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View Full Version : Does low action affect sound volume?


WorksInTheory
10-09-2006, 05:10 PM
I have a jumbo that plays awesome - feels great but I wonder if the low action has taken the loudness and tone from the guitar. I was playing it the other day and realized - wait a minute - this is a jumbo but it isn't very loud. I have light strings on it now as well so maybe it's not the action but that I need to have a medium on it?

It's rosewood back and sides. Spruce top.

OMega28
10-09-2006, 05:15 PM
Low action can have an effect on volume.

Especially if you can't thump the strings so hard before they rattle against the frets. But there's more to it than just that.

1. Light gauge strings will take some off
2. Lowering the action by reducing the saddle height will take off volume. That's pretty important. A good "break angle" over the saddle (to the pin slots) will give a better volume, and that's the critical factor.

R.

Folkstrum
10-09-2006, 05:17 PM
I have a jumbo that plays awesome - feels great but I wonder if the low action has taken the loudness and tone from the guitar. I was playing it the other day and realized - wait a minute - this is a jumbo but it isn't very loud. I have light strings on it now as well so maybe it's not the action but that I need to have a medium on it? It's rosewood back and sides. Spruce top.
Action can alter tone...sometimes a lot. Most Martins, for instance, are shipped with "higher action" (saddle height--and we're talking the "D's") because bluegrass players like the higher action for that "cannon-like" dread tone. And, a medium gauge string will cause the spruce top to vibrate/resonate more than lights! I have a Jumbo rosewood/spruce 855 12. It's plenty loud, and punchy...but I have the action on it a teeny bit higher with the new bone saddle I had installed than the original "tusq," AND I do not use "extra lights" on it. The Omega came set up for mediums---I had that re-set up for "medium light" strings (sorry, I don't have all the "12's, 13's nomenclature down). Keven Gallagher built the Omega MJ with bone all the way, and the neck relief only needed to be tweaked almost not at all.

So, bottom line: higher "action" (saddle height) and medium strings WILL increase the volume on your Jumbo. You may need to try a couple of "mixes" to find your "sweet spot." That can be fun, too! Good luck. :up:

TBman
10-09-2006, 05:18 PM
Go with the low action and just amplify. It'll give your fingers a break and allow you to do more fun things with the guitar - multiple pull off/hammer on combos, bending etc. Everything is easier with low tension.

steverok
10-09-2006, 05:43 PM
In my opinion, jumbos are meant to be powerful, strumming guitars, with higher action. People play my jumbo and say "whoah, the action is pretty high". Well - guess what, it's supposed to be like that, and I love it ! Then I strum an open E chord and blow them out of the room :)

exhaust_49
10-09-2006, 05:52 PM
I put a new saddle on my acoustic and I left the saddle a bit higher. I don't know if it was the extra hight or the increased break angle over the saddle but my guitar became noticibly louder and sounded more woody. I kept the saddle at that hight because I love the sound. My fingers are used to the hight now.

WorksInTheory
10-10-2006, 10:41 PM
Well looks like I either need to get a new saddle for my Martin SPJC16RE or used medium strings. Or as TBMan said just amplify.

This one doesn't seem like a jumbo like a Guild or a Gibson is a jumbo.

Tim McKnight
10-11-2006, 07:50 AM
And now for the rest of the story ...........

All of the suggestions thus far have been correct but you need to understand what is happening and what "can" happen if the saddle is raised too high. When you increase the saddle height it increases the torque placed on the bridge. The saddle acts as a lever with the string acting as the force. The longer the lever the more load that is placed on the top with the same amount of string input. Raisning the saddle height will equate to volume ........ BUT ....... increasing the lever or saddle height too much can lead to other problems you may not be aware of. The excess load can deform the top causing it to sink in excessively in front of the bridge and belly up too high behind the bridge. This movement can also case top brace glue joints to separate beneath your top. It can also lead to bridge failure ie. the bridge glue joint can fail or worse yet, the bridge wood can split.

This is not to scare you but to just inform you of the ramifications. Repair techs love it when people make adjustments to their guitars and then they get to reap the benefits of fixing other's mistakes.

ljguitar
10-11-2006, 09:05 AM
Hi WIT...
My .02 cents worth...on top of Tim McKnight's $10 worth (that was rich Tim).

I play fingerstyle, without nails & with a medium touch. I tend to gravitate toward guitars which are naturally louder set up with low action. This is a deliberate choice so I can have a style that is full sounding with a lot of sustain and a wider range of dynamics.

