius is 9.5 inches which is fairly easy to finger and the neck is somewhat hefty -- but I've been sanding down the back of it so I can wrap my finger around it.

I notice that when you press your finger on a fret, if the strings are too close to the fretboard, the strings don't ring as clearly as they should -- until you raise the saddles about one quarter to a half turn of the Allen key.
Old 17th September 2012
  #2
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I prefer to have no fret buzz as well, so I set the action as low as I can without getting any buzz. Some people are just not that picky though, and they go very low, which can be ok on electric guitar, but annoys the heck out of me when they do that to their bass. lol
Old 17th September 2012
  #3
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Karloff70's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Always been under the impression the steeper the angle of the string over the saddle, the more tone you get. Hence either more comfort and low action, or more tone and high. More tone for me. Especially with an acoustic.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #4
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Jeff Scott's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tinderwet ➡️
I prefer to have no fret buzz as well, so I set the action as low as I can without getting any buzz. Some people are just not that picky though, and they go very low, which can be ok on electric guitar, but annoys the heck out of me when they do that to their bass. lol
You won't like my basses, then. heh But I only get fret buzz when I want it.
Old 18th September 2012
  #5
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I've concluded that it is good to set up a Tele when it isn't plugged in. Assuming that the frets are level you raise the saddles to remove any buzzing. Plus it seems the guitar sounds fatter when you later plug it in.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff Scott ➡️
You won't like my basses, then. heh But I only get fret buzz when I want it.
Nah that's good. If you play with a gentle touch and it doesn't resemble the song "buzz buzz buzz goes the bumble bee" at every note change, it means you can control the low action, no problem.
Old 18th September 2012
  #7
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doorknocker's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jacktadoussac ➡️
I obviously know there is a tradeoff and maybe it is time for a proper setup. But I'm wondering if most folks favour a low action, or is there any controversy about which action is best. My neck radius is 9.5 inches which is fairly easy to finger and the neck is somewhat hefty -- but I've been sanding down the back of it so I can wrap my finger around it.

I notice that when you press your finger on a fret, if the strings are too close to the fretboard, the strings don't ring as clearly as they should -- until you raise the saddles about one quarter to a half turn of the Allen key.
I prefer a lower action on a Tele vs. a Strat. With a Strat I get a much better and more powerful tone with a higher action. With the twang and attack of a Tele I don't mind a little buzz as long as it's not crossing into sitar territory.

Of course it's related to string gauge and how much and far you bend the strings. At the moment I prefer 10s even when tuning a 1/2 down, I just prefer the ring and brightness vs 11s.

Your touch has a lot to do with it. Some players like Eric Johnson pick very lightly and seem to prefer a very low action that would buzz like crazy for most players.

I always when blanket statements as 'The thicker the strings the better the tone' are made. Often the opposite is true, players like Brian May, Billy Gibbons or Jimmy Page get great, thick sounds with super-light strings.

The again, SRV had fantastic tone with telephone wire-gauges......
Old 18th September 2012
  #8
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I totally agree. Most of the tone is in your attack. It's best to pick strings based on your attack. SRV needed to use big strings because of how heavy his attack was. Doesn't mean he couldn't get a great sound with 10's.

It's interesting to me that guitarists often want this huge sound which is at odds with Equing a band. On a record most of those huge guitar sounds aren't as huge as you think. It's a pice in a puzzle not the whole puzzle.
Old 18th September 2012
  #9
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litepipe's Avatar
Action effects the tone. I try to get it as high as I can and play comfortably. The allowance varies by guitar.
Old 18th September 2012
  #10
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I prefer the lowest possible action with no buzz. Plus I hate it when a guitar frets out on me.
Old 19th September 2012
  #11
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Has anyone tried the rectangular fret levelling steel tube that StewMac sells? It looks like it's the best tool possible. My last homemade fret leveller was a Lee Valley Tools hand plane (with the blade retracted of course) with various grades of sandpaper (400 and 1000) held in place with masking tape and my hands. I haven't yet sprung for the sticky sandpaper yet.
Old 19th September 2012 | Show parent
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jacktadoussac ➡️
Has anyone tried the rectangular fret levelling steel tube that StewMac sells? It looks like it's the best tool possible. My last homemade fret leveller was a Lee Valley Tools hand plane (with the blade retracted of course) with various grades of sandpaper (400 and 1000) held in place with masking tape and my hands. I haven't yet sprung for the sticky sandpaper yet.
The tubing is good stuff. Straightness is the key, and it's dead straight. I've also used old Stanley planes, diamond knife sharpeners, the radius wood blocks w/ sticky sandpaper, and really well made large files like those used by blacksmiths to shape horse hoofs. Those are expensive, but nice if they're machined flat.

