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Is there an ideal height for string action?

#1 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 07:14 AM

I measured the string height on my J45 last night (medium strings). By my eye from fret board to string was 4/16 of an inch at the 12th fret. Fret to string looks to be 3/16 of an inch at the 12th fret. Apologies if none of that makes any sense - I'm not used to measuring in inches.

I know everyone has their own preference - but is there an ideal string height for action - or is there a minimum height before the action is unplayable? I'm looking to have my action lowered and I'm not quite sure what to ask for. I would like it to be as low as possible without ruining the tone.

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#2 User is offline   duluthdan 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 07:21 AM

I measure from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the 6th string - mine is at 7/64 - perhaps a hair less, and the action is pretty low, plays like butter in first position. I installed a compensated bridge - which slightly lowers strings 1 and 2. This is about as low as I can go - any lower and my 3rd string hits fret #1. I use Curt Mangan Med-Light strings - 12 -56.
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#3 User is offline   EuroAussie 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 07:26 AM

around 2.3mm on the low E on the 12th for me ... shaken, not stirred.
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#4 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 07:27 AM

 duluthdan, on 08 March 2012 - 07:21 AM, said:

I measure from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the 6th string - mine is at 7/64 - perhaps a hair less, and the action is pretty low, plays like butter in first position. I installed a compensated bridge - which slightly lowers strings 1 and 2. This is about as low as I can go - any lower and my 3rd string hits fret #1. I use Curt Mangan Med-Light strings - 12 -56.


Thanks Dan, to be honest most of that goes over my head haha. I'm sure i'll pick up the terminology and its meaning eventually. I measured at the 12th to the low E. I've no idea about bridges etc and I don't think I want to get into adjusting anything myself.

If my measurements make sense to you (hopefully they do!), does the action sound excessively high as it is?

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#5 User is offline   duluthdan 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:10 AM

 Hairy Dave, on 08 March 2012 - 07:27 AM, said:

Thanks Dan, to be honest most of that goes over my head haha. I'm sure i'll pick up the terminology and its meaning eventually. I measured at the 12th to the low E. I've no idea about bridges etc and I don't think I want to get into adjusting anything myself.

If my measurements make sense to you (hopefully they do!), does the action sound excessively high as it is?

Cheers

My action is incredibly low - I play exclusively with my fingers - if I strum too hard I do risk getting some fret slap. I am not a luthier, just a hobbiest - but I am not intimidated to tweak the truss rod a bit here and there, but just a tweak, if done carefully it can always be undone. If I'm understanding your measurements, they do not sound excessivly high, but it may have some room to move lower - Do your fingers roll off the strings up on the higher frets? Thats when I try and see if I can lower the action, bit by bit. Fret the 6th string at #1, and at the same time fret it at 12, stretch your fingers so that you can tap on the string at fret 6 or 7 - if there is a distinct space, and a tap, you can probably go lower. There is such an interelationship between the nut, saddle and truss rod - the nut on my J-45 is slotted to accomodate low action on light strings - A .44 MM guitar pick slid between the first fret and the strings just barley touches the string, a .58 fits snugly, a.70 fits tight and pushes the string. This is my own approach, and its very much trial and error. Go slow, and make any adjustments in tiny steps. If you are taking it to a qualified luthier they will be more methodical in their approach. I do my own little adjustments because I don't have easy close access to a luthier here that I know and trust, yet. Does the saddle look like it is high? Maybe you have room to sand that down, in tiny increments - I do no more than 5 strokes at a time on the fine side of an emory board. My guitar action was pretty good at fret one, but excrutiating at 12, so I replaced and sanded the saddle, and tightened the truss rod, and going slowly and checking and re-checking got lucky. I have a Martin D35 that I did this to, and a D28. I also have a $99 guitar that acts as my apprentice tool. I've replaced the nut, done the slots and saddle and truss rod - it plays and sounds very good - it made me comfortable in some approaches, but like I said - I am not trained, just lucky.
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#6 User is online   zombywoof 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:14 AM

I would say there is no ideal hight because there are too many variables - do you flatpick or fingerpick, do you play aggressively or with a light touch and such. I like the action on my guitars set a bit higher than most folks I know prefer. Problem is while I know the feel I don't have a clue what the measurements are.
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#7 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:20 AM

Dan you're a braver man than me - hats off to ya!

There's a well respected luthier not too far from where I live and I'm hoping that he will look after it for me. I think the saddle might be a tad too high, but again I'd rather leave to an expert opinion.

