Why Do Cheap Guitars Have High Action?

When buying a new guitar, you have to consider your budget. But, you also have to make some compromises when it comes to the guitar playability and the sound. Cheap guitars have their drawbacks, and one of them is high action.

But, Why do cheap guitars have high action? Manufacturers need to make some sort of profit, and adjusting the guitar to have a standard to low action requires skills and time, which affects manufacturing costs. That’s why they don’t waste too much time on each instrument and may even skip setting up the instrument.

Even though some guitars aren’t adjusted in a proper way, and have high action and endangered playability, they can become such a nice instrument. In the following text, you’ll find some ways to mend them to put the playability on a higher level. 

Why Do Some Guitars Have High Action?

There are cheap guitars that are set up well, but on the other side, some of them aren’t, which affects the action among other things.

Action on guitar is the distance between the guitar’s fretboard and the guitar’s strings. Some guitars have high action, which means the distance is larger than usual. That affects the playability of the instrument. It’s all about the lack of work on a particular guitar.

Some people would say that cheap guitars have high action because of the low-cost material which is not true. You can build two guitars with the same wood, hardware, and pickups, but at two different prices. It’s all about working on adjustments, which takes a lot of time.

The thing is that some manufacturers want to make a profit. So. sometimes can’t put time into the instrument they are making. Because time is money, and the less money spent, the larger is the profit.

Is It Okay To Have High Action On Guitar?

A high guitar action can affect many things that are really important for the guitarist, especially beginners. The higher the guitar action, the harder it’s to press the string down. 

So, the instrument becomes harder to play. It can also cause more finger pain for beginners. High action can also affect the tuning stability of the guitar. With all of these high-action drawbacks, we still can’t answer the question of whether it is okay to have high action on the guitar.

​What Is Actually A Good Action On Guitar?

Electric guitars generally can achieve a lower action than an acoustic or classical guitar. Medium action on an electric guitar should be around 0.06” – 0.067”(1.5 – 1.7mm) on the high E string and 0.09” – 0.098” (2.3 – 2.5mm) on the low E string on the 12th fret.

When it comes to the acoustic guitar, a medium action on the high E string is around 0.078” (2mm) and on the low E string is 0.106” – 0.114” (2.7 – 2.9mm). 

A classical guitar has a higher action; medium action on the high E string is 0.126″ (3.2mm),  and 0.154″ (3.9mm) on the low E string. And to remind you, it’s about the 12th fret action measurements. 

But, there are no hard rules about the string height; it all depends on the playing style and also the level of ability. So, the only thing that matters is what makes your guitar play the way you want it to. For example, acoustic guitar players prefer higher action than electric guitar players, in order to improve the sound resonance.

If you prefer an aggressive playing style, you are not going to like a low action because, for you, it causes a lot of fret buzz. So, putting the guitar action on a higher level will remove the buzzing. If you love a light playing style, low action won’t be a problem for you, and the strings aren’t likely to buzz!

For the beginners; lower action is probably better than a high one. You won’t be demotivated because it’s hard to press the string down. Calluses will be developed way faster, and your love for guitars will increase because you’ll get better much easier. 

Is It Harder To Play Guitar With High Action?

One of the most important factors when it comes to guitar playability is the guitar action. And yes, some players do say that it’s harder to play the guitar with high action because it’s harder to press down the string and they feel more pain in their fingers. Factors that make a guitar easy to play are different body and neck shapes, string gauge size, action, weight, and so on. 

This is still a subjective question, and the answer depends on the preferred style of playing and the level of ability. There is a difference between whether you’re a pro or a beginner. 

If you are a beginner, it is very important for you to go through your first days slightly, in order to keep the motivation and not to quit. Beginners should feel progress to gain confidence and to go further. 

As I said, it is really hard to play the guitar with high action, so beginners need to involve more strength to press the string down on the fretboard. Beginners work on learning fundamentals, so good playability of the guitar is very important. 

When the beginner gains more skills in playing in the future, then he/she will choose whether a high or lower action is compatible with the preferred playing style. 

Therefore, whether they prefer an aggressive or a light playing style, advanced players choose which action is the best for them. Also, advanced players have more strength in muscles, so they won’t find playing high-action guitar hard play. 

How Massive Guitar Production Affects The Action?

Cheap guitars are produced with automated techniques that create the product with not so many drawbacks. Some of the guitar manufacturers put all the effort into quality and details, and also they do research and testing, where only flawless guitars leave the factory. 

To determine which guitar is perfect depends on a judgment of a specific group of people. So, those manufacturers have high-quality control standards. 

Meanwhile, some of them reduce quality-control time and don’t put the time into the instrument, and they sell products for a lower price. These instruments don’t have a perfect adjustment, which can affect many things, including the action. 

How Shipping Guitars Affects The Action?

Guitars are shipped in massive quantities worldwide, in containers. There are some conditions during shipping that can affect the instrument, its playability, and stabilization.

Temperature and humidity fluctuations in shipping containers can have a huge impact on the instrument, such as a warped guitar body and/or neck, which can affect the guitar action. Also, other consequences are glue problems, wood cracking, and so on.

How Do I Know If My Guitar Action Is Too High?

