Who else wants to learn how to check action on electric guitar?
It’s no secret that finding out how to check the action on your electric guitar can be challenging.
It’s difficult to know what you need to know and what you don’t.
Plus, it can seem like something that you might need special tools to do.
What is action on an electric guitar anyway?
It can cause confusion and frustration and take the joy out of learning to play the electric guitar.
Fortunately, we’ll look at all of this and show you how to check action on electric guitar.
What is Action on Electric Guitar?
When someone refers to action on an electric guitar, they’re referring to
the distance between the fretboard and your electric guitar strings.
If your action is too high you can have trouble pressing the strings down to fret a note.
If your action is too low, you can get fret buzz or you may not be able to properly fret a note at all.
Different guitarists prefer different levels of action.
This is partly due to personal preference but it’s also dependent on an individual guitarist’s playing style and musical genre.
For instance, heavy metal shredders usually prefer lower action on their electric guitars.
Since lower action requires less pressure to fret a note it also makes playing a blisteringly fast set of notes in a row easier.
With higher action, those same notes played in quick succession may cause hand fatigue a lot quicker simply because more pressure is required to play the notes.
Lower action on your electric guitar is not the end all be all of guitar playing, however.
The main point is to have the action on your electric guitar set up properly so that it’s comfortable to play and all of your notes fret properly.
Why is Action on Electric Guitar Important?
When someone asks why the action on an electric guitar is important, it’s important to know the effect that your action has on your guitar playing.
If your action is set wrong you can experience problems like:
- Improper Intonation: The notes and chords you play won’t be properly in tune no matter what you do.
- Fret Buzz: When playing, your guitar will make a buzzing noise. This is caused by the string hitting the fretboard while it vibrates instead of vibrating freely.
- Difficult Playing: This can manifest itself as difficulty fretting chords and trouble playing fast leads.
These types of problems can make playing more difficult and can discourage new players from learning.
Also, the action of your electric guitar can have an impact on your sound.
This can be less drastic on an electric guitar than on an acoustic guitar, but it still makes an impact.
Higher action lets your string vibrate freely so your tone will ring out true.
But, if your action is too high, you can have difficulty playing.
It becomes a balance between the sound you’re after, and the ease and comfort of your playing.
Additionally, you could enjoy different levels of action at different times of your playing journey.
Once you’ve found your playing style, you might find the perfect setup for the action on your guitar.
But in a few years, you might get interested in a different style of music, and have to adjust your action again.
This is common among players who start off playing most chords and eventually want to focus on playing lead guitar.
What are the Benefits of Checking Action on Electric Guitar?
The benefits of checking the action on your electric guitar will seem obvious if you’ve read up to this point.
Identifying the problem is the first step to fixing it.
If you’re a beginner, you may not even realize that there’s something wrong with the action on your guitar.
Plus, once you ensure that your action is correct, you can eliminate it as a potential source of problems.
Once you know whether your action is set properly, you can forget about it and concentrate on playing since you could enjoy things like:
- Improved Tone
- Playing Chords May Require Less Effort
- Easier Time Playing Fast Leads
How Do I Check Action on Electric Guitar?
So how do you check the action on an electric guitar?
First, make sure your truss rod is set up properly.
Your truss rod controls the amount of bow in the neck of your guitar.
Too much bow in one direction or the other will cause problems with the action on your guitar.
Too much bow and your strings will be too far from the fretboard and make it hard to fret notes properly.
Not enough bow, and you’ll have fret buzz and the higher notes can fret out.
Either way, if your truss rod isn’t properly adjusted, you won’t be able to properly check the action on your electric guitar.
1. Adjusting Your Truss Rod:
It’s easiest to check your truss rod setup if you have a capo.
You’ll use an Allen key to either tighten or loosen a bolt on the neck. (Most of the time it’s hidden under a truss cover on the headstock.)
The mechanics of adjusting your truss rod are fairly straightforward:
Turn clockwise (or tighten) to add tension and straighten the neck.
Turn counter-clockwise (or loosen) to remove tension and let the neck bow more.
- Put your capo ( or your finger if you don’t have a capo) on the first fret of the low E string.
- Now put another finger on the 15th or 16th fret of the low E string.
- Look at the height of the string at about the 5th fret.
- As long as there’s a small bit of room between the string and the fret, you should be fine.
- If the E string is close to the fret or touching the fret:
- Too much bow so tighten the truss rod.
- If the E String is far from the fret:
- Not enough bow so loosen the truss rod.
- N.B. When adjusting your truss rod, go very, very slowly and turn the Allen wrench only a small distance
- Give your guitar neck some time to settle after your adjustment.
- Your guitar neck is wood, so it may need up to 24 hours to fully settle in.
- Repeat the process until your neck feels properly adjusted.
Now that you have your truss rod properly adjusted, we can check the action on your electric guitar.
First, see if the guitar manufacturer has any recommendations on their website as to your string height.
Often guitar manufacturers will have a recommended height that their guitars are set to at the factory.
Knowing this recommended height gives you a good guide if you need to adjust your string height.
2. Checking string height:
First, make sure your guitar is properly in tune.
If your guitar is not in tune, it will throw off the measurement since your string won’t be at the proper distance from the fretboard.
To properly check your action, you can use a ruler to measure the distance between the bottom of the string and the top of the fret on the fretboard.
First, measure the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the low E string.
Then, measure the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the high E string.
Compare these numbers with your guitar manufacturer’s recommended string heights and then adjust as needed.
Now that you know the height of your strings what do you do if you still find laying uncomfortable? Adjust the height of your strings.
See, if the action on your electric guitar is set “properly”, but it doesn’t feel comfortable to play, it’s the wrong action for you.
One man’s guitar may be set up perfectly for him, but his buddy will find the action too high or the strings too low.
It’s perfectly acceptable to adjust the action on your guitar so that it works for you, even if it’s not the “proper” height.
- How do I check my guitar action?
- At the 12th fret, measure the distance from the bottom of your low E string to the top of the fret. Repeat for the high E string.
- How high should the action be on an electric guitar?
- Your action should be high enough to be able to play comfortably without causing fret buzz. Different playing styles will mean different heights, but this is a good rule of thumb to go by.
- How do I know if my guitar action is too high?
- If you’re finding it difficult to press down on the guitar strings, your action is probably too high. This can be a bit subjective, especially given different people’s playing styles and natural hand strength, but if it’s uncomfortable to play chords or it’s difficult to play quick notes in succession when you’re playing above the 12th fret, your action could be too high.
- What is considered low action on electric guitar?
- Low action on an electric guitar doesn’t really have a “standard” since everybody has a different definition of low action. But! if you’re getting fret buzz when you play chords or your notes fret out when you play higher on the fretboard, your action is probably too low. If you feel like the action on your electric guitar could be lower, it’s worth checking the action and lowering it to see how it feels.
JT currently resides in Southern California and has been playing the guitar since he was 13. He enjoys baking French pastries, drinking loose-leaf tea, and running Slackware Linux.