Electric Guitar Action Height Demystified: Everything You Need to Know

19 min read

When it comes to playability & tone, electric guitar action height is crucial. Without having it properly set, you could be wasting the efforts of your fretting hand or sacrificing your tone & sustain.

But what is “string height”, how is it measured, and how is it adjusted? Read on to understand how action height plays a vital role in your sound. It can make notes easier to press down, allowing for smoother & more efficient playing. It can also eliminate string buzzing, allowing each of your notes to sing to their fullest!

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What is Guitar Action Height

Guitar action height refers to the distance between the strings and the fretboard of an electric guitar. It plays a crucial role in determining the playability and overall performance of the instrument.

Most guitarists understand the importance of having an appropriate action height, as it directly affects how easy or difficult it is to play notes, chords, and perform techniques on the guitar. To measure guitar action height accurately, you will need a few tools commonly found in a guitarist’s toolbox.

A ruler with measurements in millimeters or inches is essential for this task. Additionally, a small screwdriver may be necessary to make adjustments if needed.

It’s worth noting that electric and acoustic guitars have different methods for measuring action height due to their distinct construction and design. The main ways to determine guitar action height involve focusing on specific areas of the instrument.

Firstly, measuring at the 12th fret is a common method used by many guitarists & guitar techs. This location provides a good overall representation of the guitar’s string height across all frets since it lies in the middle point between the nut and bridge.

Secondly, some players also check the action at both ends of the neck—around the first frets and near higher frets—to ensure consistency throughout different positions on the fingerboard. Setting the action height requires finding that sweet spot where it feels comfortable to play without causing unnecessary strain or difficulty.

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While personal preference comes into play here, there are general guidelines that can help achieve an ideal setup for most players. Too high of an action can result in increased finger pressure required to press down strings onto frets, leading to fatigue over extended playing periods.

On contrary, an extremely low action might cause fret buzz or rattling noises due to excessive string vibrations against nearby frets. Understanding what guitar action height entails is crucial for any guitarist looking to optimize their instrument’s performance and playability.

With proper measurement techniques and adjustments made with precision, you can find that perfect balance that suits your playing style and preferences. Next, we will delve into the process of measuring guitar action height in more detail, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of how to achieve the desired action for your instrument.

Related: The Anatomy of an Electric Guitar

What’s The Ideal Action For an Electric Guitar

The ideal action for a guitar is crucial for achieving optimal playability, comfort, and proper intonation and tone. It refers to the distance between the strings and the fretboard, typically measured at the 12th fret.

A slightly lower action is more desirable for most players, as it allows for easier fretting, smoother string bending, and faster playing. However, it’s important not to go too low, as this can cause buzzing or rattling sounds when the strings vibrate against the frets. When determining the ideal action height, consider the specific characteristics of your electric guitar.

Cheap guitars often have higher factory-set actions that may need adjusting, but lowering the action can significantly improve playability. High-end instruments may already have a well-adjusted low action from the factory.

To accurately measure your electric guitar’s action height, use a ruler or specialized gauge. Place your guitar on a flat surface with its neck supported and hold down one of its strings at both ends. Measure the distance between the top of the string and your fingerboard using the ruler or gauge.

The optimal range for electric guitar string action at its 12th fret is typically between 1/16″ (1.6mm) and 3/32″ (2.4mm), depending on personal preference and playing style. Some players may prefer higher actions for aggressive playing styles to avoid unwanted string buzzes caused by excessive vibration.

Finding the ideal action for your guitar requires a balance between playability and personal preference. Experiment with different action heights and find what feels most comfortable and responsive to your playing style. Remember that adjusting the truss rod can also affect the action, so if you constantly need to adjust the action height, consider having a professional technician assess your instrument’s setup.

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How To Measure& Adjust Electric Guitar Action Height

In order to inspect your guitar for a proper set up, there are 4 things that need to be taken into account

Neck Straightness

To measure the neck straightness, you want to press down the first fret & the fifteenth fret, or whatever fret meets the body of the guitar.

