Debunking the Myth: Why Truss Rod Adjustment Isn’t the Best Solution for Action Levels on Acoustic Guitars

When it comes to maintaining and adjusting an acoustic guitar, one of the most misunderstood components is the truss rod. Many players believe that adjusting the truss rod is the primary method for lowering or raising the action, but this is a common myth. In reality, the truss rod is designed to control the neck relief—not the action—and misusing it can lead to significant issues. Here, we explore why the truss rod adjustment isn't the best solution for action levels and what you should do instead.

Understanding the Truss Rod

The truss rod is a metal rod that runs inside the neck of the guitar. Its primary purpose is to counteract the tension exerted by the strings, helping to maintain the proper curvature or relief of the neck. Proper neck relief ensures that the strings don’t buzz against the frets and that the guitar plays comfortably.

  • Neck Relief: Refers to the slight forward curvature of the neck to accommodate the natural vibration arc of the strings.
  • Action: The height of the strings above the fretboard, affecting playability and ease of playing.

The Myth: Truss Rod Adjustments for Action

Many guitarists mistakenly believe that the truss rod is a go-to adjustment for altering the action height. While adjusting the truss rod does affect the action to some extent, it’s not intended for this purpose and should not be used as the primary method for changing action levels.

  • Small Adjustments: Truss rod tweaks can slightly alter the action, but these changes are minimal and primarily a byproduct of adjusting neck relief.
  • Potential Problems: Over-adjusting the truss rod can lead to neck damage, fret buzz, and an uncomfortable playing experience.

The Reality: Proper Methods for Adjusting Action

If you’re looking to adjust the action on your acoustic guitar, there are more effective and appropriate methods to achieve the desired string height. Here’s what you should focus on instead:

1. Adjusting the Saddle Height

The saddle is a critical component in determining action height. It’s located in the bridge and supports the strings.

  • Lowering Action: Sand the bottom of the saddle to reduce its height, lowering the strings.
  • Raising Action: Use shims (thin pieces of material) under the saddle to raise its height.

Note: Always make small adjustments and check the action frequently to avoid over-sanding or creating an uncomfortable playing experience.

2. Adjusting the Nut Height

The nut, located at the headstock end of the fretboard, plays a significant role in action height, especially at the lower frets.

  • Lowering Action: Carefully file the nut slots to deepen them, which lowers the string height.
  • Raising Action: If the nut slots are too deep, you may need to replace the nut or add material to the slots.

Note: Nut adjustments require precision and are best performed by someone with experience or a professional luthier.

3. Fret Leveling and Dressing

Uneven frets can cause buzzing and inconsistent action across the fretboard.

  • Fret Leveling: This involves leveling all the frets to ensure they are the same height.
  • Fret Dressing: Polishing and rounding the fret edges for smooth playability.

Note: Fretwork is a delicate process and often best left to professionals.


Adjusting the truss rod to change the action level of your acoustic guitar is a common misconception that can lead to more harm than good. The truss rod’s primary function is to control neck relief, not action height. For proper action adjustments, focus on modifying the saddle, nut, frets, and potentially shimming the neck. Understanding and utilizing these techniques will help you achieve a comfortable and buzz-free playing experience without compromising your guitar’s structural integrity. When in doubt, consulting a professional luthier is always a wise decision to ensure your instrument remains in top condition.


Alvin Carey

I have been playing guitar for over 45 years and I am an average player but I have seen many guitars ruined by players taking the truss rod down every time they hear a buzz. I can count my young self as one of these. Guitars are mostly wood and many things effect the playability with the temperature and weather conditions being also a major factor to wood. These tips can save you a lot of time and money not to mention that “ Special “ guitar that each musician grabs after all others fail to accomplish your desired sound and performance. I personally keep my guitars in a controlled environment and being from the south Humidity is of major importance for wood and all metal components as well. If you really want to keep your prized guitar in top notch condition, this article is SPOT ON. and advice that should be taken and shared. I have learned the hard way, It is always better to seek out a good luthier and get it done professionally. It could be the difference in a few hours of your hard earned money compared to a few thousand, and the loss of some thing money can’t replace. GREAT ARTICLE!!!


I always have professional luthiers do all of this above mentioned activity to my guitar ms. All other maintenance- I do is cleaning & keeping the guitars clean & in tune. I don’t even change my own strings anymore:: it’s safer for the guitar & me (!) to allow the professionals to do it. And at the same time they may notice issues that I am not trained to notice… and then those issues can be addressed right then & there.

Brian Lock

Great article. I had no idea this was true. Thank you.

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