How Do You Adjust The Action On A Stratocaster?

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Written By Sarah Barlow

Chief Music Officer

It’s important to understand the proper way of adjusting your Stratocaster’s guitar action to improve its playability and comfort. 

In this article, I will discuss what a guitar action is, its importance, how it’s measured, and how to adjust it properly on your Stratocaster. It’s also important to remember that the intonation of your Stratocaster significantly impacts its action. So, this article will also briefly tackle intonation and how to adjust it. 

Guitar Action

Guitar action is your guitar string’s height distance over the fretboard. Take note that the feel of your Stratocaster is highly influenced by its guitar action, so you must take this into consideration.  

Playing the guitar with an action that’s positioned too high will be uncomfortable. But at the same time, your Stratocaster’s strings will also have a buzzing sound if its action is too low.

Having the right guitar action on your Stratocaster is important because it can drastically enhance how it feels during performances and play sessions. A guitar action set too high will require its user to exert more pressure on their fingers to have contact with the strings. A high action will negatively slow down and make your playing feel awkward. 

The Correct Ruler To Use In Measuring Guitar Action

Right Ruler

All rulers may look identical, but a minor difference determines whether they can or can’t be used in measuring guitar action. The rulers that can measure your Stratocaster’s action correctly are the ones that begin their measurements from its very end. 

You may have the impression that rulers with slight gaps before their measurement lines are still usable in this scenario by simply aligning their zero line above the 12th fret. However, that method will lead to a bad reading. Take note that precision is always the key to correctly measuring the action of your Stratocaster.

Guitar Action Gauge

A unique ruler explicitly made for measuring guitar action is called a guitar action gauge. They provide precise readings in inches or millimeters and are simple to use. 

It would be helpful if you borrow one from your fellow musicians that has one. If you are a performer or professional frequently traveling, it is highly recommended to purchase an action gauge. Besides, they also come cheap.

How To Properly Measure Your Stratocaster’s Guitar Action Height

Note: Before measuring your Stratocaster’s action height, make sure to adjust your guitar’s truss rod properly. Also, measure your Stratocaster’s action before adjusting it. This can be done by using either an action gauge or a ruler. 

The proper way to measure the action is to hold the ruler’s end against the 12th fret and rest it against the string. You must measure the distance between the top of the fret and the base of the guitar string. This measurement is called the guitar height action.

If you have the proper ruler or action gauge, measuring your Stratocaster’s action will be effortless. The correct procedure is as follows:

  1. Tune up your Stratocaster. This step is important in guaranteeing that the neck receives the proper tension.
  2. Ensure your neck is straight and make any necessary truss rod adjustments.
  3. On the 12th fret, place the ruler or action gauge.
  4. Read the ruler at the string’s base.
  5. Repeat these steps if you need to measure another string on your Stratocaster.

How To Properly Adjust Your Stratocaster’s Action

Note: Increasing your Stratocaster’s saddle height will also tighten your string’s tension. Set the saddle height that best suits your playing style because guitar strings are easier to bend when there is less tension.

A 1.5mm Allen wrench is needed before adjusting the action on your Stratocaster’s bridge. You will use this tool to tighten or loosen the two tiny screws on both sides of the saddle to adjust your Stratocaster’s action.


  1. Begin by measuring the low E string at the 12th fret of your Stratocaster.
  2. Using the Allen wrench, increase or decrease the saddle to adjust the string action based on liking.
  3. Once done, retune and play your Stratocaster. Evaluate whether its playability and tones are enhanced. If yes, remeasure and use the figure as a basis for the other strings. If not, adjust it again until satisfied.
  4. Repeat this process on each string until their feel and play according to your liking.
  5. Depending on your preference, you can make the low E and treble side strings slightly lower than the other strings rather than having every string be the same height. Some guitarists commonly utilize this string action.

What Causes Your Stratocaster’s Action To Change?

Noticing changes in your Stratocaster’s action is normal and is caused by both natural phenomena and user mistakes. 

Changes in Temperature and Humidity

Humidity and temperature changes can negatively impact your Stratocaster’s wooden components. Drastic changes in humidity can cause your guitar to warp. 

