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Senior Member
Username: mike1762

Post Number: 1016
Registered: 1-2008
Posted on Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 3:23 am:   Edit Post

I believe my very first post was about this topic, but here goes again. I recently swapped my 4-string MK (BalK) for a 5-string MK (BalK). I'm struggling a bit with the width of the neck, but the biggest issue is the string tension: it's destroying my fingers!!! I have a Stingray-5 with the same scale-length, strings, and set-ups and it's not near as "tight" as what I'm experiencing on the MK. Can anyone explain the "physics" of what's happening here??? Shouldn't the tension be the same on both instruments (if the tuning is the same). I can play the Ray all night, but I have to put the MK down after a set. I've actually noticed this phenomena with all my Alembics as compared to my other basses (all of which are bolt-on). It must have SOMETHING to do with the neck-through construction.
Username: adriaan

Post Number: 3088
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 6:20 am:   Edit Post

When you put your preferred set of strings on the MK5, did you give her the full Joey treatment?

My guess would be that the nut is set too high, for the given neck bow and bridge height. And as you have three points of adjustment, you should play around with all three to find the optimum combination. [edit: Make sure you also go beyond what *looks* like it's as low as it will go. You'll be surprised.]

Other than that, tension must be practically identical, otherwise the strings can't be tuned at tqhe same pitch (same scale length and same string guage, [edit: same brand and exact same type of string,] then pitch and tension can only be identical). The geometrics of the string passing over nut and bridge might have some effect on the tautness, never the tension.

(Message edited by adriaan on February 16, 2014)
Intermediate Member
Username: mtjam

Post Number: 141
Registered: 11-2011
Posted on Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 6:21 am:   Edit Post

I can't say much about what's going on with the tension of your 5-string, but if your fingers are getting destroyed I would recommend you try Thomastik-Infeld flat wound strings (if you haven't already).

My first Alembic (used Distillate) came with TI flats, and I have sworn by them ever since. They are the lowest tension strings I have found. I'm assuming they make a 5-string set, but I don't currently own one so I've never investigated. They are very pricey, but I think they're worth it.

Another alternative could be to go to a very light gauge set of strings. When I bought my Alembic a EVH in November, the store put Ken Smith Slap Masters (35-95) on it. This is not a set of strings I would have ever considered previously, but I really like the feel and tension of these. I'm no slapper, either!

I'm getting ready to have carpal tunnel release surgery on both hands, so I feel your pain, literally! Try out some different strings. Hopefully, that will solve your problem. I'm sure your 5-string is a sweet bass!

Good luck!
Senior Member
Username: mike1762

Post Number: 1017
Registered: 1-2008
Posted on Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 6:56 am:   Edit Post

Yea, the set-up is as identical as it can be (given the differences in the bridge and nut). I agree with Adriaan that the tension HAS to be the same... I think it's a perception thing. I play really aggressively and I wonder if the flat-sawn single piece neck on the Ray is perhaps flexing enough that that is what I'm feeling???

Rob: I put TI Flats on my BB and it was a revelation in regards to flats (I think most flats just sound dead). But I do a fair amount of slapping, so flats aren't an option. I suppose I could put together a custom set of strings: I currently have DR HiBeams 120/100/80/60/40... 120/90/70/50/30 might do the trick.
Username: davehouck

Post Number: 11293
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 6:35 pm:   Edit Post

Mike; following up from your last comment about perception. Do the two basses sound the same? I'm guessing no. Perhaps you are playing more aggressively on the Alembic because your brain likes the tone you're getting when you do; and similarly you might be playing less aggressively on the other bass because your brain likes the tone you get with that level of attack on that instrument. Just a thought, given that everything else seems so similar.

When I sit down to practice, sometimes my playing is more aggressive and sometimes it is less. I think sometimes that's a reflection of my "mood"; but I think that often it's because I like what I'm hearing. So, for me, even on the same song, the intensity with which I strike the strings can vary significantly for no other reason that I like what I'm hearing in the moment.

Oh; another thought. Is the output coming from the two basses the same? Maybe you're playing more aggressively on the Alembic just to get to the same level as the other bass. You might want to turn up the trim pots on the Alembic and see if you find yourself playing a little lighter.
Senior Member
Username: bigredbass

Post Number: 2113
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 6:40 pm:   Edit Post

In a short answer, I'd agree with Adriaan. The quickest way to make the action feel 'tighter' is a raised-maybe-more-than-it-needs-to-be nut.
And it's often overlooked: Most of us are used to the usual fixed plastic or bone nut that's not changed without a little work, so we tend to forget that on an Alembic this is EVERY bit as adjustable as the bridge.

If you're using feeler guages, shoot for .025" inch clearance between the bottom of the string and the top of the first fret, and this is with the strings 'free-standing', in other words, no notes fretted anywhere along the string. Do this under your low B and also under the G, as Alembics adj nuts have a separate halves for the low and high side of the fingerboard on their five-strings.

