How to lower string height on an acoustic guitar

Written by robin stephenson
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Although there are some guitarists who prefer a guitar with a higher action, the majority of players seem to yearn for the increased playability of a guitar with a low action. You may sacrifice a little tonal quality, but lowering the string height on your acoustic guitar will certainly be easier on your wrist and fingers. As guitars age, the action tends to get a little higher due to the top bowing upward, pulling the strings away from the fretboard a little. This, coupled with other variables such as string gauge and playing style, can prompt an occasional minor height adjustment. Assuming that there are no serious structural issues with your guitar, this is something you can accomplish yourself.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Guitar
  • Pliers
  • Fine grade sandpaper
  • Sharp pencil
  • Ruler that measures down to 1/32"

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  1. 1

    Remove the strings from your guitar so that you're able to gently remove the saddle from the bridge with a pair of pliers.

  2. 2

    Stand one end of your ruler on a hard flat surface and hold it steady. Hold your sharpened pencil point against the ruler at the 1/32" mark of the rule. Keeping the pencil totally steady by resting your hand against the work surface, remove the ruler and lay down the saddle with the pencil point up against it.

  3. 3

    Slide the full length of the saddle along the pencil point so that a pencil mark is inscribed along its length. This line will be 1/32" from the bottom of the saddle.

  4. 4

    Lay down a sheet of your fine grade sandpaper on the flat surface and slide the bottom of your saddle back and forth on the sandpaper. Keeping the sandpaper on the flat surface will help keep the sanding even along the saddle. When you've sanded down to the pencil line you made, you will have reduced the height of the saddle by 1/32". This isn't a magic number, of course. You may find that it's not enough and have to sand a little more, but it's a lot easier to lower the saddle than it is to raise it should you overdo the sanding the first time.

  5. 5

    Slide the newly sized saddle back into the bridge and restring and tune your guitar. If the action is still a little high, you can take out the saddle and file a little more until the desired action is reached.

Tips and warnings

  • If the action on your guitar is problematic right at the nut, then you may have to make adjustments to the nut. However, this requires specialised tools, and you might want to consider taking your guitar to a professional luthier for this kind of adjustment.
  • Don't make the mistake of adjusting the guitar's truss rod to improve the playing action. Tightening the truss rod will indeed lower the action as it arches back the neck, but it will also increase the likelihood of string buzzes.

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