Then look between the 7th & 9th fret to notice the amount of gap between the frets & the bottom of your low e string. This gap is the amount of “relief” your guitar neck has.

A little bit of a gap is okay as mentioned in the video below, however if you want a dead-straight neck, then an adjustment to your truss rod will have to be made.

12th Fret Action

For this measurement, you want to check for the correct string-to-fret distance of your low e string & high e string.

This is done before the radius adjustment of the saddles & sets the outer limits for the next step.

A gap measurement of about .40 inches (3/64) or about 1mm is probably about as low as you want to go.

If any of your two strings need height adjustment, you can do that at the saddles on the bridge using an allen wrench or hex head tool.

Bridge Saddle Radius

In this adjustment, you will need an under-string radius gauge. It’s a bit of a specialized tool, so if you don’t have one, we will show you an alternate way using a credit card in the next section.

Basically you’re going to want to adjust the height of your inner bridge saddles to match the outer e strings & form a slight carve that matches the fretboard radius.

When using the under string gauge, simply adjust the inner saddle heights (strings 2-5) until all strings buzz slightly onto the gauge.

1st Fret Action

The last measurement is for the string to fret distance on the first fret.

Mind you this is more of something to note as a last step, than to adjust on spot, as adjustment requires permanent filing of the guitar nut.

To measure, simply take your first finger & press down on the 3rd fret of whatever string you’re checking. Then take your other finger & press down on the first fret.

The gap between your string & 1st fret if what you’re looking for. Below are some approximate measurements for each string:

Low E = .025″ (0.635mm)

A = .022″ (0.5588mm)

D  = .020″ (0.508mm)

G = .016″ (0.4064mm)

B = .014″ (0.3556mm)

High E = .011″ (0.2794mm)

A Shortcut To Quickly Adjust String Action

The previous section shows us how to go through all the checks & properly adjust your guitar’s string height. We recommend at least understanding what’s going on with your instrument & how it all works. If you’re short on time or don’t have the tools to measure string height, here’s a quick way to make adjustments.

All that’s required is a credit card, which most are standardized to be .0312in (.76mm) in thickness, you need some tape, and finally a hex key or allen wrench to adjust your bridge saddles.

Step 1

Place the card underneath the strings at the 12th fret so that the card sticks out of both sides of the fretboard.

Step 2

Cut about two 4in lengths of tape & attach 1 inch on each side of the credit card. Next you will bend the card to conform to the radius of the fretboard. Finally, with the card conformed to the radius, secure the tape to the back of the guitar’s neck to hold the radiused card in place.

Step 3

Adjust each individual saddle until the corresponding string buzzes only slightly onto the credit card when you pluck the string. Be sure to adjust both posts of the saddle to have an even height distribution. Finally be sure to tune the string you’re working on after each saddle adjustment. There you have it, a method under 5 minutes for adjusting string height!

How Guitar Action Height Affects Playability

The height of the action on a guitar has a significant impact on its playability. It affects how comfortable it is to fret notes, bend strings, and perform various techniques. The action height refers to the distance between the strings and the fretboard.

It’s crucial to find the right balance in order to achieve optimal playability. When the action height is set too high, it can make playing the guitar a challenging experience.

Fretting notes becomes more difficult as it requires more finger pressure and can lead to fatigue over extended periods of playing. Bending strings also becomes more laborious, requiring additional force to achieve the desired pitch change.

Moreover, a high action can negatively impact intonation, causing certain notes or chords to sound out of tune. On the other hand, if you adjust the action height too low, it can lead to issues such as fret buzz.

When playing aggressively or using techniques like palm-muting or tapping, low action may result in unwanted string noise and loss of sustain. Additionally, lower action can increase the risk of unintentionally touching adjacent strings while performing intricate chord shapes or complex solos.

