How to Judge Guitar Action

A guitar's ease of playing is called guitar action. The better the action is, the faster and easier your guitar can be played.

How easy a guitar is to play depends upon:

  • The String Gauge
  • String Height
  • Scale Length
  • Size and Shape of the Neck
  • Size and Shape of the Frets
  • Quality of the fret dressing.

String Height

The higher the strings are above the frets, the harder and slower it is to press them down. Guitars with very bad action hurt your fingertips, and the guitar won't tune properly. Take a look across the strings in the area where the neck joins the body. The strings should be close to the top of the frets in that area. Try pressing down on the strings, you should be able to press the string down easily, all along it's length.

String Guage

Strings are sold in different thickness, or gauges, ranging from heavy to extra light. The lighter, the gauge, the easier and faster the strings press down. The down side to super thin strings, is that they are quieter than thicker strings. If you use light strings on a guitar designed for medium strings it will have volume issues, and have a tninner sound. Heavier strings have a fuller sound with more volume.

Scale Length

The length of the strings between the nut and saddle, is the scale length. Scale lengths vary, but are usually somewhere between 24 to 25.5 inches. The shorter the scale length, the easier the string presses down, however, a longer scale length has more "punch" than a short one. Guitars that have twelve frets at the body/neck joint have shorter scale lengths than guitars with fourteen frets at the body joint. Most guitars have longer scale lengths. The following have slightly less effect on the guitar action.

Neck Width

With wider necks your fingers stretch farther when playing chords, or notes, causing you to play a little slower, and your pick travels a little farther when strumming or picking. Wider necks may be preferred for finger picking, and almost always for classical guitar. The wider spacing allows more room for your picking fingers.

Neck Shape

Necks are made using one of three basic shapes: V shaped, round shaped, and flat u shaped. The shape of the neck is mainly a matter of personal preference, so, get a neck that feels comfortable for you.

This isn't of major concern if you're a beginner though. Beginners should concentrate on other things first.


Frets are important for good guitar action. Slide your fingers up and down the length of the strings, while pressing down on the string.

Do your fingers slide easily over the frets, or do they seem to catch? You want them to slide easily!

Next, feel the frets along the edge of the fretboard. Are the they nicely beveled and rounded at the edges or do they catch your fingers?

Finally, check the tuning machines, they should be firm not loose, sealed and self lubricating and they should turn smoothly.

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