Lowering the action

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palosanto
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Lowering the action

Post by palosanto » Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:21 am

I play mostly flamenco although started with classical training and getting back to it after a long time. I'm looking for a good classical.
I know that traditionally the action on a classical is almost twice as high as a flamenca.
All my flamencas have been adjusted to a very low action without any buzzing and they are butter to play.
I have two Sigurdson's flamencas and they are all buzz free averaging 2.6mm (low E) and 2.0 at high E (12 frets) with normal tension strings.
Sometimes I replace the trebles with high tension and the action might increase 0.5 mm.
I've always wondered why can't a well built classical be lowered to the same level of a flamenca ? This would obviously make it much easier to play.
Is there other reasons why classicals have always higher action ? It seems counter-intuitive to me ...
Does the lower action affects the sound, the volume, the tone ... ? Or is it just tradition ? Or can I just do it and be fine ?
Just wondering.
2018 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco blanca SP/CY
2009 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco negra SP/Coral
2011 Jose Ramirez 125 anos

Lovemyguitar
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by Lovemyguitar » Sat Feb 02, 2019 2:54 am

Yes, action height does affect the sound, volume, and tone, which is why it tends to be set higher on a classical, for clearer, louder, and more resonant and sustaining tone -- the strings are able to move more, thus vibrating the soundboard more (without buzzing on the frets). Some suggest that a "standard" classical action is about 3 mm on the treble and 4 mm on the bass (I've seen up to 4/5 mm) to optimise the sound, and many classicals are thus built on those specifications, with the strings at a particular height over the soundboard at the bridge (10 - 12 mm, I think) and over the frets.

However, a person can usually (and often easily) lower the action if they desire (if it is higher than they prefer), by lowering the saddle a bit (and/or the nut), which, based on comments here and elsewhere, is extremely common. I like it around 2.5 treble, 3.5 bass (I've lowered the action on almost every classical I've owned).

So, yes, of course you can lower the action on a classical, although I am not sure you'd get as low as your flamenca without too much fret buzz. But, any change in sound quality (which may be negligible, depending on the guitar and your needs/desires) may be well-worth the extra comfort for you to lower it.

Philosopherguy
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by Philosopherguy » Sat Feb 02, 2019 3:17 am

As I originally came from electric guitars, I used to love lower action. However, as I have improved my technique and gained more skill and precision in playing classical, I find I prefer a higher action. My guitar is probably about 4mm on the bass and maybe about 3.5 on the treble. What matters more is adjusting the nut on the guitar to provide good action on the lower frets. This, to me, makes more difference than the action at the 12th fret. So, the moral of the story is, fear not! You will get used to the action and, in the end, it will make you a better guitarist.

Lovemyguitar is correct. Higher action means you can hit the strings harder, get more dynamics out of the guitar, and get a clearer tone (i.e. more sounding like a classical guitar). Not that flamenco guitar sounds bad(i.e. lower action with some buzz), not at all. It is just a different tone that, as the two styles of guitar have diverged, has come about.

Another suggestion for you is that some of our members here play classical guitar on a flamenco. You would just need to raise the action a little and get some more "classical" sounding strings. You could just get a new saddle made and pop in some strings and try out the sound of your flamenco guitars. I know a few people that really enjoy that tone. After all, there didn't use to be any difference between flamenco guitars and classical. It was all in the style. I know one person on the forum here that has claimed that flamenco guitars sound closer to an original Torres than most Torres model guitars. I have no idea about the truth of that claim. It's might be worth a try though if you could part with one flamenco to experiment on for a while. Just keep the original saddle so you can convert it back at any time.

Martin
*************************************************************
2013 Ramirez 130 Anos - Spruce
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palosanto
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by palosanto » Sat Feb 02, 2019 3:34 am

I'm checking out a Ramirez 125 next week . Some of you gave me some insight yesterday in another post. Thank you.
I don't know how high the action will be because I haven't seen the guitar yet but I'll probably lower it at least a bit.
Higher tension strings is also a factor in being able to play buzz-free with lower action.
Personally I don't agree with the common belief that flamenco guitar is supposed to buzz to sound more flamenco. Listen to any of the greatest guitarists like Paco de Lucia, Vicente Amigo, and dozens more and you will hear/see a perfectly clean execution.
Looking forward to trying the Ramirez ...
2018 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco blanca SP/CY
2009 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco negra SP/Coral
2011 Jose Ramirez 125 anos

Lovemyguitar
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by Lovemyguitar » Sat Feb 02, 2019 5:31 am

palosanto wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 3:34 am
...Higher tension strings is also a factor in being able to play buzz-free with lower action. ...
Or, you could use medium or low tension strings with a somewhat higher action (higher than your flamenca, anyway!), thus improving how comfortable it is to play. You really have to adjust these things according not only to your preconceptions, but to the instrument in question, as there are numerous factors that make a particular guitar comfortable to play, action being just one of them.

