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.
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.
Next time: Endpin and removable neck