Ask Damian Erskine: Setting up your bass

Q: Would you describe what you strive for when setting up your bass?

A: I actually just covered this in Bass Guitar Magazine (UK) recently. Here is my blurb from the magazine…

The overall playability of my instrument is everything to me. If I have to fight the feel of my bass, I’ll have a harder time “letting go” and immersing myself fully into the music because I’ll be thinking about my instrument. I generally do my own set-up (although I leave the fret jobs and real repair work to the pros). Here’s what I try and accomplish when I set up a bass. – about an 1/8th inch string height above the fretboard at the 24th fret.

I generally get the strings as low as I can to still pluck hard without rattle or fret noise. It’s important to me to make sure that all strings are a consistent height. The more even, the more playable.

I raise my pickups (and ramp if I have one) to be about 1/4 of an inch below the strings. I use the pickups as my playing surface most times. I like to be able to dig in enough to get some real meat of my fingers in there, but not so much that I have to overwork my right hand. I generally play with a light touch (helps facilitate facility!)

I generally like my necks as straight as possible with maybe a slight bit of relief near the nut. The straighter the better, though. Intonation will never be perfect across the board, but I’ll use a tuner to get the bass in tune with harmonics on the 5th and 7th frets and then compare my E strings 5th fret to my A strings 19th fret harmonic and continue that across the board, trying to get it as close as possible.

It really boils down to personal preference, but I’ve found what feel works best for me as a player. I also prefer a narrower string spacing on extended range basses. I use 16.5mm spacing on my 6-strings and standard spacing on my 4 strings.

I also use Nickel strings (D’Addario med-light gauge) as they are a little slicker feeling than steel as well as sounding warmer. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the feel of your bass but DO make sure to consult someone before tweaking your own neck relief. One can really do a number on their instrument by cranking away on that truss rod without knowing what they’re doing!

I’m attaching a wonderful e-book written by the guys at Jerzy Drozd. It’s the most comprehensive I’ve seen and is VERY helpful!

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Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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