frets height and lower string action


Junior Member
Hi to all Warmoth forum members. I am kinda setup freak who wishes to have the setup on his guitar to be as comfortable and playable as possible. If I could I would have the Plek machine website as a default site in my browser (but I have a  :icon_thumright: ). I am definitely friend of stainless steel frets. But to my question. I have read somewhere that for example SRV or Clapton have their strings setup quite high because of the better tone. Well I would understand it if it was said like they love (SRV loved) their setup like that and because it was so comfotable for them and so they could have such great tone. I don't realy think higher string action could anyhow affect quality of the tone (except the situation the strings are so low that they buzz against the frets which nearly mute them). Andy Timmons or Joe Satriani are both low action freaks and I don't think we could say they have worse tone than mr. Clapton. We can say they have different tone. Maybe not as good timing as mr. Clapton has. But not a worse tone because of their low strings action. What I like is the efficiency of the freting hand movements. Low string action helps this very much. It is said that mr. Satriani has his frets leveled down so the height of the string could be even lower and closer to the fretboard. Do you guys think this is a good idea? There is a certain risk that frets leveled this way will last much shorter time. So do you think the result is worth of more frequent refreting? Thanks
This is easy (hehehe):

If'n ya need to wank, low action.

If'n ya need to bend, high action.

If'n ya do a little of both, in between.

(BTW, I'm not of the opinion that Satch has a good tone... or Clapton for that matter from late 70's on up.  Now, Clapton back in Cream days is a different story... both S and C are great players with different styles of course)
When you first pick a string, even a single clank of the string against the next higher fret dramatically affects the overall tone that then comes out. Unless you're actively courting feedback, that initial contact is very important. I'm freaky enough that I often stop videos of great guitar players when they show a close-up angle that lets you see how high their strings are. Eric Johnson and Jeff Beck play with what seems like me to be really high action, and they're quick enough - with deadly tone. They would lower the stings if they could, I'll bet. Both play guitars with a 12" straight radius.

When you get down to the wankeriest, minute thousandths -of-an-inch detail, one of the major problems with original Floyd Rose and most Fender-type vibratos is that they raise and lower the strings when you engage them - uh-oh. It seems to me that most shredders who want both speed and a Floyd will sacrifice a bit of tone to keep the action low - this may be why I've never heard a Floyd user who I would put in the very top echelon of Tone Gods*. I still listen to Satriani & Vai regularly, but not for tone.

*(Morse, Johnson, Beck, early Santana, Allman, early Clapton - Gods. There are many, many other guitarists with a great command of effects - Chris Poland, Oz Noy etc. And, others with a fascinating signature tone or two or three - Holdsworth, Vai & Satriani all fall in here. But they're not GODS, more like wood sprites or something. Allman's disciples like Haynes & Trucks are great, too. Herring masters the Morse-derived upper midrange humbucker-on-a-Fender tone - but imitating a god is only god-ly. :eek: I don't include Hendrix & SRV because when they were playing live, they'd switch to the lead Strat pickup when they were high on drugs and injure people, but hey - this is MY list. :toothy12: Hendrix had some great quirky studio tones, and Noy is slipping on and off my god list regularly these days. )
I agree about Satch, he's not one of those tone guys like SRV.  SRV, by the way, has pretty much my favorite tone ever, even though I'm not a big fan of his music.  (He's an AWESOME player but to my ears it's "just" blues.)

Higher strings will sustain better and sound "cleaner" because they don't touch any other frets.  If you're getting pinch harmonics without the pinch, the action is too low.  But on a good neck you can get the action extremely low before you start losing that clean sound...
If you dig stainless steel frets, you shouldn't worry about fret wear at all. They're very tough. No reason why a fret leveling isn't a good idea.
My Opinion:  A higher action helps when muting unwanted adjacent strings from making unwanted noise,

I have a guitar with action so low, that I am surprised it doesn't buzz, and yet you gotta be precise in your play or it will have unwanted notes popping up like an AOL website,

