Lowering the action on an acoustic guitar is a common adjustment made by guitarists to improve playability and reduce the effort required to press down on the strings.
The action refers to the height of the strings above the fretboard. A lower action can make the guitar easier to play, especially for beginners and players with smaller hands.
In this comprehensive guide, I will explain step-by-step how to lower the action on an acoustic guitar, covering both basic adjustments and more advanced techniques.
Step 1: Gather the Necessary Tools
Before you start, it’s essential to have the right tools on hand:
- Capo: You’ll use this to temporarily raise the action for testing purposes.
- Allen wrenches: The size will depend on your guitar’s truss rod adjustment nut and saddle adjustment screws.
- String gauge: You may need to change your strings or adjust their tension.
- Ruler or feeler gauges: These will help you measure the action accurately.
- Phillips-head screwdriver: For adjusting the saddle.
- Sandpaper or files: These may be needed for more advanced adjustments.
Step 2: Assess the Current Action
Before making any adjustments, you should understand the current state of your guitar’s action.
Measure the action at the 12th fret using a ruler or feeler gauges.
Typically, acoustic guitars have an action height between 2.0mm to 3.5mm on the low E string and 1.5mm to 2.5mm on the high E string. Write down your measurements for reference.
Step 3: Loosen the Strings
To make adjustments, it’s best to loosen the strings to relieve tension on the guitar neck and saddle. You don’t need to remove the strings entirely, but loosening them significantly will help.
Step 4: Adjust the Truss Rod
The truss rod is a metal rod running inside the neck of the guitar. It controls the neck’s curvature and, consequently, the action height. To adjust it:
- Locate the truss rod adjustment nut, which is typically located at the headstock or inside the soundhole.
- Use the appropriate size Allen wrench to make small adjustments. Righty-tighty (clockwise) typically adds more relief, raising the action, while lefty-loosey (counterclockwise) decreases relief, lowering the action. Start with very small turns, about a quarter turn at a time.
- Re-tune your guitar and check the action. It may take some time for the neck to settle into its new position, so be patient.
Step 5: Check the Nut Height
The nut is the small piece at the top of the fretboard that guides the strings into their respective positions. Ensure the nut slots are not too high, as this can affect the action. If necessary, file down the nut slots using the appropriate files or sandpaper. Be careful not to take off too much material, as this can lead to tuning issues and buzzing.
Step 6: Adjust the Saddle
The saddle is the piece of bone or plastic that holds the strings at the bridge of the guitar. To lower the action at the saddle:
- Remove the saddle from the bridge carefully. It might be held in place with screws or pins.
- Use sandpaper or a file to reduce the height of the saddle evenly. Keep checking the action height with your ruler or feeler gauges as you make adjustments.
- Replace the saddle and re-tune your guitar. Check the action again and make further adjustments if necessary.
Step 7: Check for Buzzing and Intonation
After lowering the action, play every fret on each string to ensure there is no fret buzzing. If you encounter buzzing, it may be necessary to raise the action slightly or address specific fret issues. Adjusting the truss rod or saddle may help.
Additionally, check your guitar’s intonation. Play an open string and then its corresponding note at the 12th fret. The two should be in tune. If they are not, you may need to adjust the saddle’s positioning.
Step 8: Final Adjustments and Testing
Make small, incremental adjustments to fine-tune the action to your liking. Remember that very low action can lead to buzzing, especially if you play aggressively. Finding the right balance between low action and playability is crucial.
Step 9: Restring Your Guitar
Once you are satisfied with the action, restring your guitar with fresh strings. New strings can greatly affect the feel and sound of your instrument.
Step 10: Play Test
Finally, play your guitar and assess how it feels and sounds. Pay attention to any buzzing or fretting issues. If you encounter problems, revisit the previous steps for further adjustments.
Final Conclusion on How to Lower Action on Acoustic Guitar?
It’s important to note that adjusting the action on your acoustic guitar can be a delicate process that requires patience and precision.
If you are uncomfortable making these adjustments yourself, it’s advisable to seek the expertise of a professional guitar technician.
They have the experience and tools necessary to ensure your guitar is set up correctly and plays at its best.