How to Lower the Action on an Acoustic Guitar

Published Categorized as Guitar Care Tuning Restringing, Setup

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lower the action on an acoustic guitar

There are 3 main ways that you can lower the action on an acoustic guitar.

This page will cover those three ways which are;

  • truss rod adjustments
  • nut adjustments; and
  • saddle adjustments

If you are looking to learn how to do this for yourself then this article is for you. However, if you just want your guitar’s action fixed and are willing to pay someone else to do it, this is something that can be done by a professional luthier or your local guitar store.

If you are doing this for the first time I would suggest, if at all possible, to do this on a cheaper guitar first.

The Order

The order is important because adjusting the truss rod will affect the action at both the nut and the saddle. In turn, adjusting the nut will affect the action at the saddle.

So it’s important to start with the truss rod adjustment (assuming it needs doing) and then if any more adjustment is needed then move onto the nut (assuming in needs doing) and then if any more adjustment is needed then move onto the saddle.

To learn more about what causes action to change, how to tell if your action is too low or too high and some standard action heights check out the link below.

Difficulty and Consequences of Getting it Wrong

The most difficult of the 3 adjustments is probably the nut adjustment – but the Truss Rod adjustment has the biggest consequences if you get it wrong.

Truss Rod Adjustment

This is not the most difficult but it has the most impact if you don’t get it right – and in my opinion is the scariest!

If you don’t adjust it correctly this will not only affect your action but also your intonation. Not to mention the risk of warping the fingerboard or twisting the acoustic guitar neck. The actual adjustments aren’t too tricky but you’ll want to get these right so measure as you go and only make small adjustments before re-measuring.

There are a couple of different ways to adjust the nut

Adjusting the nut involves filing the nut or sanding the base if the nut. Filing requires special nut slot files – this method will be the trickiest and costliest do-it-yourself method. Sanding the nut means you have to remove the nut which is glued on but is ultimately easier and there’s is less chance of getting it wrong.

The nut is still the most tricky of the 3 adjustments, regardless of the method you use.

The Saddle is the Easiest

The saddle usually sits loosely in the bridge so is easy to remove – therefore replacing it with a new one if you make an error isn’t too difficult – assuming the replacement saddle fits properly in your bridge.

And the lowering process is pretty easy and doesn’t require much in the way of tools/materials.

So if you are wanting to lower your action, and your neck and nut are looking good, then congratulations this shouldn’t be too difficult!

Seriously though, with a bit of practice all 3 of the adjustments can be learned.

Truss Rod Adjustments

truss rod adjustments

The first step in adjusting the truss rod is to see if it needs adjusting. If it doesn’t need adjusting leave it well alone.

If it does then it is the first thing you need to deal with before looking at the nut and saddle.

Adjustments to the Nut

If your neck is set just right and you don’t need any adjustments, or if you have already adjusted the neck, then it’s time to check the nut.

unbleached bone guitar nut

If no adjustments are needed at the nut end of the guitar then you can move onto adjusting the saddle to lower your action.

But if you do need to lower the action at the nut end then you should do this before making any adjustments to the saddle. Why? Because any adjustments to the nut will also affect the guitar further down the fretboard – and you may not need to adjust the saddle at all.

But if you adjust the saddle and then adjust the nut you may end up being too low at the soundhole end of the fingerboard which may result in needing to replace the saddle.

To learn when it is necessary to adjust the nut and how to do it check out the link below.

Adjustments to the Saddle

buffalo bone bridge saddle

Right, so either your neck and nut didn’t need any adjustments or you have already made any necessary adjustments to the neck and the nut.

But your action still isn’t quite low enough?

If that’s the case then you will need to lower the saddle. This is the easiest adjustment of all three so you’re in a good place now!

If you haven’t checked the neck and nut for any adjustments or haven’t made those adjustments then go back and do that first.

If you are ready to learn how to lower the saddle then check out the link below.

Thanks for reading

I hope this page, and related pages, has helped you learn how to lower the action of your acoustic guitar properly.

If you have any further tips on lowering the guitar or have any questions or comments it’d be great to hear from you in the comments section below.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

4 comments

  1. Thank you! I’m really glad I came across your site! I have signed up for guitar lessons starting next month. I’m trying to learn guitar terminology and such before the class starts. Hopefully my 68 year old fingers can do it.

    PS. There is a small typo in the “Difficulty and Consequences of Getting it Wrong” section. What is probably suppose to be “nut adjustment” was typed as “but adjustment.”

    1. Hi Jeff

      Thanks for your message and thanks for pointing out that typo! Have corrected it now.

      Glad you got some useful info from the site and awesome that you’re learning guitar!

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