Finding an ideal action height largely depends on personal preference and playing style. Some guitarists prefer a higher action for improved sustain and tone quality, especially for genres that require heavy picking and big string bends like blues or rock music.

Others may prefer a lower action for faster playability in genres like jazz or metal where intricate riffing is common. To determine your preferred action height, experimenting with different adjustments by utilizing methods such as truss rod adjustment (for neck relief) or saddle height modification (for bridge adjustments) is essential.

It’s advisable to make small changes incrementally rather than making drastic adjustments all at once because any modifications should be done carefully in order not to cause any damage. Understanding how guitar action height affects playability allows you as a guitarist to make informed decisions about how to optimize your instrument’s setup.

Striking the right balance between a comfortable playing experience and avoiding unwanted issues such as buzzing or fretting out is crucial. Experimentation, taking into consideration personal preferences and playing style, is key to finding the ideal action height for your electric guitar.

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High vs Low Action Height: Which is Better?

When it comes to action height, one of the key considerations is whether to have a high or low action. Each option has its own advantages and drawbacks, and guitarists often have different preferences based on their playing style and musical genre.

Firstly, let’s discuss high action height. Having a higher action means that the strings are further away from the fretboard.

This setup allows for more room between the strings and the frets, leading to reduced chances of string buzz or unintended notes ringing out when playing aggressively or using heavy distortion. It can be particularly useful for guitarists who employ techniques like string bending or aggressive picking.

On the other hand, low action height refers to having the strings closer to the fretboard. This setup facilitates easier fretting and smoother note transitions, making it ideal for players who prefer fast soloing or intricate chord progressions.

The reduced distance between strings and frets also requires less finger pressure to achieve clear notes, allowing for greater comfort during longer playing sessions. It’s worth noting that there isn’t a definitive answer as to which option is better since personal preference plays a significant role.

However, many professional players tend to gravitate towards lower action heights due to its overall ease of playability and faster response. It’s crucial for individuals experimenting with different types of bridges – such as those found on Stratocasters or Tune-o-matic bridges – to find an optimal balance between string height and bridge adjustment in order to achieve their desired sound.

Both high and low action heights have their merits depending on individual playing style, genre preferences, and specific guitar setup. While high action provides better control at higher volumes or aggressive playing styles, low action offers increased playability for intricate fretwork.

Ultimately, finding your preferred action height involves experimentation with various parameters such as string gauge, bridge adjustments, neck relief (the amount of curvature in the neck), and even temperature fluctuations that affect the guitar’s setup. Remember, the perfect action height is subjective, and what matters most is finding a setup that allows you to play comfortably and expressively.

Factors Affecting Changes in Action Height

Several factors can influence changes in the action height of a guitar. Understanding these factors is crucial for maintaining optimal playability and ensuring a comfortable playing experience.

Firstly, the type of string gauge used greatly affects the action height & string tension. Thicker strings require more space and thus tend to necessitate higher action, while lighter strings allow for lower action.

It’s important to note that changing string gauges will alter the tension on the neck, potentially causing it to bow or flatten. Additionally, specific playing techniques can also impact the action height of an electric guitar.

Players who employ heavy bending or aggressive picking styles may prefer higher action to avoid fret buzz and unintentional notes ringing out due to excessive string vibrations against the frets. On the other hand, those who favor smoother legato playing or use lighter touch may benefit from lower action as it allows for faster and more effortless fretting.

Another significant factor affecting changes in action height is temperature and humidity fluctuations. Wood expands or contracts with variations in environmental conditions, including humidity levels.

This can cause the neck to bow or warp slightly, resulting in changes in overall string height along the fingerboard. It’s worth noting that these changes might not be immediately noticeable but could lead to bad intonation and playability issues if left unaddressed.

