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How to Set Up a Bass Guitar

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Bass is an integral part of most musical pieces. Whether you’re in a band or working on your drum-based project, without bass you can’t expect your music to stand out and have the perfect rhythm.

However, when you own a bass guitar and use it for composing music, you also need to ensure that your instrument is in flawless condition and is set up to your playing preferences.

In this blog post, we discuss in detail about bass guitar setup and how you can do it on your own.

Bass Guitar String Height

The height of the strings on your bass guitar largely determines the way the guitar feels and plays.

Whether you’re a budding bass player or someone with ten years of experience, playing a bass with abnormally high or low strings is always going to be challenging.

So, what does one do?

Sit with your bass guitar on your lap in the playing position with its neck parallel to the ground and measure the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the low-E string (thickest).

The same way you need to measure the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the highest string on your bass (G in four-string bass guitars).

The ideal string height on bass guitars is 2.4 mm for the E string and 2 mm for the G string. And yes, this also depends on your personal preference, so, do take that in account.

Once you have found out the strings’ height on your bass guitar, you’ll need to adjust them to your comfort.

To do that, you can follow the steps below:

Step 1: Unscrew the bridge plate covers (if any) and remove them.

Step 2: Make quarter turn adjustments to the saddle height. If the strings are higher, you’ll need to push the saddles down, and if the string height is too less, you’ll have to bring the saddles up.

TIP: Keep playing after every turn to know whether you have achieved the desired string height or not.

Adjusting Bass Guitar Neck Relief

Your bass guitar’s neck relief is another factor that will largely affect how it plays and how comfortable it is when you’re playing it.

If the relief on your bass’s neck is too much, the action will go up way high. That makes it difficult to quickly switch between notes.

Similarly, if the neck relief is too low, the frets will collide with the strings, and there’ll be an unwanted and unpleasant fret buzz.

The best is to maintain optimal distance between the fretboard and the strings.

Adjusting neck relief is important for that. We need to ensure that the guitar neck neither has an up-bow, nor a back-bow.

Read below to find out what tools you’ll need to adjust the neck relief on your bass:

  • String winder

  • Truss rod wrench (0.5 mm Allan key/wrench)

  • Phillips’ screwdriver

  • Bass guitar tuner

  • Capo

Step 1: Check for the bow - Before we set up the neck relief, we need to know whether we need to add relief or bring it down.

For that, capo the first fret and place your index finger on the fret of the low-E, at the point where the neck joins the bass’s body.

The distance between the string and the middle frets should be around that or a credit card.

If the distance is more, your bass guitar will have a back-bow (concave), and if the distance is lesser, your hass will be having an up-bow (convex).

Step 2: Adjust - Here your truss rod wrench will come to use. To adjust the truss rod on your bass, locate the truss rod nut (on most fender basses, it’s at the top of the headstock).

To increase relief (push the strings upwards), rotate the nut in the anti-clockwise direction, and to reduce relief (bring the strings down), rotate the nut in the clockwise direction.

TIP: Move slowly with quarter turns and try to remember how much you have rotated the rod nut. This will help you get back to the normal position, if things go south.

Bass Pickup Height

The height of the pickups on your bass guitar has an impact on the tone.

As experienced by many players, lowering the pickup height adds brightness to the tone, and makes it slightly weak.

On the other hand, increasing the pickup height on your bass guitar will add warmth and thickness to the tone.

How To Adjust Pickup Height?

Well, adjusting bass pickup height is one of the easiest parts of maintaining it. On most bass models you will find screws to raise or lower pickups.

Just remember that adjusting the screws on one side will not raise or lower the pickup from both ends. You will have to fasten or loosen the screws on both the ends.

Setting Bass Intonation

As you play your bass for a long time, pitch of the notes on your instrument may start deviating from the actual pitch.

For example, the F note on the third fret of D string may not play as an F. It may be higher or lower.

In this case you will have to set the intonation for your bass.

Here are the steps to do that:

Step 1: Play the natural harmonic on the twelfth fret of any string that you want to intonate. After this, fret the 12th fret of the same string and play it.

If the note’s pitch is higher than that of the harmonic, the tension would be low, and you’ll have to screw the saddle forward (towards the neck).

Similarly, if the note’s pitch is lower than the harmonic, the tension would be high and you’ll have to screw the saddle backwards (away from the neck).

After this, tune your bass and check if the intonation is in place.

Clean the Body

Cleaning your bass guitar is crucial for maintaining its shine and appearance. But the question is, how to clean the body of your bass.

One good thing about bass guitars is that their strings aren’t extremely thin, and there’s enough space between the strings and the fretboard.

As a result, it becomes easy to clean the fretboard regularly.

However, this regular cleaning may not include polishing. For that, it’s best to clean your bass guitar’s body when you are changing strings.

While replacing the strings on your bass guitar, take a dry cloth and clean up the entire body. After that, use a guitar polish spray (you can find it at most of the music stores) on your bass guitar’s body and wipe it away with another clean dry cloth.

Gently rub your bass guitar’s body in circular motions, and you’ll be able to maintain the shine on your bass.

NOTE: Make sure that you are not using the regular furniture polish. It can ruin the wood on your bass and harm it in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions

Setting up a bass guitar for the first time can often be challenging. In this section, we are discussing some of the most popular and frequently asked questions regarding bass setup.

How high should the action be on a bass guitar?

In an ideal situation, the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the lowest-E string should be around 2.4 mm. On the other hand, the distance between the 12th fret and the ‘G’ string should be 2 mm.

How do you raise the action on a bass guitar?

There are two common ways for raising the action on a bass guitar.

You can either increase the neck relief or raise the saddle height for the strings that you want to raise.

You can find the step-by-step procedures in the sections above.

How far should bass strings be from the fretboard?

As we said earlier, the distance between the top of the 12th fret & the bottom of the low-E string should be 2.4 mm, and the distance between the top of the 12th fret & the bottom of the G string should be 2 mm.

What is considered low action on a bass guitar?

If the action height is below 1.8 mm, we can say it is too low.

How far should my pickups be from the strings?

It’s recommendable to keep your pickups slightly higher than the body. Apart from that, it would be best if you tried to keep the distance maximum at the fourth-string neck-pickup and the least at the first-string bridge-pickup position.

Wrapping up

If you are looking forward to setting up your bass guitar, you may need some help. In this post, we shared some of the most useful tips, along with some useful FAQs that will help you set up your bass.

Hopefully, this was helpful.

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