Results 1 to 25 of 25

Thread: Action vs clarity

  1. #1

    Default Action vs clarity

    It seems to me when I develop a slight degradation in tone, I wouldn’t characterize it as buzz really, but heck I’ve got 68 year old ears, I raise my bridge and things really clean up. I play J75s, and my mandolin is a bit harder to play than the average store Collings or Northfield.

    It is hard for me to gauge if the difference is just the heavier strings. But one thing I do know, the trade off for tonal clarity is well worth the effort. I guess the test would be to have someone who really knows evaluate the mandolin. Isn’t this perhaps the price you have to pay? I can still play two hours straight with no problem.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  2. The following members say thank you to Br1ck for this post:


  3. #2
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Tavistock UK
    Posts
    4,030

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    You can lose clarity when the action drops too low and the strings are not exactly buzzing, but just losing energy to the frets. Can also occur if either the saddle or nut slots are not correctly shaped or if the frets have been levelled but not dressed and the tops are rather flat. All of the above may well be improved by raising the action, but are not the correct fix.

    But... correctly set up, a mandolin should be capable of a 50thou action at fret 12 on the top e's and 60thou on the G's without any of those issues. Maybe even lower, especially with J75's which will swing less than J74's if you see what I mean.

    You may also get a change in sound from raising/lowering the bridge purely from the change in break angle over the bridge - though IMO this is generally only true if the break angle at the ideal action is on the low side.

    Just my 3c....

  4. #3

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Its also a matter of personal needs from the instrument. If you really pluck hard for effect, you're going to need to elevate the strings a little for clarity. If you're more of a gentle play you can get away with slightly lower action. If you only play chop, lower action will probably be okay. The only time action is actually wrong is when it interferes with your expectation of the instrument. The better the fretwork and setup, the more latitude for both sides of the issue and the more forgiving the instrument will be.

  5. The following members say thank you to Wrnchbndr for this post:


  6. #4
    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Whitefish,MT
    Posts
    1,360

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    “....losing energy to the frets.” I’ve read that before here. Would someone explain the physics of this effect? It makes no sense to me.

  7. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2019
    Location
    Ohio
    Posts
    34

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buesseler View Post
    “....losing energy to the frets.” I’ve read that before here. Would someone explain the physics of this effect? It makes no sense to me.
    I think that I just went through something like this on my mando, so I'll take a stab at it.

    About a week ago I noticed that notes played on the E course were a little muted, a little shrill, and lacking in sustain higher than the 5th fret. It wasn't exactly buzzing but after listening to it carefully for a while I suspected that when vibrating it was contacting the frets just enough to dampen the energy imparted by picking. I guess it's sort of like when you lightly touch a finger against a string to mute the fundamental tone and sound a harmonic? When picking the 2 strings of the E course separately I could tell that the string at the edge of the fretboard was impacted more so than the inner E string. I raised the treble side of the bridge a little more than 1/4 turn and now the E course rings out clear, sweet, and with much better sustain up to ~fret 15.

  8. #6
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Blue Zone, California
    Posts
    1,202
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    It seems to me when I develop a slight degradation in tone, I wouldn’t characterize it as buzz really, but heck I’ve got 68 year old ears, I raise my bridge and things really clean up. ...
    Great point, thanks for bringing it up Br1ck!!! I just went through this yesterday, and I suspect most of the mandolin community is also experiencing it.

    We're all looking at weather changes here. In the northern hemisphere, temps have dropped, humidity has dropped. Lower humidity literally causes primarily the mandolin top to shrink because it has less moisture in it, lowering the action. Suddenly our smooth-as-silk action isn't exactly rattling, but doesn't sound as good. Of course if we are in the southern hemisphere, we're making the opposite adjustments due to higher humidity and higher temperatures.

    Double basses are excellent barometers because they are so big; figuratively, they register weather changes in millimeters instead of centimeters. In the wooden double bass world, this same thing happens as what we're experiencing with our mandolins. Many double basses do not have adjustable bridges so the owners either install adjusters or cut down the bridge, with the intention of having a summer bridge and a winter bridge. Similarly many very serous owners have a summer and a winter sound post which will need to be swapped out. Even my ca. 1930 Alcoa aluminum double bass changes temporarily, but due to temperature related metal expansion and contraction instead of humidity.

    I propose that we musicians should have two official holidays each year marking the two days of the year that are required for us to change the setup of all of our instruments. They will be music-less days, but there will be lots of noodling and tuning sounds.

