Thoughts on low vs high action on strats changing with age

Eric1982

Senior Stratmaster
I did that too. In 1999 I bought a Fender SRV signature strat and always strung it up with Ernie Ball Beefy Slinky’s. Man, that guitar was miserable. I finally started using 10s and these days I usually use 9s and even have a set of 8s on one of my guitars. I got an acoustic last week with the factory set 12-54 and it took 5 days of playing it every day for at least an hour for me to get comfortable with it. When those strings wear out I’m definitely getting something lighter on it. As far as action goes I like the board almost flat with maybe just a tiny bit of relief and then I raise the strings just barely above buzz. I play with a light touch so that works for me with action set that way.

Thanks for sharing. Am the same way but instead of Ernie ball power slinky now they are just super slinky. Been having success and great playability with 9s and low action but interestingly enough still kind of a lot of relief in neck.
 

stratblast

Strat-O-Master
Jan 17, 2015
513
OMAHA, NEBRASKA
I’ve thought a lot about this in for a long time , for about 10 years I was part of the “ Let’s develop carpal tunnel in honor of Stevie Ray Vaughan” With heavy strings and high action because that’s where the tone was supposed to be. Plus some people with age start to care a little bit less about shredding and more about dynamics and good tone and melodic slower playing.

Lately something has shifted and I have the action set pretty low on my maple neck player Strat. I’m at risk for psoriatic arthritis and figure let’s just let the amp do the work. My hand muscles are not very strong maybe try to protect what I have.

Just random thoughts
I started playing back in ‘73. My first guitars were pawn shop beauties. With high action. I took every guitar I blew thru in my first 2 years of playing (about 20) to a small guitar shop right after I bought them. I told him to put 08-38 ‘s on them and lower the action as much as he could. For years I played guitars with the strings a hair away from the frets. No sustain. No tone. Sometimes to get the action that low. The frets were filed down to silver slivers. Then in ‘91 I bought a couple Strats. Switched to Fender super bullets 09-42 on them On all other guitars I used GHS Boomers. I stopped taking my guitars to the shop. He died. The shop closed. I moved further away. Occasionally when I buy a new guitar I have them do a first time set up and then I lower the strings a bit. Right to the point where the fret buzz starts. Reset the intonation then I’m set. Playing slide is a bit of a challenge but the rest is good.

I decided a long time ago after a few blisters and wrist aches that playing a guitar set up like Stevie Ray wasn’t worth it.
 

Chaplin

Strat-Talk Member
Sep 29, 2012
44
Dallas, TX
Low action 9s. There are lots of YT vids experimenting with action and string gauges that prove there's a lot of SRV generated myth involved for tone
 

Afishman9

Strat-Talker
Gold Supporting Member
Jul 29, 2013
176
NC
I have never been a fan of very high action. I prefer that the neck be almost straight and the action just above "buzz" level. While I did use 10's on Strats, LP's, Teles, etc. for almost 40 years, that was as slinky as I wanted to get.
But a few years ago D'Addario introduced a 9.5-44 set in their EXL line, and I thouht I would give those a try. They are surprising in the fact that they retain most of the 10's tone, but they play, feel, closer to 10's. Those are what I keep on my Strats now. I'm still playing 10's on my Gibsons and exploring with the Teles.
I have been using Stringjoy 9.5s for the last year. They are 9.5-48 and play and sound great.
 

Glyderslead

Strat-Talker
Jul 19, 2017
190
Outside to the left
Here is my take on this

- Slightly wider board than standard - as on my 1983 Elite Strat's, enables clean chords everywhere without muting or strings popping off the side and enables the old slightly wider spread of strings at the bridge.

-minimal bow in the neck to facilitate low action

- High ish jumbo frets - saves the need to scollop(?) as per Richie Blackmores' guitar and stops nails being removed by high action or fingers slipping under strings.

-Strings used are top light bottom heavy 9 - 46 (9,11.16,26,36,46). These are easier on the old fingers.

-Action with this set up as low as poss without buzz = nice.

So there !!
 

Nashkat

Strat-Talk Member
Mar 9, 2021
34
Philippines
I’ve thought a lot about this in for a long time , for about 10 years I was part of the “ Let’s develop carpal tunnel in honor of Stevie Ray Vaughan” With heavy strings and high action because that’s where the tone was supposed to be. Plus some people with age start to care a little bit less about shredding and more about dynamics and good tone and melodic slower playing.

