Action

A guide to acheiving the perfect action that dispels a few myths along the way.

0
Action is the slang term that guitarists use to describe the height of the strings from the fret board. This has a large effect on the playability of the instrument and to a certain degree the sound of the guitar. For example if I had a high action combined with a large amount of neck relief (for more info on that and truss rods go here) then the guitar would have a great deal of sustain, bending would be easier and the notes would ring very clearly, however I would not be able to play as fast and would need to grip tighter than usual this sort of action is usually preferred by Blues men such an Stevie Ray Vaughn, a low action on the other hand has the opposite effect to that described above and is usually favoured by shredders like Steve Vai or Satch. Most guitarist's look for something at the lower end of the scale to make things easier on their fingers whilst keeping the sustain. There isn't really any way to see what any given action is like other than by playing a guitar set up that way. I've tried extremely low and relatively high but find that the best for me is somewhere in-between for the music that I play (rock, metal and blues).

How To Adjust It

  • Electric Guitars This varies form guitar to guitar but there are 3 major categories which I will look at in turn. However with the exceptions of extreme cases action is always done at the bridge not the truss rod, I REPEAT NOT THE BLOODY TRUSS ROD!!! That is just a fast track to damaging your guitar if you don't know what you're doing; no we've got that clear here are the main styles of bridges. 01. Strat Style: this is typically 6 individual saddles with two Allen bolts in each one. The way you adjust the action is to simply turn the Allen bolts and adjust the height of the string. These allow you to adjust the action for each string individually but do take longer. This style also incorporates teles and other guitars. 02. Tune-O-Matic Style AKA Gibson Style: much quicker to adjust this is simply two thumb wheels underneath the bridge that you turn and the job-lot goes up and down, although you cannot adjust each string individually but as the bridge (should) already follow the neck radius it doesn't matter. 03. Floyd Rose: this is just about the only thing on a Floyd that is easy and doesn't take hours of practise in my opinion. Look at the tremolo and there should be two posts that the whole lot pivots on (shown in the pic) just turn these as they should be Allen bolts or screws.
  • Acoustics This is slightly harder; it is still done at the bridge but is now done by removing the strings and taking the bridge bone out. This is the strip of bone (more often plastic nowadays though) that the strings rest on. It may not be glued in, but if it is get a hair dryer and heat the bridge up for a couple of minutes (or as long as it takes to get it loose), then carefully take it out. What you do then is to file/sand the bottom of it. The best way to sand it is to put the paper around a block and move the bridge. Remember that a little goes a long way. After you're satisfied put it back in, restring, and see what you think. Please bear in mind that this is irreversible; however if you do go too far don't worry replacements are very cheap and easy to get hold of.
  • Extreme Cases And Other Tips Earlier on I mentioned that action adjustment was always done at the bridge except in extreme cases well these are they. The first is your neck having too much or too little relief (curvature) in it. I won't go into this here as it's a separate issue that I covered in my other article here. The second is that the action is too high at the nut. If this is the case then no amount of adjustment at the bridge will make the slightest bit of difference if you are certain you have this problem (only act if you are certain) you need to either file the string slots deeper OR file the bottom of the nut. Neither is something I recommend you do. If you want to file the slots deeper buy a set of nut files and file them making sure to file at an angle with the low end on the headstock side and the high on the neck side. Do not use strings! Spend some money and do the job properly; if you use strings to file it you will probably make the holes the wrong size or make them go wonky which is not what you need. The other way is the same as the acoustic bridge method. Just get the nut out by heating the glue. Please don't use a hammer and chisel. Brute force, bloody ignorance and guitars don't make good bed fellows as a general rulehen sand the bottom of the nut. If you've got a locking nut (Floyd style) you'll need to sand the neck. This is, however, reversible as you can make shims out of coke cans according to Powerfreak. Oh one final point if it IS too height at the nut then the first few frets will always play out of tune no matter how much you adjust the intonation (for info on that go here) That's your lot! Sillybuuger12
  • 63 comments sorted by best / new / date

