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Thread: Setting up "action" (string height) on mandolin

  1. #1


    When checking (or setting up) the action on a guitar, it seems well established that values like 5/64s and 7/64s (high E and low E string heights above 12th fret) make for comfortably low action (assuming neck is true and has a bit of relief). A heavy right hand - say for Bluegrass rhythm playing - would require higher action (maybe 6 or 7/64s and 8 or 9/64s).

    I notice many Guitar Dealer Websites using these values and this terminology when describing the action of guitars listed for sale. However, I've never seen similar descriptions of the desireable action on a MANDOLIN. Seems odd to me - especially given that most mandos have an adjustable bridge.

    What would you luthiers receommend for string height values (in 64s) when setting up a mandolin? I'm asking because I seem to vascillate between really low action (to give my left hand a break!) and higher action (to get more volume out of my instrument). What specs do you use for setting string height/action on a mandolin?

  2. #2
    jbmando RIP HK Jim Broyles's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Plymouth Meeting, PA


    I'm not a luthier, but I prefer the sound of my mandolin with what I call high action. The G strings and the E strings are both right at 5/64 above the 12th fret. One thing that is important to me is the action at the nut. With it as low as possible without buzzing, I get the best intonation, especially in the first position, and I can keep the 12th fret action a little lower and still get good volume.
    "I thought I knew a lot about music. Then you start digging and the deeper you go, the more there is."~John Mellencamp

    "Theory only seems like rocket science when you don't know it. Once you understand it, it's more like plumbing!"~John McGann

    "IT'S T-R-E-M-O-L-O, dangit!!"~Me

  3. #3


    This has been discussed alot, you will find more if you do a search, but here is one to get you started. Action If you look at the third post there are some real number from various peoples mandolins. Some will say that 5/64s is a medium action at the 12th fret. I say that it is high.

    Edit: One more thought. Steve Holst the builder of my mandolin gave me this advice on action: As high as you can get it and still be comfortable. Others will say As Low As Possible Without Buzzing. These number will be different for different people.

  4. #4
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003


    I can't think in "64ths". I have to stop and do the math everytime, but I can look at a ruler and see that I usually set up a mandolin for a bluegrasser at 1/16" under the E to 3/32" under the G. Some like it higher, some like it lower. Feel free to convert those measurements to 64ths if you prefer.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Hampton NJ 08827


    "As high as you can get it and still be comfortable. Others will say As Low As Possible Without Buzzing."

    I don't think of these as being mutually exclusive.


  6. #6
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Chicagoland, IL, Southside


    I start for average non-hard players at a tad over 0.060" under the G and a tad under 0.050" under the E. Hard players I like to have play. A surprising amount like those numbers. Some need the strings higher. Possibly something to do with pick angle.

    Generally I can't go too much lower without buzzing, even with moderately strong players.
    Stephen Perry - Primarily violin family - Acoustic blueprinting
    South Side Chicagoland

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