I was comparing a fender and an epiphone acoustic guitar and noticed that fender was easier for my left hand. Both guitars have the same dimensions and seemed to have same string gauge.

I thought that the tension in the strings should be the same. That's just basic physics. What are the factors which affect ease of playing?

Also, when I tried out taylor, it was very effortless to play.

  • I bought a Blueridge BR-70CE for about $1k. It looks and sounds nice, but the action is high on the lower end and apparently there is not much that can be done without costing a lot. I am really bummed out and wish I'd bought a different guitar. :-(
    – user7110
    Commented Sep 21, 2013 at 3:56

5 Answers 5

  • Neck width - and hence the distance between strings
  • Neck thickness - affects the distance from thumb to fretting finger
  • Fret height - affects how far past the fret you need to press in order to touch the fingerboard. Although note that actually touching the fingerboard is not necessary.
  • Action - the distance from the string to the fingerboard. Action can be adjusted.
  • String gauge - yours are the same on both guitars, but it's worth including in this list anyway
  • Scale length - a longer scale means tighter strings, and frets further apart
  • Fingerboard curvature - some fingerboards have a curved cross-section.
  • 1
    A couple more things: neck profile (affects how well neck fits in hand) and finish (ease of moving hand up/down the neck), fret condition (worn frets can cause buzzing unless pressing strings harder), string condition (finger fatigue and ease of moving left hand) and material (nylon strings are easier to fret than steel strings).
    – Indrek
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 20:57

All other things being equal, you may have a guitar which should be very easy to play, but it is out of calibration. This situation can be improved. In my experience a lot of guitarists, particularly amateur ones, do not appreciate the importance of the professional setup.

How high the strings are above the frets and fingerboard, and how much strength in the fingers is required to hold the strings against the frets, is what we call action.

If the action is high, it requires more strength in the fingers to press the strings down, and this may also adversely affect the intonation, or whether various notes play in tune with respect to other notes.

If the action is too low, it will be much easier to press the strings down against the frets, but certain notes will buzz or be choked in their sustain and the intonation may be aversely affected at the other extreme as well.

The aim of a setup is to calibrate many parts of the guitar to lower the action to the lowest possible degree whereby each note sounds clearly, with no buzzing or choking. Since this also depends on the particular needs of each individual guitarist, it depends on many factors. This is why a setup is best left to a trained professional guitar technician.

Get a Setup

With any guitar, acoustic or electric, in order to make it easy to play and to make it play in tune, you should take it to a professional luthier or guitar repair techician and pay them for a setup. Based upon the gauge and type of strings you select to use on the guitar, and in response to questions about your playing style, the technician will make adjustments to the nut, truss rod, bridge and bridge saddle(s) and if necessary file down and shape the frets, in order to achieve the optimal "action" for you.

Some guitars, often the more expensive ones, get sold to the player with a good setup to begin with. Other guitars, often the less-expensive ones, do not--they are sold with a very high action and poor calibration for intonation. The good news is that most guitars, expensive or inexpensive, can be adjusted for optimal action by a skilled technician.

You may want to use a heavier or lighter gauge of string than the one that came with the guitar, and if so, this will require a new setup. Furthermore, it depends on your playing style. Do you mostly strum chords with a pick? Do you play fingerstyle? Based on the answers to these questions, a technician can calibrate your guitar for the best action.

Finally, the subtle amount of "bow" in the neck may change over time based on the guitar's exposure to seasonal changes in humidity and temperature, and this will change the action and intonation and in extreme cases may make some of the fret positions on the guitar not sound correctly (buzzes or "dead spots"). If this happens, a technician may be able to correct the problem by adjusting the truss rod and calibrating other factors as appropriate.

A good setup requires taking into account a complex set of conditions, and a well-trained technician has the tools to fix this based on precise measurements and guidelines.

  • I don't agree "the aim of a setup is necessarily to calibrate many parts of the guitar to lower the action to the lowest possible degree" - some players prefer a high action. E.g., hard hitters who play at loud volumes without amps. And some guitars suffer intonation problems if the action is too low.
    – wim
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 0:30
  • Well perhaps I didn't put it correctly. I tried to make the point that how the action needs to be set depends on the needs of the player, implying that some players need higher action than others.
    – user1044
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 2:33
  • I use a rather unusual custom tuning and playing style. If I take my guitar for a setup, what would be the best way of ensuring that it ends up being compatible with the way I play? I'd hate to end up with an action so low that it's hard to play without it buzzing all the time.
    – supercat
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 18:07
  • Find a good technician and have a talk with him about your playing style. Do you fingerpick lightly? Do you strum hard? Do you bend strings a lot when you solo? (if you bend strings a lot, you'll need a higher action). The purpose is to enable the guitar to be easy to play AND well-intonated AND with no buzzing. All these subtle little adjustments can add up to a big difference in playability. You will need to provide the technician with another brand-new set of the string gauges you want. He will throw your existing strings away and start with a new set. They always do this.
    – user1044
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 18:14

I believe it also is possible that bridge pins located too close to a saddle, not allowing for a significant enough angle or distance to the saddle can increase string pressure, making the guitar harder to play even when set up well with relatively low action. My first guitar I made several years ago is a Martin knockoff with exactly that issue, and has been difficult to play in spite of action adjustments (and there have been several-saddle shims in and out, truss rod adjustments, etc.). I will likely install a new bridge that has more distance between the pins, may also rout a cavity to enhance the angle. Also, a guitar that requires too much truss rod adjustment can develop a "tight" string issue. Typically, you don't want more than one complete revolution from neutral of the truss rod nut. If you need more, the guitar has other issues, like soundboard dryness, etc.

  • Really can't understand how the angle of the string between saddle and pin - and some with tailpieces - makes a guitar easier or harder to play. Height of strings at the saddles, yes, affecting action. Truss rod adjustment - move it as much or little as necessary. Hardly going to affect string tension, though.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 7:53

It is true that you needn't press the string all the way to the fretboard to get a good tone when the frets are high. However, it might be difficult for many players to work in this narrow framework, while it is also difficult to slide the finger along the fretboard. In addition, I find that in many cases I need to anchor one finger on the fretboard to achieve a stretch of the hand in order to play another fret.


Some are easy to press because if u look closely, check out how close the strings are to the neck,,,I learned that way, when they are closer they're easy to play, but when u look and strings are farther above the neck,,whew that makes it hard. That is the reason I couldn't learn to play sooner

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