How to Setup Guitar Action: Most Detailed Guide

Guitar action requires a thorough understanding so that you can adjust it on your own. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, a low or high action can disturb the sound and playability.

Knowing how to adjust the action can completely change the way your guitar feels to play.

Adjusting your guitar action will seem simpler after you read this guide.

Starting from what action is to why it’s important and how you can adjust it on your acoustic and electric guitar- everything you need to know is explained below.

Just scroll down and follow these guidelines step-by-step to ace it.

What is Guitar Action?

The anatomy of a guitar includes strings and fretboard, among other crucial parts. The height between the fretboard and the strings is known as action. It plays a significant role in your guitar’s intonation and playability. 

But how will you know if the action is too high or low? Well, if your guitar feels uncomfortable to play, it could be due to high action.

If you hear a string buzzing at one or more positions on the fretboard, it could be due to a low guitar action.

When Action is too high

If the action is too high, you will need to push your fingers quite far to touch the fretboard with the string.

Consequently, the pressure required to fret a note would be greater. This can slow you down or make it difficult to play, especially if you are a beginner. 

High action can also affect intonation. Intonation can be checked by playing an open string and the 12th fret harmonic on the same string. If the two notes sound noticeably different then intonation issues may exist.

When Action is too low

On the contrary, a low action will ruin the sound by creating fret buzz. In the worst-case scenario, too low of an action can result in a dead note (the note does not ring out at all when fretted).

How to Measure Guitar Action?

Before you know how to adjust action, it’s essential to know how you can measure it as that will help you to know the most preferred action for acoustic and electric guitars.

Here, understanding truss rods and their impact on the guitar is important. Once you set the truss rod correctly, you’ll be able to adjust the action easily.

By hand

If you do not have any instruments for measuring guitar action, you can still determine whether it is high or low.

Hold the thumb of your left hand on the second fret and the thumb of your right hand at around the 14th-16th fret of the 6th string. With the index finger of your right hand, press the string near the 8th fret area to see how much it dips before touching the frets.

If it does not dip at all, then the action is too low. If it dips a lot then the action is probably too high. Generally speaking, while pressing down both ends, the action at the 12th fret should not be more than 2mm.

Using a ruler

Guitar action can be measured with the help of a ruler or an action gauge. To start with, place the end of the ruler against your guitar’s 12th fret and hold it against the guitar string. Here, the general rule is to measure the gap between the fret’s top and the string’s bottom.

However, to measure guitar action, you need the right kind of ruler. Your ruler should be able to start measuring from the edge. If you use a ruler that features a small gap between the edge and the markers, you may end up with the wrong measurement.

Using an Action gauge

Alternatively, buying a guitar action gauge will give you the best reading. It is a custom ruler specifically designed for reading guitar action. Usually, a guitar action gauge gives readings in millimeters and inches, and hence, it’s the easiest to use.

You will get plenty of options while searching for a guitar action gauge. Some versions are quite simple, whereas the others can also measure nut height and fret wear along with fret height.

If you have multiple guitars, you can opt for these handy tools for a better experience.

Now, depending upon the type of bridge your guitar has, you can either measure all the strings or only the high and low E. You can measure each string’s height if your guitar bridge allows you to do so. 

Adjusting Action on Acoustic Guitar

The action of acoustic guitars is often higher than electric guitars. This is why a low action can create an excessive buzz in acoustic guitars. The length of action on an acoustic guitar is usually around 2.8mm on the low E string and around 2mm on the high E string.

An acoustic guitar’s strings get more space to vibrate when you slightly increase the height of the action. As a result, you get a clearer tone without any buzzing sound. The action also depends on whether you use a capo as it can lower the gap between the strings and the fretboard.

Hence, you may not notice any problem with the sound when you use a capo even if your guitar has high action. For this reason, setting the action a little higher is recommended if you use a capo.

Similarly, a higher action is recommended if you use a guitar slide.

Here are 3 different ways on how you can adjust the action of an acoustic guitar:

Adjusting the truss rod:

This is by far the easiest way to adjust the action of an acoustic guitar.

Your guitar’s truss rod may be adjustable from both ends. In most guitars, however, the truss rod is adjustable only at the headstock.

Follow these steps to adjust it:

Remove the truss rod cover (if any)

Insert an allen key (usually 8mm) into the hex nut at the end of the truss rod. I would advise you to use the allen key that came with your guitar. 

Rotate the allen key clockwise to tighten the truss rod and decrease the action by decreasing neck relief

Rotate the allen key anti-clockwise to loosen the truss rod and increase the action by increasing neck relief

Remember to turn in very small increments and wait for at least 30 minutes to an hour after each adjustment. This ensures that the neck gets enough time to adjust to the change

Always remember that you should not apply excessive force while turning a truss rod as you may end up breaking it.

Adjusting the height of the guitar’s bridge saddle:

Another way to lower the action is by modifying the saddle height. You need to slacken the guitar’s strings to take the saddle out and then file it down to the preferred height that you want. 

Adjusting the height of the nut:

The nut can also be filed from the bottom to reduce its height. However, the nut of your guitar may be glued to the neck. In such cases, you may need to use some force to remove it from its position. 

Adjusting Action on Electric Guitar

You can adjust the action of an Electric guitar using the truss rod. The method is exactly the same as that used on an acoustic guitar. If truss rod adjustment makes no difference, then you can use other methods given below.

The method of adjusting the action of electric guitars may differ depending upon the bridge style that they have. 

  • Floyd Rose: If you use a guitar with a Floyd Rose bridge, you can increase or decrease the action by using the two ends or posts of the bridge.
  • Tune-o-Matic: If your guitar has a Gibson tune-o-matic bridge, the method of adjusting the action is similar to the Floyd Rose bridge.
  • Fender Style: For guitars with a fender style bridge, the two screws on each saddle can be adjusted using a 1.5mm Allen wrench.

Conclusion

Adjusting the action of your acoustic or electric guitar won’t be a problem when you follow the above methods. But there is a chance that things may not go as planned. If you still experience issues with your guitar’s action, then you should visit your luthier to have your guitar checked. 

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