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How to Adjust String Action On Your Guitar(And Not Screw It Up)

As an avid guitar player, student or overall musician, you know that one of the most important features of your instrument is “playability”. It doesn’t matter how expensive it was or how many upgrades you did to it… it will always come down to how easy it feels to play that instrument. A guitar is no exception.

Have you ever wondered why, after buying a certain guitar you have been eye-balling for so long, it just doesn’t feel quite right to play it? It looks awesome and on paper, this guitar is all you could ever hope for… but you’re still not feeling it.

Before you start wondering why you bought the guitar in the first place or putting it aside, it’s worth checking if the string action is set up to your own playing preference. And there are several factors to consider about string action, this is not something you can simply evaluate by checking the how high or low the strings are in relation to the frets.

One commonly overlooked factor is the fretboard radius. In terms of playability, fretboard radius on you guitar neck can influence how comfortable the guitar is to play (for each person at least). Some prefer a flatter radius, others prefer a bit rounder… but this is only the tip of the iceberg. What really makes a difference is how well the string radius matches the fretboard radius.

“How can I achieve this?” you ask? Just follow these simple steps and you’re golden:

Identify the fretboard radius on your guitar. This can be done by:

  • a). Checking your exact model on the manufacturer’s website or manual. I do not prefer this method, as guitar models suffer updates to the specifications every couple of years and majority of times neither the manual nor the website reflect these changes accurately.
  • b). Measure it yourself by using Radius measure gauges and placing the correct one on top of the Fretboard. When you see you have no
    gap between the fretboard and a certain gauge, you’ve found your radius. You will need radius gauges anyway to set up the string
    radius later. (See picture below)

  • 2. Set up the Low-E and High-E action (String height) to your preference. I recommend you going with 5/64 inch for the Low-E and 3/64 for the High-E as reference. You can then micro-adjust them to  your preference. This is done by adjusting the height of each individual saddle for these two strings. (See picture  below).

  • 3.Now you only need to adjust the 4 middle strings to match the radius of both E strings. For this, use the same Radius Gauge and position it near the bridge. Pull it up so the top of the gauge touches both E strings. Now adjust each one of the other 4 strings until those strings start touching the top of the gauge as well. (See picture below).

You’re all set! Please note that for guitar with Tune-o-Matic bridges, saddle height cannot be adjusted individually. The bridge itself has already the matching radius to our fretboard. If you own a guitar (for example Les Paul or SG) that has a Tune-o-Matic bridge, then just follow Step 2 from the start and that’s all it takes!

Never wonder why you do not enjoy playing a certain guitar. Rather, wonder how you can make it enjoyable than any other guitar you’ve ever played!

About the author
Based in Zurich Switzerland, Gonçalo Crespo is a professional guitar teacher and musician. He has taught guitar for over 8 years covering a variety of styles but focuses mainly on getting his students to guitar playing success in the most efficient way possible. Founder of Music&Co. guitar music school, Gonçalo also offers tuition for acousticand electric guitar.

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