Good luck with that Ramirez -- I hope you love it!

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palosanto
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by palosanto » Sat Feb 02, 2019 5:41 am

r, you could use medium or low tension strings with a somewhat higher action
Good point.
Like you said, at the moment are all hypothetical situations. I need to have the guitar on my hands to see what works better. Hey, I might find that it's perfectly fine as is ! ... :)
2018 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco blanca SP/CY
2009 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco negra SP/Coral
2011 Jose Ramirez 125 anos

GerryM
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by GerryM » Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:32 pm

In my experience, and coming from and including that of the banjo world, excessively low action on a classical guitar does not work very well. The reason is mechanics. The greater the distance from the guitar top to the top of the saddle, the greater the mechanical advantage the strings have for vibrating the top and producing sound. This is exactly analogous to the height of the bridge and its effect on banjo sound and volume.

Think of it as using a piece of pipe as an extension on a wrench handle to get a large nut off a car. When you double the handle length, you increase the mechanical advantage by a factor of 2. What was 50 lb. of force becomes 25 lb. for turning the nut. One mode of string vibration (a big one actually) is the shortening of the string due to the standing waves in the string when you pluck it. The greater the distance from the top of the saddle to the top allows the string force to rock the bridge further and create more sound.

Practically, I have recently purchased 3 classical guitars where some electric guitar guy had set them up with extremely low action. We are talking 2mm or so on the 12th fret. They all buzzed. They all sounded quiet and "dead". I made new saddles for them, raising the action to my typical goal of 3.25 mm. The improvement in volume and sound "quality" was immediately apparent. My Aria A560 went from OK to "great". A Cordoba 45R went from terrible to "pretty good". My Hirade H8 is still a work in progress but is heading towards "great" from quiet and dull.

So IMHO, low action on a classical has to be a compromise between comfort and playability, and sound. Lower is not always "better" if it compromises the sound too much.

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palosanto
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by palosanto » Sat Feb 02, 2019 7:11 pm

EDITED
Wow, that makes all the sense, the larger the clearance of the strings from the top, the larger the amplitude of vibration transferred and therefore louder the sound. So I guess in theory you could achieve a minimal clearance at the 12 fret and maximize the distance string to guitar top and therefore the volume by:
- Adjusting the truss rod if available (some classical guitars have it although is more common in steel string and electric) without changing the saddle height.
- Increasing the clearance at the saddle by maybe sloping the bottom portion of the guitar top allowing for a taller bridge/saddle (similar to the sloping done on guitars with elevated fingerboard but at the other end of the top so that the whole bridge sinks without changing the optimal action given by a minimal clearance at the 12th fret.
- increasing somehow the angle of the strings from the stringing hole to the top of the saddle. The bigger the angle the more pressure on the saddle down to the guitar top and louder sound.
- a combination of the above

Same idea (on a steel string but the principle is the same)
Not sure if I agree on the angle at the nut but probably true at the saddle.

A differing point of view from a respected luthier Alan Carruth: "I did an experiment on break angle a while back. Basically, increasing the break angle from six degrees to twenty-five made no audible or measurable difference in the way the guitar sounded. Changing the string height off the top did. My conclusion is that so long as there is 'enough' break angle to keep the string in contact with the saddle top throughout it's vibration cycle, it will transfer all of the force of the vibration to the saddle and drive the top. If the string hops off the saddle top because it doesn't have enough break angle, I suspect you'd hear it as a buzz or a 'sitar' effect." The same principle goes for the nut (i.e. there is little risk of 'weak' break angle, unless your headstock is straight for some reason)

In other words, the important variable is not the saddle height out of the bridge, but the total string height from the top. What's more, too high of a saddle protrusion can be damaging, as the higher the stress, the more bellying.
2018 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco blanca SP/CY
2009 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco negra SP/Coral
2011 Jose Ramirez 125 anos

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Julian Ward
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by Julian Ward » Sat Feb 02, 2019 8:16 pm

If you have 'buzz free' on your flamencos at a low E set at 2.6mm you must have a very light attack! If you go and see that Ramirez it will be miles higher than that and might feel like an absolute beast in comparison - but don't let that put you off!
Classical guitar teacher

Lovemyguitar
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by Lovemyguitar » Sat Feb 02, 2019 8:48 pm

I think that you're overthinking this a bit, and worrying far too much about it, palosanto! The action height on a classical is not the huge problem that you are making it out to be: with the way that most classical guitars are currently built, players are readily able to achieve a perfectly enjoyable, acceptable, and comfortable action, whether by lowering the saddle a bit, or simply getting used to a somewhat higher action than they may have had on previous non-classical guitars. The classical guitar does not have to be completely redesigned to solve this supposedly serious problem that you seem to think exists.

