There is much that goes into playing guitar. Technique, knowledge, practice, application, and on and on. But there is one often overlooked factor or even unknown to most beginners that can very easily make play guitar less of a struggle, less painful, and more satisfying. String height.
If your guitar is not set up right then you will be fighting it every time you pick it up. I struggled with this for years. It was worst in the beginning when I had an acoustic guitar with 13 gauge strings that were also too set up high. Playing that guitar was brutal! The worst part was I could have resolved the problem in a day, but dealt with it for years. I can be proud of the perseverance it took to stick with it, but it also caused me physical pain as well and hindered my playing quite a bit.
When To Lower Your String Height
Not everyone needs to do this, but I would highly recommend it for beginners of any kind. It will make playing smoother because it will require less effort to play the notes and chords you need to play. In the beginning the mind should be focused on getting the muscle memory down to play the chords and notes correctly. Playing with as little effort as possible is best. In the beginning the fingers are calloused or coordinated to play properly and it takes time and practice just to get that to sound decent. We don’t need to pile on the challenge with a poorly set up guitar. Take my word for it. I wouldn’t play a guitar like that now and don’t recommend it to my students or all skill levels either.
Lower string height is also ideal for anyone who wants to play fast and accurate like metal or jazz players. When the strings don’t have to move as far your fingers don’t have to move as far. This means you can get more notes in in a smaller period of time if you technique is good. You will also be able to play with less fatigue.
When To Raise Your String Height
Lower string height isn’t always best. If you are a blues player, you will likely be bending the strings a lot and far. It might be helpful to raise them up a little to make it easier to bend. If you use a slide a lot as well then you will want to raise you string height. Often slide guitarists might have a guitar with higher strings just for those songs in which require it.
If you have too much buzz when you play then you might want to raise you string height. But it might also be a cause of bad technique. Have a trained guitar teacher help you with this.
What if you shred and bend a lot as many metal players do? Great question. Most guitars designed for metal have jumbo frets. These taller frets give more room for your fingers to grab the strings. Having scalloped frets makes it even easier to have low action and optimal string bending because the frets are so far away that your fingers don’t touch the wood which causes more friction and resistance to bending. Yngwie Malmsteen is a classic shredder who uses scalloped frets. Most guitars are not scalloped, so this isn’t an ideal option. There are obviously plenty of shredders out there who don’t use scalloped frets. Guitars with shorter frets are not ideal for bending strings, but many blues guitarists use short frets. It’s just more work.
If you are wonder gin how to lower or raise your string height I would recommend learning from someone who knows what they are doing and can teach you how or just bring it to a professional guitar luthier or guitar technician who does it on a daily basis.
About The Author: Ryan Duke is a guitar teacher and owner of Seattle Guitar Mentor providing the guitar lessons in Seattle, WA.