Measuring action

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by Powderfinger, May 9, 2015.

  1. Powderfinger

    Powderfinger Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    10,256
    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2005
    Location:
    NYC area
    People talk about precise measurements like 6/64 and 5/64, but don't specify exactly what to measure. Is it from the top of the fret bar to the middle of the string? Bottom of the string? Something else?
     
  2. ELmiguel

    ELmiguel Member

    Messages:
    3,570
    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2013
    Location:
    East Coast of USA
    Top of the fret to the bottom of the string. You don't need this gauge, it just shows the process.

     
    Last edited: May 9, 2015
  3. Dana Olsen

    Dana Olsen Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    7,641
    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2002
    Location:
    Santa Barbara, Marin, Chico, CA
    El Miguel is exactly right.

    The three common ways are to measure at the 12th fret, measure at the 17th fret (Fender spec), or capo on the first fret and measure at the 17th fret - this last method takes the nut slot height out of the equation, though as soon as you remove the capo the nut does come back into the equation. If the slots are cut correctly and not too high, you won't have to change anything (probably - GRIN).

    That said, there's a real "feel" component to adjusting action correctly, especially with guitars with bent saddles (Strat vintage style saddles). I swear that the difference between a solid clear note and a muted one is sometimes 1/10th of a turn of one or the other screw on an individual string's saddle. With most Gibbys and 3 saddle Teles they're not as sensitive - Strats or other guitars with that bent saddle construction can be very sensitive.

    ON Strat style bent saddles, make sure the saddle is balanced equally on both feet, not cocked to one side or the other. The saddle height should look like a staircase when looking down the neck from nut to bridge - each "stair" should be level stepping up from the low E to A to D, the G nearly even w/ the D but a tiny bit lower, then step back down to the B and high E.

    If you find that one string is not ringing clean, microscopically adjust the screws on that one saddle searching for equal pressure on both feet to get that string to ring clean. Rinse and repeat on all strings.

    When I'm feeling OCD, I also check the action at the last fret - only to compare the height of adjacent strings. Any slight differences in action at the 12th fret are magnified at the last fret as it's closer to the bridge - a little micro-adjusting while checking at the last fret can really help add the last couple percentage points to the setup, bringing the guitar from good feeling to great feeling. Subtle, but if you like low or smooth action, it helps.

    Thanks, Dana O.
     
  4. Powderfinger

    Powderfinger Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    10,256
    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2005
    Location:
    NYC area
    Wow. Thanks.
     
  5. Paully1

    Paully1 Member

    Messages:
    279
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2014
    Location:
    Maine USA
    You really had to quote the entire thread to reply Thanks?
     
  6. Powderfinger

    Powderfinger Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    10,256
    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2005
    Location:
    NYC area
    I quoted one post, not the entire thread, and I thought the post was extremely helpful. Cranky?
     
  7. swiveltung

    swiveltung Member

    Messages:
    14,566
    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2011
    Location:
    PNW
    At this point I just do it visually. I know about what I'm looking for, set that then play it a bit and adjust accordingly. Especially play 10-15th fret area. I like the low E much higher than the High E.
     
  8. Dana Olsen

    Dana Olsen Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    7,641
    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2002
    Location:
    Santa Barbara, Marin, Chico, CA
    Yes, I agree. The important thing is to make the guitar play well and play right. These measurements are just a starting point to get you close to the right ballpark.

    THEN you have to use your ears and eyes to finish it and make it right. I agree that the low E needs higher action than the high E - in general I find the action needs to gradually raise a tiny bit from thin strings to heavier ones, and that often the G and D can be a tiny bit lower than the others since they have no arc to overcome when bending. I still like measuring at the last fret to check for consistency and to uncover any slip-ups my older eyes have made - my eyes aren't good enough anymore to completely do away with measuring.

    Thanks, Dana O.
     
  9. Pietro

    Pietro 2-Voice Guitar Junkie and All-Around Awesome Guy

    Messages:
    16,410
    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2007
    Location:
    Maineville, OH
    I measure it by how it feels.
     
  10. Paully1

    Paully1 Member

    Messages:
    279
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2014
    Location:
    Maine USA
    Sorry,
    I was a bit cranky.
    It happens from time to time to old bucks like me.
     
    Powderfinger likes this.

Share This Page