You can measure guitar action with a ruler or an action gauge. Choose the ruler who starts the measurements from the very end, so you won’t end up with bad reading. An action gauge is actually a custom ruler for measuring the guitar action. They give clear readings and they are so easy to use.

Tune your guitar, which ensures the right tension is applied to the neck. Rest the ruler or an action gauge tool on the 12th fret, and read the ruler from the bottom of the string.

Check the 1st string and the 6th string. If they are above the medium recommended action it means you have a high action.

How Do You Lower The Action On A Cheap Guitar?

If you find out that your guitar has high action, you have to follow some steps in order to lower it if you want to.

Adjusting An Electric Guitar Action

First of all, you need to make sure that the neck is straight or maybe slightly rising. You can’t do it just by looking at it from an angle. 

The first step is to press the first fret of the 6th string with your left hand. Then, press the fret, which is in the place of the body connecting with the neck. It’s usually the 17th fret, but it’s not always the case. For example, there is a difference when it comes to the SG-shaped guitars. 

After that, stretch your right-hand pinky to around the 12th to 8th fret.  Try to press on the fret, not in between. 

If you see there is a tiny gap and the string is leaning against the fret, that means the neck is straight and you don’t need neck adjustment. But, if there is no gap at all, you need to raise the neck, and if there’s a big gap, you need to lower the neck. 

It is important that you use an adequate-sized tool for adjusting the truss rod. Using the wrong size wrench can cause something you definitely don’t want to happen. Go with the tool on the access point. And you have to know what to do according to the results you got while checking the neck straightness. 

After that, measure the action, and accordingly, adjust the bridge. 

There are various electric guitar bridges some are well known while others are not so much. But all of them have common parts for adjusting the action. 

The most simple one has 2 screws that can lower or raise each side of the bridge. Other bridges are fixed in place or some sort of fixed and adjusting the action is done on the saddles. There are some cases where you control the action on each individual string while in other cases the saddle is shared with another string.

The last type of bridge is the combination of the two. You have 2 screws that can control the height of the bridge but also you can raise and lower each of the saddles for each of the strings. With this type, you should first try adjusting the 2 screws before touching the saddles.

When adjusting the bridge or the saddles you should take it slowly. Adjust the bridge slightly to your target action and then check for string choking or buzzing (if it bugs you) on all the frets. Don’t just adjust the bridge to your target action. 

It is possible that you will not reach your preferred action with this guitar without fret leveling. But you may lower the action to some degree which will make it more playable. 

​Adjusting An Acoustic Guitar Action

If you want to lower the action on your acoustic guitar, adjust the truss rod properly, and if it did the job, go and play! If not, then go for adjusting the saddle. 

Take off the strings and remove the saddle. Use sandpaper and shave off some of the bottom (back-and-forth motions). You should take off a tiny amount. You can describe that amount as the width of the line drawn by a pencil. Reinstall it and restring.

​Adjusting A Classical Guitar Action

It’s way harder to lower the action on a badly adjusted classical guitar than the other two guitar types. If you want to adjust a guitar action on your classical guitar, adjust the saddle (use sandpaper). Consider changing to low tension strings, or ask a luthier for help for some work on the neck. 

Is It Worth Setting Up A Cheap Guitar?

If you want to have a playable instrument out of a cheap guitar, go with a good setup. Setup will correct all the things that are must for a good playability.

The setup price varies by region, and also by how much work the guitar needs. A professional setup costs around $50-$60. But, if there is a lot of work that needs to be done, you have to pay over $100.

So, a $150 guitar plus the setup price. Is it worth setting up? For that price, you can get a mid-price guitar with such a nice sound and joy while playing.

The answer is yes, it is worth it because a cheap guitar with a good setup can play better than an expensive one!

Do Expensive Guitars Have High Action? Do They Feel Better?

A cheap guitar is not always junk, and if the guitar costs more, it doesn’t mean it’s flawless. Just remember that Queen’s star Brian May used a homemade guitar made from knitting needles and a fireplace mantel. Also, keep in mind that Gibson guitars were cheaper and known as trash at one point in time. 

Even the best brands produce junk now and then, while less-known brands can have at least one stunning example. It’s all about setup. 


Action is the distance between the guitar’s fretboard and the guitar’s strings. Some guitars have high action, which means the distance is larger than usual, which affects the playability of the instrument.

Some cheap guitars do have a high action because manufacturers don’t put enough time into instruments, in order to make as much profit as possible. After all, time is money, and the less money spent, the better for them. Also, their quality control standards are low, so they sell products for a lower price.

Guitars with high action are harder to play, especially for beginners. But, we can’t say what is the ideal guitar action, because it’s a subjective thing; many guitarists love high action because of their playing style.

If you are not sure whether your guitar has a high action or not, check out the neck straightness, and then measure it with the ruler or an action gauge tool.

If the high action is present and you don’t feel comfortable about playing in those conditions, you can lower the action on your guitar. Steps depend on the guitar type. If you’re not sure about doing it by yourself, ask luthier for help.

Even the best brands produce junk now and then. It’s all about setup, so you don’t need an expensive guitar for an enjoyable experience; you can set up a budget one! 

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I have been playing guitar since 2004. As long as I can remember I always had a huge passion for rock music and I extremely enjoy playing it. Helping people on their rock journey is what drives me to keep on playing. Read More About Me

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