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How to Adjust the Action on an Acoustic Guitar?

The action on an acoustic guitar can be higher for many different reasons like extreme humidity, dirt, and damage. This extra height on the action can affect the sound quality badly. 

To avoid these situations, guitarists should learn how to adjust the action on an acoustic guitar.

Usually, adjusting the action is all about adjusting some specific parts on the guitar like the truss rod, saddle, nut, and neck relief. In some cases, adjusting one or two facts is enough like you need to adjust the only nut and saddle to lower the action height.

However, the entire process is not an uphill battle unless you know the right process. You can keep reading this blog as we are going to cover the entire process most simply.

Learn To Adjust The Action On An Acoustic Guitar in 30 Seconds!

Adjusting the action height on your acoustic guitar can be easy if you know all the necessary steps. 

Here, you should focus on particular facts like:

  • Get introduced to the Action height chart
  • Learn how to measure the action height to inspect the condition of your guitar action.
  • Learn to adjust the Truss and Saddle.
  • Focus on the other part adjustments like nut bridge and neck relief.

These are the basic steps but you need to listen to the sound and check properly to see whether it needs further adjustment or not. Fine-tuning the action is another essential step to consider as well.

Acoustic Guitar Action Height Chart 

No matter What kind of adjustment you want on your Acoustic guitar action, you must follow the basic Acoustic guitar action height chart. So, first, let me share the chart for both steel-string and Nylon-string guitars.

Steel-string Acoustic Guitar

MeasurementBass E (Low E)Treble E (High E)
Action at 1st fret0.023″0.013″
Action at 12th fret0.090″0.070″
Relief (at 8th fret)0.002″

Nylon-string Acoustic Guitar

MeasurementBass E (Low E)Treble E (High E)
Action at 1st fret0.030″0.024″
Action at 12th fret0.156″0.125″
Relief (at 8th fret)0.002″

This is the recommended action height chart for Acoustic guitar. However, you can customize things here as you wish. I will show you how to adjust it properly soon.

How to Measure Guitar Action? (Step-by-step)

Before you learn to adjust the guitar action, it’s almost a mandatory fact to learn how to measure it. If you don’t know the measurement, you won’t understand if the adjustment is right or wrong. So, let’s first learn how to measure the guitar action in easy steps:

  • Identify the 12th fret, which is the midpoint of the string length. You will find this fret marked with double dots on the fretboard.
  • Check the guitar from the side and ensure it’s in a playing position. Also, position yourself so you have a clear view of the 12th fret and the strings.
  • Using a ruler or feeler gauge, measure the distance between the bottom of the strings and the top of the 12th fret. This measurement indicates the action height.
  • Then, check if there’s a variation in action height between the bass (low E) and treble (high E) strings. Measure and note the action height for each string individually.
  • Check the string line, the saddle, and a line along the top of the frets to form a right-angle triangle. The saddle height is twice the height of the 12th fret action.
  • Before you make any adjustment, you need to calculate how much to lower or raise the saddle based on the desired action height reduction or increase at the 12th fret. Remember, the saddle adjustment is twice the measured amount at the 12th fret.

Remember that you will have to measure each string specifically if your guitar has an adjustable saddle for each of them. However, if it has a fixed bridge, you can just measure the high and low E strings.

How to Adjust the Action on An Acoustic Guitar Fretboard? (Step-by-step)

Adjusting the action on an acoustic guitar is not all about turning the Allen wrench but also adjusting some other gears. Even though the process can be different based on different acoustic guitars, the base instruction is almost the same everywhere. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to measure guitar action effectively:

Step 1: Check and Measure String Action

The first step in measuring guitar action is to assess the distance between the strings and the frets, specifically at the 12th fret. This measurement is essential for determining the playability of the instrument. 

However, this is the same thing I discussed earlier which means measuring the string action. So, follow the way and measure the action height on your guitar fretboard.

Here you should remember that the high E-string should ideally be about 0.5 mm lower at the 12th fret than the low E-string. This slight variation ensures uniform playability across all strings.

In this case, you need to consider the standard action height ranges for steel-string and nylon-string guitars. In the beginning, I have shared the chart. So, check the chart to learn the standard height of the action based on the types of Acoustic guitar you are using.

