Why do cheap guitars have high action?

Guitar action, the height of the strings above the fretboard, is a critical factor that significantly impacts a guitar’s playability and performance. While high-quality guitars often feature carefully adjusted and lower action for better playability, it’s a common observation that many cheap or budget guitars tend to have higher action. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind why cheap guitars often come with high action and the implications of this on the instrument’s playability.

Understanding Guitar Action

Before delving into the reasons for high action on cheap guitars, it’s essential to understand the concept of guitar action:

  1. Low Action: Low action means that the strings are set closer to the frets, making it easier to press down the strings and play without excessive effort. It often results in faster and more comfortable fretboard navigation.
  2. High Action: High action, on the other hand, indicates that the strings are positioned farther from the frets. This setup requires more finger strength to press the strings down, potentially making it less comfortable and playable for some guitarists.

Reasons for High Action on Cheap Guitars

  1. Cost-Cutting Measures: Cheap guitars are designed with cost-cutting in mind. Manufacturers often use lower-quality materials and components to keep production costs down. This can include less precise fretwork and machining, which can lead to inconsistencies in the neck, frets, and nut, all of which can contribute to higher action.
  2. Inconsistent Manufacturing: Inexpensive guitars are typically mass-produced in factories where speed and efficiency are prioritized over precision. As a result, there may be variations in neck alignment, saddle height, and other crucial components that affect action height.
  3. Limited Quality Control: Budget guitar manufacturers may have limited quality control processes in place, leading to guitars with inconsistent setups. High action can sometimes be a result of this lack of attention to detail during production.
  4. Avoiding Fret Buzz: Cheap guitars may have higher action to prevent fret buzzing. Fret buzz occurs when the strings come into contact with the frets while vibrating, creating an unwanted buzzing or rattling sound. By setting the action higher, manufacturers reduce the likelihood of fret buzz, which can be perceived as a quality issue by beginners.
  5. Adjustability: Some budget guitars are designed with adjustable bridges, allowing players to raise or lower the action to their preference. This design choice provides flexibility for players who may want to customize the action themselves.

Implications of High Action on Cheap Guitars

While high action on cheap guitars can help mitigate fret buzz and certain quality control issues, it comes with several implications:

  1. Playability: High action can make the guitar less playable, especially for beginners or players with less finger strength. It can hinder techniques like string bending and may require more effort to fret notes.
  2. Tone and Sustain: Excessively high action can negatively impact tone and sustain, as the strings may not vibrate freely enough to produce a full, resonant sound.
  3. Intonation Issues: High action can lead to intonation problems, where the guitar may not play in tune across the entire fretboard.
  4. Limitation for Advancing Players: As players progress and develop more advanced techniques, they may find high-action guitars limiting and choose to invest in higher-quality instruments with lower action.


High action on cheap guitars is often a result of cost-cutting measures, inconsistent manufacturing, and limited quality control. While it may address certain issues like fret buzz, it can negatively impact playability, tone, sustain, and intonation. As players advance and become more discerning, they may consider upgrading to higher-quality instruments with lower action for a more enjoyable and expressive playing experience. Ultimately, the choice between a cheap guitar with high action and a more expensive guitar with better setup depends on the player’s preferences and needs.

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