How High Should the Action Be on an Acoustic Guitar?
For many steel-string acoustic guitars and players, a twelfth fret action height of 6/64” at the bass E and 4/64” will work well as a balance between comfort and good tone. However, depending on your picking hand technique, you may wish to adjust your height.
Light, Consistent Attack
If you have a light, consistent attack, then you’re unlikely to encounter fret buzz with a slightly lower action. However, note that lower action may result in poor tone, particularly with bends and hammers. However, if you wish to improve the playability of your guitar, and have already smoothed your nut slots and adjusted your neck relief, then lowering your twelfth fret action by a small amount might assist. For many guitars, you can get a bass E string to around 5/64” at the twelfth fret without buzzing with a light, consistent attack. However, going below 4/64” at the treble E will typically result in fret buzz. Also, keep in mind that lowering your saddle could result in insufficient break angle.
Medium, Consistent Attack
For a medium, consistent attack, 6/64” at the bass E and 4/64” should work well as a good balance between tone and comfort.
Heavy, Consistent or Dynamic Attack
If you have a heavy, consistent attack, or a dynamic one, consider a slightly higher twelfth fret action of 7/64” at the bass E and 5/64” at the treble E. This will allow for a more aggressive playing style and maintain good tone.
If you play with a slide, then we suggest two things. First, have a consistent action height across the strings as this will make it easier to move the slide. Second, consider a minimum action height of 6/64” at the twelfth fret for all strings as this will provide a good balance between being able to fret notes with you fingers, but not hit the frets with the slide. If you only use the slide and don’t fret notes with your fingers, consider an action height of 7/64”.
Still Getting a Buzz?
If you’ve adjusted your twelfth fret action yet still hear a buzz, the culprit may not be the frets. Visit our article on Five Reasons Your Acoustic Guitar Has a Buzz, as well as our article on how tuning machines can cause a buzz.