    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

  9. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to dhergert For This Useful Post:


  10. #7
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    NC
    Posts
    3,673

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    It may be worthwhile to have it checked out the next time you’re in your fav music store (can’t remember offhand if you’re near Dusty Strings or Gryphon?). I like jumbo frets, but felt like I had to be more precise with the tall and wide frets on my SA when fretting than I do with the tall but narrow EVO gold frets on my Kelley, so if that’s the mandolin you’re referencing maybe the extra height and effort dials in your technique a little more?

    Odds are it’s something simple from a set up perspective that a good pro will see and remedy quickly, whereas I may take hours of tinkering to figure out. Having built your kit, you already have more knowledge than I do, but the pros deal with this stuff every day...
    Chuck

  11. #8

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    I had an issue with my SA last year. Took it in to Gryphon just because I wanted to know for sure I had no relief or fret issues. Guess what? It was handed back to me with a slightly raised bridge. It was still a good exercise because I A/B’d my SA against the Collings and Northfields and found my SA to be every bit as good.

    I have long thought there was a spot between clean and buzzing. Glad others have as well. I’ll take tone over low action any day.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  12. #9

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Br1ck, I've experience the same scenario on my mandolins. I can dial in nice low action but the E string sounds pinched and has less volume, raising the bridge some produces that clear, ringing tone you desire. The end result is that the E course is almost as high off the 12th fret as the G course. You'd think that with the high tension on the E string, there would would be less deflection when plucked and you could have that course lower than the others. As an amateur builder I've wrestled with fine tuning action for quite a few years. If I wasn't a full day's drive from any of the great luthiers who know the fine points of mandolin set up, I'd have let a pro do it long ago.

  13. #10

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Roy View Post
    Br1ck, I've experience the same scenario on my mandolins. I can dial in nice low action but the E string sounds pinched and has less volume, raising the bridge some produces that clear, ringing tone you desire. The end result is that the E course is almost as high off the 12th fret as the G course. You'd think that with the high tension on the E string, there would would be less deflection when plucked and you could have that course lower than the others. As an amateur builder I've wrestled with fine tuning action for quite a few years. If I wasn't a full day's drive from any of the great luthiers who know the fine points of mandolin set up, I'd have let a pro do it long ago.
    The E course has slightly less tension than the G course in normal mandolin string sets.

    The number one factor I have found in getting low action and maintaining full power (1mm on the E course at the 12th fret, 1.5mm at the G course at the 12th fret) is: perfect fretwork.

    I would argue that if you get it right, the lower action will always feel more powerful than the higher action. At least this is what every customer tells me after I do the following steps to their instruments:

    Get the plane or radius of the frets perfect, all frets leveled, and then mill the frets past the 12th fret slightly lower, gradually, to maximum dropoff of about .005"/.1mm by the end of the fretboard.
    Crown and polish the frets.
    Adjust the nut slots so they are exactly in line with, or a maxmium of .005"/.1mm above the first fret.
    Cut back the nut and bridge slots so you have a single point of contact.

    If you get all that done, you will have power and low action. At least, as much power as the instrument is inherently capable of.

    (P.S. Relief- I don't measure it, I think I learned this from John Hamlett but could be wrong. I get the fretboard flat, which gives .003-.005" relief under string tension if the neck is a standard construction. I consider touching the truss rod a "repair" and not a "setup" task. Don't touch the truss rod unless you know what you're doing and what you're trying to achieve, and how you're going to measure success in your adjustment.
    I believe 100% of the mandolin truss rod adjustments I've had to make have been due to a player monkeying with the truss rod and leaving it either way too tight or not engaged at all.)

  14. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Marty Jacobson For This Useful Post:

    Br1ckRob Roy 

  15. #11

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    In the shop where I've worked for a very long time, about half of the instruments hanging on the wall require seasonal adjustment. It happens twice every year. The other half don't seem bothered. Its also related to the volume of work coming into the shop for setups. I'm in New Jersey where there is a wide swing of humidity.

  16. #12
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Dallas, Texas
    Posts
    438

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    My mandolin is perfectly set up but there are seasonal changes that occur. I believe these changes are caused solely by humidity and I control the set up by controlling the humidity. If I keep the instrument properly humidified then I only very rarely have to tweak the action to keep it sounding and playing great. About three years ago Dave Harvey refretted the whole instrument and replaced the nut and refitted the bridge and replaced the saddle. Since then I have not touched the action aside humidity adjustments. This is after countless hours of playing.
    It doesn't matter . . . I'm going to WINFIELD!!!!!

