How to Do a Guitar Action Adjustment

When you begin to play guitar, you need to get grips with various techniques to make sure your guitar-playing style is supported and that your instrument remains in the best condition. One thing you will have to learn is how to measure the action on your guitar neck and learn how to do a guitar action adjustment.

In the article below we will talk you through how to measure guitar action, how to raise guitar action, and how to adjust the action on both a Fender and Gibson guitar bridge. You should soon have a grasp on what this process is and how it affects your playing style and sound.

What is Guitar Action?

Guitar action describes the distance between the strings on the guitar and the fretboard. This action dictates how easy it will be for you to create notes when you apply pressure with your fingertips while fretting.

This is important because it will affect your ability to play aggressively without having to deal with fret buzz. If you are aiming for a heavy, fast rock sound you will need to make sure that the height of the strings enables easy playing and fretwork.

How Do You Measure Guitar Action?

Although there are some general guidelines to keep in mind, you will realize that you have a preferred guitar action that suits your guitar-playing style. As you become a seasoned and confident player, you will begin to recognize which string height supports your style. But as a beginner, there are signs you can look for to guide your first few adjustments.

How to Know if the Guitar Action is Too High?

If the guitar action is too high, you will notice that your guitar buzzes while you are fretting. You will also notice that the strings don’t vibrate much and you may notice that the guitar neck is beginning to warp.

How to Know if a Guitar Action is Too Low?

When the guitar action is too low, you may notice that the strings will begin to rattle and buzz against the frets when you play. With a low guitar action, you may also notice that the strings aren’t straight and don’t run parallel down the fretboard.

Some guitar players find that they like a low guitar action, but one which is high enough to facilitate playing without a buzzing sound.

What is Better – High or Low Action?

Most people find it easier to play low-action guitar strings. This requires you to apply less pressure to the strings when playing and will allow you to play smoothly and quickly.

How to Measure the Guitar Action?

  • Your first step is to tune your guitar and make sure that you have adjusted the guitar relief so the neck isn’t bowing.
  • Use a Capo device on the first fret. This will stop the nut from factoring in your measurements.
  • Use a ruler to measure the gap between the top of the 12th fret to the bottom edge of the Low E-String.
  • Based on the measurement you can decide if you have to raise or lower the guitar action.

If you don’t know whether the current height needs to be adjusted, try playing at the current level and see if you can spot any signs that the action needs to be changed. Look for signs of the strings rattling, the neck bowing, or the strings aren’t vibrating enough.

As you learn which playing style you prefer and whether you want to play aggressively or softly. You will need to experiment a little and learn which guitar action level best supports your playing preferences.

When you are an experienced player you will become a lot more comfortable with recognizing when the adjustments are required and picking out the height level which you prefer.

How to Do a Guitar Action Adjustment?

The majority of guitar models have either a Gibson or Fender-style bridge.A Fender bridge has one different bridge post which will allow you to adjust the bass and treble side of the guitar strings individually. A Gibson bridge has two different bridge posts which allow you to adjust either to bass or treble according to your preference.

How To Adjust guitar Action on a Fender Bridge

On a fender style bridge, when you learn how to raise guitar action you will also be increasing the string tension level.

  • You should first adjust your low E-string by raising or lowering the saddle where the bottom of the strings is attached.
  • Then you can adjust the set screws and retune your guitar.
  • You should play the string to see if you are happy with the new height, or if you need to raise or lower the strings some more.
  • If you are happy with the new string height, take a measurement, and apply the same height to the other strings.
  • You can make sure that the radius of the strings is correct by using a radius gauge.

A Rough Guide to Guitar Action on a Fender Guitar

  • On a neck radius of 7.25, you can aim for a string height of 5/64″ on the lower end and 4/64 on the higher side.
  • A guitar with a neck radius of between 9.5 and 12″ should have a low side of 4.64 and a high side of 4/64.
  • Guitars with a neck radius of between 15 and 17″ can have a low side of 4/64 and a high side of 3/64.

How to Do a Guitar Action Adjustment on a Gibson Guitar Bridge

On a Gibson-style guitar you should, first of all, make sure that the stop bar is not in contact with the back of the guitar bridge. This may be what is reducing overtones and inhibiting vibrations when you play.

  • Before you raise or lower the strings, you should use a ruler to measure the current height of the 12th fret.
  • You can perform a guitar action adjustment by rotating the screw head on the bridge post at the top of the instrument. Adjust the height slowly until you think you have hit your preferred height.
  • Tune your guitar back to pitch and play to see if you are happy with the new height.
  • If you are unhappy, rotate the screw head again to raise or lower, then retune and test again.
  • When you get the sound and vibration you prefer, use the ruler to note down the measurement to make sure that you have it to hand next time.

Rough Guide to Setting the Action on Gibson Style Guitars.

  • Gibson Style Acoustic Guitars may have an optimum string height of 7/64 and 5/64.
  • A Gibson Electric Guitar can have a low action of 6/64 and a higher action of 4/64.
  • A Bass Gibson Guitar could have a suitable playing high of 7/64 on the low side and 5/64 on the higher.

Summary: How to Do a Guitar Action Adjustment?

A guitar action adjustment is not too complicated a process, and will get easier with time. Once you have a guitar action preference, it will be easy to judge when you need to make a correction and how much of a guitar action adjustment is needed.

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