Guitar Action: Guitar setup, guitar tuners, guitar adjustment.


Guitar Action

Guitar Action | Guitar setup and how to make your guitar adjustments for optimum playability.

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Guitar Action:

Guitar Action is the term we guitarists use to describe the quality of our guitar's playability.

There are 2 basic terms that guitar players use in describing their guitar's action.

What Action Does your Guitar Posses?

Hard or high action: What this means is that the strings are higher than normal off the face of the fretboard and it required quite forceful action to press the string down to the fret.

Soft, Fast or Low guitar action: This means the strings are low to the fretboard and little force is required to press the string to the fret. This is also know as fast action because it usually means the guitar player can play much quicker without the mechanics of pressing down aggressively on the strings.

Another factor that comes into play is string tension, which affects the action of your guitar.

String Tension:

String tension can be affected by the gage of the strings being used, such as heavy acoustic guitar strings can be very hard to play since they have a great deal of tension.

Light or extra light strings can be much easier to play because of the lesser amount of tension.

With Classical Guitar Strings, there are often 3 tensions available. Normal, Hard and Extra Hard. As you step up your string tension you most likely will gain volume, but you also increase the action of your guitar.

Problems Associated With High String Tension

While on the subject of string tension, I want to remind people that your guitar has to be structurally capable to handle the increased tension of heavy strings or strings with extra hard tension.

If it is not, you will see a variety of problems crop up, such as:

  • Warped Necks
  • Top Bellying
  • Warped or Loose Internal Braces in the top
  • Lifting of the Bridge
  • Most Guitarists Love Low Action

    Why is guitar action such an important subject with guitarists?

    If you have the most incredible sounding guitar and yet it is nearly impossible to play, it will sit in the case - it is not worth the effort.

    Cheap, mass produced guitars typically have the worst action of any guitars. This serves to turn aspiring guitarist's "off" and turn to another instrument that requires less effort to achieve good sound.

    Mass produced guitars are manufactured with unusually high string action to minimize or eliminate the possibility of Buzzing when they are played, which is the mark of "sudden death" for a guitar shopper.

    Well-Made Guitars Posses Good Guitar Action

    Well-made guitars, on the other hand, take great measures to make their guitars not only sound great, but play great as well.

    If you pull a $2,000 Martin D-18 off the wall, it is most likely to play great - right out of the box. Does that mean the action is perfect? No not at all. Even some of the best guitars need to be adjusted for individual playing tastes.

    They purposefully keep the string action slightly high to allow for hard strumming, if that is your style. If you play a light finger style guitar, you will want the strings as low as they can go for ease of playing those difficult passages.

    Handmade Guitar Action

    With Handmade Guitars you have the best of both worlds.

    The guitar not only can sound great, but good luthier's will custom make the guitar to fit your exact specifications, which includes very specific string action requirements.

    Can You Adjust The Action of Your Own Guitar?

    Many guitarists often play around with their own guitar action, myself included.

    I used to do this myself, before I knew anything about guitar repair or the proper way and proper order to adjust the action. The results were less than desirable.

    If you follow these articles on guitar action, you will be given detailed explanations, instructions and precautions for doing a professional action adjustment on your own guitar.

    Before You Start...
  • An easy, low or fast guitar action can be achieved if the neck and fretboard are true and there is the proper amount of Neck Relief.
  • Frets should all be consistently level and should not be worn. The idea here after all is to get the strings as low as possible while minimizing string buzz. If you need to replace, repair, level or analyze your guitar frets, be sure to visit our series on Fret Repair.
  • If the above conditions exist, it is a relatively easy measure to lower the strings on your guitar. In most cases it involves lowering the strings of the nut or the saddle and in many cases both.

    Almost always, the strings on the bass side of the guitar are higher than the strings of the treble side of the guitar.

    The reason for this is that the treble strings are under more tension and their vibration pattern or oscillation pattern is much smaller than that of the bass or wound strings.

    If you are interested in lowering your guitar action at the nut, see the article on Adjusting your Guitar Nut.

    If you are interested in lowering your guitar saddle action see the article on Adjusting your Guitar Saddle.

    Simply put, guitar neck relief is a very slight cupping or concave shape of your guitar neck. It is this cupping that allows for the elliptical string vibration of a picked or strummed string to clear the tops of the frets at roughly the mid point of the neck, or halfway between a fretted note and the bridge.

    The amount of relief your guitar neck should have is Dependant on several factors:

  • The playing style of the individual
  • The gage of the strings (i.e. light, medium or heavy gage strings)
  • The type of guitar (acoustic, classical or electric
  • For more on this subject go the the Neck Relief Article

    Fret Repair is an all encompassing word that can include maintaining frets, replacing frets or completing an entire fret job.

    Visit this link to view such things as
  • Assessing Your Fret Condition
  • Fret Tools Required
  • How to Level Your Frets
  • Replacing a Few Frets
  • Tackling a Complete Fret Job
  • Click this link to go to a full Martin d-18 Review. View specifications, likes and dislikes, plus ratings for Fit & Finish, Action and Setup and Warranty Information.