Is it OK to play with high action on guitar?

Guitar action, which refers to the height of the strings above the fretboard, is a critical aspect of a guitar’s setup. The height of the strings influences playability, tone, and overall comfort when playing the instrument. While many guitarists prefer a lower action for ease of play, some musicians wonder if it’s acceptable to play with high action. In this article, we will explore the concept of high action on the guitar, its effects on playability and tone, and when it might be suitable for certain players.

Understanding High Action

High action on a guitar refers to a setup where the strings are positioned relatively far from the fretboard. This results in a larger gap between the strings and the frets compared to a guitar with lower action. The action height can be adjusted at both the saddle (where the strings pass over the bridge) and the nut (where the strings sit at the headstock).

Effects of High Action

  1. Increased String Tension: Higher action typically requires more effort to press the strings down to the frets. This increased string tension can make the guitar feel less responsive and may require stronger finger strength to play comfortably.
  2. Reduced Playability: High action can make certain techniques, such as string bending and fast fretboard navigation, more challenging. It can also cause finger fatigue and discomfort, particularly during extended playing sessions.
  3. Potential Intonation Issues: Extremely high action can lead to intonation problems. When the strings are positioned too far from the frets, pressing them down to the fretboard can cause the notes to go sharp, resulting in an out-of-tune sound, especially in higher fret positions.
  4. Altered Tone: High action can influence the tone of the guitar. It tends to produce a brighter and somewhat “twangier” sound due to the increased string tension and reduced contact with the frets.

When Is It OK to Play with High Action?

While many guitarists prefer lower action for its ease of play, there are situations and playing styles where high action might be acceptable or even preferred:

  1. Slide Guitar: Slide guitar players often use guitars with higher action. The elevated strings make it easier to perform slide techniques without inadvertently fretting the strings against the fretboard.
  2. Bluegrass and Folk Styles: Some bluegrass and folk guitarists choose higher action to achieve a bright, articulate tone that complements their playing styles. The added string height can provide a more “punchy” sound when strumming with a pick.
  3. Acoustic Resonance: In some cases, players may prefer high action on vintage or parlor guitars to maximize the instrument’s acoustic resonance and projection.
  4. Personal Preference: Ultimately, the suitability of high action depends on individual preference. If a guitarist feels comfortable and can achieve the desired sound and style with high action, it may be a valid choice.


While playing with high action on a guitar is possible and can be suitable for specific styles and preferences, it is important to recognize the potential challenges it presents in terms of playability and intonation. Players should carefully consider their playing style, musical goals, and comfort level when deciding whether high action is right for them. Additionally, professional setup adjustments by a guitar technician or luthier can help optimize high-action guitars for the best possible playability and tone. Ultimately, the key is to find the balance between action height and playability that suits your musical needs and allows you to enjoy playing the guitar to its fullest potential.

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