After playing regularly and frequently for over 35 years, the hand/arm/wrist strength is there to pick up most guitars and play.

But when I get hold of a guitar that is set up high with heavier strings, the delicacy of my styling just falls apart. It takes so much effort to play that I succumb to playing notes instead of making music. No fluidity, no punch, and everything comes out luke warm volumewise.

Every change imparted to our guitars has an equal and opposite effect, and it's not always the effect we were hoping for.

ship of fools
10-11-2006, 09:14 AM
So Larry are all your guitars set to the same height for the action or do you use different settings for each of your guitars,the reason I ask is because I use different guitars for different songs and some are set higher than others,I have my Dread set even slightly higher than the builder origianlly set it at and I find it just booms without loss of intonation or sustain,where as my smaller body guitars are set fairly low and so forth mind you I tend to play latley either with pick-ups on my smaller body and my Dread I use a directional mic, if I am going amplified.louis

ljguitar
10-11-2006, 09:23 AM
So Larry are all your guitars set to the same height for the action or do you use different settings for each of your guitars
Hi Louis...
Great question. I've not put a ruler on them, but my luthier has, and they are all pretty close to the same. When the weather changes (a frequent thing around here) they vary a touch till they settle down.

I probably prefer them the same because I grab whichever strikes my fancy, or whichever one is not tuned to some dropped tuning when I head out the door for gigs or sit down to rehearse.

If I ever decide to finally learn how to flatpick, we'll have to see where the action shakes out on one of my guitars...thanks for the idea.

WorksInTheory
10-12-2006, 11:00 PM
Well I am not the original owner of my guitar and the action looks to have been lowered. No buzzing problems really but I do think for a jumbo it should be louder. I don't play with a pick but I do strum with my thumb or back of my fingernails. Compared to my Larrivee Dread or other guitars it's not as loud. Don't know if it's the Rosewood or the saddle height but I don't know what my guitar should sound like as I have never seen another one to compare.

fnesnor
10-13-2006, 07:47 AM
Another option might be to slightly raise your saddle and install a JLD Bridge Doctor. The JLD Bridge Doctor has been known to enhance volume and will negate the torque that Tim referenced by transfering it to a leverage block and tension post. The JLD Bridge Doctor is easy to install (about 30 minutes). I have noticed improved volume on the guitars that I have installed this system on. BTW, I have no financial involvement to this product.

ship of fools
10-13-2006, 09:25 AM
WorksInTheory another thing you could try, to get some more volume besides raising the saddle is to think about maybe switching over to unslotted pins,from what I understand is that the pin angle is increased slightly and because the pins are holding the strings tighter( the ball end) against the bridge you get a better and stronger vibration to your top giving you more sound to work with.louis

andrewrg
10-14-2006, 07:12 AM
Well I am not the original owner of my guitar and the action looks to have been lowered. No buzzing problems really but I do think for a jumbo it should be louder. I don't play with a pick but I do strum with my thumb or back of my fingernails. Compared to my Larrivee Dread or other guitars it's not as loud. Don't know if it's the Rosewood or the saddle height but I don't know what my guitar should sound like as I have never seen another one to compare.

Bear in mind that jumbos often sound much louder to the listener out front than to the player. I have an SJ200 which projects very powerfully but from behind doesn't sound especially loud.

Lake
10-17-2006, 01:10 PM
In my opinion, jumbos are meant to be powerful, strumming guitars, with higher action. People play my jumbo and say "whoah, the action is pretty high". Well - guess what, it's supposed to be like that, and I love it ! Then I strum an open E chord and blow them out of the room :)

When you say higher action you mean 3 mm, 4mm or more!?

GSMC Bob
03-08-2007, 07:57 AM
Well looks like I either need to get a new saddle for my Martin SPJC16RE or used medium strings. Or as TBMan said just amplify.

This one doesn't seem like a jumbo like a Guild or a Gibson is a jumbo.


Martin's jumbos aren't true jumbos in the sense that Guild, Gibson, Taylor jumbos are 17" across the lower bout and Martin is 16". A Martin jumbo is more similar in size to a Taylor x14 or a mini-jumbo from other makers. However, I had a Martin JC-16RGTE that sounded quite nice and balanced. It was an all-around great guitar, but definitely not a big, bold, classic jumbo.

ljguitar
03-08-2007, 08:09 AM
Hi WIT...
Everything we do to our guitars causes something else (the old ''for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction'' thing...). That doesn't make it bad. In studio I've recorded guitars where the action is tweaked lower, and it doesn't show up on the recordings as a tone shift.

