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Imagine just falling into the zone and playing guitar with no effort.
The feeling between the strings and the fretboard are critical to achieving this experience. The height of the strings over the frets dictates how easy it is to fret and how hard you can strum with no buzz. This is termed the “action,” and it goes a long way toward determining how a guitar feels and plays.
Bonding with this element is essential to finding that special place. There are other aspects that affect the feeling, such as the neck profile and width, scale length, number of frets, etc. However, this article will tackle only one aspect of this equation: the action.
Action is a Personal Preference
Everyone’s preference for what they want is different. A luthier can build a guitar to have the action as low as possible without buzzing on the frets–this is the way the builder sets up his or her guitars. Players of different styles may prefer different action as well. Someone who plays harder might want a higher action so that the strings don’t buzz, while a player with a delicate touch may want it lower for easy fretting.
There are three primary places we care about the action: the 1st, 5th and the 12th frets. For various reasons, you may want to raise or lower the action in one of these places.
The parts that control action are the truss rod, nut and bridge saddle.
Where and How to Adjust Action
There are five main ways that the action can be changed at these places. Three of them offer little to no drawbacks, while the last two are more difficult. If you have a desire to adjust your action, there are 5 main ways to do it.
These 5 methods of adjusting the truss rod, nut, and bridge saddle give you some ability to change your guitar’s action on your own. Changing the action even a small amount will make a big difference in how the guitar plays. A conservative approach is to make a change and then live with it for a few days.
Sanding the nut and saddle can be risky procedures that should be performed with caution. Go slowly while doing them and check your progress often. Action is one of the most important aspects of your guitar’s playability, so consider trying one of these methods if you feel that yours needs some improvement.
Want More Info on Acoustic Guitar Setups?
If you’d like a step-by-step guide on how to set up your acoustic guitar, check out the guide: Sketchy Setups #7: Acoustic Guitars.