The lower the action (e.g. the closer the string to the fret), the easier to play. Here’s how to do it.
I’ve had to lower the action on some of my guitars many times and it’s really quite an easy process. It has happened most often with beginner guitars whose action is just a bit too high for comfort.
Hopefully my experience can help you out as you consider to lower an acoustic guitar’s action.
What NOT to Do
First of all, I want to start with a quick note about what not to do when you lower an acoustic guitar’s action.
Don’t mess with the truss rod
It used to be when I first started playing guitar a couple decades ago that adjusting the truss rod was a smart move. Not anymore. More often than not the factory settings on your truss rod are going to be exactly what you need.
Advances in guitar manufacturing nowadays mean that making these kind of adjustments are for the most part no longer necessary.
Lower an Acoustic Guitar’s Action: Step by Step
As you prepare to lower an acoustic guitar’s action, the things you will need are
- Sandpaper (mid grit is best for the job)
- Nose pliers (to remove the saddle)
- Ruler & pencil (to measure your action)
- Possibly an extra saddle (they’re cheap, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that!)
The saddle is the guitar piece on the bridge of your guitar that initially raises the strings off the top of the guitar face. Good quality saddles are made of bone while others are a composite of sorts.
Step #1: Measure Your Action
At about the 12th-14th fret of your guitar, use your ruler to measure the distance between the bottom of your string and the fret.
Use the following numbers to guide what the heights should be and see how yours compares:
- E6 – 2.38mm (this is your fat string at the top)
- A5 – 2.28mm
- D4 – 2.18mm (5.5/64 in)
- G3 – 2.08mm (5.25/64/in)
- B2 – 2.03mm (5.15/64in)
- E1 – 1.98mm (5/64in)
You want to get as close to these numbers as possible, so do your measurements and make note of the difference.
Step #2: Loosen or Remove the Strings
The next step is to either loosen or remove the strings. Personally, I always love to take this opportunity to go ahead and change my strings.
If you plan to just slacken the strings, make sure you have enough available string wrapped around the nut so that it won’t come flying off. You need to loosen them enough to get that saddle out.
Step #3: Remove the Saddle and Mark It
Sometimes the saddle pops out and sometimes you need the pliers to pry it loose. It will come out, though, so don’t be afraid that you’ll break anything.
Once you have the saddle free, take your measurements from above and mark where you want to sand down the saddle to. My advice is to be conservative. You can always sand away more later; the alternative is either a shim or a new saddle!
Step #4: Sand Down the Saddle
One a hard, very flat surface, use the mid grit sandpaper you have to slowly sand down the saddle.
Patience is key here, as you don’t want to accidentally chip off a part of the saddle. It’s also important that you apply equal pressure along the saddle while sanding so that you don’t come up with a crooked line.
Once you’ve sanded down to the mark you placed on the saddle, it’s time to try it out.
Step #5: Replace the Saddle and Tighten the Strings
As I mentioned above, don’t forget to install the saddle in the same position it was when you removed it.
Tighten the strings. It’s important to bring the guitar back to full tune, otherwise you won’t get a good reading on the action. Measure again to see how you did and play it up and down the fretboard to make sure there are no additional buzzes.
If there is a string buzz that means you filed down too much. You’ll need to either add a shim underneath the saddle (a strip or two of stock paper would do) or replace the saddle altogether.
Hopefully this isn’t the case though. If need be you can repeat the whole process if you think you can afford to take more off the saddle.
Enjoy a New Guitar!
If you do it right, I promise you that your acoustic guitar will feel like a whole new guitar! It will be easier to play, which will affect both your confidence and the sound that you create.