Step 2: Adjust String Action at Bridge and Nut

After measuring the string action, you need to know exactly where to adjust to achieve the desired action height. In this case, you need to focus on the below facts:

Saddle Adjustment

If the string action is too high across the fingerboard, you should sand down the bridge saddle. It will simply reduce the height of the strings above the frets to improve playability.

Nut Correction

If playing at the first fret feels difficult because of high string action, you have to correct the nut. However, nut adjustments are slightly a difficult task. A simple mistake can damage the instrument. If it’s your first time adjusting the action, you better ask a professional guitar technician to adjust the nuts for you.

Step 3: Check and Adjust Neck Relief

Before adjusting string action, you need to ensure that the guitar neck has the correct amount of relief, or bowing. This step helps maintain proper string clearance and prevents fret buzzing.

Truss Adjustment

Locate the truss rod adjustment mechanism. You’ll find it at the headstock or inside the soundhole near the neck joint. Now, use an appropriate tool, like an Allen wrench, to access the truss rod nut.

Neck Relief Adjustment

Turn the truss rod nut clockwise to increase the amount of bowing in the neck. It’ll help reduce the distance between the strings and the fretboard. Conversely, turning the nut counterclockwise decreases tension. It will let the neck straighten and increase string clearance.

Here, you have to make adjustments to the truss rod nut gradually and in small increments. Otherwise, it can cause damage to the neck or affect playability. If turning the nut is difficult you should seek assistance from a qualified guitar technician.

Step 4: Test the Sound Quality

Once you make the necessary adjustments to the string action and neck relief, it’s essential to test the guitar’s playability and sound quality to ensure that the changes are done according to your preference.

For that, you should play different chords and scales across the fretboard to understand the guitar’s playability. Also, make sure to check for any buzzing or discomfort while fretting notes, especially in areas where the action was adjusted.

Also, you should listen carefully to the sound produced by the guitar. Pay attention to the clarity of individual notes and chords, as well as the overall tone and projection. As you adjust the action and neck relief, it should enhance the instrument’s sound quality. So, make sure to concentrate while checking how the sounds are running.

Step 5: Fine-tune If Needed

While checking the sound quality, if you are happy with the adjustment, count yourself lucky. If not, I guess, you need to give it another shot. Depending on personal preferences and playing style, you may need further adjustments to the action to achieve the desired feel and sound.

Well, don’t be upset, and remember the guitar adjustment is not something you can be a pro overnight. Also, it may take several adjustments to achieve the perfect balance between playability and tone. So, take your time to fine-tune the action according to your preferences and comfort level.

If you can’t fix additional adjustments or find any difficulties in getting the desired action height, you should consult a professional guitar technician. You can also ask them to teach you practically how to adjust the action and find your mistakes in the process if there are any.

However, for fine-tuning the action adjustment, you should follow the mentioned process. Always try to use the standard active height adjustment and remember to follow the right adjustment for nylon or steel strings.

How to Adjust the Action on an Acoustic Guitar for Beginners?

Did you find the previous steps a little bit complicated? If yes, you should learn the DIY ways to adjust the action on an Acoustic guitar which is particularly recommended for beginners.

Here’s a beginner-friendly instruction to adjust the action on acoustic guitar:

  1. Assess Your Guitar’s Action

As usual, you have to first check the height of your guitar strings. Just measure the distance between the bottom of the strings and the top of the 12th fret using a ruler or a feeler gauge.

  1. Adjust the Truss Rod

If your strings are too high or low, your guitar’s neck might need some tweaking. For that just find the truss rod adjustment point at the headstock or inside the soundhole. You can use an Allen wrench to make small adjustments. 

In this case, remember to tune the truss rod clockwise to straighten the neck and counterclockwise to add a bit of curve.

  1. Check the Nut Action

After adjusting the truss rod, check the string height at the nut. It’s the small piece at the top of the fretboard where the strings start. 

You can use feeler gauges to measure the distance between the bottom of the strings and the top of the first fret. If it’s higher than around .060 inches, you need to file down the nut slightly.

