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Where the action is

Postby SecretSam » Fri May 25, 2018 8:02 am

I was reading about the Rory Gallagher reliced Strat yesterday (yes, it was a slow day).

I found a forum post by a bloke who had played the original instrument, and said its action was very high - much higher than the reliced copy. I have seen a couple of upmarket instruments over the years with high action. I assume this is because better players want to play harder, and have the technique to trade off more effort against less fret noise. Anyone have alternative views ? Or do you 'File the frets, lower the action and take out the buzz on the low E' (is that Wayne's World or Bill & Ted ? I forget).








P.S. According to the late, great Ronnie Scott, in Scunthorpe the action is at a canal where they go fishing illegally.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Wonks » Fri May 25, 2018 8:35 am

Wayne's World. Tia Carrere's character, Cassandra, says it.

Don't forget that Rory played a lot of slide guitar on it, so he'd have the action set up higher for that, and probably got used to the resulting action as a result.

Beyond a certain point, a high action becomes obstructive and gives no extra benefit in clean tone (and Rory never had a very clean sound that required it), but adds all sort of intonation issues and the increased risk of string breakage.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri May 25, 2018 8:42 am

SRV was famed for playing a Strat with 13's and a high action. Big action/strings allows you to dig in harder and makes for a fatter tone. If you use loads of distortion/fx it doesn't matter much but if you play clean or just on the edge it makes a big difference.

But, a players distinctive 'sound' comes as much from their phrasing and note choices as anything else so I'd say set it up to suit you and how you play unless you are in a tribute band and obsessive about authenticity.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Wonks » Fri May 25, 2018 8:55 am

Sam Spoons wrote:SRV was famed for playing a Strat with 13's and a high action.

He didn't start playing with the 13's, only later on. More often he used 11's or 12's, and with 13's he was always downtuned.

I don't subscribe to the 'thick strings always equals a big tone school' of thought. I've tried thicker strings on electrics (>10s) and for me it just makes the sound duller. It really depends on the player. There are loads of classic tones recorded on lightly strung guitars.

For acoustics, I feel it's about finding the right gauge that best suits the guitar.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri May 25, 2018 11:25 am

Yup Wonky, agreed. It is a generalisation to say thick strings and picks make for better tone but, like many generalisations, it is based on an element of truth (and physics) and can be a useful starting point if your tone is not what you think it should be.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Wonks » Fri May 25, 2018 11:40 am

Indeed. What is a better 'tone' is always going to depend on the listener. One person's perfect tone may be another persons 'muddy' or 'harsh'.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri May 25, 2018 11:44 am

And if you want a brighter tone then it's undoubtedly worth trying lighter strings and a thinner pick (but please not sub about 1.4mm, those .5mm nylon monstrosities do more to destroy your tone than anything else I can think of..... :headbang: )
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Wonks » Fri May 25, 2018 12:16 pm

It still all depends on a) the material used and b) how you use them.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri May 25, 2018 3:23 pm

We may have to differ on this one but I defy anybody to make an acoustic sound good with a 0.5mm nylon pick :headbang:
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Wonks » Fri May 25, 2018 4:17 pm

Not nylon, which is why I said that the material matters. I either use the thin red sharksfins or more often now, thin tortoiseshell Jim Dunlops, which are far harder than the nylon pick of the same thickness. I bought a whole range of JD's thin and medium picks, and settled on the thin tortoiseshell ones as my favourites . I hold them near the tips, which makes them a lot more rigid. And I like the sound I get from my acoustics using them. Heavier picks with me on an acoustic take all the life out of the sound.

Horses for courses.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby CS70 » Fri May 25, 2018 5:20 pm

SecretSam wrote:I assume this is because better players want to play harder, and have the technique to trade off more effort against less fret noise. Anyone have alternative views ? Or do you 'File the frets, lower the action and take out the buzz on the low E' (is that Wayne's World or Bill & Ted ? I forget).

Never understood where this kind of nonsense comes from. There's a gazillion and a half great guitarists who play thin strings and sound magnificent.

I guess it's because it seems harder?

Thing is, a good guitarist makes life as easy as possible for himself. He's there to make music, not to show off to others. So he will play the simplest thing that gets him the sound and feel he wants. Very rarely, it can be high action .13 on a strat, but most often it's not.