I very rarely use a pick - my coordination goes straight out the window for some reason! I kind of finger pick (if you can call it that), but most of my time i strum with my thumb. It's always felt natural and while it may not produce the cleanest sound it suits me down to the ground. Ultimately I'd like the action low enough where I can bar easily (I really struggle with that) and only have to lightly touch the strings to get them to fret.

Thanks again for your advice - really appreciate it.
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#8 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:25 AM

 zombywoof, on 08 March 2012 - 08:14 AM, said:

I would say there is no ideal hight because there are too many variables - do you flatpick or fingerpick, do you play aggressively or with a light touch and such. I like the action on my guitars set a bit higher than most folks I know prefer. Problem is while I know the feel I don't have a clue what the measurements are.


I know what you mean - everyone has their own preferences. I strum with my thumb and do a little bit of finger picking (something I'd like to get a lot better at). Some people have described a low action like playin an electric. I've fumbled about with my mates electric and I have to say the action felt amazing compared to my Epi Dove. The J45 always felt a lot better that the Epi 1. because its an infinitely better instrument and 2. because the action is lower. I'm sure I'll find what I'm looking for soon.
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#9 User is offline   j45nick 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:29 AM

 Hairy Dave, on 08 March 2012 - 08:25 AM, said:

I know what you mean - everyone has their own preferences. I strum with my thumb and do a little bit of finger picking (something I'd like to get a lot better at). Some people have described a low action like playin an electric. I've fumbled about with my mates electric and I have to say the action felt amazing compared to my Epi Dove. The J45 always felt a lot better that the Epi 1. because its an infinitely better instrument and 2. because the action is lower. I'm sure I'll find what I'm looking for soon.


You generally use lighter strings on an electric than on an acoustic, which is one reason they "play" easier.

#10 User is offline   Buc McMaster 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:30 AM

There is a factory spec for 12th fret action measurements in 64ths of an inch......can't recall the numbers at the moment......probably find it on the Gibson website somewhere. However, I have never considered this law. I do think that string height at the nut is critical and, not possessing nut files nor the expertise to handle this part of a setup, have always left that to a luthier. But it's been a long, long time since I bought a guitar that needed nut slot filing. As I've said before, action is a very subjective thing, unique to each player's style and technique. I think trying to put a ruler on that is just silly. When I first began to think about things like setups, I just told the luthier I wanted the action as low as possible without fret rattle under moderate to heavy attack with a pick. In years past I've gotten good setups with this instruction and some that were less than satisfactory. Over the years I learned to make action adjustments for myself, never using a ruler to achieve the desired end.....it's always been a feel thing for me. Much of how low you can go depends on neck set angle and changing that is much more than normal setup work. Given a good or excellent neck set, action can be adjusted over a great range at the saddle, accommodating the styles of most players.

Your OP measurement of 3/16" sounds high. That's 16/64's.....way up there! Sounds like your guitar could be made much more playable than it is now.....

#11 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:33 AM

 j45nick, on 08 March 2012 - 08:29 AM, said:

You generally use lighter strings on an electric than on an acoustic, which is one reason they "play" easier.


I've mediums on at the minute and have a set of lights to try next. I'm hoping a combination of lights and a lower action will be better. I know string preference is another variable - but are certain guitars suited to certain strings in general?
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#12 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:36 AM

 Buc McMaster, on 08 March 2012 - 08:30 AM, said:

There is a factory spec for 12th fret action measurements in 64ths of an inch......can't recall the numbers at the moment......probably find it on the Gibson website somewhere. However, I have never considered this law. I do think that string height at the nut is critical and, not possessing nut files nor the expertise to handle this part of a setup, have always left that to a luthier. But it's been a long, long time since I bought a guitar that needed nut slot filing. As I've said before, action is a very subjective thing, unique to each player's style and technique. I think trying to put a ruler on that is just silly. When I first began to think about things like setups, I just told the luthier I wanted the action as low as possible without fret rattle under moderate to heavy attack with a pick. In years past I've gotten good setups with this instruction and some that were less than satisfactory. Over the years I learned to make action adjustments for myself, never using a ruler to achieve the desired end.....it's always been a feel thing for me. Much of how low you can go depends on neck set angle and changing that is much more than normal setup work. Given a good or excellent neck set, action can be adjusted over a great range at the saddle, accommodating the styles of most players.

Your OP measurement of 3/16" sounds high. That's 16/64's.....way up there! Sounds like your guitar could be made much more playable than it is now.....


