How to Lower the Action on Your Bass

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 69,339
    Professional bassist Percy White demonstrates how to lower the action on your bass guitar.

    Percy White

    Percy White is a professional bassist living in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. He is originally from Philadelphia, Pa. He started playing bass when he was 10 years old after trying unsuccessfully to play guitar. As he puts it, "It just made sense. The bass has four strings and I have four fingers to play them with." He started playing by ear but after hearing Stanley Clarke he realized that he had to take lessons and so he did. After graduating high school, he joined the U.S. Navy's Nuclear Engineering Program but his musical education also continued with his study of jazz and music theory. After serving in the military, White moved to Chicago to begin an engineering career that was short lived due to his love of music. He began taking bass lessons with Nick Schneider (former bassist for the Tonight Show Band) After playing in numerous jam sessions, he began his career as a full time musician. He played with notable jazz artists like Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Brown, Jr, Roy Ayer s, and Ronnie Laws. He has jammed with Buddy Guy at his famous blues club in Chicago. White has been a founding member of two rock bands, two blues bands, one latin/jazz band, and one contemporary jazz group. He has played for the Chicago City Colleges Jazz Band, and was a winning member of the 1996 Chicago Blues band competition. In 2000, White relocated back to the east coast to broaden his musical experiences. He shares his musical knowledge by teaching privately in the DC area. After one of his outstanding performances in DC, White was asked to audition for the 257th Army Band and he recently joined the ranks of the elite performers of the Nation's Capital Army Band. White feels it's an honor to serve his country through his musical talents and is glad to have the opportunity. Although his full time occupation is being an application engineer for a worldwide water treatment company, White can still be seen playing in the Washington, DC area at least five nights a week doing what he has been doing for the last 30 years.

    Percy White: There are things called intonation and action with your bass and what that means is you want your bass to be setup, so you can play it as effortlessly as possible and I want you to discuss what that means. There is a term when you playing bass called action, action is the distance that the string is, the distance from the string to the neck, that space, that gap from the string to the neck, that space should be as minimal as it possibly can, thats called action. You want your action to be as low as you can get without getting a buzz from your neck. The purpose for getting your action low is so that you dont have to work as hard at playing an instrument because this is called playing an instrument not working and the lower you action, the easier it is to play. Imagine trying to, you have to squeeze your fingers together. Well, if the strings are really high, then the string is also will be really tight and you dont want that so if you low your action then pushing your fingers down will be a whole lot easier and it will be easier to play. Now, the action on my basses, they are really low because I want to be able to move my fingers across the strings with as little efforts as possible. So, what you do is when you get your bass, find either a bass repair or maybe when you purchase the bass and ask them to lower the action if possible and there are certain tools to do that. Now, you can do at home, but you need someone to show you how and I can show you what to do. This, the bottom of your bass down here, this is called the bridge; the bridge is what controls the level of the action. So, there are your little screws inside your bass and what you do is you raise or lower the bridge, by raising the bridge, you make the action higher and by lowering you bring action lower. So, the lower the action, the easier it is to play. These bridges come with little set screws in it and there are tools Alan wrenches that you can get that will maybe, that should come with your bass and you can just use the Alan wrench to adjust how the bass, how the action is.

    Now, in conjunction with the action of the bass you need to make sure that the neck of your instrument is straight. Now, there is the way to check for that. What you do is you are going to look, if you look down your bass I am going to point this at you just to give you an idea. If you are going to look down your bass which one is look at is this straight line on your bass and as you look down, the neck of your bass, the side of your bass should be straight. Okay, if you look down your bass or you hold it like this and you look down and you see right down here, there is nice straight line and there is no curvature to it that means your neck is straight. The straighter your neck the lower you will be able to lower your action. So, you need to have a straight neck and you need to have low action. Now, if your neck is not straight inside of your bass, there is a rod inside, it is going inside the bass and you cant see it because its hidden. With this bass there is a cover, there is usually a cover in all basses right here where the name of the bass is inside if you take up the screws inside there is called a Trust rod, that spelled T-R-U-S-T, is a Trust rod and what it does, is it straightens out the curvature of your bass. So, this bass has six strings, its little bit wider neck, so it has two of them but inside their, there is a Trust rod and when you tighten the Trust rod it makes this neck straighten up, okay if you loosen it then it curves in. The tension of the string will cause the bass to overtime curve in a little bit like that and you dont want that, you want this curvature to be straight like this. The straighter the neck, the lower the action can be, the lower the action the easier it is to play and you want your bass really easy to play because you do want to get muscle fatigue when you are on stage performing.