String height and bridge adjustment

String height above the fretboard and your bridge's position are fundamental elements necessary to ensure a great playing guitar. Are you getting a great action low on the neck but a huge distance between the strings and the neck when playing higher up? Are you getting fret buzz and choking notes? We'll try and fix that here....

Before commencing adjusting anything make sure your guitar is strung up correctly and tuned to pitch. It is recommended that the previous checks and steps in this series are carried out prior to bridge adjustment.

In this particular tutorial measurements are used as a guideline and not as a solid fact. More than likely you may want to change or adjust these measurements for your own personal playing comfort, however the fundamental process remains the same.

With your instrument in the player's position and starting with the high E at the 12th fret, work your way across the fretboard to the low E measuring the clearances between the bottom of each string and the top of the 12th fret's crown. Jot down your measurements. Looking at these distances you can now determine what - if anything - you need to do next.

For most players string height - commonly known as the guitar's "action" - of 3/64"/1,2mm is considered normal. Some players choose a higher string height such as 4/64"/1,6mm whilst players who tend to have a lighter touch and want the fastest action possible strive to lower the action as close as possible to 2/64"/0,8mm. In many cases this is very hard to set up and maintain without strings buzzing on frets somewhere on the fingerboard. For the lowest possible action or to avoid fret buzz all across the fingerboard it is usually necessary level, recrown and polish all of the frets and dial in the perfect amount of neck relief by adjusting the truss rod.

Another consideration is the geometry of a fretboard's radius and your playing style. Fretboards with smaller ("tighter") radii such as those found on the common Stratocaster can be problematic if the playing style involves a lot of string bending higher up on the fretboard. The unusual path a bent string takes across the upper frets brings them closer and causes at the very least fret buzz or worst of all a choked note as the string "frets out". Very embarrassing on that big bent "glory note"!!

If you tend to bend notes often in the upper register you may want to raise the action slightly on the B and G strings to help avoid notes fretting out.

After you have made all of the necessary adjustments to achieve the action you desire you should check your entire neck by fretting each individual string at every single fret one by one, checking for fret buzz. If this occurs, try to determine the cause and make the necessary adjustments.

Looking back at the measurements you took earlier, determine the playing action you desire and decide whether you need to raise or lower your strings. Different types of bridge require different methods of adjustment - some offer the adjustment of individual strings, some require the entire bridge unit to be raised/lowered whilst others offer both methods combined.

Pictured below are a few of the most common styles of bridge and their adjustment points for this procedure.


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Gibson-style Tune-O-Matic and stop tail combination bridge


The bridge height adjustment thumbwheels are located beneath the Tune-O-Matic bridge. Modern versions (as pictured) can also be adjusted from the top using a flat-bladed screwdriver. The saddle radius is fixed meaning the entire bridge has to be raised or lowered from either side.


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Floyd-Rose style floating bridge


The Floyd-Rose type floating bridge's height adjustment is achieved by turning each of the two tremolo fulcrum posts pictured above clockwise to lower or counterclockwise to raise the bridge. Adjustment is normally carried out with a small Allen wrench. Whilst the radius of these bridges are often pre-set, most bridges allow each saddle unit to be removed and individually shimmed to alter string radius or to alter specific string's action for example, to avoid fretting out.


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Stratocaster-style tremolo bridge - Non-tremolo hardtail bridge

In both cases, individual string height adjustments can be made by turning the pair of height adjustment set screws located on each of the saddles. It is worth bearing in mind that after adjusting one set screw, the second should be checked so it is not left running loose.


If you are working on a guitar with a bolt-on style neck, it should be determined as to whether or not the neck angle is appropriate for the range of adjustment that your bridge/saddles allow you. Should your action require that your saddles or bridge be set abnormally high/low you may need to consider adjusting the neck tilt (if your instrument has this) or adding neck shims before adjusting the bridge any further.

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