"Action" & Guitar Set-up Guide

For most problems you might have with your instrument it is probably best to take your guitar to a guitar shop, but I think it's a good idea to understand the basics of guitar set-up a bit anyhow, so that you understand what they're telling you in the shop. Those good with their hands can have a go if they feel confident!

Basic Guitar Adjustments

The ‘action' is the measurement of how far the strings are from the fingerboard. If the action is too low, the strings will buzz a lot when you play. If it's too high, then it will be very difficult to play anything.

If the action needs adjusting on an acoustic, you really need to take the guitar to a shop and have it set-up. On electric, you can try adjusting the bridge saddles (with an Allen key on a Stratocaster-type guitar, or a screwdriver for Gibson-type guitars). There is not too much that can go seriously wrong, but if you really make a pig's ear of it, you will just have to take it to the shop and get them to sort out your mess!

Truss Rod
The Truss rod is made of two metal rods that run down the guitar neck and by turning a little screw you can adjust how straight the neck is. I don't like touching them because things really can go wrong if you start playing with them. It's adjusting this that will correct the neck if it bowed.

When you change strings you might need to adjust the truss rod too, but again, I would recommend you get a guitar guru to do it for you.

Tremolo Systems
If you have a Stratocaster-type tremolo system, then I would recommend tightening the screws in the back of the guitar and or adding five springs, effectively locking the tremolo against the body of the guitar so it doesn't work. As a beginner you are unlikely to use it in a musical way anyway, and your guitar will stay in tune a lot better this way.

If you got yourself a guitar with a locking tremolo system then you'll have to take it to a shop, or be prepared for some major headaches.

The Nut
If the nut needs adjusting, I would say take it in for professional help, they will require filing which is impossible to undo! If the strings are clicking (pinging) in the nut then they might need some lubrication. Graphite is best: get a pencil and simply draw in the groove!

Strap button
One very simple trick I can share with you is for fixing a loose strap button (the thing that the strap clips to) If it's loose, unscrew it, and then coat a matchstick in wood glue and ram it into the hole. Once the glue has dried just screw it back in place. The wood used in matches is not very dense so you should have no problem getting the screw back in. DON'T try this with acoustic guitars, only electrics! Of course, I can't be responsible if something goes wrong...

Other preventative hints:

Don't leave you guitar right near a heat source: a radiator, a fireplace or in the hot sun. The wood could warp and totally ruin your instrument

Don't lean you guitar against the wall or a table: Lay it down flat where it has no place to fall, or buy a stand. Leaning it against the edge of a table, against a wall or in a chair is just asking for trouble!


If you want some more info on this, a very cool and helpful member of the forum has made a thread about guitar set ups, big thanks Tourniquet! Read his Set-Up Guide here.

Moving On...

Next up we are going to check out ties in rhythms.

Beginner 6: The F Chord