Now this is pretty low, so as always, find a height that works for you, your bass, and the strings you're using. Best case, this is a part of your overall set-up, and doing it a standalone adjustment will affect yur other settings: It may not make any extra problems, or could add buzzes if your height over the last fret was real low and you're running enough relief for this new adjustment to add buzz. Or it may not and just make it easier to play. You'll just have to try it and see.


Recently I noticed my green Elan 5 was getting fairly grumpy to play. Strings had gotten noticeably higher. Kept telling myself I'd 'get a Round Tuit' one day soon and straighten it out.

So the other day, I decided to get after it. Was amazed how high the strings had gotten once I got to measuring them.

So I got out the feelers and the steel ruler and the 1/4" wrench and began. Cranked a bit more into it than I was expecting to get it to my usual .012" relief (this green one really, really needs to be almost dead straight to be happy). Checked my other heights, touched everything up, great, played like butter.

I really kept wondering why it had moved so much, the incredible winter we've had, gravitational anomalies, Obamacare, really had no clue . . . . until . . . . I had thought of using the second set of D'Addario XL's I bought at the same time as the set that was on it. I looked at the guages, and the light came on.

Played right into your post:

I had tried previously a light set (40-125), and D'Ad quotes the string tensions (in pounds) as 33, 43, 38, 34, and 31, G thru B. For me, they were way too light and went back to a medium set (50-135), which was on the bass when I noticed how high the action had crept up. Well, no wonder ! I'd set the bass up for those itty-bitty strings.

The medium set string tensions were 53, 60, 48, 40, and 36, QUITE a difference. No wonder the neck had pulled into more relief, and I had not paid attention to the nut (it was high) in quite a while, so it now is way easier to play than it was, even with these bigger strings. I'd set it up without checking the nut height, it still felt hard to play: Once I got it set properly, it eased right up.

As always, idiot-proofing myself is a full time job . . . . .

J o e y
Senior Member
Username: mike1762

Post Number: 1018
Registered: 1-2008
Posted on Monday, February 17, 2014 - 5:23 am:   Edit Post

Dave: I have a passive bass that I occasionally use, and I set the output on all my other basses to match it. The tone of the MK is VERY different. I've had several Alembics with signature electronics over the years, but none have been as "sensitive" as these. For instance, engaging the "Q" switch on my other basses produces a rather subtle difference in tone, but on the MK it sounds like I have envelope filter on it.

I'm currently playing around with the bridge, relief, and nut and I have it playing a little easier. I wish it were possible to individually adjust the height on each saddle... I have the "G" side run all the way down, but the "B" side is higher than I would like in order to keep the "B" from fretting-out. I'm trying not to do too much at the same time. I'll take another look at the nut today and try Joey's suggestion to set it "free-standing".
Senior Member
Username: mike1762

Post Number: 1020
Registered: 1-2008
Posted on Monday, February 17, 2014 - 7:10 am:   Edit Post

Interesting. When I got the bass the nut was run all the way down. It wasn't fretting-out up top so I figured "the lower the better". I just RAISED the nut and that allowed me to lower the bridge some more. It's playing much "easier" now without too much fret rattle.
Username: adriaan

Post Number: 3089
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Monday, February 17, 2014 - 9:45 am:   Edit Post

Thinking outside the box - most excellent!

Now about matching the output of multiple active basses and one passive - sounds like you might not really be getting the best of both worlds there. Not sure what's happening with the Q switches though, unless they've been set at higher dB levels than what you've been used to.
Senior Member
Username: mike1762

Post Number: 1021
Registered: 1-2008
Posted on Monday, February 17, 2014 - 10:35 am:   Edit Post

Duh... I just realized a MAJOR contributing factor re the difference between the Ray and the MK: my right hand naturally falls much closer to the bridge on the MK; therefore, it feels "tighter". Most (all?) Alembics have a fair amount of real-estate behind the bridge, so that's why I've always had that perception.

Adriaan: is there some advantage to running active basses "hotter"??? I'd just have to turn it down somewhere else in the chain.
Senior Member
Username: bigredbass

Post Number: 2114
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Monday, February 17, 2014 - 11:18 am:   Edit Post

Mike, there's also a design difference in Alembics and virtually any bolt-neck bass I can think of:

If you think of the differences in a Les Paul and a Strat, you can see this. With an Alembic, you essentially have three 'angled' parts of the run of the strings. First, the break angle over the bridge from the tailpiece. Second, the fingerboard is angled downward from the plane of the top of the body. And third, the headstock is bent down relative to the fingerboard. Look at an LP and you see the same thing.

On a MusicMan, or Fender, or G+L, or any bolt-neck you can think of, the strings break over the saddle from the bridge itself. There may be a down angle on the neck if it's been shimmed at the body end of the heel (or 'micro-tilted' if so equipped), but it's nor much if any. And at the head, the string retainers impart enough downforce to keep the strings in the nut slots, but again, not a lot, as the face of the peghead is parallel to the fingerboard. Look at a Tele or Strat and you see the same thing.

