Lowering the Action on Acoustic Guitars

Guitar action is all about the space between the strings and the guitar’s fret wires. This distance plays a big role in how easy it is to play, the tone you get, and overall performance. For acoustic guitar players, getting the right action is key for comfy playing and the best tone. A lower action makes playing faster and reduces finger fatigue, but go too low, and you might get buzzing and poor sustain. On the flip side, a higher action gives better sustain but needs more finger strength. Finding the sweet spot ensures easy playability and the tone you want.

A guitar’s neck contains a truss rod, an internal metal bar that spans its entire length. When tightened, this rod counteracts the tension exerted by the strings, preventing the neck from being pulled forward. The truss rod allows you to “balance” the tension on the neck and customize the bow according to your playing style. It’s a robust component, so don’t hesitate to experiment with different adjustments. With practice, you’ll discover how to compensate for seasonal changes, various string gauges, different playing techniques, and slightly worn frets by simply adjusting the truss rod.

Ideally, a properly adjusted truss rod leaves the neck with a slight forward relief. You can use your strings as a “straight edge” by pressing them down to both the 1st and 14th frets simultaneously.  Now, observe the gap between the string and the 6th fret. A gap slightly thinner than a business card is considered appropriate. From this point, you can fine-tune the adjustment to suit your preferences.

On older acoustic guitars, the truss rod is underneath the end of the fretboard near the sound hole.  You may have to loosen the strings to get at the truss rod properly.  You will need to figure out what size it is and get an appropriately sized allen wrench or hex driver.  On newer acoustics, the truss is more likely under the small plastic plate on the headstock near the nut.  Remove the screws holding the plate in, remove the plate and find the right size tool to adjust the truss rod.

To lower the action, turn the screwdriver clockwise (as you handle is toward you) in a small increment and bring each string back in tune and check the playability.  Adjust again if necessary, using only small turns of the screwdriver.

Lowering the action has its pros, like improved playability, less string buzz, and better intonation. But be cautious; you might end up with fret buzz, lower string volume, and a potential hit to your guitar’s tone. Adjust wisely for a playing experience that feels just right.

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