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The setup makes a difference

Discussion in 'Other Guitars, other instruments' started by srblue5, Oct 23, 2020.

  1. srblue5

    srblue5 Tele-Meister

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    This has probably been covered before and is more of a musing than anything else. Also, my apologies if this would be better posted in another forum (I'm relatively new here).

    For years, I've had my guitars set up with a fairly high action/string height. The staff at my local tech/repair shop have often remarked how high it is, while a previous shop I used to take my guitars to used to chastise me about it (among other things). My reasons for preferring a higher action are due to having woodshed for years as a kid on a cheap acoustic guitar that quickly developed a high action -- my parents were not musicians so we didn't even know it could be fixed -- as well as needing more clearance for bends (e.g. to prevent choking out), frequently using a capo, and having an almost obsessive need to be rid of all fret buzzing. I started out playing Epiphones and my first fancy guitar was a Martin so when I later started using Fender-style guitars, I didn't understand or accept how the 7.25"/9.5" radii could lead to fret buzz and choking out.

    Fast forward through several years of playing with that setup, which I was content with even if sometimes my fingers got a little tangled up while soloing. Last summer came the turning point, however. I was asked to play for a local community fundraiser with a fairly large "supergroup" of various local musicians. Given the breadth of material we were playing and how dense the mix would be with so many musicians, I chose to use my '50s MIM Classic Strat. After a 3+ hour performance (with breaks), my hands ached for days after. How could this be? I figured it was probably to do with the thinner neck on the Strat, which is part of why I don't use that guitar very often. However, I started paying closer attention to fatigue and/or pain occurring when using my other guitars for rehearsals and recordings. Given a few recent (non-severe) health issues in the past year, I started wondering how much (potentially irreversible) damage I was doing to my hands, clawing my guitar necks with such high action for so long. I also wondered whether my limitations in technique were partly because my guitars weren't set up in such a way that I could actually improve on some of those.

    After much consideration and with no serious gigs or musical endeavours in sight, I've started getting my guitars set up with slightly lower actions -- they're still somewhat high but nowhere near as high as before. After having some trepidation about the new playability, I'm actually finding that my playing has improved. I can play for longer without hand fatigue (or even pain).

    Today was probably the most eye opening experience, as I brought home my Strat from the shop with lower action and slightly lighter strings (given the 7.25" radius). For the first time, I felt like I was gliding across that guitar. I was unleashing my inner John Frusciante and Buddy Guy at times. Despite not really liking that guitar for my sound/style, I actually found myself enjoying it and even later pulled it out again for a quick shred.

    The only thing I noticed was increased buzzing and choking out in the higher end of the fretboard. Uh oh! Funny enough, although it was a little unnerving at first, I actually found I didn't care nearly as much as I used to. I've finally found a balance between comfort and getting a little fight from/with my guitar(s).

    Musing over. Thanks for reading!
     
    StevesBoogie and Danb541 like this.
  2. dickey

    dickey Friend of Leo's

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    You would hate my guitars...I like .010s with literally PAINTED ON action and zero relief in the neck...when I fret a string, you don't even see it move.
    My style is kinda Gattonish, with chikin' pickin' overtones, and I couldn't do it without my strings almost touching my frets. Dunno how he did it with mile-high action.
     
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  3. GreatDaneRock

    GreatDaneRock Tele-Holic

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    Healthy buzzing is part of every guitar. Me thinks your a bit OCD, so am I but you gotta let go.

    Choking out is no bueno, but light string buzz is perfectly ok my good sir.

    Low action is where it's at, and I recently went down in gauge from 10s to 9s and I'm happy as i can be, like BB King would say, why are you working so hard at playing that thang?!

    GDR
     
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  4. hemingway

    hemingway Poster Extraordinaire

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    I like my action a little high, too. But not so high that I lose parts of fingers.

    Glad you found the setup that suits you. Comfortable action is good. And so is not fretting too much about buzz.
     
