Guitar Action – What’s A Good String Height?

If you are a new guitar player and are now learning more and more about your preferences when playing, you are probably wondering if the string height is right for you.

Guitar Action – What’s A Good String Height?

It is important to get the right string height because it will make your guitar easier to play and produce better sound when you find the best setup.

This refers to the action which is the distance between the strings and the fretboard, and we will talk about the action learning how to adjust the action by yourself is one of the most useful tips you can pick up as a new guitar player. 

What Is Guitar Action?

We mentioned in the introduction how essential the action is as it has a huge influence on how the guitar plays or any stringed instrument for that matter.

It is debated here and there as to what fret you should use in order to measure the action of your guitar, but the consensus is between the 8th and 12th fret.

In this guide, we will use the 12th fret as it is found to produce the most accurate measurements. 

Strings that are high set on a guitar are not very comfortable to play even if you are an experienced guitar player because you have to press down much harder and have more consistent pressure throughout every part of the finger, particularly challenging for bar chords. 

However, strings that are too low are problematic in their own way because it creates what is known as the ‘fret buzz’ which is when the strings are so close to the fretboard that it causes them to vibrate.

This buzz is especially noticeable in guitars that have been a bit neglected. 

The aggressiveness of how you play your guitar also relies on the guitar’s action because when they are high, you have the ability to push down with more force whilst having a stronger strumming technique, making for a crisp, powerful sound. 

Electric And Acoustic Guitar Action

In general, the electric guitar doesn’t need to be played with as much force as an acoustic guitar because pickups can be used to amplify the sound without having to put in as much physical exertion on the strings.

Another thing that should be taken into consideration with electric guitars is the fret buzz as it will sound much more prevalent when it is not plugged into an amplifier. 

With all of this in mind, you can probably understand why the action on an electric guitar can be set lower than that on acoustic guitars. 

How Do You Measure The String Height?

The best way to measure your string height is to do it from the 12th fret whilst the strings are open or unfretted.

You should also measure it in the same position you would be in if you were playing it so that gravity does not intervene with the neck for the most accuracy. 

Measure from the 12th fret and use a string action gauge which you can buy online or from music stores to make this much easier.

From the top of the 12th fret to the underside of the low E which is the 6th string and the lowest and thickest and is where you should be measuring. 

Write down the measurement at the low E string and look at where the string is sitting, then repeat this process under the other high E string.

It is normal for the action on this string to be a bit lower than the low E string. 

Choosing The Right String Height

Guitar Action – What’s A Good String Height?

If you have an electric guitar, the best default string height that will work for most people at the 12th fret is about 1.59 mm on the treble side and 2.38 mm on the bass side. 

You will want to go a bit higher if you are using an acoustic guitar which should leave you with 1.98 mm on the treble side and 2.78 on the bass side. 

However, you should only use the above measurements as a guide of where to start your guitar journey from as the more time you spend with your guitar and playing it, the better you will know what you feel is the best string height for you.

If you are an aggressive or forceful player, then you might want to raise your strings a bit until it feels more comfortable. 

If you are a beginner, it is likely that you are still figuring things out and if that is the case with you, it is best to keep the string height as low as you can get it.

By doing this, you will be able to focus much more on learning the basics instead of worrying about dexterity and finger strength.

But as you progress with your guitar, you can raise the strings if you feel it is better for you. 

How To Adjust Guitar Action

This bit might be a bit complicated but bear with us because you will be thankful that you learned how to do it yourself.

There are a few different ways that you can adjust your guitar action, but we will only talk about two of the most effective, and you can decide which one is best for you once reading through them. 

Adjusting The Truss Rod

The truss rod is the name given to the metal rods that stretch along the guitar’s neck all the way to the body.

You can adjust the tightness of these rods with an Allen wrench and if you have just bought your guitar, it would’ve likely come with one of these wrenches for this purpose. 

When you loosen the truss rod, the strings exert more force which makes them bow forward a bit.

But when you tighten it, the neck is straightened and the strings gain more tension but when the truss rod is tightened too much, it can make the guitar neck bend backward. 

