When setting up your guitar, it is incredibly important that you pay attention to the action (i.e. the distance between the strings and the fret). Having an action that is too high could make playing the guitar difficult. Having the action too low can result in intonation issues and fret buzz.
How High Should The Action Be On An Acoustic Guitar?
The thing is there is no ‘one answer’ for how high the action should be on a guitar. It is going to heavily depend on your playing style (slide players need a higher action), and even the brand of guitar that you own. A good starting point is to go to the 12-fret and measure the distance between the low E string and the fret. This should be 3/32″. In the high E, it should be 1/16″ of an inch. If you normally use a capo, then measure the action with the capo on.
Let’s go into a little bit more depth on this one. We want to tell you exactly how to measure the action on your acoustic guitar. We also want to tell you a little bit about the factors that will influence how high (or low) that action should be.
How Do You Measure The Action?
You will need to get your hands on a tool called a feeler gauge. A feeler gauge allows you to measure small distances (i.e. the distance between the fret and the string). There will be a series of blades on the feeler gauge, and you just poke a blade under the string until you find something that fits perfectly.
You can pick up both metric and imperial feeler gauges. We are going to focus on measurements in imperial here. However, if you want to measure in metric, then feel free to do that too! The process is pretty much the same.
Here is how you measure the action on your guitar:
- If you normally use a capo, put it on the guitar.
- Put the feeler gauge under the low E string on the 12th fret. Write down the measurement.
- Put the feeler gauge under the high E string on the 12th fret. Write down the measurement.
You now have your ‘action’ measurements.
What Is Considered High Action?
As we mentioned before, this is a tricky question to answer. This is because there is no one answer. The height of the action for you may be completely different for somebody else.
In our opinion, a high action is when you find it difficult to play in the style that you want. For example, if you are finding it difficult to push down the strings when you are zipping between chords, then you know that the action is too high. If you are not able to play fast, then you know that the action is too high.
Some people suggest that the following measurements are a high action (these measurements are on the 12th fret)
- Low E – .149″
- High E – .126″
Anything above that, and you are really going to start to find the guitar tough to play. Even at this point, you have a guitar that is perfectly set up for playing slide guitar, but probably wouldn’t work well as a strumming guitar with quick chord changes, or if you want to do some fiddly bits on the fretboard.
How Do I Know If My Action Is Too High?
It is one of those cases where you just ‘know’.
As you play the guitar, if the action is too high, you will notice that it becomes more difficult to push the strings down. It almost feels like a chore. You may not even be able to play at the speeds that you want to be able to play at.
Perhaps the biggest telltale sign that your acoustic guitar action is too high, however, is the fact that the tone of your guitar changes or you find the strings going out of tune a lot.
You have to remember that the further the acoustic guitar string has to travel down to the fret, the more likely it is to get bent out of shape. This means that the tone that you do play when you strum that chord or hit that note just sounds ‘off’. Even if you are not at the point where you have a good ear for hearing those notes, you will still be able to hear how off it sounds.
What Is The Ideal Action?
As we have said several times throughout this page, there is no “one answer” to the ideal action height for an acoustic guitar. It is something that you are really going to need to work out yourself. However, we can give you some guidelines from other players.
Once again, these are going to be measurements taken at the 12th fret:
- Low E – 0.098″
- High E – 0.071″
If you are a newbie guitar player, then you will probably want to hover around that mark. If it doesn’t feel comfortable to play, then you can experiment in raising or lowering that action. However, do make sure that you do not lower the action of your acoustic guitar too much. If you do, then you will end up dealing with fret buzz, and, trust us, it is not something that will be sounding pleasant in the slightest!
The action of your acoustic guitar (the height of the string) is always going to be something tricky to nail. We reckon that there are pros out there still looking for the perfect string height. You want the string height to be the exact right height for your playing style. Experiment with string height, and you will notice that your playing will come on in leaps and bounds.
Remember, string adjustment will happen through careful adjustments of the truss rod. This can break the neck of the guitar if you do it wrong. If you are not confident in your guitar maintenance abilities, then reach out to a professional. They can help.