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Wondering how your favorite guitar player can shred so quickly and effortlessly? One of the secrets to easy and fluid playing is a guitar with low action. Do some electric guitars have lower action than others? Which electric guitar is best if you want to achieve the lowest action possible?
Electric guitars that are well set up and adjusted by a luthier will have the lowest action. Guitars with a flatter fingerboard radius are easier to set up with low action than those with a rounder, vintage radius. A setup includes leveling the frets, adjusting the neck relief, setting the bridge and saddle height, and nut slot adjustments.
Since we can get low action on most guitars, is it worth buying something specific on your quest for a fast-playing guitar? We will present a few options below that are particularly well suited to fast-playing low action.
What Does Action Refer To?
The action on an electric guitar refers to the distance between the guitar strings and the frets. Typically, lower action on a guitar makes it easier to play. A measurement between 1.5 and 2 mm is considered low.
What Affects The Action On An Electric Guitar?
The action on a guitar is affected by a few different factors. To get low action, a guitar needs level frets. Frets are leveled by filing them and then reshaping them to a rounded form. This is something that an experienced luthier can do for you.
For low string height, a guitar also needs a straight neck. Typically, there is a slight bend in the neck called relief. If you want the lowest action possible, it’s best to have the neck straight or almost straight with little to no relief.
The nut slots should be checked for the proper depth. If the slots are cut too high, it can be difficult to lower your action. A luthier can check the nut slots for you and adjust as needed.
Set the bridge to the correct height once the neck is straight and the nut is adjusted. Then the bridge saddles are adjusted to match the radius of the guitar’s fingerboard.
All these factors together lead to a guitar with low action. Often on production guitars, the frets are not precisely level which means it’s impossible to get the action very low without fret buzz.
How Do You Get The Action Lower?
To get the action lower, you will need to perform a setup on your guitar. This can be done by a luthier. Or you can send your guitar to a place like Sweetwater, which has maintenance services for your guitar. They even have a Plek machine which may help you achieve super-low action if that’s what you’re after.
Why Is It Good To Have Low Action?
Guitar players favor low action to play fast. It’s easier to move between strings and play technical progressions when the action on a guitar is low. You don’t have to press down as much to get good contact with the fret. That means you can move faster between notes and across strings.
Metal guitarists or those playing fusion or jazz where speed is essential will want low action on their guitar. Blues players may prefer a mid-height action that allows dynamic picking and string bends. No matter the genre, all players can benefit from a professional setup.
What Electric Guitars Have Low Action?
In theory, any correctly set up guitar can have low action. A complete setup will entail leveling the frets, adjusting the truss rod, setting the nut slot height, setting the bridge and saddle height, and intonating the guitar.
So the first stop on your quest for a guitar with low action could be your local luthier.
In our opinion, some guitars are easier than others to get low action. We like a guitar with a flat fingerboard radius and possibly a Floyd Rose tremolo system. A flatter fingerboard radius will allow you to easily set the action low.
And a Floyd Rose system takes the guesswork out of adjusting the nut or setting the bridge saddle height.
Since any guitar can be set up with low action, the best place to start is with your guitar if you already have one. However, if you are looking for a guitar with low action, here are a few that will be an excellent place to start.
The Ibanez RG is our favorite go-to electric guitar for low action and speed. Ibanez has excellent quality control on their instruments, and they are consistently well-made and set up. Of course, less expensive RGs may not be quite as polished as the high-end versions from Japan, but you still get a high-quality instrument across the RG product line.
The fretboard radius is between 15 and 16 inches. And the Floyd Rose style tremolo allows for a quick and easy setup to get low action. The main thing you need to do is adjust the neck to be straight and set the bridge height. Other than that, you should be good to go.
ESP LTD EC-1000
ESP is another quality guitar manufacturer. Their LTD line of guitars is more affordable but still high quality. We like the EC-1000 for its modernized single-cut styling and selection of finishes and pickups. With a fretboard radius of 13.8 inches, it’s perfect for setting up a low-action fast-playing guitar.
The current price of the EC-1000 is around $1,000. If that is out of your budget, try the EC-256, which has the same single-cut body style, but in a more affordable package.
Jackson Pro Series Soloist SL3R
The Jackson Pro Series Soloist SL3R is another low-action screamer of a guitar. It’s well-equipped with Seymour Duncan pickups, a Floyd Rose tremolo, and a compound fretboard radius from 12 to 16 inches.
The more traditional radius lower on the fretboard is comfortable for chords, and the flatter radius on the higher frets is perfect for soloing. A shred-worthy setup will not be an issue on this monster guitar.
Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder
Anything from Schecter is an excellent instrument worthy of a setup for fast playing with super low action. We have our eye on The Sun Valley Super Shredder. This guitar features a compound radius from 12 to 16 inches.
The Sun Valley is one guitar where you’ll be able to achieve a low action without a problem. The Hipshot hardtail bridge, locking tuners, and Tusq nut will all contribute to an excellent setup right out of the gate.
Les Paul Studio
The Les Paul needs no introduction. We like the Les Paul Studio as it is a little more affordable than the Standard series. With a 12 inch radius, the fretboard is not quite as flat as some other guitars on our list. However, you can still get slinky low action on the Les Paul. If you’re after classic rock and roll looks and a great playing guitar, you don’t need to look any further.
These guitars are just a sampling of what you can find on the market. We suggest anything from the above manufacturers, or do your own research and discover what works for you.
As mentioned earlier in the article, you can set up any guitar with low action. However, some guitars will take more effort than others. Guitars with a rounder, vintage fretboard radius may be better suited to mid-range action.
But again, it depends on the particular guitar and the setup. If you’re lucky enough to know a good luthier, they will be able to help you get things set up with super low action—happy shopping and shredding.