    comments policy
      jakecarter
      just wondering do you have to take your strings of when changing the action on the gibson style bridge? cus im trying to do its now with my thumbs and its not budging or do i have to use plyers or something?
      jakecarter
      i searched all day yesterday for something like this and couldnt find it this was a real help
      Archaon
      I agree with detroitrulez, an article on eliminating fret buzz is definately something that desperately needs doing. nice article by the way. although I already knew the info I'm sure it helped a lot of people out.
      PantsOnFire
      just wondering do you have to take your strings of when changing the action on the gibson style bridge? cus im trying to do its now with my thumbs and its not budging or do i have to use plyers or something? sometimes you do have to take your strings off, but just loosen them for convienence and you should be fine, if it still don work take the bridge off an do it, but do not mess with the screws on the bridge cause it f's yer guitatr's inntonation
      the screw heads on the right and left sides of the tune-o-matic bridge can be used to raise or lower it with a flat head screwdriver. its easier and more precise that using the thumbwheel. as previously stated the intonation will go out anytime action adjustments are made. an easy way to fix this is to use a chromatic tuner and test each fret to see if it is playing the correct note. if it isnt you can turn the small screw next to each saddle to adjust it. you just need to do this for each string. (it only takes 10-15 minutes once you get the hang of it)
      Glennjoe
      the screw heads on the right and left sides of the tune-o-matic bridge can be used to raise or lower it with a flat head screwdriver.
      theres no screwheads on mine though, only thumbscrews
      SteveHouse
      johnmalkin wrote: Thanks for the great article man. And why does everyone tell su their 3rd, 4th etc? we already know, and we don't ****ign care, you idiots.
      Cheers to that, Sir!
      tHewHiteHendrix
      Intonation. tune yer guitar. check note on 12th fret. if its sharp, the string needs to be elongated... move the saddle away from the neck. if its flat, do the opposite. thats how the pros do it. as for truss, capo first fret and hold down the 15th (im pretty sure 15th) the 7th fret should be enough for a credit card to slip inbetween the string and the fret. as previously stated some players prefer different heights.. but this is usually a minimum height and what pros do for most guitars out of the factory. hope that helps some.
      Stratocaster17
      The latest post other than me was like 2 days ago so I doubt anyone's reading this i just felt like writing something so good job on the article although I'm never going to try the advice here cause I'm terrified of screwing up my beautiful new guitar which is WAY better than my old one so whatever goodby and isn't it wierd how this is still only one sentence?!?!
      Samanosuke486
      I've only lost a couple of my picks in the near 2 years I've been playing. For about a month I've left the cable in the amp, but not the guitar. I do need to clean the fretboard and at the nut though. Thanks for the ingo!
      harmdogg
      old article but people will keep reading this for a long time. so... for anyone else worrying about innotation, what you're doing is adjusting the length of the string from saddle to nut (if that makes sense, haha). the strings should have the same tone when you fret and do a harmonic on the 12th fret. if not, you have to adjust the saddles forward or backward. it's self correcting : i also read people on here talking about bows in the neck and truss rods and whatnot. you people really should be careful messing with those rods. too much stress to keep it straight... and you have a broken truss rod! uh oh! also, you should have some give in your neck reguardless, just depending on how hard you play the more give you want, and so on. happy playing. led zeppelin rocks.
      detroitrulez
      As always, great article!! A treat of a follow up article on this one would be on the topic of eliminating fret buzz (without touching the truss). It would be a good primer on fret care, and it would remind many of us that not all frets are created equally.
      ihaveatail
      if you fixed your action and screwed up your intonation, to fix the intonation problem wouldn't you have to compromise your action?
      Madhur Damn
      That really helped my RR1. The strings were a little difficult to press down, so I lowered the action and they loosened up, thanx! (Btw, Floyd Roses are usually a bitch to do anything with including tuning... lol)
      JPageZeppelin
      for les paul.. which way do u turn the knob thing?? left or right?? to make it lower i have a stagg les paul and its too high
      .QOTSA.
      whew never though n e thing would help me get the action on my sg like my old strats
      Resurrected22
      great article. i have a nut that is way to high on my prophecy. freakin pisses me off. i think im going to swap the nut for an earvana so i will let a teck do it. great article.