The tubing seems to be about the right weight so that you can just let the tube do the work. The radius wood blocks are too light, and you have to apply hand pressure which is difficult to keep even across the board. When I use those, I tape a peice of heavy metal to the top and just run it up and down the board, no extra hand pressure.
Old 20th September 2012 | Show parent
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kennybro ➡️
The tubing is good stuff. Straightness is the key, and it's dead straight. I've also used old Stanley planes, diamond knife sharpeners, the radius wood blocks w/ sticky sandpaper, and really well made large files like those used by blacksmiths to shape horse hoofs. Those are expensive, but nice if they're machined flat.

The tubing seems to be about the right weight so that you can just let the tube do the work. The radius wood blocks are too light, and you have to apply hand pressure which is difficult to keep even across the board. When I use those, I tape a peice of heavy metal to the top and just run it up and down the board, no extra hand pressure.
Those StewMac rectangular tubes are going to be in my next order. Thanks for the positive review. Mr Sadowsky likes them too and he's supposed to be a top setup man.
Old 21st September 2012
  #14
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🎧 15 years
High action sucks. Maybe it improves your tone by 1%. That 1% isn't worth having all the fun sucked out of guitar playing. I have it as low as can be without buzz, and I use a set of .08s but with a .10 on the high E. Some of the best tones on record were done by guys using very light strings and low action. I wouldn't worry about it.
Old 22nd September 2012
  #15
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🎧 10 years
Action, relief, tone - one guitar can have many different personalities depending on how these are set up.

- On my Les Paul Custom, I have practically no relief and medium action. The Les Paul seems to prefer a higher action, and a dead-straight neck.

- On my EJ Strat, I have a good amount of relief and fairly low action. I found it doesn't even sound like a Strat with a straight neck. There's just no spank if the neck is too straight or the action is too high. That said, the EJ has a particularly chunky neck for a Strat, which will affect the sweet spot. The bridge pickup is also pretty thick sounding for a Strat, which is fine for me, but is not typical of traditional Strats.

- My ES-175D has completely different personalities depending on how high the action is. Higher, and it sounds like Jim Hall. Lower, it's brighter, and can play both jazz and rock-a-billy. The plywood top definitely 'talks' a lot more freely if there's not too much pressure on it, so a lower action in some ways sounds a lot better.

- After about a year, I still haven't figured out what my PRS Mira likes. It's a nice guitar, though, and I know that there's a good setup in there somewhere. I think I have to play with the neck relief a bit, and maybe change the string gauge.

On setup, I don't believe a guitar should buzz at all. Fret buzz will cause false harmonics that aren't related to the notes you're playing. It will limit what chords you can play and still sound in tune. That said, it's also partly a question of technique. One person may barely touch the strings, and another may grind them into the neck. Some people are diligent about fingering just behind the fret, and others are less so. It all depends on how you play your guitar.

Also, after 35 year of playing, sometimes with fairly high action and heavy strings, I have pretty bad carpal tunnel syndrome. I'm playing with thinner strings and lower action now, purely out of necessity. I've had to adjust my picking and fretting technique, but I still sound the same. It's all in the hands. If you know where the sound comes from, you can usually find a way to get it out of just about any setup, within reason.


Quote:
Originally Posted by jacktadoussac ➡️
I've concluded that it is good to set up a Tele when it isn't plugged in.
+1. I've found this is true of all guitars. The unplugged sound is the foundation of your tone.
Old 23rd September 2012
  #16
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Hey Kafka, I really dig your approach. Got it, relief and height. I have exactly the same model of Strat, and it feels dead if there isn't a relief and at least a medium action. After playing with the guitar acoustically the Strat has nearly the same sustain and rich tone as my reference Tele (a partscaster with a one-piece ash body, and a quarter-sawn maple neck, comparable to the EJ).
Old 15th October 2012
  #17
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As an interim measure I bought this steel straight edge and then wrapped a normal sized sheet of sandpaper (on the diagonal to have a complete 12" sanding surface). I used 400, 800, and 1000 grain and I have to say -- it is way better than wrapping a sheet of sandpaper around a 2 by 4, or a hockey stick shaft.

Here's the item... I chose the foot-long metal since it could be entirely covered by a normal sandpaper...I'm repeating myself.

