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Guitar Action Setups Demystified

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Learn exactly what measurements, what tools and what adjustments are necessary to setup your guitar action perfectly.

Unless otherwise specified, I always go for the Lowest possible action with the lowest possible buzzing.

1st Measure and Adjust Neck Relief when the guitar is tuned.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to do it by feel. They adjust their guitar truss rod to “about where they think it should be” or “when you can slip a business card in the gap.” If you want to do it right you have to take measurements. The first 2 specialized tools you need are a Feeler Gauge and a Capo. Use a .010 feeler gauge for guitars and a .013 for basses. Any working capo will do.

Put your capo the first fret, then depress the string at the last fret. With your spare hand and your feeler gauge, measure the gap between the top of the 9th fret and the bottom of the string. That feeler gauge should tell you if there is too much relief, too little relief or if the relief is just right.

Here is a set on Amazon.

If the gap is too large for the feeler gauge, you must tighten the truss rod. That is clockwise. 1/8 turn increments are recommended. Tune and re-check the gap often.

If the gap is too small you have to loosen the truss rod. Counter clockwise. 1/8 turn increments are recommended. Tune and re-check the gap often.

On an electric guitar that gap should be .010. If it’s not, the string geometry will be off and the guitar won’t play correctly. There are instances when the gap can be larger or smaller but the frequency is low. Some flatter electric necks can have lower than normal relief. Some acoustic also have lower than normal relief as well.

Truss rods vary. They se different sized allen wrenches and sockets. Here is a link to buy a set from Music Nomad for $59.99. If you plan on doing a lot of setups on different guitars, this could be a good idea. It's probably cheaper to buy only the Allen wrenches and sockets that you need. Here is the link.

2nd Once neck relief is perfect. Adjust the bridge height to get the correct string height.

Electric guitars are great because you can adjust the bridge. Something you can't normally do on acoustics.

There are either individual string saddles (like Fenders) or all in one saddles (like Gibsons.)

The fender saddles require tiny hex wrenches. The all in one bridges can usually be adjusted with a pair of pliers.

Lower the string height by lowering the bridge saddle.

You know you have it or you are in the ballpark when the bass strings are ~1.6mm-2mm and the treble strings are ~1.5mm-1.8mm as measured at the 17th fret.

Use a sting gauge guide as seen in the picture. If the guitar has individual saddles, adjust each individual string. If a particular string is buzzy, you can adjust it a little to get rid of the buzz.


Now play it and listen.

Are any strings buzzing? Do any notes fret out? Is the action too high?

You're in the ballpark, I promise. You just need to make a few minor tweaks.

On electric guitars, the relief should be .010. That gives your strings a little room to vibrate. If the neck is dead straight, the string would vibrate on top of the frets and there would be a string buzz nightmare.

Once relief is set, lower or raise the bridge. String height at the 17th fret should be ~1.6mm-2mm.

Have fun, measure, remember neck relief.

Don't want to do this yourself. No worries. NoVA Guitar Setups is here to save the day.

Kind regards,

Eric Petrus


NoVA Guitar Setups


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