Adjusting the Action on Modern Guitars: A Comprehensive Guide

As a guitar expert, I have encountered numerous questions about adjusting the action on modern guitars. It is a crucial aspect of guitar maintenance that can greatly affect the playability and sound of the instrument. However, many guitarists are still unsure about how to properly adjust the action on their modern guitars. In this article, I will provide a comprehensive guide on how to adjust the action on modern guitars from an expert's perspective.

Understanding Action on Modern Guitars

Before we dive into the process of adjusting the action, let's first understand what it means.

In simple terms, action refers to the distance between the strings and the fretboard. A higher action means that the strings are further away from the fretboard, while a lower action means that they are closer. The action can greatly affect the playability and sound of a guitar, so it is essential to get it right. Modern guitars are designed with adjustable truss rods and bridge saddles, making it easier to adjust the action compared to vintage guitars. However, it is still important to proceed with caution and make small adjustments at a time to avoid damaging your instrument.

Tools Needed for Adjusting Action

Before we start adjusting the action on your modern guitar, make sure you have these tools on hand:
  • Screwdriver - for adjusting the truss rod
  • Allen wrench - for adjusting bridge saddles
  • Ruler or feeler gauge - for measuring the distance between strings and fretboard
  • Guitar tuner - for checking the intonation after adjusting the action

Adjusting the Truss Rod

The truss rod is a metal rod that runs through the length of the guitar's neck.

It is responsible for keeping the neck straight and preventing it from bowing due to string tension. Adjusting the truss rod can help in correcting the action on your modern guitar. First, you need to locate the truss rod adjustment nut, which is usually located at the headstock of the guitar. Use a screwdriver to turn the nut clockwise to tighten and counter-clockwise to loosen. Remember to make small adjustments at a time, about 1/4 of a turn, and then check the action before making further adjustments. To check the action, use a ruler or feeler gauge to measure the distance between the 12th fret and the bottom of the string.

The ideal action for most modern guitars is around 2mm for the high E string and 2.5mm for the low E string. However, this can vary depending on your playing style and personal preference. If the action is too high, tighten the truss rod by turning it clockwise. If it is too low, loosen it by turning it counter-clockwise. Remember to check the action after each adjustment until you achieve your desired height.

Adjusting Bridge Saddles

The bridge saddles are responsible for holding the strings in place and determining their height above the fretboard.

Most modern guitars have adjustable bridge saddles, which makes it easier to adjust the action. Using an Allen wrench, you can adjust each saddle individually by turning the screws clockwise to raise them and counter-clockwise to lower them. Again, make small adjustments at a time and check the action after each one. It is important to note that adjusting the bridge saddles can also affect the intonation of your guitar. Intonation refers to the accuracy of the notes on each fret. If the intonation is off, the notes will sound out of tune even when the guitar is in tune.

To check the intonation, use a guitar tuner and play each string on the 12th fret. If the note is sharp, move the saddle back, and if it is flat, move it forward until the note is in tune.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Adjusting the action on modern guitars may seem like a simple task, but it requires precision and caution. Here are some common mistakes that you should avoid:
  • Adjusting too much at once - as mentioned earlier, it is crucial to make small adjustments at a time to avoid damaging your guitar.
  • Not checking the intonation - adjusting the action can also affect the intonation, so make sure to check it after making any changes.
  • Using incorrect tools - using the wrong tools can damage your guitar and make it difficult to achieve the desired action.
  • Not knowing when to seek professional help - if you are unsure about adjusting the action on your modern guitar, it is best to seek help from a professional guitar technician.

In Conclusion

Adjusting the action on modern guitars is an essential aspect of guitar maintenance that can greatly affect its playability and sound. It may seem daunting at first, but with proper knowledge and caution, you can easily adjust the action on your own.

Remember to make small adjustments at a time, check the action and intonation after each one, and avoid common mistakes. With these tips, you can achieve the perfect action on your modern guitar and enhance your playing experience.

Mitch Philben
Mitch Philben

Avid zombie expert. Friendly coffee advocate. Hardcore burrito ninja. Lifelong twitter advocate. Avid bacon maven.