Fret MD

(3 of 3) Setting the Saddle Height on an Acoustic Guitar

Tools

Ruler that measures 64ths of an inch (or millimeters)
Ebony Shims
Razor Blade
Self Adhesive Sandpaper
Sanding Block
Metal Nippers
Pliers
Radius Gauge

The third and final step in setting up an acoustic guitar is setting the action at the saddle. This is the icing on the cake, so to speak. A properly adjusted saddle is essential for the best possible sound and feel out of your instrument.

Notes on Acoustic Guitar Saddles

There is a lot of variation in terms of the style and material of acoustic guitar saddles. In general, a tall saddle made of bone or a high quality synthetic material is highly desirable. A low saddle made of plastic is the generally the worst type of saddle available. A properly set saddle, should stand up straight. A saddle that leans toward the neck of the guitar, or more rarely, backwards, should be replaced in most cases. Most inexpensive instruments have plastic nuts and saddles. More expensive instruments tend to come with bone or high quality synthetic saddles.

Assessment

Okay, now it’s time to assess your saddle height. We’ll start by checking the action at the twelfth fret of your guitar. For this you’ll need a ruler that measures 64ths of an inch or millimeters.

1. Hold the guitar sideways so you’re looking down and across the neck.

2. Now place the ruler on the top of the 12th fret, right next to your E6 string and take your measurement. Ideally the string should sit at 5/64 in. (1.98 mm).

action_acoustic

3. Continue taking measurements for the remaining strings in the same way (A, D, G, B, E).

Here are our recommended measurements:

Standard
E6 – 6/64 in.
A5 – 5.75/64 in.
D4 – 5.5/64 in.
G3 – 5.25/64/in.
B2 – 5.15/64in.
E1 – 5/64in.

Metric
E6 – 2.38mm
A5 – 2.28mm
D4 – 2.18mm
G3 – 2.08mm
B2 – 2.03mm
E1 – 1.98mm

These are extremely fine measurements. The main goal is to achieve a gradual tapering down of the height of the E6 string to the E1 string.

Results/Diagnosis

Depending on your measurements, you’ll either want to lower the saddle, shim it up, or do nothing (in this case, you’ll be done with your setup, whoopee!).

Diagnosis 1:
All or some strings are too high.
Adjustment: You’ll want to file down the bottom of your saddle so that the strings sit at the correct height on your guitar.

Diagnosis 2: All or some strings sit too low.
Adjustment: You’ll want to to raise your saddle with a shim.

Diagnosis 3: Some strings are too high and some are too low.
Adjustment: Yikes! We’re sorry to hear that. Correcting this type of problem is by no means, an easy matter for an amateur. There are ways to correct this problem with shimming and sanding, but in general, it’s best to replace your saddle completely to correct this problem. In this case, we recommend having this done by an expert.

Diagnosis 4: All of the strings sit at the right height.
Adjustment: None! Congratulations, you’re done!

How to Lower a High Saddle –>

How to Raise a Low Saddle –>

Or, if you’re done . . .

Congratulations! You’re done with the setup. Enjoy the sound and feel of your beautifully setup instrument. If you have any questions or encounter any difficulty with your setup then please feel free to post on our forum. Many people find it useful to see a setup done visually. For this we recommend a Fret MD DVD. Our DVDs are arguably the best in their field, and as a registered Fret MD member, you’ll qualify for extra savings on your Fret MD DVD purchases.

Happy playing!