Considering all these factors impacting a guitar’s action height is vital when it comes to adjusting and maintaining your instrument’s setup properly. Whether you prefer a pro-level factory setup or take matters into your own hands, keeping an eye on these variables will help ensure that your guitar plays at its best and meets your personal preferences for comfort and playability.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my guitar’s string action is too high or too low?

If your guitar feels challenging to play and requires excessive finger pressure to fret the notes, it’s likely that the action is too high. On the other hand, if you’re experiencing fret buzz or string rattle when you play certain strings or frets, chances are your action is set too low.

By paying attention to these symptoms and observing how your guitar feels and sounds while playing both plugged in and unplugged, you can determine whether an adjustment in action height might be necessary.

How high should the action be on electric guitar?

The ideal action height for an electric guitar typically falls within a range of 1.5-2.0 millimeters (or 0.06-0.08 inches) at the 12th fret. This allows for comfortable playability without excessive string buzz or difficulty in fretting notes. However, individual preferences and playing styles may vary, so it’s important to find the balance that suits you best.

What is considered low action on an electric guitar?

Low action on an electric guitar refers to a setup where the guitar strings are set closer to the fretboard, resulting in a shorter distance between the strings and the frets. Typically, low action is achieved when the string height at the 12th fret measures around 1.0-1.5 millimeters (or 0.04-0.06 inches). This setup allows for faster and easier fretting, facilitates techniques like bending and tapping, and can contribute to a smoother playing experience. However, it’s essential to strike a balance between low action and avoiding string buzz or fretting out, as individual preferences and play styles may differ. 

Is there a risk involved in adjusting the action height?

While it’s always advisable to consult with a skilled technician for major adjustments or repairs, there are some basic techniques you can try at home if you’re comfortable doing so. Remember though: proceed with caution!

If you’re uncertain about undertaking any adjustments yourself or lack experience with tools like files or truss rod wrenches, it’s best to seek professional guidance. A small mistake can lead to permanent damage that may require costly repairs in the long run.

Should I aim for consistent action height across all strings or adjust each string individually to preference?

Well, this depends on personal preference and musical style.

Some players prefer a slightly lower action on treble strings for easy bending and faster solos while keeping the bass strings slightly higher for increased resonance and power chords stability. Others may prefer a more even setup across all strings for balance when performing intricate chord progressions or complex fingerpicking patterns.

Ultimately, finding an ideal setup requires experimentation and finding what works best for your play style and musical needs.

Do expensive guitars have low action?

The cost of a guitar does not necessarily dictate its string action. However many expensive or high-end guitars do receive more attention to detail in terms of not only the materials used & craftsmanship, but are often set up for optimal playability right out of the box.


Understanding and adjusting your guitar’s action can significantly improve your playing experience. By finding the ideal balance between playability and comfort, you can ensure your instrument responds accurately to your touch and allows for effortless movement along the fingerboard.

Measuring string height is crucial, as well as using precise tools like a feeler gauge  in order to measure string height accurately. After determining the current action height and identifying any necessary adjustments, you can confidently adjust the bridge saddle height or truss rod to achieve a desired action height.

If you are unsure or uncomfortable with these procedures, seeking professional help from a skilled guitar technician can provide expert guidance and suggest a full setup for optimal results.

Regular maintenance is essential for maintaining optimal playability, including periodically checking the action height and making necessary adjustments when needed. Experimenting with different string gauges or brands may also influence the overall feel of your instrument. By fine-tuning your guitar’s action height, you can take control of one of its critical variables that directly impact playability and performance quality. With dedication and patience, you can achieve an ideal setup tailored specifically to your preferences.

Never hesitate to seek assistance or advice from fellow musicians or online forums when encountering challenges, as collaboration often yields innovative solutions. Controlling every aspect of your guitar’s setup empowers you as a player, whether it be adjusting the truss rod for neck relief or tweaking each saddle height for perfect string action. By understanding and adjusting the action height, you can transform your guitar into an extension of yourself, allowing your playing to flourish in both technical proficiency and creative expression.

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