That is a very good question. The short answer is, we fix it. The height of the strings to the top of the frets is called, “action”. Lowering the action or lowering the strings closer to the face of the fret board provides easier play. Raising action is quite easy and makes everyone an expert. Most noteworthy, lowering the “action” is one of the most difficult operations performed on a guitars. So, why if raising is easy, as a result, it should be easy to lower too. Sorry, it’s a one way street here. That’s not how it works-so the short answer gets longer. Lowering action to a customers specs is a very difficult, multi-operational process and skill. This takes training and practice to accomplish properly.
Low Action Speaks Louder Than Words
In our article, Action Speaks Louder Than Words, I quote, ” Action or feel and guitar string height is most commonly thought of as how high the strings are from the frets.Therefore, it is called string height. Action is a term used to describe how a guitar is adjusted according to how high or low the strings are on the neck which affects how well it plays. A guitar player needs to know how to set action. Furthermore, Finally, if the action is how a guitar plays, specifically the distance of the strings to the fingerboard. The strings can’t sit too high because they’re hard to fret. However, if they’re too low, buzzing occurs. The farther a string must travel pushed down by a players fingertip. Most noteworthy, the higher the action, the sharper the string gets. High action=Sharper notes.”
standard terminology used by luthiers for a thin wedge under a bolt-on neck is a shim
If a guitar player cannot set the action low enough then it’s certainly not a life altering issue. Because we can do it, it’s not necessary for the player to do it. Problems arise when the strings sit too high, they’re hard to fret. If they’re too low, buzzing occurs. If string buzz is not an issue then play on! Most guitarists object to “string buzz”. It’s when the fretted note rattles on the next fret in front of it. It generally does not translate through an amp but players notice it when they play and usually complain about it. Guitar strings high off of the fret board make playing difficult.
Consequently, the search for low action begins in the guitar repair shop. In the Haywire Custom Guitar shop we first set the truss rod. A truss rod is an adjustable rod running the length of the guitar neck. It both strengthens the neck and facilitates adjustment of a bowed or humped neck. (see illustration). Here we begin the search for lower action.
Lowering action to the customers specs is a very difficult, multi-operational process
Being the first step adjusting the truss rod may work. If it doesn’t and the strings are still not low enough, we go down the list. The next step in the search is to cut the top off of every fret to ensure no obstacles for the strings. This step is called fret leveling. In addition to cutting off the tops there are inherently two more steps to that process.
Fret leveling therefore is a three step process with guitar strings high. After the tops of the frets are leveled, they need to be re-crowned. What is re-crowning? It simply brings the roundness back to the top of the frets from the flatness leveling causes. This step causes the need to invoke the last step of polishing the frets. The re-crowning process causes the fret to become rough and not smooth like a great feeling guitar needs to be. Hence, polishing to bring the fret back to it’s original luster is required. Therefore, “a very difficult, multi-operational process” becomes more valid.
adjust the angle or pitch of the neck
If the following steps fail to make a meaningful change if issues with guitar strings too high, we need to look elsewhere. We need to go to another technique for lowering action. Let’s look at shim placement to adjust the angle or pitch of the neck. Guitarists erroneously believe that all guitar necks are interchangeable. This is the part of our job that takes up most of our time. It’s called: debunking myths believed by all guitar players. Especially relevant is the fact that guitarists hold onto these like a dog grabs a bone. They are quite content believing what they read on a guitar forum because it must be true. Now, that I have lost 75% of my readers here let’s move on. Now that we who are left are all on the same page the next step will get us closer to lower action.
guitar strings high
If after installing the neck and adjusting the truss rod you see better action is necessary, use a shim. You can set your action string height better and lower when you use a shim. Most likely, will need one, because the likelihood of a new bolt-on neck fitting exactly right just doesn’t happen. It’s up to you or us at the custom shop to “make it happen”. We’ll reduce the height when guitar strings high off the neck are problematic.
Why are guitar neck shims needed for new neck installations?
What is the purpose of a guitar neck shim? To adjust the angle or pitch of the guitar neck. Why would you need to adjust the angle or pitch of the neck? Remember…. all guitar necks are not interchangeable. Sure they may fit, but not properly. It is crucial to get the exact neck angle right so that the strings lay in extreme parallel all the way down the neck. Failing the above steps. This is the only remaining way low action can be achieved. Need low action?-call us. You can watch while we do it if you’d like. We’ll get it as low as you want it!