  1. Filing Down the Nut

Now, you need to carefully remove a small amount of the nut to lower the string height. It’s essential to be cautious and go slowly to avoid removing too much. You can use specific nut files or sandpaper wrapped around a flat object like a credit card. 

  1. Recheck and Test Playability

Once you’ve made the necessary adjustments, double-check the action to ensure it’s where you want it to be. Make sure to test the playability by playing chords and scales across the fretboard. 

These steps are easy to follow, even beginners can confidently adjust the action on their acoustic guitars following them. However, make sure to be patient and practice more to be comfortable with the process. 

How to Lower Action on an Acoustic Guitar Without a Truss Rod?

In most cases, guitarists don’t need to adjust the action completely but just lower it slightly. In this case, you can skip the other parts and only focus on adjusting the nut and saddle. Here’s how you can lower the action without a truss rod:

  1. Adjusting the Nut

Use a fine file to carefully reduce the notches on the nut. This process lowers the strings’ height above the fretboard. In this case, be extra careful and not remove too much material. Remember that the nut cannot be replaced once filed.

  1. Adjusting the Saddle

To adjust the saddle, you need to loosen the strings and remove the saddle from the bridge. Gradually sand down the saddle using fine sandpaper to lower its height. Make small adjustments at a time to ensure precision.

Then, you need to reinstall the saddle, retighten the strings, and test the playability. Also, make sure that the strings are still properly seated in the saddle slots.

Lowering the action without a truss rod may sound simple, but the process is pretty complicated. 

In this case, you should be careful of the following facts: 

  • Adjust with patience and gradually to avoid over-lowering the action.
  • Test the playability after each adjustment to ensure that the results are just as you need.
  • If things seem complicated or not going as planned, ask for professional assistance.

Follow These Acoustic Guitar Maintenance Tips (Action-wise)

Maintaining the action of your acoustic guitar is your must-have and some tricks are pretty effective in this case. 

Here are some maintenance tips specifically for preserving the action of your instrument:

  • Visually inspect your guitar’s action regularly. If there are any signs of high or uneven string height, make necessary adjustments.
  • Maintain stable humidity and temperature levels in the environment where your guitar is stored. Sudden climate changes can cause the wood to expand or contract which can affect the action.
  • Replace strings regularly to prevent the buildup of dirt and grime. They can affect the action and old strings can also lose their elasticity.
  • Learn how to adjust the truss rod properly to control the neck’s curvature. If you notice changes in action, make small adjustments to the truss rod as needed.
  • Keep the nut and saddle clean and free from debris. Periodically lubricate them with graphite or nut lubricant to reduce friction.
  • If you notice significant changes in action like buzzing or difficulty fretting notes, adjust the nut or saddle accordingly. 
  • Also, you should store your guitar in a sturdy case when not in use to protect it from accidental damage. 

These maintenance tips help you preserve the action of your acoustic guitar. So, for a comfortable playing experience and perfect sound quality for years to come, you should make them your habits.

Frequently Asked Questions

How High Should The Action Be On An Acoustic Guitar?

The recommended action height is between 2.5-2.75 mm. You can also lower it if needed.

What Causes High Action On Acoustic Guitar?

Many different reasons cause high action on acoustic guitars like humidity, damage, and dirt.

Does Higher Guitar Action Sound Better?

Unfortunately, no. Higher guitar action causes buzzing sounds and frequent contact between strings which extremely affect the sound quality.

Did Adjsuting The Action On An Acoustic Guitar Just Got Easy?

As you see, adjusting the action on an acoustic guitar is not a back-breaking task. You just need to be patient and take time to adjust. Measuring the existing action height is a must-have in this case. So, first, know how to measure it before you learn how to adjust the action on an acoustic guitar.

However, if you are not so interested in adjusting the action height frequently, buy a guitar from Zager. Guitars from these companies usually come with appropriate string settings and the settings don’t get changed so easily even if you replace the strings. That’s why you don’t need to adjust the action height frequently. 

Author Avatar
Jolene, a guitar enthusiast whose journey began by watching their uncle Dennis Jr. craft guitars. Growing up surrounded by the mesmerizing process of guitar creation, Jolene developed a profound appreciation for the artistry behind these instruments.

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