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My Double Bass Setup: Part 3 – String Spacing and String Height

Usually in this column I talk about general double bass (upright bass) subjects, or answer specific questions that I think will be of benefit to the largest number of readers. Lately, however, I’ve been getting a great many questions about my personal bass setup. So, in the next few columns I’m going to go through some of the things that make my personal setup a bit different than “normal” and briefly explain some of the “why” of it all.

Donovan Stokes

String Spacing

My string spacing at the nut is approximately 8 millimeters between each string and my string spacing at the bridge is about 22 millimeters between each string. By contrast a more traditional setup might be 10 mm at the nut and 28 mm at the bridge.

Although this particular change may seem small (8 vs. 10 and 22 vs. 28) the difference in how things feel under the hand is significant.

I worked with my luthier to push the measurements as small as possible here to allow for increased ease in both the left and right hands. As a result, my five strings fit easily on a four-string neck/fingerboard/bridge/instrument.

Dependent upon the type of strings you are using you may be able to push these measurements smaller, or you might have to settle for larger numbers. It’s a fairly individual thing (determined by the bass and your strings). Nonetheless, I think most basses can have their strings closer together without any sacrifice in sound, playing style or other complication. Aim close.

String Height

There is a great deal of variance in string height amongst basses, so it’s difficult to come up with a “standard” set of measurements for string height. Some players prefer one thing, others another thing.

Nonetheless, a well-set up, but rather conventional, height for strings (measured at the strings half-point i.e. 12th fret if we had one) might be:

  • E: 10 mm
  • A: 8 mm
  • D: 6 mm
  • G: 5 mm

I measured them at the mid point of the string because this is generally the widest point of string vibration. As a result, your strings may be closer to the fingerboard the closer you get closer to the bridge, particularly if you have an extended fingerboard. Of course, this requires the labor of a skilled luthier.

My string height, by contrast, at the strings mid-point is as follows:

  • C/E: 7 mm (when the E is closed, higher with the C is open)
  • B: 6 mm
  • E: 5 mm
  • A: 4 mm
  • D: 3 mm

Again, these differences may seem slight in the abstract, but the difference in feeling under the hand of a single millimeter can be significant.

To get the strings this close to the fingerboard without sacrificing tone or volume requires an exceptionally skilled and patient luthier. Keep in mind that a great bass maker or luthier may or may not also be a great fingerboard setup person. It seems to be a specialized skill for the most detail oriented and patient people.

I have pushed the strings this close to the fingerboard because it is the closest I could get them without sacrificing sound on my particular bass. The string does need some room to vibrate, after all and we do need tension on the top. I do, very occasionally, raise them depending on the weather, the specific music I am playing, etc. In general, however, I keep them around this height, unless I am playing slap bass. Then I raise them for certain.

It was not an easy task for my luthier, and the skill and attention to detail required cannot be overstated. Setting up a fingerboard is not a particularly a glory-filled enterprise. Nonetheless, getting your strings as low as possible, without sacrificing sound, will reap benefits. Besides, so many basses have strings which are needlessly high above the fingerboard. See how low you can push them.

Previous: Part 2 – Number of Strings, Tuning and Fingerboard Length

Next time: Endpin and removable neck

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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I have had many UBs over the years. My luthier has done many different setups. One bass I and had my guy do a fingerboard set up and new bridge adjusters. This allowed me to drop the strings on the deck if I wanted. I found the sound suffered a little but it allowed good speed and a soft feel. With my right plucking hand my fingers would not get caught under the string. Over time I started getting left hand issues. I found for me the softer feel while nice at first caused me to grip harder unknownly. I would dig in harder for a larger sound which made me grip the string harder so it wouldn’t get loose under my left hand. I know it sounds counter to what one might think but the tension builds up with this setup over time. I now play a five string UB with high tension strings with the strings higher off the finger board. Now the string is quick punchy lots of volume and my left hand has no discomfort because the total tension is less at the end of the day. I am a fan now for high tension semi low to mid hight string set up. When bowing on jazz solos the string doesn’t rattle on the fingerboard ether. One other thing I discovered, a fatter string keeps the string from denting in the meat on my fingers. Which keeps the majority of my finger pressure on the string instead of pressing down on the fingerboard with a small string in between which is waisted energy. FOOD FOR THOUGHT. Some times things are not as straight forward and don’t make sense.

PS: I also wanted that Brian Bromberg bass. You know the one. Fast tapping and playing two handed. My luthier has done the setups for Steve Bailey, Victor Wooten etc. he told me the bass set up is a flat fingerboard with absolutely no scoop super low string hight and the bass is all about the pickups. The bass acousticly will sound like crap so don’t use a great bass for this. Get a cheeper instrument and have the work done, don’t even try a bow it will not work. At all…….