      RockRolla
      great article,just raised the action a bit on mine and took care of a buzz,thanks
      dark templar
      Just want to share because these works for me. I'm using Tune o matic bridges on my guitars. Nut height: I measure the height of the first fret (from the fretboard to the top of the fret) then I use that as the height of the nut (the fretboard to the bottom of the string slots on the nut) then raise it a bit with yup, coke can shims, just enough thickness...Done! The nut feels like the "zero fret". I have lesser sustain though but I don't need sustain because I don't sustain notes often. The Truss Rod: When I look at the stings in relation to the fretboard, I see that the curve is somewhere on the region of the first few frets so I adjust mine so that the string and the the fretboard from the fifth fret onwards are parralel to each other. String Height: I take it low as possible on the high E string because it vibrates narrower, then I raisethe action on the low E string side, because it vibrates wider. This way, I can be very fast on the high strings, then I can hammer really hard on the low strings. It doesn't matter if the bridge does not follow the neck radius, it works for me. Intonation: I use a tuner to check each and every freaking fret on each and every freaking string. Then check harmonic nodes then check tuning of each string relative to the other. I'd like to spend half a day doing this, I don't care about time when taking care of my guitars. Other things in my life can wait, get a number and stand on a line! Regards...
      slashe50
      Just to put this out there, NEVER LOOSEN THE BOLTS ON A FLOYD ROSE UNDER TENSION. Completely destroys tuning stability.
      darkmetallica
      Mickey Lightnin wrote: sweet man ace articel, don't use plyers on yu bridge screws yul reck um! tekin strings off jus makes it easier, since yu haf t retune anyuw, might as well slack um off ay! yeeeeeoow!
      Dude when ya have just had a can of beer thats realy hard to read pls try not to type like that , but i do aggree with ya ,and this was a great article
      Vinura
      man..its a pity this didnt come along a year ago...but great article
      G-Sage
      by the way could anyone tell me a brief description of how to get the inntonation right on my les paul, cause i screwed it up a while a go
      Raydey
      Woo 4th, and about time I understood this, and what the allen key that came with my guitar was for _ lol. Cheers
      GuitarJunkie
      i dont think you mentioned the ifyou adjust your action you risk really ****ing up your intonnation...which can still be easily fixed...but i fixed the action on my les paul when i first got it from my cousing (made it lower) and i had to take it to sam ash to get the inntonation fixed casue i didnt know how to do that myself at the time
      Glennjoe
      jakecarter wrote: just wondering do you have to take your strings of when changing the action on the gibson style bridge? cus im trying to do its now with my thumbs and its not budging or do i have to use plyers or something?
      I was going to ask the same thing.
      Robert_Terry
      Not too bad, would have helped me 2 years ago, P.S kids dont ever leave your uitar near radiators, me and my poor ibanez gio 170 discovered this the hard way
      black_sabbath85
      Question. I have the Tune-o-matic/Les paul type bridge. When i adjust the thumb wheels, to try getting a lower action, some of my my string dont ring out clearly when i fret them at certain spots. Any comment or suggestions would be appreciated!
      sashki
      This is much more helpful and easier to understand than any other "action" articles I've read. Good Work!
      thefinalcut
      jakecarter wrote: just wondering do you have to take your strings of when changing the action on the gibson style bridge? cus im trying to do its now with my thumbs and its not budging or do i have to use plyers or something?
      No, atleast on mine and I pretty sure that's sure for all models.
      UNIe
      Yes! This article really was the thing I was looking for! Good Job!
      G-Sage
      just wondering do you have to take your strings of when changing the action on the gibson style bridge? cus im trying to do its now with my thumbs and its not budging or do i have to use plyers or something?
      sometimes you do have to take your strings off, but just loosen them for convienence and you should be fine, if it still don work take the bridge off an do it, but do not mess with the screws on the bridge cause it f's yer guitatr's inntonation
      sillybuuger12
      right people yes you do have to adjust your intonation after any kind of action adjustment, to those of you with a tunomatic you should be able to lower the action without slacking the strings but you may need to slack them to raise it that's what i have to do on my LP knock-off
      johnmalkin
      Thanks for the great article man. And why does everyone tell su their 3rd, 4th etc? we already know, and we don't ****ign care, you idiots.