I think you're right Buc. Unfortunately I don't have the knowledge or confidence to want to try this myself. I'm sure a luthier will keep me on the straight and narrow. Will let you know how I get on.
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#13 User is offline   Buc McMaster 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:44 AM

 Hairy Dave, on 08 March 2012 - 08:33 AM, said:

I've mediums on at the minute and have a set of lights to try next. I'm hoping a combination of lights and a lower action will be better. I know string preference is another variable - but are certain guitars suited to certain strings in general?


I would advise settling on a gauge of string before you go to the luthier for setup. Strings make a big difference not only in tone and feel but in how the guitar reacts to tension. I've started using a custom set of my own making on my instruments. I use the Pearse 600L light PB set but change the high E to a .013 and the B to a .017. I like the little extra tension in these two strings and the heavier gauge suits my style better. I do a lot of hybrid picking: the pick in the normal grip and grabbing strings below with the fingertips. I vary how hard these finger grabs are from light strokes to pretty aggressive pops, giving me a lot of dynamic range. When I changed these two strings to the heavier gauges, I was able to tighten the truss rod just a bit further. So settle on a string set you like before you go to the tech, and tell him how you play.

#14 User is offline   Madman_Greg 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:55 AM

My personal advise is put the brand / gauge of strings you want on some 3 weeks before it goes for the setup and supply a new set of the same strings for the actual set up

That way the guitar is fully settled for those particular strings in advance
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#15 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:56 AM

 Buc McMaster, on 08 March 2012 - 08:44 AM, said:

I would advise settling on a gauge of string before you go to the luthier for setup. Strings make a big difference not only in tone and feel but in how the guitar reacts to tension. I've started using a custom set of my own making on my instruments. I use the Pearse 600L light PB set but change the high E to a .013 and the B to a .017. I like the little extra tension in these two strings and the heavier gauge suits my style better. I do a lot of hybrid picking: the pick in the normal grip and grabbing strings below with the fingertips. I vary how hard these finger grabs are from light strokes to pretty aggressive pops, giving me a lot of dynamic range. When I changed these two strings to the heavier gauges, I was able to tighten the truss rod just a bit further. So settle on a string set you like before you go to the tech, and tell him how you play.


Thanks for the advice. I will def try the lights I have first before I jump into anything. There are soooo many variables when it comes to guitars it would make your head spin! Before I had an interest in them they were all the same haha. My wife still feels that way. I think she thought 200 for the Epi Dove was expensive - you can imagine her reaction to the J45!

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#16 User is offline   j45nick 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:58 AM

 Hairy Dave, on 08 March 2012 - 08:33 AM, said:

I've mediums on at the minute and have a set of lights to try next. I'm hoping a combination of lights and a lower action will be better. I know string preference is another variable - but are certain guitars suited to certain strings in general?


Almost certainly, and you'll get 1000 opinions here on which strings work best on which guitar. I'll stay out of that one, as the search for the "perfect" string for any guitar is one of life's great quests.

#17 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 09:07 AM

 Madman_Greg, on 08 March 2012 - 08:55 AM, said:

My personal advise is put the brand / gauge of strings you want on some 3 weeks before it goes for the setup and supply a new set of the same strings for the actual set up

That way the guitar is fully settled for those particular strings in advance


Thanks Greg. I'm going on holiday in about 5 weeks so I might change them soon and ask the luthier to set it up while I'm away - don't want to be parted for any longer than is necessary!
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#18 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 09:10 AM

 j45nick, on 08 March 2012 - 08:58 AM, said:

Almost certainly, and you'll get 1000 opinions here on which strings work best on which guitar. I'll stay out of that one, as the search for the "perfect" string for any guitar is one of life's great quests.


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#19 User is offline   jdd707 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 09:11 AM

Factory specs: "maximum allowable ...4/64 for string 1 at the twelth fret ....... 6/64 for string 6 at the twelth fret" according to the information in the Gibson Owner's Manual that was furnished for my new BK.
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#20 User is offline   Hairy Dave 

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 09:31 AM

 jdd707, on 08 March 2012 - 09:11 AM, said:

Factory specs: "maximum allowable ...4/64 for string 1 at the twelth fret ....... 6/64 for string 6 at the twelth fret" according to the information in the Gibson Owner's Manual that was furnished for my new BK.


Don't take my measurements as gospel - I'm gonna double check them when I get in. According to my measurements mine would be WAY beyond the maximum. I'm guessing there would be a difference between a BK and a J45 action? Maybe not.
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