Guitar Saddle Adjustment
Put you guitar into great playing shape with low action by following these tips.
To achieve the best possible playability in a guitar, often the action of the guitar needs to be addressed. Simply put, this often means raising or lowering the strings of the guitar at the nut and saddle ends of the guitar.
This article will allow you to address, diagnosis and and provide for guitar saddle adjustments.
For adjustment to the nut please visit the article on Guitar Nut Adjustment.
- Padded Workbench
- Good Work Light
- Stationary Belt Sander -or-
- Sanding Block 120 grit sandpaper
- Sharp Pencil
Guitar Saddle Adjustment - Sight Down Neck To Access Fret Condition
If you are dealing with a string buzz and you suspect that it is a result of the saddle being too low, visit the article on Saddle Replacement.
If you just need to lower your saddle, you are at the right place.
Let's begin by assessing the quality of your neck adjustment and fret condition.
- First - sight down the neck and determine if you have any loose frets or misaligned frets. If so visit the Ultimate Guitar OnLine series on Fret Repair and get your fret in fine shape before you attempt this action adjustment.
- Next - measure your Neck Relief. This is essential for a properly setup guitar neck and assures you of the best possible guitar action.
- If you are unsure of how to access and adjust your neck relief visit my article on Neck Relief.
If you have everything else in great shape with neck relief and fret condition, the next step in guitar saddle adjustment is to measure your existing string action.
Guitar Saddle Adjustment - Measure at the 12th or 14th Fret
String action height or clearance in guitar saddle adjustment is typically measured at the 1st and 6th strings over the 12th or 14th fret of where the neck joins the body.
Different guitars join at different frets so check which you have. Here are some clearance guidelines:
Acoustic Guitars - Factory standards (which are typically slightly high) 1st string: 3/32" .093" 6th string: 4/32" .125"
Classical Guitars - Factory standards (which are typically slightly high) 1st string: 4/64" .0625" 6th string: 5/32" .156"
- Electric Guitars can vary all over the place, buy are typically slightly lower than the acoustic guitar listed above.
Guitar Saddle Adjustment - Use a Feeler Gage to Measure String Height
The best and easiest way to measure your string height between the fret top and string bottom is with a quality feeler gage.
This will give you absolute accurate dimension to work with. A second option would be a digital vernier caliper.
If you are 1/32" high in your action at the 12th or 14th fret, this means the saddle should be trimmed down by twice that amount or 1/16".
The reason you double the desired amount of action reduction is because you are measuring at the 1/2 way point of the string span and you have to double the this measurement for guitar saddle adjustment..
Most saddles for acoustic and classical guitars are friction fit into a routed slot in the bridge. You can remove the saddle by simply pulling with a pliers.
Inspect the bottom of the routed saddle groove. Make sure it is flat and even. If it is not you need to run a small router in the groove to lower it a bit. This is best done with a dremel router with a jig attachment to precisely guide it in the channel. In most cases your groove will be flat and smooth though.
Next, mark the amount to cut off the saddle on the BOTTOM of the saddle with a straight edge and a very sharp pencil or marker. Be very precise with this marking and make sure it is absolutely straight.
The best way to remove the material from the saddle is with a stationary belt sander, such as the . It is quick and easy and you can be very precise. Just make sure you add very little downward pressure on a belt sander as you can ruin a perfectly good saddle in no time.
If you don't have access to one, use a piece of 120 grit garnet sandpaper and glue it to a piece of stone or marble that is absolutely flat. Use feathering disc adhesive for this. The size should be one full sheet of sandpaper.
Hold the saddle level and carefully work the material off the bottom of the saddle until you approach your mark. Check your work often and make sure you have an absolutely flat bottom on the saddle.
One little trick you should consider is clamping a small piece of wood to each side of the saddle (or even glue it) and have the bottom of the wood align with the bottom of the line on the saddle. This will help you keep things level and true.
Make sure the saddle is flat and even. If it is, insert it back into the slot. It should lie completely flat in the routed saddle groove.
Another thing to keep in mind if your nut is too high...Stay a bit above your cut line on the saddle to compensate for the string height being lowered at the nut as well.
Why do you take material off the bottom of the saddle? Since most fingerboards or curved, the saddles have an arc that matches this radius. To preserve this arc, take the material off the bottom.
Also some saddles have compensating intonation adjustment on the saddle top and you would want to preserve this as well.
To learn how to adjust your guitar action at the nut see this article on Guitar Nut Adjustment.
For more information on repairs related to guitar saddle adjustment, please visit these articles:
How To Repair You Bridge Plate
Guitar Repair Tools
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
- The type of guitar (acoustic, classical or electric