Veritas

I have to practice to get better but it feels empowering to do minor fret dressings so that you mainly take you axe to a luthier for the big jobs like neck resets. Working on your own guitars is the thing to do before you would ever dream of asking money to do set-up work.
Old 15th October 2012
  #18
Eat
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🎧 10 years
i use 9's and 10's. like low action because, for one, by the time it takes to depress a string and lift a finger high enough to fret the next string, i could be playing another ten notes.

don't care about strings rattling against frets (fret buzz i guess you call it) as long as frets are leveled so there are no clunkers that stand out.
i've got a million instructional vids from famous jazzers to rockers and without a doubt, in virtually every one the voice mic picks up lots of fret 'buzz'.
Old 15th October 2012 | Show parent
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jdsowa ➡️
High action sucks. Maybe it improves your tone by 1%. That 1% isn't worth having all the fun sucked out of guitar playing. I have it as low as can be without buzz, and I use a set of .08s but with a .10 on the high E. Some of the best tones on record were done by guys using very light strings and low action. I wouldn't worry about it.
I'm in this camp. The action up the fretboard only needs to be as high as it is at first fret with a properly cut nut, which is pretty darn low. Unless you are slamming the strings with a clean tone, buzz should not be an issue up the neck. Level frets and the slightest touch of relief is the key.

That said, super high action worked for SRV, but I suspect any action would have worked for him.
Old 15th October 2012 | Show parent
  #20
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doorknocker's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kennybro ➡️
That said, super high action worked for SRV, but I suspect any action would have worked for him.
I don't think so. he certainly wouldn't have gotten that amazing oomph omph with a low action. Try doing Albert King-style über-bends with a low action on a Strat, it just doesn't work.

Like another Slut pointed out above, most Strats really need a bit of relief and a higher action to sound right, I know mine does. Not super-high but higher than with a Les Paul or Tele.

Teles are different and I think it's because they have a more 'grounded' sound with less (or different) harmonics where there's enough twang and bite even with a lower action.
Old 15th October 2012
  #21
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I think that having a higher action guitar has an impact on your playing. The first aspect is the use of bar chords. These are easy to hold down if you have light strings and low action. With the opposite you are apt to use chords with only three or four strings, and try a less is more approach.

I find if the action on a guitar is bugging me there's nothing better than an Allen key. But if it is a Martin-style guitar I tend to think twice before I shave off bone from the saddle. As a result I put way more hours on my Strat and Tele than I do on my Collings.
Old 15th October 2012
  #22
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litepipe's Avatar
Playing technique also dictates action. If you play hard you're going to need higher action. This was a big part if why SRV played with high action. He played very hard.
Old 17th October 2012
  #23
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🎧 10 years
I tend to like a higher action and anything less than 11's feel like rubber bands to me. Its hard to find a tech that will understand my wishes with a guitar setup. I just play really hard, I even have my bass VI setup this way.
Old 17th October 2012
  #24
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I just put on a set of .011 to .52, medium top heavy bottoms on my Strat. I have to say it is a breath of fresh air but it's probably a tad too heavy to play in public with this set-up. But I really like the tighter bass strings. These are the model EXL-116 D'Addario. For about six years I had only used their .011 to .049 set, the EXL-115. I'll stick with the heavier ones for at least a month and see if I become a better player.

I ended up with a fairly high action (actually a brutal one). The guitar has no buzzing when played acoustically.
Old 17th October 2012
  #25
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I had the neck on my '59 Martin last December. Since then, the action has been as low as my Telecasters!

Couldn't agree more
Old 17th October 2012
  #26
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Arthur Stone's Avatar
 
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I have the Martin D15 and a Tele FMT HH. Both guitars are strung low with no fret buzz...it's a nice transition to play from one to the other in terms of the 'feel' of the strings.

I love the low action especially for solos - it encourages movement and flow, and is less fatiguing to play. I prefer the strings slightly more elevated for chop-style guitar and fingerpicking.
Old 17th October 2012
  #27
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FFTT's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I usually set action between 2/32 + 3/32

If you want notes to deliver more chime, you can try 11's or 12's

For old school smoother tones, you can also try Flat Wounds

You can also change the nut to brass or stainless to really bring out the ring
of open strings.
Old 17th October 2012 | Show parent
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noah330 ➡️
I had the neck on my '59 Martin last December. Since then, the action has been as low as my Telecasters!

Couldn't agree more
Did you mean you had a neck 'reset' to bring your guitar back to it's original condition?
Old 17th October 2012
  #29
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🎧 15 years
yes
Old 17th October 2012
  #30
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chrispick's Avatar
 
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For me, it depends on how I use the guitar.

My tele is set up with relatively low action and .11s because I usually use it to play chordal, arpeggiated or rhythm-style parts. Close action plus a little bit of heavier string gauge ensures quick chord changes with reliable intonation up and down the neck.

My strat has a little wider action and .10s because I tend to use it for riffs, solos and other unison-style playing. It needs to have easier, more immediate string pliability. Wider bends, more variable finger vibratos, etc. I like to "dig in" more when playing solo or riff parts, and I like the subtle irregular intonations that comes from that.
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