You want the truss rod to be tight to an extent that the guitar neck is a bit of a concave bow. 

The neck of a guitar should be almost completely straight but not perfectly straight.

Once the guitar has been string and tuned to pitch, the neck should have a slight dip in the middle at around the 8th fret which is called the ‘neck relief’. 

If there is a dip in the middle of the neck, then it means that the neck has a ‘forward bow’ but if there is no dip or looks more like a hump, it means that the neck has a ‘back bow’.

You should avoid the back bow as much as you can because it means that the neck does not have enough relief and the strings will buzz on the first fret. 

Different seasons bring a change in climate and temperatures, and this can affect the tension of your truss rod.

If you find that your guitar is having more fret buzz, or the stings feel too high then you will have to slightly adjust it again until it changes again.

Adjusting The Bridge Height

By adjusting the bridge on a guitar, you can change the action, and is quite easy to do especially if you have an electric guitar such as a Les Paul as it will have little thumb wheels you can use to lower and raise it.

You will know when you reach the right height as it will feel comfortable and sound good when playing. 

This is much harder to do on acoustic guitars as you will need to take all the strings off, take out the bridge before sanding it down, or gluing on a shim.

It requires a lot of experience, knowledge, and craftsmanship to do this correctly, so it is best to take your acoustic guitar to a professional to get done. 

Changing Your Guitar Strings

Guitar Action – What’s A Good String Height?

Other than the action, another reason why you are having trouble with the strings could be because they are in need of a change as it can make them feel stiff among other things. 

As long as you’re not playing with very heavy strings and the action is set at the right height that is not too high, your guitar strings should feel flexible.

Once you notice that the strings are feeling stiffer than they did before, it is a sign that the metal on the strings has begun to corrode. 

The sound that your guitar is making will also not likely sound good either and by noticing this early sign of corrosion, you can replace the strings before they get worse and break. 

Another sign that your guitar needs new strings is that they are not staying in tune for very long.

It is good practice to stretch the strings a bit when you first put them on by tuning the guitar but after a while, you won’t be able to fight the inevitable of the strings losing this ability. 

Discolored guitar strings are a sign that the steel and nickel are beginning to lose their shine and will turn gray and dull.

If you have bronze guitar strings, they will show this wear and tear by losing their copper sheen and will turn to a down-brown color instead. 

This discoloration is caused by the natural oils that come from our fingers which are then put on the strings and if you play a lot of guitars, that is a lot of oil going onto the strings. 

You might even feel that the strings are dirty and old, the strings should feel slippery and smooth when you run your fingers along them so if they feel a bit rough, it is probably due to a natural build-up of dirt and grime. 

Once you have replaced the guitar strings, you might be thinking how long it will be until you have to replace them again.

The answer is not as clear as you are probably hoping because it depends on numerous factors. 

For one, the material in which your guitar strings are made will influence how long they will last, but the average length can range from one to three months.

Buying guitar strings from a reputable brand will ensure that you will get the longest lifespan with some reaching six months without needing to be replaced. 

One of the easiest things to do that will make your guitar strings last a bit longer is to wash and dry your hands each time before you play your guitar.

Since your hands are clean, there is a smaller chance of oil, sweat, and other grime from getting onto the guitar strings.

Also, wipe down your strings with a cloth after you play on both the top and the bottom of the strings, you can get products specifically for cleaning your strings. 

Summary

There are a few factors that you will have to think about before you adjust your guitar’s action such as how aggressive you play and whether it is an electric or acoustic guitar.

As a beginner, the best way to start is to set your string height on an electric guitar to be about 1.59 mm on the treble side and 2.38 mm on the bass side and remember to measure from the 12th fret.

For acoustic guitars, the string height works best for beginners at 1.98 mm on the treble side and 2.78 on the bass side. 

If you are wanting to adjust your guitar action to get your strings at the right height for you, there are multiple ways that you can do it, but two of the best ways are to adjust the truss rod and bridge or saddle. 

Howard Matthews