Guitar Neck Set Action

Lights, Camera, Action!

Action: By definition action is the height of the strings from the frets. It is important to have the correct action when playing your guitar.

The overall setup of the guitar can affect the action of the instrument. Also, the way you set the action can be determined by your preference or what type of guitar you are playing.

Basic guitar set up: Make sure these basic components are adjusted and set correctly before setting your string height.

1. Make sure your neck relief is correct

2. Make sure you have proper cutting in your nut slot depth

3. Make sure your fingerboard and frets are clean and secure

These can all need adjusting due to wear and tear and changes in temperatures and humidity.

Keep in mind that changing the gauges of your strings can also change the action on your guitar.

Lower action: Advantages: You do not need to press down as hard on the strings. Lower action is generally easier for beginning players or older players who may have arthritis or problems with finger strength. It is also in popular opinion that lower action means faster playing. Lowering the string height should give you the ability to play higher up the neck. Last, lower action seems to have better intonation (the note staying true when fretted).

Disadvantages: If you set the action too low you may start to have buzzing and something called fretting out (when you play or bend a note on a specific fret and it dies out). Finally if you set your action low you may find that you need to maintain or more frequently adjust your set up. The lower the action the more the string set up is more sensitive to subtle changes.

Higher action: Advantages: It will usually help if the strings are higher when playing acoustic rhythm or slide guitar. Also with acoustic guitars having a slightly higher action helps maintain volume and tone. You can also play a little more aggressively on a higher action without worrying about buzzing.

Disadvantages: If the strings are set too high, when pressing down, the distance you have to move the string to touch the fingerboard can actually bend the sting enough to cause it to be out of tune. Higher action will also be harder on your fingers and slow your picking down. How do you adjust the action? Setting the string height is typically achieved by adjusting the height of the bridge / saddle. The following heights are factory recommendations:

Gibson Guitars – measurement is made at the 12th fret.

Height – Bass side Height – Treble side
5/64″ 3/64″

Fender guitars – measurement is made at the 14th fret:

Neck Radius Height – Bass side Height – Treble Side
7.25″ 5/64″ 4/64″
9.5″ to 12″ 4/64″ 4/64″
15″ to 17″ 4/64″ 3/64″

*Measure by holding a metal ruler on the actual fret, the distance between the fret and the string

Further information: