Guitar Action Adjustment

Guitar Action Adjustment

Before every setup, we like to talk with our customers about their playing style and what they desire out of the instrument. This is important because it helps us to determine how to adjust their guitar or bass. Sometimes it can be even more helpful to simply watch them play for a moment. Through countless such interactions, we have found that many guitarists have been mislead into thinking they should like their guitar one way or another. Nowhere is this more apparent than as regards the guitars “action”

What Does “Action” Mean On A Guitar?

The guitars “action” refers to the height of the strings in relation to the frets. If the action is too high, strings far away from the fretboard, the guitar will be difficult to play and may not intonate properly. If the action is too low, strings very close to the frets, the guitar may have an audible chattering or a muted buzz as the strings vibrate against the frets. Depending on personal taste, guitarists strive to have their playing action fall somewhere in-between those two extremes.

Set The Action “As Low As Possible Without Buzzing”

When I ask a first time customer what kind of string height they are looking for, the response is more often than not “as low as possible without buzzing.” This phrase must be all over the internet and guitar magazines as “the thing to say to guitar tech’s to make sure they give you a great setup”, because I have heard it said the exact same way countless times! Honestly, as a guitar tech., I find this statement extremely unhelpful. Since I am always looking to give my customers great setups, I have to dig further.

Low String Action

There is no denying the benefits of a low action: easy bar chording and faster playing for quick runs or “sweep” picking are certainly the major ones. These are great benefits and can be crucial for some highly technical styles of playing. Low action can also be a big help to beginners, children, or people with arthritis. However, these attributes can be more advantageous for some than others, and very low action is not right for all players.

Even for a guitar that has good fretwork with level frets, very low action requires a very light picking hand in order to avoid any “fret chatter”. For those with a light touch, or playing with so much distortion that slight rattles would be inaudible, this is not a problem. However, if you like to dig in with your picking hand, this might be a concern.

Medium or Higher String Action

Players who prefer a more “medium” action may have to work a bit harder to get their strings down, but in turn they experience notes with a fuller bloom and longer sustain.

Those who love to bend strings might also benefit from a more “medium” action. Many of you know that the fretboard of a guitar is not flat. It is curved, higher towards the center, in order to more comfortably fit our hand as we play. Though the degree of this curvature varies some, if the action is set very low to the fretboard, notes may buzz or “fret out” as they are bent. This happens because when bending the string you are actually forcing it into the contour of the fretboard. Some string benders say that a bit higher action helps them to “get underneath” the string as they bend too.


String height is completely a matter of preference. What is right for one will inevitably be wrong for another. If you are unsure, it is worth trying both ways in order to figure out what works best for you. I hope that considering the above information will allow you to be a more informed player and help you to get the results you want out of your guitar.

About Guitar Repair Long Island:

Guitar Repair Long Island is the area’s premier destination for fretted musical instrument care and maintenance. We fix all fretted instruments, including: guitars, basses, banjos, mandolins, and ukuleles. Conveniently located in Ronkonkoma NY, the shop is dedicated to providing quick, honest, and reliable service. Our vast experience in all aspects of instrument repair ensures that we can help with whatever your needs are. Contact us or book your appointment today

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