And I do understand that that's me cuz I suck
Ok guys...thanks for all that info. But please, keep out the best tone gods away from this topic. I just used Satch and SRV as samples to point out that two very very good guitarist could have good tone and it doesn't that much depend on the string height. I'm sure that we could find many people sayin' that Satch is a tone God and if they hear SRV they maybe sayin' : so what, some good bluesman! I mean it depends on our taste. I'm not a Satch fan either. I like SRV tone as well as Andy Timmons. And the same situation here. SRV hi string action, Timmons very low action. For me - both have different and both have great tone. But comparing tone Gods is not a point of this topic. The question was if you think it is a good idea to level down the frets so the space between fret and string remains maybe the same but the string is then closer to the fretboard (as it's what Satch does to get even lower action aginst the fretboard - not necessarily against the frets). So what do you think about that? Would it be perceptible? Thank you
Well I used to have a Gibson V that was like what they called the frettless wonder - flat and low frets. I liked it a lot at the time. I do remember I stopped playing it for a while and played a different guitar for a long time, and when I went back to the V I had a tough time getting used to it again. I could barely play it actually. It can make bends harder to do since it's harder to get the tip of your finger on the edge of the string.

I'd like to read or hear where Joe says he likes his frets leveled very low.

here's a site showing some flat frets being replaced:
Well, I would like to say something like:

"the majority of top guitarists use quite large frets, at least 6105-sized. Malmsteen and Cooley even use Dunlop 6000's, the giant bass frets. However, there are a few people who use medium, vintage-Gibson sized frets, (.040" high, say) like tone deities Morse & Satriani...."

However, I'm not allowed to invoke examples from the best musicians in the world anymore, so I won't say that. :sad:

I will say that I prefer really large frets, even a scalloped board. Fortunately, my experiences parallel those of good guitarists.... :toothy11: Just buy, sell and play guitars for 30 years till you've played a few hundred, something will occur! In the meantime, don't file your frets down anymore than needed. A proper crown and most important, proper shaping of the fret ends can make any height comfortable and usable. There are people who prefer the most oval-iest shape possible on top of large frets (me) so that it's a slick as possible, there are others who like to make them pyramidal and peaky cause they claim it leads to more accurate intonation. I honestly can't hear it... the logic makes sense, but I can hear three cents off pitch and oval frets don't DO that. Too much pressure will... an even-tempered guitar is that far off anyway.

(I didn't used to be so picky about pitch till I started playing steel guitar, it's ruined a lot of "classic" recordings for me now. Miles Davis was experimenting with making all kinds of notes "blue" during his "Sketches of Spain" period = sounds like trying to play blues by squeezing on a polecat.... :eek:)
GoDrex said:
Well I used to have a Gibson V that was like what they called the frettless wonder - flat and low frets. I liked it a lot at the time. I do remember I stopped playing it for a while and played a different guitar for a long time, and when I went back to the V I had a tough time getting used to it again. I could barely play it actually. It can make bends harder to do since it's harder to get the tip of your finger on the edge of the string.
I know the feeling.  I had the opportunity to check out a '68 LP this summer that my uncle wanted setup.  He said it was fretting out too much and brought it with him to see if I could tweak the neck.  The frets were wide enough but barely .012" tall.  I loved the low fast action for runs, but it was almost unplayable for bends or clean rhythm.
I would first recommend you trying both high and low action on one of your guitars. Do it on the same guitar and see which works better for you. Generally, high strings are associated with big, clear tone (especially on the unwound strings). I personally hear a thinner high-end with low action, but it's not necessarily a bad thing if that's your tone.

As far as low frets, here's what it gives you:
  • Faster, smoother slides
  • Usually more powerful/louder hammers
  • Notes tend to stay more in tune for those with heavy touch, because you aren't able to squeeze them too far down to the fretboard

I think some others have done a good job of describing high action. What's important as well is the string height at the nut and the neck relief. I like what I would consider mid-to-low nut height, a tiny bit of neck relief, and mid-to-high action.
Re: loud, clear tone, how about that Garcia fellow:

Garcia played with high action 7/64" at the 12th fret, with .030" relief in the neck.  At the nut, the strings where also quite high at about .030" above the 1st fret.  The ebony fingerboard has a 16" radius and sports.  .105" x.45" frets.  The neck and middle pickups are 10/64" from the strings, and the bridge pickup sits 14/64" away.  (The bridge was made by Schaller for Gibson, and the tailpiece was custom made for the guitar.)  The brass nut is scalloped between the strings, and the spacing -as specified by Garcia- is equal between the edges of the strings (as opposed to the centers of the strings being equidistant, which is more common).  Garcia used Vinci strings, gauged .010 - .046, but from time to time used an .011 on the highE and a .047 on the low E.

Guess that's what comes from starting on a pawnshop Danelectro... :cool01: At 13 lbs, who's checking string height? :toothy10: