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A classical and acoustic guitar setup guide.

3. adjusting string height (Action) at the 12th fret

Your expensive guitar is sort of worthless if it’s annoying to play. There is a range of ideal height for your guitar strings depending on your playing style. The guitar’s action is a term that’s used to describe its playability. Saying a guitar has great action is a very subjective statement. Someone who plays lead acoustic in a bluegrass band needs an action that is very different from the needs of a person who plays jazz, chord melody, blues style, or other fingerpicking styles. My focus will be on setup for nylon stringed guitars, whether used for classical, jazz, singer songwriter, etc.

The guitar’s action is measured using, among other things, the strings’ height at the 12th fret. There’s also a 13th fret school of thought which involves putting a capo on the 1st fret and checking the strings’ height at the 13th fret. Whichever you choose, the string’s height is: the distance between the top of the fret and the bottom of the string. You’ll need a precision measuring tool to check the height of the strings at the 12th fret. Get yourself one of these:

If you don’t have one of these, order one. Until it arrives, use any ruler with metric system millimeters.
  • To become acquainted with using it, place the measuring tool on top of the fret. Look at the bottom of the string and see where it aligns with a mark on the measuring tool. Take several looks as it may be an adjustment from using imperial units (inches) or you may not be used to looking at such tiny increments. A one hundredth of an inch in this case is a big deal in either direction so using millimeters is far easier.
  • Look at the chart below. These are my ideal string heights (in mm) for nylon strings. I have arrived at these numbers by using an average of many different (and respected) sources.
One day, I might do an illustrated book on the complete building process of a classical guitar .

1 thought on “A classical and acoustic guitar setup guide.

  1. […] The lighter a string’s tension, the easier it is to press to the instrument’s neck or fret. The tradeoff is lower volume, and thus not too good for the campfire bluegrass session. If you’re on the quiet couch playing for your sweet thing or if it’s just you and Jesus….light tension strings might be your best guitar strings. This article will discuss briefly how to choose the best guitar strings. Then you’ll be ready for the perfect setup. […]

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