Chill out and relax, abandon these preconceptions that don't seem to be based on any recent experience with classical guitars, play that beautiful Ramirez next week, and judge it for all its qualities, not just one. If you buy it and find that you really don't like the action height (being a used guitar, the previous owner may well have lowered it a bit already, it is such a common thing to do), then you can probably lower it some more, without having to rebuild the whole guitar.

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palosanto
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by palosanto » Sat Feb 02, 2019 9:03 pm

Lovemyguitar wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 8:48 pm
I think that you're overthinking this a bit, and worrying far too much about it, palosanto! The action height on a classical is not the huge problem that you are making it out to be: with the way that most classical guitars are currently built, players are readily able to achieve a perfectly enjoyable, acceptable, and comfortable action, whether by lowering the saddle a bit, or simply getting used to a somewhat higher action than they may have had on previous non-classical guitars. The classical guitar does not have to be completely redesigned to solve this supposedly serious problem that you seem to think exists.

Chill out and relax, abandon these preconceptions that don't seem to be based on any recent experience with classical guitars, play that beautiful Ramirez next week, and judge it for all its qualities, not just one. If you buy it and find that you really don't like the action height (being a used guitar, the previous owner may well have lowered it a bit already, it is such a common thing to do), then you can probably lower it some more, without having to rebuild the whole guitar.
Ha, ha, .... tanks Lovemyguitar I hear you, I'm just having fun with this .... I'm an engineer ! :D :lol: I'm used to be analytical, but seriously, I'm not worried. I know I'll love my Ramirez.
It all started out of curiosity on my OP. I never questioned this things before, I just grabbed the guitar and played.
I apologize if I gave the wrong impression but it's the weekend, lots of time to indulge and have a conversation with you, wonderful people on this board. We all have a common passion ...
Thank you all for your patience :)
2018 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco blanca SP/CY
2009 Jeff Sigurdson flamenco negra SP/Coral
2011 Jose Ramirez 125 anos

Lovemyguitar
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by Lovemyguitar » Sat Feb 02, 2019 9:12 pm

palosanto wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 9:03 pm
... We all have a common passion ...
That we do! No worries at all -- I just didn't want you to be worrying needlessly, and I'm glad to hear that you're not!

Have a great one!

GerryM
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Re: Lowering the action

Post by GerryM » Sun Feb 03, 2019 12:37 am

"A differing point of view from a respected luthier Alan Carruth: "I did an experiment on break angle a while back. Basically, increasing the break angle from six degrees to twenty-five made no audible or measurable difference in the way the guitar sounded. Changing the string height off the top did. My conclusion is that so long as there is 'enough' break angle to keep the string in contact with the saddle top throughout it's vibration cycle, it will transfer all of the force of the vibration to the saddle and drive the top. If the string hops off the saddle top because it doesn't have enough break angle, I suspect you'd hear it as a buzz or a 'sitar' effect." The same principle goes for the nut (i.e. there is little risk of 'weak' break angle, unless your headstock is straight for some reason)"

That is exactly what I was trying to say. I guess I should have been a little more clear that I was referring to the "top of the guitar" not "top of the bridge".

In banjo, the "break angle" of the string over the bridge is vitally important because of different mechanics. That is the string end is fixed to the rim and the only force working on the bridge to move the flexible head is the movement of the string several inches in from the fixed string end, really a rotary motion. The rocking motion of the bridge you get with an acoustic guitar has little effect on the sound, if any.

You CAN make a classical guitar with a low action if you raise the fingerboard relative to the top (elevate it) or change the angle the neck attaches to the body. On the several banjos I built I fixed the angle to work with my desired bridge height and made a sliding neck joint so I could slide the whole neck up and own on the rim to adjust the action height to the desired amount. Worked like a charm.

Could be done on a guitar but is really not as necessary as classical guitar necks are MUCH more stable and rigid than a long skinny 5-string banjo neck. Besides it wouldn't be traditional. Although it would allow you to compensate for top distortion with age. As seen on many older guitars. :D

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