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How to Make Your Acoustic Guitar Easier to Play

Making Your Guitar Easier To Play

When your first learn to play guitar, it can be pretty rough on your left hand. As you get better, it becomes easier. You learn better techniques, start to place your fingers properly, and learn how to angle your wrist in a more ergonomic way. 

But it also helps to have your guitar work for you. What I mean by that is making your guitar as easy to play as possible.

This is especially critical when it comes to learning bar chords. It takes a lot of strength and proper technique to play these, even with a guitar that’s easy to play.

There are two aspects to making a guitar easy to play:

  • The strings you use on your guitar
  • The “action” adjustment of the guitar

The action of your guitar is essentially how high above the fretboard your strings are. This is mostly personal preference. But in general the lower the strings are the easier they are to play. But if it’s too low you’ll get a lot of string buzz. 

Before we get into that, let’s talk about guitar strings.

Choosing The Right Guitar Strings

Most guitars come with what’s called a light string gauge. This varies by string manufacturer, but is generally sized as 12-53 (also seen as .012-.053 - you can also refer to them as "12s"). This is the thickness of the strings. 

Light gauge strings are actually the middle thickness. You’ll generally see extra light, light, and medium. The higher the string gauge, the more full (thicker, more low end) your guitar will sound. But it’s also harder to play. 

If you’re just starting to play guitar you could start with extra light strings. Extra light will be easier to press down. They're going to be a little less loud than a higher gauge string. And more likely to buzz. But it’s a fair trade off while you’re working on your calluses and hand strength.

Another good option for many beginning guitar players are “silk and steel” strings. They’re a hybrid of acoustic strings. The lower wound strings have a nylon core instead of a steel core. This makes the strings a bit easier to play. The higher strings tend to be thinner as well. 

I don’t think the sounds is as good as 80/20 bronze or phosphor bronze strings (the typical acoustic string material). But it might be a fair trade off to start. And you might like the tone better.

I see a lot of guitar students take this route until they build the strength and confidence to move up to a heavier gauge non-nylon string. 

Adjusting The Guitar's Action

The second thing to consider is adjusting the action. There are several ways to do that. I'll tell you right up front that I usually have a guitar technician do that for me. I personally don't take the chance of messing up my guitar. But there are some things that a lot of guitar players do themselves. I’ll at least mention them here. 

Bridge And Nut

First of all, you can lower the string height by lowering the nut. That’s the white part behind the first fret that your strings sit on. You can also lower the bridge (saddle), which is the white plastic (or bone) part on the opposite end of the guitar.

You would either buy a shorter nut or saddle (in height), or file the bottom of them.

Do you see the risk here?

If you go too far down you can’t change it without buying a new one. You may get unwanted buzz you can’t fix. 

The Truss Rod

The second main action adjustment is the truss rod. The truss rod is a metal rod that is in your neck. Right under the fretboard. It adjusts the bow of the neck. Believe it or not, you don’t want your neck to be perfectly flat!

This usually does bring the strings down the more your straighten the neck. It also brings the strings up the more you bow the neck.

You can tighten the truss rod bring the strings down a little. But if you bring them down too much, it's going to buzz at some point on the guitar. You have to find the perfect balance of neck bow.

More Adjustments

Finally, a more in depth adjustment would be filing the frets themselves (called a fret mill). This is not something I would want to do myself. A good guitar technician can file and level the frets to make them even. This can be a big assist with the other two adjustments we talked about. 

Again I prefer taking my guitars to a qualified guitar technician to do these things. But knowing these are possible to do at home will let you experiment with the small adjustments.

If you want to try this for yourself, I would recommend watching some good videos on YouTube.

Here is a really good one that explains setting up a guitar in depth: 

How to Adjust the Action on an Acoustic Guitar

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  1. I have a story. At the age of 60 I decided I wanted to learn to play. Bought a guitar for me and another small one for my 8 year old granddaughter. We took lessons together. Our teacher decided my old fingers were having trouble so she suggested I get the action lowered. She called the professionals and told them I was coming and what I needed. When I walked into the store, the owner said, “you must be Becky”. How did he know? Old white-haired lady with guitar! But it worked for me!

  2. Amazing…! you made guitar playing really easy and yes I do understand that choosing string is way more important and thanks for giving other advice. I love your article. this is very informative. thank you so much for this article.

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