This article was originally posted by our sister site Ableton Live Expert - written by Jacob Ostema. In that article Jacob shared some really useful bass guitar setup tips that we wanted to extend on in a free tutorial article.
Why Is It Important To Have A Well Setup Bass Guitar?
Bass guitars play really well when setup correctly. The neck will feel even (string distance to neck) and the pitch (intonation) will be correct throughout the fret range. Frets on a bass guitar can develop a buz over time, this can easily be fixed with a good setup. Having a well setup bass guitar to hand when recording bass is critical for getting great sounding bass guitar recordings.
Discover What Aspects Of The Bass Guitar Need Attention
One of the most important things to do before setting up your bass guitar is to establish what needs adjusting. You may only find that one or two of the following tips will help you get your bass guitar setup and playing better.
Tip 1 - Change Strings
Changing bass guitar strings a few days before recording or performing with it means the instrument will stay in tune better. Changing bass guitar strings just before you need to use it doesn't allow for the strings to settle or "bed in". Changing strings on a bass isn’t difficult, most bass guitar string brands have video tutorials on their websites that show you how to change the strings on a bass guitar.
The most important thing to do when changing the strings on your bass guitar is to make sure you leave enough string at the tuning peg - this does vary depending on what style machine heads you have on your bass.
Tip 2 - Bowed Neck - Truss Rod Adjustment
The truss rod runs down the centre of a bass guitar neck. It can be used to straighten bowed necks by either lossening or tightening it. Old bass guitars are prone to bowing necks.
To see if the neck on your bass guitar has bowed place a finger on the 1st fret of the low E string then use your other hand to press down somewhere around the 15th fret of the same string. The gap between the string and the frets should be around a consistent width of a credit card throughout.
If you do see a slight bow in the bass guitar neck then locate the truss rod adjustment. Your bass guitar may have a plastic truss rod cover that needs removing at the top of the headstock. Your bass, like this Fender P Bass in the images below, may show the truss rod adjustment at the bottom of the neck - you may even have to remove the neck or scratch plate to get better access to it.
You can see access to truss rod adjustment at the bottom of the neck - body end. The scratch plate will need to be removed.
See the brown mark? This is where the truss rod adjustment would be on other models of Fender P Bass.
- To decrease the space between the strings and frets turn the truss rod clockwise.
- To increase the gap turn the truss rod counter-clockwise.
Most truss rods work this way however, there are some bass guitars that work in reverse - Check with the bass guitar manufacturer to make sure.
Tip 3 - String Action - Saddle Height
The goal here is to make sure that all string heights are equal in distance from the bottom of the string to the fret. To begin, measure the string height at the 12th fret from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string. For a middle-of-the road action, set the bass side of a 4-string (the E string in standard tuning) to 7/64″ and then set the treble side (G string) to 5/64″. Graduate the heights as you go across the fretboard, making it 6+/64″ on the A string and 6-/64″ on the D string.
Access the saddle by removing any bridge plate covers.
Make quarter turn adjustments to the saddle height and test by playing throughout the process.
Tip 4 - Pitch - Bass Guitar Intonation
Setting a bass guitar's intonation can be a painful process but is well worth spending the time getting right.
- To start, make sure all the strings are in tune - you will need to retune each string everytime you make an adjustment with your screwdriver.
- Next, play a note at the 12 fret. You will notice that this note will be either sharper or flatter than the open string.
- Turn the screw that goes through the bridge into the saddle either clockwise (sharper) or counterclockwise (flatter) - remember to make small adjustments. Your goal is to get the 12th fret in perfect tune. As you continue this process keep re-tuning the open string with a quality tuner.