  17. #13
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Tavistock UK
    Posts
    4,030

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buesseler View Post
    “....losing energy to the frets.” I’ve read that before here. Would someone explain the physics of this effect? It makes no sense to me.
    I wasn't very clear here - if the strings don't touch the higher frets at all then there can be no loss, period. Raising the action can make no difference.

    But there is a point just before you get to actual all out buzz, where the strings may be just brushing the higher frets, not enough to make noise (though the note may often sound "off") but enough to transfer energy.

    Equally as common, if the too end points of the string (whether that's a fret or the nut at one end, or the bridge at the other) don't make a "single point of contact" then you will wiggle on the flat top of the fret or whatever, and lose energy that way. This is also made better by a higher action, but it's not a too low action that's the actual problem, it's the geometry of the nut/fret/bridge.

    This latter issue is surprisingly common, and an easy slip to make: There's a gentleman been saying nice things about me on SM because I'd fixed his Maton guitar which had a poorly carved bridge saddle. The instrument had previously been to 2 well known luthiers, and neither had fixed the issue. But.... you know what I wouldn't have noticed either, except the owner stood in front of me and kept on about it until I "got it". Once the saddle was fixed it was an "Oh, now I see" moment, but sometimes it takes the actual owner who knows how the instrument *should* sound to pick these small issues out. The moral of the story, is to not be afraid to tell the luthier if it doesn't sound right - there comes a point where only the owner would know - but those little niggles can really rankle too!

  18. The following members say thank you to Tavy for this post:


  19. #14
    Registered User mandolin breeze's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Location
    "My Home Is On My Back"
    Posts
    236

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    I discovered that for myself a few years ago while reading a similar thread. My F5 was set fairly low, I raised the saddle up a little bit and boy, I couldn't believe the added volume and punch. The sweet spot for me is the good ole penny, just slightly rubbing at the 12th fret. "0.0598 inches (1.52 mm) in thickness". So there is a good use for the penny after all.

    Name:  Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 8.27.38 AM.png
Views: 297
Size:  48.9 KB

  20. The following members say thank you to mandolin breeze for this post:


  21. #15
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Rockville, MD
    Posts
    1,611
    Blog Entries
    7

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Allowing a curved fingerboard limits how low you can go if you need the high range to speak clearly. The action height that is ok in the low frets may bottom out when playing past the 10th fret or so. The string slaps the next-higher frets, but so briefly it is not an obvious buzz, just a choked sound.

    Bowed instruments for classical music are often made with an up-curved fingerboard in the very high part, but the action is much higher overall, like 3/8” at the end of the fingerboard on my viola. And the main curving happens only in the last few inches. Mandolin necks will curve most at the peghead end, where it is not ideal.

    Fretted instruments should be completely flat. Then the same deflection resistance is felt everywhere. While the strings are higher above the high frets, the deflection resistance is lower, so the feel is fairly constant.

    When the fingerboard s curved (bowed, “relief”), the higher frets are then in a trough, with the next-higher fret appearing higher than it should.

    I know of one exception to the basic mechanics — bottleneck/slide guitar players like good clearance in the low frets so they can apply useful pressure to the slide without bottoming out on the frets. This presupposes high action overall.

    If you want easy low action you can’t have noticeable bowing, unless you give up on the high frets. Last I heard, Weber shipped new mandolins with zero relief.
    Blog--Miniature Orchestra
    Sound Clips--SoundCloud
    Videos--YouTube
    The viola is proof that man is not rational

  22. #16

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Thanks all, for I have received verification that my trial and error bungling has actually taught me well as many of you have confirmed. It is that inaudible range between clear and buzz that has been confirmed. I can play up into the fourteenth fret, which is about the limit of my capabilities, with crystal clarity, at least when I stay up on my fingertips.

    I also sense I’m being hyper critical of my own luthier skills. I do believe the string to fret geometry is absolutely the most important aspect in an instrument.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  23. #17
    Registered User Nick Gellie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Orgiva, Spain
    Posts
    1,180

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    I just checked my two Collings mandolins. They both pretty close to 50/1000 at the 12th fret on the G string maybe a tad lower on the E string but not much. I measured the action with a vernier caliper so it is a pretty accurate measurement.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    You can lose clarity when the action drops too low and the strings are not exactly buzzing, but just losing energy to the frets. Can also occur if either the saddle or nut slots are not correctly shaped or if the frets have been levelled but not dressed and the tops are rather flat. All of the above may well be improved by raising the action, but are not the correct fix.

