Setting Guitar Action Les PaulThe action on a guitar is defined as the distance between the bottom of the strings and the top of the frets. Normally we would use the measurement at the 12th fret for setting the action. A lower action generally makes it easier to play a guitar particularly for fast lead styles. Most players would prefer as low an action as possible but there is a compromise to be made here, the lower the action the more likely you are to encounter fret buzz (where the strings contact frets below the fretted note). As such setting the action is often about making a compromise between getting the lowest action possible with the minimum level of fret buzz.

There are some exceptions to this, particularly energetic rhythm players might prefer a slightly higher action as they are much more likely to get fret buzz due to string displacement (hitting strings harder means they vibrate over a wider range), slide guitar players will prefer a higher action because the slide is not supposed to push the string onto the fret but float above it, this is much easier on a high action guitar.

Measuring Action

Before adjusting the action it is worth checking your truss rod alignment as changing this afterwards is likely to throw out the action anyway. If you are happy with this you now need to measure your action. To do this you will need a ruler accurate to at least 1/32 inch ideally one with 64ths.

Take this ruler and hold it so it is touching the 12th fret and just touching the inside of the low E string, get your eye level with the strings and measure the distance between the bottom of the string and the fret. This is your action on the bass side.

Measuring Guitar Action String Height

Now turn the guitar around and repeat the process with the high E string (it is much easier to turn guitar around than measure through all the strings). This measurement is the action on the treble side.

These measurements show a good starting point to aim for you can of course set the action lower or higher than this to your taste but this is roughly equivalent to the factory settings most guitars go out with. Try it out here and then decide what you want. Personally I would normally try to go fractionally lower than this with low E at 4-5/64ths and high E at 2-3/64ths.

Low E Action

High E Action




Adjusting the Action

Adjusting the action will be different depending on what type of guitar you are using. Tune O Matic bridges like those found on Les Pauls have a fixed radius or relative string heights so you can only adjust the height on each side at the mounting posts. Tremolo bridges like those found on Stratocasters allow each individual strings height to be adjusted. Whatever type of guitar you are adjusting you should make very small adjustments to action and check for fret buzz on all strings up and down the fretboard after each change.

How to adjust a Tune-O-Matic bridge

Setting Guitar Action Epiphone Les Paul Gibson

Setting Action on Bass strings

On this Epiphone Les Paul you adjust the action by raising or lowering the mounting post itself using the screw head on the top. Screw it in to lower and out to raise. Try not to adjust by any more than half a turn at a time.

Setting action on electric guitar gibson epiphone les paul

Setting Action on Treble strings

On guitars like Gibsons the Tune-O-Matic is slightly different and you raise and lower the bridge by turning a nut on the mounting post that supports the bridge.

Setting Action on Gibson Les Paul Tune-o-matic bridge

Gibson Tune-O-Matic

Measure, adjust, check for fret buzz and repeat until you reach an action you are comfortable with.

How to adjust a tremolo bridge

This type of bridge is slightly more complicated to adjust because the height of each string can be individually adjusted by raising or lowering the saddle that it sits on. This means you have greater control over how the action is set but also more potential for messing it up. The saddles are raised and lowered using the 2 grub screws on either side, these are normally adjusted with a small allen/hex key of 1.5-2mm (you can normally use a precision flat head screwdriver if you dont have an allen key).


Stratocaster Tremolo Bridge Setting Action

You should aim for similar measurements at the bass and treble side as used above however we now need to worry about the strings in between as well. The objective here is to get the strings to follow the curvature (radius) of the fretboard. The simplest way to do this is fractionally reduce the action for the strings as you go from the low E to the high E. This makes up for the smaller diameter of the high strings. So you would start at 3/32 (or wherever you want your action) with the low E and your string heights would descend gradually til you reach 2/32 (for example) at the high E. Again you should do this gradually and check for buzz as you go. You should try to keep the saddles as level as possible by adjusting each grub screw evenly.

Measure, adjust, check for fret buzz and repeat until you reach an action you are comfortable with.

Once you have set your action you will need to re-tune the guitar as you have changed the tension on all your strings by raising and lowering them. You should also check intonation.


Barrett on November 24, 2012 at 9:56 am.

Thank you for the guide! I’ve been wanting to learn how to do this for a while. Can’t wait to try it out! Keep up the good work.


richard h eustis on June 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm.

i found your information very helpfull thank you


Leave Your Comment

Your email will not be published or shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)

Hit Counter provided by professional seo company