action How High Should Your Action Be? mandolin actioon tune standin 2

February 20, 2020, 0 Comments

How High Should Your Action Be?

The action, which is the height of your strings, needs to be set appropriately on your mandolin.  The exact height is somewhat subjective to each player’s ear.  The easy answer is:  High enough so the strings do not buzz at any fret when the instrument is played hard but low enough to make the instrument playable.  If the action is set too high, the instrument becomes too hard to play.  If the mandolin feels too stiff to play, lower the bridge.  If the strings buzz, raise the bridge.  A poorly setup instrument is miserable to play.  You must like playing your mandolin to keep playing it.  The more you play, the better musician you become.  When you are better at playing, you want to play more. 

If you are playing bluegrass music, for example, you may want your action set a little higher for the chop.  If you are playing jazz or choro, you are going to want to set the action a little bit lower than if you were playing bluegrass. 

When I set up an instrument, I set it up in between those two styles of music but my main goal is to set it up to make it easy to play   All of my bridges are adjustable bridges, so the player can tweak the height as necessary.

String height is critical to both the intonation of the instrument and the playability of the instrument.  I measure the height of the strings at the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the G string.  I set the strings between 0.060 and 0.065 off the fretboard.  Another component to string height is the slots on the nut.  I file the nut slots at .015 to .019 for the G string and .011 to .014 for the E string from the bottom of the string to the top of the first fret.

Professional String Height Tuning In Progress action How High Should Your Action Be? action height two 768x1024
Professional String Height Tuning In Progress

Another element to string height is the height of your bridge.  Ideally, you want your break angle at the bridge to be around 16 degrees.  As you raise the bridge, the angle on top may increase or decrease the volume, depending on the instrument.  In general, raising the bridge tends to increase the downward force on the top and increases the volume.  There is a point where this downward force will overwhelm the top thus damping the volume.  The key is finding this point while still maintaining the playability of the instrument. 

When you purchase a new mandolin, it should already be set up for you.  Some luthiers and shops charge a separate line item setup fee.  I do not.  Professional setup is included as part of the price of the mandolin.  It is my belief that if you purchase a mandolin from me, it should be ready to play and easy to play. 

Play more.  Play an instrument that is easy to play.

Gary Lewandowski, Luthier

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