    But... correctly set up, a mandolin should be capable of a 50thou action at fret 12 on the top e's and 60thou on the G's without any of those issues. Maybe even lower, especially with J75's which will swing less than J74's if you see what I mean.

    You may also get a change in sound from raising/lowering the bridge purely from the change in break angle over the bridge - though IMO this is generally only true if the break angle at the ideal action is on the low side.

    Just my 3c....
    Nic Gellie

    Collings MT 2012 mandolin signed by Bill Collings
    Collings MT-O 2019 mandolin
    Ruben Bada 2019 Irish Bouzouki

  24. #18

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    I totally agree. The buggling you mention is the best teacher and the more bungling you do, the better luthier you'll become. Its a never ending learning process. Being critical of yourself inspires the desire to learn and experiment. There are few firm and fast rules but the geometry of strings, frets, nuts, and saddles can be one place with a foundation. The geometry can be measured critically with precision. The problem then becomes how much precision is actually necessary and that becomes a whole new can of worms.

    Just adding to the discussion... My reference books for violin making and repair by Henry Strobel indicate that the desired relief for a violin fingerboard is 0.5mm for the E-string and 0.7mm for the G-string.

    I'm new to mandolins but have professionally bungled with guitars for over 20 years. Relief is necessary for guitars and basses. All adjustable trussrods in guitars and basses are specifically designed to address the adjustment of relief. I don't believe that this is the case with many mandolins. When I look at mandolin neck designs there is often a departure from the guitar-style trussrod. It appears that often the purpose of the trussrod is to more directly counteract the tension of the string rather than to act as a relief adjustment. It sort of accomplishes the same thing but with a different primary intent. Modern designs might be more in line with relief adjustment but traditional designs aren't as relief adjustment focused. This has been an eye-opener for me and it occurs to me that this might confuse many guitar repair techs who are ready to dive right in and turn the trussrod nut expecting an immediate response to the relief curve.

    In my opinion, a tiny bit of relief is a good thing but on a mandolin its so tiny that it can almost be disregarded and fretwork level becomes a lot more significant.

  25. #19

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    I passed the penny test. Just slides under the e strings, just doesn’t on the G.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  26. #20

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    If you want easy low action you can’t have noticeable bowing, unless you give up on the high frets. Last I heard, Weber shipped new mandolins with zero relief.
    Milling frets 15 through the top the range to have a gradual (downward) taper addresses this. Personally, I think having the lowest possible action without mechanical (buzzing) issues is the best way to get maximum playability out of the highest frets. So my fretboards end up being, ever so slightly, S shaped. Slight scoop in the middle, slight dropoff at the treble end.
    In theory, relief on a fretted instrument allows you to have a significantly lower setup, but I agree that flat (or very nearly flat) is fine as long as your scale length is under 18" or so. Above that, really good playability is impossible without intentional relief.

  27. #21
    Registered User mandolin breeze's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Location
    "My Home Is On My Back"
    Posts
    236

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Br1ck - I passed the penny test. Just slides under the e strings, just doesn’t on the G.

    Obviously not precision here. A penny width doesn't qualify as "low action", but for me it's a very comfortable height, and did add considerable oomph. Close enough for Gov't work I guess!

  28. #22

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    But I like little quick and dirty solutions. Next time I go to Gryphon, I can take a penny and compare mandolin action. Ballpark yes, but useful nonetheless. I do tend to like to fight an instrument a bit. Everyone has their likes and dislikes as far as action is concerned.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  29. #23
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Blue Zone, California
    Posts
    1,202
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    ... I can take a penny and compare mandolin action. ...
    If you know your pick thickness, you can also use that for the same purpose. It's approximate, but my Fender Heavy (about .9mm) just sticking under the 8th and 7th strings at fret 12, and just sticking under the 1st and 2nd strings at fret 5 == just about right for good action and for good tone and volume for me. I've had to raise my bridge about .5mm with end-of-summer cooler weather.
    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

  30. #24

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Yes, as long as you have a known thickness to use as a gauge. I’m surprised how many times I’ve gone into stores with no pick at all. The gravitational force of a store like Gryphon is about three miles. I just seem to end up parked in front unintentionally.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  31. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Br1ck For This Useful Post:


  32. #25
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Blue Zone, California
    Posts
    1,202
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Action vs clarity

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    ... The gravitational force of a store like Gryphon is about three miles. I just seem to end up parked in front unintentionally.
    Hmmm, that gravitational force must have been stronger about 10 years ago, I was in the east bay area and somehow got sucked in. Sunspots, or magnetic reversal (solar maximum) perhaps???
    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •