Have you ever felt that your bridge is too high? Maybe your strings are raised too much off of the neck? Have you ever had your bridge too low? The strings touching the fret wire and creating a buzzing sound on the guitar and you are not able to create any proper sound at all?
Have you ever had your Floyd Rose tremolo system sunk into your guitar and stuck that way, so that you can’t do dives but only lifts with the whammy bar—and even those take all of your strength?
These are all problems that fall under the “action” category.
The action is the height of your strings which, coincidentally, coincides precisely with the height of your guitar’s tremolo system. In this article, we’ll talk all about setting the action of guitars.
Your guitar action isn’t going to be perfect when you buy it. This may sound like an awful thing (after all, you bought the guitar, shouldn’t it at least be set up properly after you’ve spent all that cash?) but it is reality. Unless you buy a custom guitar, chances are you aren’t going to have a very good set up.
That, or if you buy used you may have a chance of getting a guitar that the previous owner set up on their own time and account. However, this isn’t something that you should go into a purchase with your mind on; you aren’t likely to have a guitar that is even decently set up to the standards that it should be.
What you will need to change your action is one hex wrench (Allen wrench) of the appropriate size for your bridge or, if your bridge calls for it, a flat head screwdriver, and a good measuring tape, preferably a caliper.
Now, you may be comfortable with your action already, and if you are that’s great, but you can always learn how to tweak it in case the day comes when you change your strings and, low and behold, the action as all funky and you can’t get a good feel (i.e. strings are too high, bridge is stuck in).
The first thing you want to do is measure your string height at the twelfth fret. At this spot, at both the low E string and the high E string respectively, the height should be 3/64” to 4/64”. This is the number most popularly associated with proper guitar string height.
To get there, you want to make even adjustments, preferably one quarter turn at a time, to the screws at the bridge which hold down the bridge. These are referred to as “pins”, and will make your bridge higher when loosened and lower when tightened.
In the end, setting the action height for guitars is all about your personal preference. While the numbers we gave you are considered “proper”, they are by no means the only numbers. Whatever is comfortable for you to play it is the proper height for your guitar, so long as your strings aren’t so high they warp the neck or so low they tear the nuts out.
Learn And Master Guitar Setup & Maintenance is a comprehensive step-by-step video course that shows you how to setup your guitar at home using simple tools.
You will be able save time and money by learning to make your own adjustments for maximum playability and better tone.