Electric Guitar Action (Set Up)

If your electric guitar won't play in tune, is hard to play or just sounds terrible it may need a set up.

Action is a term we use to describe the overall feel of an instrument and, technically speaking, the height of the strings above the frets.

Several adjustments factor into the instruments tone and playability. A set up requires:

Adjustments Performed During Set Up's

Neck Relief

The truss rod controls the necks relief. Most players refer to this as the amount of bow that is in the neck. The straightness of the neck can be limited by several factors, read about adjusting the neck.

Bridge and/or Saddle Height

The height of the bridge and it's saddles greatly affect the distance between the strings and the frets. Electric guitars are equipped with several different styles of bridges and tremolos. Read about adjusting the bridge.

String Height At the Nut

Often overlooked is string height at the nut. While moderately high action at the nut may be tolerable to many players it's effect on intonation should not be overlooked.


What is going on? I tune my guitar and when I strum a chord it plays out of tune. Intonation settings dictate the tuning of notes up and down the neck.

Each string, from nut to saddle, most be of the correct length to produce accurate notes when playing up the neck. If the guitar's bridge (or saddle) sits too close to the nut it will cause sharp intonation.

Pickup Height

To check the height of your pickups fret the neck on the very last fret (this is as close as a string is likely to come to the pickup). Then measure from the top of the pickup to the bottom of the string on both the bass and treble side.

Pickups that are sitting too close to the strings can cause havoc with intonation. If you are having an unexplainable issue trying to intonate your guitar, lower the pickup and try again. Rule out magnetic pull before proceeding.

Strong magnets such as those found on most single coil pickups generally require about 3/32" gap between string and pole.
Active pickups can be set closer. I normally leave at least 1/16" so the pickup does not interfere with picking.

Measuring Tools

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