One of the best tests is to have someone who plays in a style similar to you play your guitar for you.

Sit across the room and listen to hear what others hear when you play.

My guitars are set up with low action and play like butter. They sound great. For me the object is great action and sounding good, and the audience will adjust to my volume. I could raise the action and it might give me a bit more volume, but it would take away from my dexterity, which is a crucial part of my style.

At our guitar society this week about 30 people showed up in a room that was about 20 X 40 feet fully carpeted and heavily draped, and nobody had issues hearing anyone else.

Herb Hunter
03-08-2007, 09:39 AM
The amplitude of a medium gauge string's vibration is less than that of a light gauge string so one can have lower action with medium gauge strings than with light gauge strings before the onset of string buzz.

Each individual has to decide for himself the best string height for his playing, within the limits imposed by the guitar, regardless of what size or shape of guitar one chooses.

All the talk about volume reminds me of how exasperating it is to play with someone who thinks he has to out strum Richie Havens at every opportunity. The last time I had the opportunity to play with other guitarists, more than 2 years ago, one rhythm player was whipping the strings of a satin finish Taylor loud enough to drown me, two other guitars and the singer. I pointed out that I couldn't hear myself but he kept on flailing away. There was no point in playing any fills that couldn't be heard, no need for another strummer so I left after the third song. I had rely enjoyed playing with others for a change until the thrashing strummer joined in.

Herb Hunter
03-08-2007, 09:44 AM
Tim Mcknight, does the break angle really have a significant effect on volume?

WorksInTheory
03-09-2007, 12:13 AM
All the talk about volume reminds me of how exasperating it is to play with someone who thinks he has to out strum Richie Havens a

I completely agree. It's those that make so much sound but with such effortless grace that I can just sit and watch for ever. Even Jack Johnson who is so rhythmic and syncopated in his music has such a subtle strum that yields volumes of rhythm. You reminded me of a friend who is a ham and thinks he is a rock god or wishes he was and makes chords like he's gripping on to dear life and strums as if he's doing karate fast motion. And he likes to play hard and loud and is quite boisterous in his performance. Suffice it to say one time I tried to show him a little something about acoustic guitars and let him play one and he immediately put a couple nice pick marks across my guitar... which shows his inconsideration too... wait I did say he was a friend right?

sdelsolray
03-09-2007, 12:32 AM
Everything is easier with low tension.

Except fretted note intonation.

ljguitar
03-09-2007, 06:30 AM
So Larry are all your guitars set to the same height for the action or do you use different settings for each of your guitars...
Hi SoF...
They are near identical. I had my luthier (Michael Bashkin) set them up for me, and in the case of my main two, they wear .011 sting sets and the other two wear .012s.

When a person grabs one of my guitars, the action is going to be consistent even if they grab another 5 minutes later.

Stills41
03-09-2007, 05:26 PM
Well how big a boy are you anyway? Maybe you just aint wacking it hard enough. Just kidding, I have encountered the same problem and I found that if you change up a gauge (.12-.13) it seemed to help alot. Plus, it helped to develope my hand strength. Hope this helps.

BigRed51
03-10-2007, 11:47 AM
It has been my experience that every guitar has an action "sweet spot." A height where it sounds the best, it doesn't buzz, it's easy on the fingers, and the intonation is as good as it gets. In addition, your playing style makes a big difference in what you can get away with.

Now a good luthier can adjust some of those features with good results. For example, someone whose playing is limited to fingerstyle can get away with much lower action than I can, as a bluegrass flatpicker. For that person, buzz is not nearly as big an issue, and chances are he will prefer a much lower action. Well the action can be set lower, and the intonation matched to it, and chances are that the owner would be happy, yet for me, the guitar would be virtually unplayable.

It is very easy to find the effects of raising action on your guitar ... but a little more involved to explore lowering the action. My first experience tinkering with raising action was with a '72 Ovation Balladeer. When fingerpciking, I bragged about the action being so low and not buzzing, but when I decided to take up flatpicking, it just didn't work. I called Ovation tech support (twenty some years after buying the guitar used) and they sent me a saddle blank and a bag full of 1/64 and 1/32 shims to play with. When I raised the saddle 1/16", the buzz went away, and the tone and projection improved dramatically when flatpicking ... but the interesting thing was that there was no noticeable difference in tone when fingerpicking.