Have you ever tried to shred like one of your favorite guitarists, only to not be able to catch up? Even after months, even years of practice, you still can’t seem to match their speed.
The answer might be that your strings are too high. Or, as we like to call it, your action.
To reach those blistering speeds, the best shredders have their action set as low as possible. But what exactly does low action mean?
In this article, we will go over what action actually is, how to set it, and why you want a low action on your guitar.
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What is Action?
The action of a guitar refers to the distance between the strings and the frets. In other words, the closer the strings are to the frets, the lower the action. The further the strings are, the higher the action.
A distance of 1.5 to 2mm is considered a low action.
What Determines the Action on Your Guitar?
There are a few things that determine the height of your guitar’s action: the frets, the neck, the nut, and the bridge.
To get a low action, your frets need to be level. This is done by filing down the frets and making sure that they are rounded. This is done through a process called fret dressing.
Your neck also needs to be straight or close to it. The neck is straightened by adjusting the truss rod inside the neck.
A flatter fretboard radius also makes it easier to have a lower action. A radius of 15 to 17 inches is considered flat.
The height of the nut will also determine how close the strings are to the frets. The height of the neck is adjusted by filing it down, similar to how the frets are filed down. This is down slowly until you have your strings at the height you want them.
Lastly, the bridge is adjusted once the neck is straight and the nut has been filed down. This is usually done by tightening screws or adjusting with an Allen Key on either side of the bridge saddle.
How to Lower Your Action?
The steps above are how the action on a guitar is adjusted. These steps are usually part of a guitar setup that you can have a luthier or guitar technician perform.
A good idea is to learn how to straighten your neck and adjust the bridge. This will allow you to adjust the action of your guitar to make quick and easy adjustments.
Many modern guitars have features that make adjusting your action very easy. Guitars with Floyd Rose tremolo systems can have their bridges lower or raised using an Allen Key to adjust the action.
Why You Would Want a Low Action
Having a low action has a number of benefits, the greatest being that it makes playing easier.
Since your strings have a shorter distance they need to travel, you don’t need to press as hard for the strings to make contact with the frets. This makes moving between strings smoother and easier.
A lower action lets you play much faster than you would on a medium or high action. This is very important for metal, fusion, and jazz players.
Disadvantages of a Low Action
While a low action does make playing easier, it does come with a few risks.
If you set the action too low, you might experience fret buzz. This is when the string touches other frets after it has been plucked, causing a buzzing noise.
There is also the risk that notes could ‘fret out’. This means that the notes don’t even sound out after being plucked, effectively being muted by the frets.
The action might also be high enough to avoid fretting out, or fret buzz but might still be too low and affect the sustain. If the action is too low, you could run into an issue where your notes don’t ring out as long as you want them to.
Low Action Guitars
Any guitar can have a low action. It is simply a matter of making the right adjustments.
Every guitar and every guitarist can also benefit from a low action. Some guitars are just easier to set a low action on.
While other guitars are designed specifically to have as low an action as possible. These are usually guitars that are intended to be played by metal guitarists.
These will usually be your best option when looking for a low-action guitar. Brands like Ibanez, Jackson, and ESP.
The Ibanez RG series is one of their best. The RG Standard is affordable and features a floating tremolo for easy action adjustment.
The Prestige series of guitars are made with speed in mind. They feature a low action right out of the box that requires minimal adjustment.
The Jackson Pro Series Soloist-II is one of the best modern metal guitars. It features a 12” – 16” compound radius and a floating bridge. Perfect for low action.
The ESP LTD EC-1000 has a 13.7” radius fretboard. While it isn’t the flattest on this list, it is still more than enough to get a low action for fast, noiseless playing.
Schecter’s Sun Valley Super Shredder, as the name implies, was designed with speed in mind. A flat 12” – 16” compound neck and floating tremolo system allow super low-action playing.
If a metal-focused guitar isn’t quite your taste, companies like Fender also make guitars that are very low-action friendly. Their Special Edition Custom Tele has a very flat 15.75” radius neck that will have you shredding with the best of them.
And there you have it. Everything you need to know about low action, along with a few picks of low action friendly guitars.
With this knowledge, you will be ready to set your action low so that you can reach your full potential. And hopefully, one day, you will be outshredding everyone out there.