In most humidity cases, the Stratocaster necks will bow forward. On the other hand, an intense increase in temperature can cause wooden parts to swell. These damages can happen to your Stratocaster regardless of whether it is exposed or stored in a case. These deformations in your guitar’s wooden components can also cause their action to increase or decrease. 

An excellent preventive measure is to observe and anticipate changes in seasons. It would be best if you gave some thought to how and where is the ideal place to keep your Stratocaster based on its environment’s temperature and humidity level. If not, adjustments to your Stratocaster’s components are needed to keep it functional. This action is only applicable if certain adjustments are still possible. Otherwise, if the damage is too severe, replacing wooden components is required.

String Gauges and Tension

The tension across your Stratocaster’s neck changes as you increase its string gauges. Over time, this string gauge increase can negatively affect your Stratocaster’s action. It can cause your guitar’s neck to bow, increasing your Stratocaster’s action height. 

Changing the string gauge does not directly alternate your Stratocaster’s action. But, if you observe an instant shift in your Stratocaster’s action immediately after changing string gauges, it may be the primary cause of imbalance in your guitar’s action. 

Note: Examining any deformation or bends on the neck of your Stratocaster before adjusting its action is vital.

Different Alternative Tunings

Your Stratocaster is usually set with a standard tuning contributing to its flawless action. However, your guitar’s string tension is highly affected when you use alternative tunings. 

Your strings would flail more if the tension is reduced and could cause your fret to buzz if the tension was initially low before adjustments. Increasing our string tension won’t cause any problems, but overtightening can result in the strings breaking. 

Age And Usage 

Your Stratocaster’s action can vary depending on its age, the quality of its frets, and any alterations or repairs it has undergone. When adjusting the action on your Stratocaster or setting it up, it’s critical to keep these factors in mind. They may significantly impact the feel and playability of your Stratocaster.

Upgrades And New Components

Many guitarists enjoy modifying their Stratocaster, mainly because they are highly customizable. Occasionally, the guitar nut is replaced but isn’t correctly adjusted. On one end of the guitar, the action is determined by grooves in the nut. Incorrectly cutting your Stratocater’s nut grooves will result in problems with its string height.

Additionally, the bridge may also cause your Stratocaster’s action to change. You should anticipate that there will be a change in the action of your Stratocaster, especially if you’ve replaced components like the bridge.

How To Determine If Your Stratocaster’s Action Is Low Or High

Note: A thing to remember is that everyone has different preferences for their guitar’s action height. Try lowering the action on your guitar if you think it’s too high and vice-versa.

Low Action

You can quickly determine if your Stratocaster’s action is too low when you hear a lot of fret buzz and string rattling against the fretboard. These issues are considerably minor, but if they begin interfering with your Stratocaster’s playability and throw off its tones, then it is best to have its action raised to solve it.

High Action

Your Stratocaster’s intonation and feel are the main factors to observe when determining whether its action is too high. The action of your Stratocaster might be too high if its intonation is off or its playability feels awkward compared to other guitars.

High action can affect your guitar’s intonation because it requires you to exert more force to get the string to the fret. The note bends out of tune depending on how far you push the string.

You can check your Stratocaster’s intonation by playing a 12th-fret natural harmonic and comparing the pitch to a fretted 12th-fret note. Your intonation is off if you hear a difference between the two notes.

A truss rod that is incorrectly set can also cause high action. Too much relief in the neck will result in increased action.

Main Takeaway

Adjusting your Stratocaster’s action is crucial to ensure you get the best playing experience. It makes it effortless to play your guitar and prevents any negative feedback in the tones you generate. 

The adjustment of your Stratocaster’s action is an easy and quick task. All you need is the right measuring tools and a 1.5mm Allen wrench. Follow the correct procedure mentioned above to adjust your Stratocaster’s action properly and securely. 

It is vital to measure your Stratocaster’s action height before adjusting it to determine whether you need to raise or lower its action based on Fender’s recommended action, which varies on your Stratocaster’s neck radius. 

You must also have patience in slowly tweaking the bolts on your Stratocaster’s saddle little by little to achieve the best action height that satisfies your preference. Rushing things would likely do more harm than good on your Stratocaster. However, anyone can accomplish this task with a bit of practice and knowledge.