What should be my guitar action?

Guitar action, also known as string action, is a fundamental aspect of a guitar’s setup that significantly affects playability, tone, and overall performance. It refers to the distance between the strings and the fretboard, specifically the height of the strings above the frets. Achieving the right guitar action is essential for comfort, ease of play, and the ability to produce clear, resonant notes. In this article, we will explore what guitar action is, how it impacts your playing experience, and how to find the right action for your playing style and preferences.

Understanding Guitar Action

Guitar action is typically measured at two key points on the fretboard: at the first fret and at the 12th fret. The distance between the strings and the first fret is known as the “first-fret action,” while the distance at the 12th fret is referred to as the “12th-fret action.”

The action height is typically adjustable at the saddle and the nut. These adjustments can be made to lower or raise the strings, affecting the overall action of the guitar. The term “low action” indicates that the strings are set close to the fretboard, while “high action” means that the strings are elevated further from the frets.

Factors Influencing Guitar Action

Several factors can influence the ideal guitar action:

  1. Playing Style: Your preferred playing style plays a significant role in determining the ideal action. Players who engage in fingerstyle or intricate lead guitar work often prefer lower action for ease of fretting and bending notes. In contrast, some players who primarily strum chords may opt for slightly higher action to reduce the risk of fret buzz when strumming forcefully.
  2. String Gauge: The gauge or thickness of your guitar strings can affect action. Heavier gauge strings exert more tension and may require slightly higher action to avoid buzzing.
  3. Neck Relief: The curvature or relief of the guitar’s neck can influence action. A straighter neck may allow for lower action, while more relief may necessitate higher action.
  4. Playing Environment: Environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity, can impact the guitar’s setup and, consequently, the action. Extreme weather conditions may cause the neck to expand or contract, affecting the action.
  5. Personal Comfort: Ultimately, your comfort and ease of play are crucial. The right action for you should feel comfortable under your fingers, allowing you to play for extended periods without discomfort or strain.

Finding the Right Guitar Action

  1. Experiment: Finding the ideal guitar action often involves experimentation. Begin with a medium action and adjust from there based on your playing style and preferences.
  2. Seek Professional Assistance: If you’re unsure about adjusting your guitar’s action, consider consulting a professional guitar technician or luthier. They can assess your instrument, make necessary adjustments, and provide guidance based on your playing style.
  3. Playability vs. String Height: It’s important to strike a balance between playability and string height. Lower action provides easier playability but may increase the risk of fret buzz, while higher action can reduce buzz but may require more finger strength.
  4. Regular Maintenance: Remember that the ideal action may change over time due to factors like string wear, temperature, and humidity. Regularly check and adjust your guitar’s action to maintain optimal playability.


The right guitar action is a crucial aspect of your playing experience. It should be tailored to your playing style, comfort, and musical preferences. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what your guitar action should be, finding the right balance between playability and string height is key. Experimentation, professional guidance, and regular maintenance will help you discover the ideal guitar action that enhances your playing and allows you to express yourself fully on the instrument.

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