How to Adjust Guitar Action

How to Adjust Guitar Action

Strumming away on your guitar should be a joy, but if you’re finding it a bit of a struggle or the notes just aren’t ringing out as they should, it might be time to fine-tune your guitar’s action. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of adjusting guitar action, covering everything from understanding the basics to using specialized tools like feeler gauges. So, grab your guitar and let’s embark on this journey together to achieve the perfect harmony between your fingers and your strings.

Recognizing Guitar Action

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of adjusting your guitar’s action, let’s take a moment to understand what guitar action is and why it matters.

Guitar action refers to the stature of the strings above the fretboard. It plays a crucial role in how easy or challenging it is to press down on the strings and produce clear, resonant sounds. High action can make playing difficult, requiring more finger strength and causing discomfort. Adjust guitar action measurements. On the other hand, low action may lead to buzzing and a loss of tone quality. Striking the right balance is essential for an enjoyable playing experience.

Tools of the Trade

To start adjusting your guitar action, you’ll need a few tools commonly found in a guitarist’s toolkit:

Feeler Gauge Set:

A feeler gauge set is a collection of thin metal strips of varying thicknesses. These filler gauges help measure the gap between the strings and the frets with precision.

Shim Gauge:

A shim gauge is used to insert thin layers (shims) under the guitar’s saddle or neck pocket to make subtle adjustments to the action.

Assessing Your Guitar’s Action

Before making any adjustments, it’s crucial to assess the current state of your guitar’s action. This involves measuring the guitar strings height at specific points on the fretboard using your feeler gauge set.

Guitar Action

Measuring String Height:

  • Place your guitar on a flat surface.
  • Use the gauge feeler to measure the gap between the top of the frets and the bottom of the strings at different frets along the neck.
  • Take note of any significant variations in string height.

Checking Neck Relief:

  • Assess the curvature of your guitar’s neck by looking down at it.
  • Identify if there’s any back bow or forward bow.
  • Understanding neck relief is crucial as it directly impacts the action.

Adjusting the Truss Rod

The truss rod is a metal rod inside the neck of your guitar that helps control its curvature. Adjusting the truss rod can significantly impact the guitar’s action.

Locating the Truss Rod:

  • Consult your guitar’s manual or manufacturer’s website to find the location of the truss rod adjustment nut.
  • Most electric guitar action has an adjustment point at the headstock, while acoustic guitars may have it inside the soundhole.

Making Adjustments:

  • Use an appropriate tool, usually an Allen wrench, to turn the truss rod nut.
  • Righty tighty, lefty loosey: Turn clockwise to decrease neck relief and lower action; turn counterclockwise to increase neck relief and raise action. Low acoustic guitar action.

Gradual Changes:

  • Make small adjustments (1/8 to 1/4 of a turn), and then let the guitar settle for a while before reassessing the action.
  • This prevents over-tightening and allows the wood to adjust gradually.

Shim Adjustment

For guitars with a fixed bridge or if truss rod adjustments aren’t sufficient, shimming may be necessary.

Saddle Shimming:

  • Lift the strings and carefully remove the saddle from the bridge.
  • Insert a thin shim under the saddle to raise the overall string height.
  • Reinstall the saddle and retune the guitar.

Neck Pocket Shimming:

  • If adjusting the saddle isn’t enough, you can use shims in the neck pocket.
  • Loosen the neck bolts, insert the appropriate shim, and re-tighten the bolts.

String Height Adjustment

Now that you’ve tackled the truss rod and shim adjustments, the next step in achieving your ideal guitar setup is fine-tuning the string height electric guitar at the bridge. This crucial adjustment ensures that your strings are perfectly positioned for optimal playability and sound quality.

Adjusting Bridge Height:

For guitars equipped with adjustable bridges, this step becomes a game-changer. Use the appropriate tool, often an Allen wrench, to delicately raise or lower individual string saddles. It’s essential to maintain a delicate touch during this process, as small adjustments can have a significant impact. Pay close attention to achieving a balanced height across all strings, avoiding uneven tensions that can lead to intonation issues and discomfort during play. The goal here is to find the sweet spot where each string feels just right under your fingers.

Checking Intonation:

With the bridge height adjusted, the next checkpoint ensures impeccable intonation. Play each row at the 12th fret and carefully listen for any discrepancies in pitch. Utilize a reliable tuner to cross-verify that the pitch remains accurate for each string. Correct intonation guarantees that the notes played at different positions on the fretboard maintain their correct pitch, contributing to a harmonious and well-tuned instrument. This step is critical for achieving a professional sound, especially if you plan on recording or playing with other musicians.

By meticulously adjusting the bridge height and confirming proper intonation, you’re elevating your guitar’s performance to new heights. This precision ensures that every note you play resonates with clarity and accuracy, offering you the satisfaction of a finely tuned instrument that responds to your every command. So, grab your tuner, make those subtle adjustments, and get ready to experience a whole new level of playability and tonal richness. Happy playing!

Final Checks

Congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated the intricacies of adjusting your guitar’s action. Now, let’s ensure your hard work pays off by conducting some final checks to guarantee your guitar is playing optimally.

Playability Test:

As the final step in this adjustment journey, take a moment to strum your guitar and play a variety of chords. This hands-on playability test allows you to feel the changes you’ve made. Pay close attention to the responsiveness of the strings and the overall ease of play. Ensure there’s no pesky buzzing or any unwanted noise that might detract from your musical experience. This test serves as the ultimate confirmation that your adjustments have struck the perfect balance.

Intonation Check:

Revisit the intonation to verify the accuracy of pitch across the entire fretboard. Play each string at the 12th fret and use a reliable tuner to ensure that the pitch remains true. Intonation is crucial for maintaining the correct pitch as you move up and down the neck. A well-intended guitar guarantees that your chords and melodies will sound spot-on, contributing to a more harmonious and enjoyable playing experience.

Visual Inspection:

Conclude your adjustment process with a thorough visual inspection of your guitar. Examine every nook and cranny, looking for any signs of wear or damage. Check the overall condition of the body, neck, and frets. Ensure that all hardware, including the adjusting guitar truss rod adjustment nut and bridge components, is secure. This visual check ensures that your guitar is not only playing well but also in good physical shape.

By completing these final checks, you’ve not only fine-tuned your guitar’s action but also invested in its longevity and performance. Now, with a well-adjusted and well-maintained instrument, you’re ready to embark on a musical journey filled with crisp, clear tones and effortless playability. Happy strumming!


Adjusting your guitar’s action may seem daunting at first, but with the right tools and a patient approach, you can achieve the perfect balance for your playing style. Regularly checking and adjusting your guitar’s action ensures that it stays in top-notch condition, making your musical journey all the more enjoyable. So, grab your feeler gauge set, take your time, and let your fingers dance effortlessly across the frets. Happy playing!

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