Adjusting Action on Mandolins
Action is a term frequently used to describe the height of the strings above the frets and an instruments playability.
Over time certain elements can affect the action of a mandolin, making it harder to play or degrading the quality of sound and clarity.
Things That Can Effect Playability
- Wear in Nut or Saddle slots
- Incorrect bridge position
- Changing the string gauges
- Fret wear
- Improper neck relief
- Structural problems
Strings deepen the slots in the nut and bridge with time. As these slots deepen, string height is effected. A nut who's slots have worn considerably may cause open (unfretted) string buzz.
The position of the bridge and it's height directly affect the action and intonation.
Different string gauges exert different amounts of tension on an instrument and can cause a change in the neck's relief and top deflection.
Modest wear of the fret crown can cause difficult fretting, buzzing or intonation problems.
String tension and changes in humidity levels can affect the neck relief (bow) causing a change in string height and intonation.
Loose seams and sagging tops may also change the action on a mandolin. Tension should be removed to avoid further damage and possible warping of the panel.
Benefits of Good Action
A basic set up or action adjustment would entail adjusting the truss rod, cutting the nut slots properly, adjusting the height of the bridge and intonation.
Many of my clients found they were playing with an action much higher than necessary for a clean tone, as a result notes are hard to fret and moving quickly up the fretboard is also a problem. Because mandolins are under quite a bit of tension high action often presents itself with painful playing.