Lowering the action on my Acoustic Guitar - my experience

When I first started playing, I had a Washburn WF10S, an older guitar with a rather high action, which made playing quite difficult. When I started JG lessons seriously in '20, I switched to a Squier Affinity Strat, which was a lot easier to play, but I kept coming back to the Washburn to see if it got ‘easier’ as my fingers got callused and I got better… but it remained a struggle. I decided to ‘give it a go’ myself and make the Washburn a ‘playground’ for my beginner luthier skills :wink:

Justin’s extensive videos about setup are very helpful but oriented towards electrics. I learned a lot from Haze Guitars Sketchy Setup guides and this video:

How to Adjust the Action on an Acoustic Guitar - YouTube.

Here’s the equipment I needed:

  1. String action gauge - Stewmac had a good Christmas sale; there are cheaper options on Amazon too. I found it difficult to get an accurate measurement with a ‘normal’ scale rule, since it’s not wide enough to balance across 2 or 3 frets.

  2. Sandpaper - 220 is recommended, but it was rather slow going, so I switched to a 110.

I don’t know if it’s just beginner’s luck but it was easier than I expected. The trickiest bit was holding the saddle perfectly vertical so the bottom edge stays perpendicular to the sides – holding it against a block of wood helped here.

The Washburn is now a lot easier to play, I can even fret the dreaded F-barre chord on it!

Hope this encourages others to give ‘home luthiering’ a go :wink:


Good Job I agree it’s not that hard to set up your acoustic guitar.
I’ve been doing mine for over 30 years. A few pointer to help
you out the next time you do a set up.

1)First check the neck relief. Put a capo at the first fret, fret the E
string at the 12 or 14 fret. Check the gap at the 7th fret from the
bottom of the string to the top of the fret. There should be just
enough of a gap to slide a .36mm pick between. Adjust truss rod
if needed.

  1. Check the nut. Fret the E string at the second fret. There should
    be about the same gap as above at the first fret. If less thats not
    a problem if more you want to sand the nut. You can file each
    slot if you have the proper files or sand the bottom of the nut if
    It’s not glued down

  2. check the action like you did and sand the saddle as you did.

Enjoy your new easier to play guitar.

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Thank you @stitch for the encouragement and good suggestions. I didn’t realize the sequence (relief, nut, action) mattered. Will keep that in mind for my next one :+1:

Just dropped the action on my new Gibson G-Writer that showed up under the Christmas tree this year. Got to love the great wife! I ended up buying a new Tusq nut from Graphtech to use. Checked relief, nut and all good. Removed original saddle and replace with the new saddle. Keeping orignal saddle just in case… After a couple of sandings of the new saddle for length and height, I was able to get the action spot on how I like it. Going to tackle my Taylor next. Want to get the action a bit lower.

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Thanks for the topic.
I purchased an Alvarez acoustic which sounds wonderful and open chords are a breeze.
Then I started to try barre chords… Oops. The bridge is way too high. I’m gonna follow your advice and sand it down a little. My estimation is by maybe 2mm but that is a lot so will do less than that at first cos if I do too much I can’t put it back lol.

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Good plan. Better to have to do it twice than overdo it. Make sure to sand it flat, no angles.
If you mess up, a new saddle isn’t that expensive.