And 99% of the "sound" of a guitarist is not a sound at all, it's the phrasing, the choice of notes, the syncopation, the articulation, the accents, the control of attack and decay etc. Give Rory Gallagher Billy Gibbons and he'll sound like Rory Gallagher. Give Billy Gibbons Rory's guitar and he'll sound like Billy Gibbons - plus some swearing.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri May 25, 2018 6:43 pm

We are indeed all different Wonky and that's a good thing. I find I get plenty of life and brightness from 1.4mm Wegen Bluegrass picks though I usually use my 3.5mm Gypsy Jazz picks. I don't use excessively heavy strings on acoustics, depending on the guitar, 13s on a drop tuned D45 clone, 12s on my 24 5/8" scale GA sized custom and 12s on my 24" scale Emerald X7. The Selmer style is unusual in having a 26 1/2" scale and was designed for 10 gauge Argentines which are a steel with silver-plated copper windings and sound unique but generate that distinctive Gypsy Jazz sound when played hard with a super fat pick. Generally I use 10s on all my electrics but am going to try 11s on the Les Paul next re-string.

CS, IME if you play electric with fx and distortion the less full 'natural' tone of light strings doesn't really matter so much. The cleaner you play, the extreme case being acoustic guitar, the more difference it makes. FWIW I find super light strings considerably harder to play than my chosen gauges.

As you say there are many great guitarists who use light strings and thin picks, horses for courses indeed.....
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Wonks » Fri May 25, 2018 11:33 pm

It's certainly worth people experimenting with different picks, It may or may not make a difference in a positive way. It's certainly worth experimenting, like experimenting with string gauges is. Don't assume that the string gauge or pick thickness/material that you currently use is the best for you. Try not to have preconceived ideas about what is 'best'. It's what best for you that counts.

So try thicker and thinner strings. Try thicker and thinner picks of different materials. They all make a difference to the tone you get, and it's often a lot cheaper than changing pickups.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby CS70 » Sat May 26, 2018 1:23 pm

Sam Spoons wrote:
CS, IME if you play electric with fx and distortion the less full 'natural' tone of light strings doesn't really matter so much. The cleaner you play, the extreme case being acoustic guitar, the more difference it makes. FWIW I find super light strings considerably harder to play than my chosen gauges.

Just my $.10. When I started playing an acoustic guitar (too long ago :)) I knew nothing.. it had had .010 and used them for years. Then I got a better guitar which came with .12 and started using these as my normal acoustic size - I like it better the way the basses bounce and the resistance of the high strings when you're playing arpeggios and fingerpicking. Now at least one of the acoustic has 0.13.

It's probably me, but when I play all these gauges it doesn't really sound that different. The pick I'm using and of course the shape and make of guitar makes way more difference - I can't play with a thin pick, and I can't make the Jumbo sound like the 000 no matter the string gauge.. with different string gauges I simply adapt and dig more or change the attack or whatever - I have no idea - but you wouldn't be able to hear much difference in a recording.

But the nonsense I was referring to the "better players use thick string" myth. Better players play better, no matter the string gauge or the nature of the guitar.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby CS70 » Sat May 26, 2018 1:28 pm

I'll always remember a supposedly "pro" player who was very upfront in declaring his ability. I have a song where I play rasgueados with a nylon string, and he was trying with the band. We all had electrics.. I said, "well, try this" and he was "what? You can't play a rasgueado on an electric".. upon which I proceeded to do just that.

Technicalities are just that. Playing the guitar is playing the guitar and get out of it the feel you want, no matter what you have under your hands.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat May 26, 2018 2:17 pm

CS70 wrote:But the nonsense I was referring to the "better players use thick string" myth. Better players play better, no matter the string gauge or the nature of the guitar.

You are right, better players use what suits them, but I'd venture that very few 'better' acoustic players use 8's on their D45. :bouncy:

TBF the earlier comment about acoustics suiting a certain, not necessarily heavier, gauge better than others is true, my Eastwood doesn't like 13s, they choke the top and it sounds dead, but I changed to 12s (from 11s) a while ago and it has adapted and loosened up nicely.

8's will almost certainly sound cr@p on pretty much any acoustic (IMHO of course....) :tongue:

CS70 wrote:And 99% of the "sound" of a guitarist is not a sound at all, it's the phrasing, the choice of notes, the syncopation, the articulation, the accents, the control of attack and decay etc.

Yup, definitely, play Santana tunes on a Strat with the correct feel and you'll sound more like him than if you play them a PRS without the correct phrasing.
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Re: Where the action is

Postby CS70 » Sat May 26, 2018 5:30 pm

Haha for my piece of mind I chose to believe nobody would ever put 0.8 on an acoustic :-)
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat May 26, 2018 8:18 pm

8s and a .5mm pick, the easiest way to make a £6k acoustic sound like a £6 charity shop special :headbang:
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Alba » Sat May 26, 2018 9:00 pm

Might be the sound one is seeking?
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Re: Where the action is

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat May 26, 2018 11:21 pm

I can't imagine why ;) unless one want's a cr@p sounding £6 acoustic sound, and the cheapest way to achieve that is to buy a £6 acoustic.......
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