Acoustic Guitar Action
Action is the term generally used to describe the string height above the frets / fingerboard. The significance of an instrument’s action will have a direct influence on its general comfort, feel and playability. If the action is set too high, more effort and pressure is needed to hold a string down and sound a note. Further problems caused by high action can affect intonation (how “in tune” the instrument sounds when a note is fretted). Conversely, if the action is set too low, then this could result in the strings rattling against the fret causing fret buzz and a poor quality sound. Below is a list of possible causes of high action.
Nut & Bridge Saddle Height
The nut and/or bridge saddle (the strings fixed points) are set too high. New instruments are generally set with a high action when they leave the factory. This can be rather off putting to the beginner, but can be corrected fairly easily by shaving down the saddle.
The Truss Rod
The truss rod is an adjustable metal reinforcing rod that is set into the guitar neck under the fingerboard. If the truss rod is not adjusted correctly, the result will have a direct bearing on the action and playability of the instrument (read more….).
Damage to the internal bracing system that reinforces the underside of the soundboard could have some bearing on an instrument’s action. The string tension could cause the guitar’s top to deform, thus causing a higher action.
When an instrument is set up with a particular string gauge in mind, adjustments such as nut height, bridge saddle height and truss rod are made so as to set the action to its optimum playing potential. However, if a lighter or heavier gauge is then fitted, this will then have a direct influence on the guitar’s action.
Electric Guitar Action
Action is a general term used to describe the string height above the frets and fretboard. It is commonly thought that a low action will make the discerning guitarist play with more dynamics and vigour. However this is not always the case as an action that is too low can cause problems with tone and harmonic clarity.
Although it is true that the significance of an instrument’s action will have a direct influence on its general comfort, feel and playability, some compromise usually has to be made for the sake of tonality and clarity.
Conversely if the action is set too high, more effort and pressure is needed to hold a string down and sound a note. Further problems caused by high action can affect intonation (how in tune the instrument sounds when a note is fretted).
The quality of material and workmanship differs from guitar to guitar. Two identical looking instruments from the same manufacturer can feel and sound very different. Therefore, it is safe to say that each instrument has to be taken on its own merit and set up within its own limitations and to the best of its ability.
It is the mission of all instrument repairers to bring the guitar and the guitarist together and to do what is best for both player and instrument by whatever means necessary.