The playability of a guitar is largely influenced by the guitar ‘action’. The action of a guitar refers to how high the strings sit above the fretboard. While, it is true that more expensive guitars will tend to have lower action, which generally means they will be easier to play, there is a point at which more money does not make much difference.
This article explores why action make difference, what to do if you have high action and how much you spend to get the most playable guitar.
What Makes an Acoustic Guitar Easy to Play?
The main thing that makes a guitar easy to play is the ‘action’. The action of a guitar refers to how high the strings sit, off of the fretboard. The higher the action, the higher the strings are from the fretboard, and the more pressure you need to apply to press the strings down.
Whereas an acoustic guitar with lower action has strings sitting closer to the fretboard, which requires less pressure to push down, making it easier to play.
Do Expensive Guitars Have Better Action Than Cheap Guitars?
In general, more expensive guitars are likely to have better action than acoustic guitars.
This is not so much due to the quality of materials used, but how much effort and time was invested in the guitar manufacturing process.
One of the biggest costs in making an acoustic guitar is the cost of labor. So cheaper guitars tend to have a lot less time spent on them, and the time invested will be of someone with a lower skill set.
Whereas, when you spend extra money on a premium acoustic guitar, there will be more time invested, by someone with a more advanced skill set to get the action set up properly.
Can You Improve The Action Of A Cheap Acoustic Guitar To Make It Easier To Play?
Yes, you can definitely improve the action of a cheap acoustic guitar, making it easier to play. There are two main ways to get the action of a cheap acoustic guitar adjusted.
Take Your Guitar To a Luthier/Guitar Technician
To adjust the action of a cheap acoustic guitar you need to either take it to a guitar repair/maintenance center or have them do it for you. Depending on how much time they need to put into it, this could be a quick and inexpensive job, but if they have to spend quite a bit of time on it, you could end up spending more than you invested into the guitar itself.
DIY Guitar Action Adjustment
It is also possible to learn to adjust the action of an acoustic guitar yourself. There are three main components is involved in adjusting the action of an acoustic guitar:
- Adjusting the Truss Rod
- Adjusting the Guitar Nut
- Adjust the Guitar Bridge
These steps should be followed in order. Sometimes a simple truss rod adjustment is all that is needed to fix the action of a cheap acoustic guitar. Sometimes you need to adjust the truss rod and the nut. And in some cases, you need to adjust the truss rod, nut, and bridge.
This video gives you a good overview of the process, as well as a visual demonstration, which is a much better way to learn about the process than me trying to explain it in words.
Further useful information can be found here:
How Much Money Do you Need to Spend to get an acoustic guitar that is easy to play?
While there is a huge difference in the playability of a $100 guitar to a $1000 guitar, from $1000 and up, the benefit of spending more money starts to decrease.
Once you are spending $1000 on a guitar, a skilled technician should have had a hand in setting the guitar up before it was shipped, which should mean the action is very playable.
Once you are spending multiple thousands most of the money is being paid for the quality of the wood (which impacts sound), the privilege of playing that brand, and the quality of other components (tuners, pickups, etc).