  5. Nick Fanis

    Nick Fanis Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    No point playing a guitar if it's a chore for you.
    The whole "I need my guitars to fight me back thing" is loco IMNSHO.

    Gimme a neck with zero relief, medium/low action and 010-038 any day and twice on Sundays.

    Also if you can't hear it through the AMP than there is NO buzzing.
     
  6. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    I do a fair number of setups for local players and I always ask them a lot of questions before I start. I watch them play, I ask them what they like and don't like about the current setup, I measure everything before I touch anything. I couldn't play some of their guitars, they wouldn't like some of mine. Glad you figured out yours.
     
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  7. srblue5

    srblue5 Tele-Meister

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    That makes sense. Everyone is a little different in terms of playing style and setup needs. One of the previous shops I tried set my guitar up with the lowest, buzziest action I'd ever seen (virtually unplayable to me) and when I took it back to get it reworked, the guy picked it up, played it, and told me, "It plays fine to me. Learn to play lighter."

    Sometimes I wish I could play with a lower action and lighter strings, but I have a pretty heavy attack with my right hand. I also find that with adrenaline pumping at gigs and sessions, I'm more likely to pull things out of tune or snap strings with a lighter setup.
     
  8. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    srblue5 likes this.
  9. burntfrijoles

    burntfrijoles Poster Extraordinaire

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    I have, what I would call, medium action on my guitars. I've attempted lower action and the modest fret buzz doesn't bother me as much as the way the strings feel when bending in the upper frets.
    I use a string radius guide (StewMac) and I tinker from time to time but I always end up with the same action.
     
  10. Danb541

    Danb541 Tele-Afflicted

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    Great story OP!
    I can't stand super low action, to me a guitar set up super low has no feel. I'm one of those people that writes really hard with a pencil, I don't have a soft touch. I've seen players that have that nice soft touch and play real low action, I've never been able to do that. I have to really dig in.
     
    srblue5 likes this.
  11. Telenator

    Telenator Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    Ah, but high action gives a guy "acoustic resonance" to die for! LOL!
     
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  12. buster poser

    buster poser Tele-Afflicted Platinum Supporter

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    Learning to set my guitar up properly--or as properly as a rank amateur can muster with YouTube--was the thing that brought me back to playing. I'm with @dickey here... my Tele is on 9s and they are millimeters away from the board which could be used to plumb doorways. The Jag is proving tougher to get there, but it's already at least twice as low as it was out of the box.
     
  13. srblue5

    srblue5 Tele-Meister

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    Thank you! I agree, I tend to dig in a lot too.
     
  14. Boreas

    Boreas Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

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    I play equal parts acoustic and electric guitar (only at home). It always takes me a while to adjust attacks. But over the last year I got rid of the pick and rarely use one now. I can set most of my actions lower now as well. I only pull out the pick now to do the occasional flatpicking on an Irish fiddle tune or bluegrass song. I prefer the dynamics of fingers on my electrics, but a pick sometimes works better for rhythm.
     
  15. teleplayr

    teleplayr Tele-Afflicted

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    Always checking-out the way someone plays is a must.

    When I had to have a re-fret done on a vintage Tele the luthier, (I mean a real luthier, not someone who calls them-self a tech), was renowned luthier Don Teeter.

    The first thing he had me do was sit down and play for him.

    When the job was done it was incredible!

    That should cover any work you're having done to an instrument.
     
  16. dreamingtele

    dreamingtele Friend of Leo's

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    my luthier did this to me the first time. Lol.

    i was puzzled as to why he would want to see me play in front of him after explaining what I want. I wanted very little to no relief, as straight as a neck can go, with 11’s and just slightly higher action, like this, at the 12th fret..

    [​IMG]Untitled by D Y, on Flickr

    then told me give him a few days, come back and see how I like it. Well what do you know, it was perfect. No buzzing, nut cut correctly, and it was playing super smooth and very easy!!!

    Right then and there, I’m a believer of a professional set up, fret work and nut work.
     
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