The addition of these 'angles' tend to make an Alembic (or similarly constructed instrument) feel like it has more 'tension', which is different from the measured pull of the strings. It's hard to wrap my head around, but looking at it this way, I can visualise it. So this may very well be why your MK feels tighter than the Ray.

The advantage for a straight-pull axe like a Fender is that there's no scarf joint to build the 'bent' headstock, and this eliminates the 'fell down, broke the head off' accidents. Most serious guitar repair guys have re-attached Gibson (or Alembic) heads, but see very few Fender re-attachments. But you trade-off the extra downforce and whatever sustain improvements the bent head buys you.

But it sure looks funny at first. I have a 4+1 head on the Elan, and it was the craziest looking thing to see that Fender-ish head BENT down from the fingerboard till I got used to the sight of it.

Again, the nut height is counter-intuitive in a way. I would have thought 'the lower the better, cool!', and did.

I once read an interview with Anthony Jackson, who has educated himself to so much of the mechanics of this. His takeaway was that he had the Foderas set up essentially with the nut and the clearance over the last frets as almost, if not the same height. You can't do it exactly like that as the relief manifests itself to the left of the 12th fret with a flatter run out in the final frets, but I got what he was saying and now tend to run mine that way.

J o e y
Username: artswork99

Post Number: 1951
Registered: 7-2007
Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 8:44 am:   Edit Post

Good insight here. Thanks!
Username: felt_pick

Post Number: 2
Registered: 11-2013
Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 - 8:48 am:   Edit Post

Scale length is usually the most obvious reason for string tension increase. The longer the scale, the tighter the strings. The second most influential factor is the string break angle off the back of the bridge. The steeper the angle off the saddle, the tighter the string will feel. Thirdly, having a high nut may give the impression the tension is higher, but it is just a mechanical variance, and not related to the string's tension. That being said, in the 37 years I have been associated with Alembic, it has always been my experience that a long scale Alembic will have a higher string tension than most of the other long scale basses on the market. I got in the habit of using 40-125 sets on my long scale 5 string Alembics in order to provide a more comfortable string tension. The quality of the Alembic circuits always insured I would not be losing quality of tone by using the lighter strings. The long and short of it if you want to approximate the feel of your Music Man, put a 40-125 set of strings on your Alembic.

(Message edited by felt_pick on February 23, 2014)

(Message edited by felt_pick on February 23, 2014)
Senior Member
Username: hydrargyrum

Post Number: 1210
Registered: 3-2004
Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 1:48 pm:   Edit Post

Break angle behind the bridge seems like it would affect the how firmly seated a string is in its saddle, but it wouldn't change the tension would it? The scale length between the nut and the saddle are the same regardless of the break angle.
Senior Member
Username: cozmik_cowboy

Post Number: 1668
Registered: 10-2006
Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 9:53 pm:   Edit Post

You are absolutely correct, Kevin. Tension can be changed exactly three ways: string gauge/alloy/etc (gauge being the main thing), scale length, and pitch. Not break angle, not tailpiece-to-bridge distance, not nut-to-tuner distance, not pickguard-off-or-on, not coiled or straight cord, not phase of the moon; nothing but those three affects tension.

Advanced Member
Username: flpete1uw

Post Number: 265
Registered: 11-2011
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 5:16 am:   Edit Post

Great thread! maybe it should be added somewhere to the http://alembic.com/club/messages/16271/16283.html?1299435855 FAQ section?
Senior Member
Username: lbpesq

Post Number: 5667
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 6:23 am:   Edit Post

"nothing but those three affects tension."

Sorry, but I beg to differ. A visit by your mother-in-law often affects tension!


Bill, tgo
Advanced Member
Username: xlrogue6

Post Number: 290
Registered: 8-2002
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 11:03 am:   Edit Post

Not to be pedantic, but string construction is really the determining factor of a particular string's tension--the gauge is just the final result. Two strings of the same gauge can have very different tensions, depending, as mentioned, on the materials used and especially core/wrap diameters.
Senior Member
Username: mike1762

Post Number: 1022
Registered: 1-2008
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 11:53 am:   Edit Post

As I mentioned above, I eventually realized that I was playing MUCH closer to the bridge on the BalK (as opposed to my Ray). When I moved my hand more toward the neck the "tension" was markedly relieved. The problem is that it just feels awkward to play in a position where the strings don't feel like rebar. Hmmmm....
Username: davehouck

Post Number: 11297
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 5:08 pm:   Edit Post

I followed Florida Pete's link to the Must Reads section, looked under Strings, and found this thread on string tension. It's a good read on the subject.
Senior Member
Username: jacko

Post Number: 3493
Registered: 10-2002
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2014 - 2:03 am:   Edit Post

'Mother in law' is an anagram of 'woman hitler'. Mine makes me tense whenever we're together ;-)
BTW. sorry to hear that the Bushman has passed.

Sorry for the brief hijack.

Back on track, don't some string manufacturers post the tension of their strings?


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