Home Blog 7 Things You Should know About Guitar Action

7 Things You Should know About Guitar Action

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It is important to understand guitar action because it affects how you play great music and the comfort you’ll get while playing. Guitar action also influences guitar intonation, but what is it, exactly?  Let us find out.

1. Action is also called guitar action height

acoustic guitar fret

Guitar action is the height of the strings over the guitar’s fretboard, affecting how your guitar feels as you’re playing.   For example, if the action is too low, the string will buzz.

But if the action is too high, you should push the strings down so that they can meet the strings.  When this happens, you will notice that it’s quite awkward to play, as it also slows you down, too.

That’s why you need to adjust the right action because it can change how you will feel playing your guitar.

 

2. The action you set on an acoustic guitar depends if you’re using a capo

guitar with capo

The lower the action will be because the capo will lower the action across the fretboard and up the neck you position it. That is why you might not notice a higher guitar action if you’re using a capo and primarily playing open chords.  But then, you will notice that a higher action is working better if you’re always using a capo.

But do you want to lower the action on your acoustic guitar?  Do these. Once you’ve measured the action, you should remove the saddle and then start filing. It will shave material off the saddle’s bottom, while it remains straight.

Do it carefully because you might have to buy another saddle if you filed it too much or created a curve on its bottom. As you noticed, it is quite a delicate process, so you must be extra careful.

To avoid this mistake, don’t file in one go. First, file off only a small amount, and then replace your saddle in the bride. Then, tune up the strings before measuring the guitar’s action again.  Although it might sound time-consuming, it will be worth it to avoid filing off too much and buying a new saddle.

 

3. Playing style affects action

jazz guitar

As mentioned, you’ll probably hear a buzzing sound for a lower action height on instrument. However, it might not be an issue if you have a light playing style or if you softly pick the strings. In this case, you’re less likely to hear that buzz against the frets.

Thus, the guitar will not be hard to play. You could just think of a jazz guitarist who’s gently picking and touching on the strings softly even playing fast passages.

But it is the opposite for someone with a heavy or aggressive playing style. The low action in the guitar will result to too much fret buzz.  To clean up the playing and remove the buzzing, you must raise the action.

Thus, an aggressive rock guitarist could hear loud and annoying buzzing issues if the guitar action is low, while the strings are vibrating widely, too.  So, for a heavy playing style, one must learn how to adjust to a higher action so that he could avoid the notes causing a loud buzzing sound.

 

4. Tension and string gauges affect guitar action

guitar tension

You can change the tension going on across the neck of your guitar if you would change its string gauge, as it can affect the bow of the neck and the guitar’s action.

While the string gauge doesn’t always mean changing guitar action, it doesn’t always have to be like that. Sometimes, it has to do with changing the strings, which might have caused the imbalance.   But before adjusting the action, you should check the bow of your neck.

 

5. Humidity and temperature can change the action

If you noticed that the action’s changed, don’t fret! Certain things like humidity and temperature change its action.  Why? These two factors can affect the guitar’s wood.

For example, you might probably notice that your acoustic guitar is warping due to a significant change in humidity.  To prevent this from happening, you should consider the environment of where you’re storing your guitar.  If not, you might have to adjust the guitar to maintain its ideal condition.

 

6. Did you know that an electric guitar could achieve lower action than an acoustic guitar does?

action on electric guitar

If you’re buying a guitar the first time, you would notice that an electric guitar has a lower action.  On the average, an electric guitar’s action is about 4/64 inches on the high E string and 6/64 inches on the low E string.

But then, not all guitarists have the same preference. The others want a higher action; the rest a lower action.

acoustic guitar action
action on acoustic guitar

To test yours, you can set it to the above action height, and then feel it.   Or, you can choose a lower action height by lowering it a bit, and then hear any buzzing sound increase. Now if you’re not hearing any buzzing, you can do another adjustment to lower the action further.  Nevertheless, you can find the right limits on the action you want to set your guitar to and determine what your ideal height is.

 

7. Are you using guitar slides?

guitar slide

If you’re using a slide on an acoustic guitar, you might prefer a high action because it’s preferred for slide playing. The reason is that a high action can give more room for you to move when pressing the slide.

On the other hand, you might hear that the strings are fretting out when playing with a slide if you have a low action.  But you’ll be able to play with a lower action if you play fingerstyle on your guitar.

Over to You

Guitar action can influence how it feels to play your guitar, be it an acoustic or electric. If you want to adjust it higher or lower, you can do so until you find the right height based on your playing style and preference.  Undoubtedly, knowing and understanding guitar action is an important information for any musician out there.

Did you like today’s post? Let me know what you think by leaving your comments below.

Guitar Junky
Hi there, I’m Charles, chief editor here at The Guitar Junky. I'm a professional guitarist, and have over 10 years experience in playing guitar, piano, and other music instruments. When not working, I love playing with my two lovely kids, Caryss and Philip. Read more about our team of music experts here.

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