Lately something has shifted and I have the action set pretty low on my maple neck player Strat. I’m at risk for psoriatic arthritis and figure let’s just let the amp do the work. My hand muscles are not very strong maybe try to protect what I have.

Just random thoughts
Yup agreed, at 67, arthritis has taken a severe toll on my hands, my Strat and Tele both have been resigned to 9-42, my acoustic down to 10-50....... bending just ain't what it used to be, but at least I am still playing after 50 years.
 

Ebidis

Providing the world with flat bends since 1985
Nov 14, 2013
29,186
Alabama
I’ve been some research, some other professional blues players like it high.

Robben Ford - ‘I like the action a little bit high, not super high’

Kenny Wayne shepherd, same thing higher action. Also Philip sayce.

But still I’m enjoying having it really low despite these influences because it’s what I like personally as things have evolved. 😀
Guitar setup/action is a very personal thing. I have never given a flip about, or even given much thought to, how other players like their action. It makes no difference to me, and why should it? I'm not playing Robben, Philip, or Kenny's guitar, and they're not playing mine.

I like low action, and always have since day one, because that is what feels right to me. Playing with high action feels like trying to run in quicksand.

JMO/YMMV
 

Intune

Senior Stratmaster
Jan 14, 2021
4,938
Edmonton, Alberta
Guitar setup/action is a very personal thing. I have never given a flip about, or even given much thought to, how other players like their action. It makes no difference to me, and why should it? I'm not playing Robben, Philip, or Kenny's guitar, and they're not playing mine.

I like low action, and always have since day one, because that is what feels right to me. Playing with high action feels like trying to run in quicksand.

JMO/YMMV

Which I find really odd that people seem to actually care about others personal setup. I was told awhile back that with my action set low I can’t do certain bends or chords, huh? Very personal thing, high, low or in between depends on the player. Maybe it takes a bit of learning to understand this?
 

Eric1982

Senior Stratmaster
Which I find really odd that people seem to actually care about others personal setup. I was told awhile back that with my action set low I can’t do certain bends or chords, huh? Very personal thing, high, low or in between depends on the player. Maybe it takes a bit of learning to understand this?

It’s normal for many guitar players to be maybe interested in some of their heroes gear and setup.

It’s interesting to me that, Robben Ford likes the action a little high, maybe there’s something to learn about tone or dynamics.

At the end of the day I have it low despite all of them cause it’s right for me personally.
 

jd35801

Strat-Talker
Jan 17, 2012
320
Alabama
Yes. They were disproportionately large. He was only 5’5”, but his hands were about right for someone around 6’. Hendrix also had huge hands for his size (5’10”).
And btw, SRV also had the strongest handshake I’ve ever felt. Like a vise. I’ve spoken with several other people who noticed that as well. So no wonder he could manhandle those chicken wire strings!
 

dirocyn

Most Honored Senior Member
Jan 20, 2018
6,801
Murfreesboro, TN
In the early 50s, guitar strings meant 13s. "Guitarist " meant acoustic. 12s came out in 57, 10s by 64. 8s and 9s were introduced in 1970, and 7s are still very new.

Hendrix played 10s. So did everyone else who played rock in the 60s. Clapton, Gilmour. All of them. Some of them changed gauge later, when different stuff became available.

SRV played 12s, and moved to lighter gauges later in life.

BB King was very particular about his string gauge, he played heavy bottom 10s. Which he considered "very light." Billy Gibbons insinuated BB played 8s, but that was never true. Gibbons was launching a string brand at the time, he sells 7s. No telling what he actually plays, he's not one to let facts get in the way of a good story.

I play 12s on acoustic and Jaguar. 10s on Fender scale electric, 11s on LP-scale. Gauge makes a big difference on some guitars. Lighter strings make less bass and less body resonance. And are easier to bend.
Tune your b string up to an e and you'll learn how heavier strings sound and feel on your guitar. Tune your high e down to a b, and you'll learn how lighter strings sound and feel on your guitar. It's quick, easy and free. Some guitars sound a lot better with the right strings.
 

ashtone

Strat-Talk Member
Jun 15, 2014
80
Colorado Springs, Colorado
An ass for every chair…
I don’t like to hear the strings rattle on the frets, and I am a stickler for intonation. In my case, chording and rhythm (strumming) is a bigger factor in action height than soloing is. Playing a staccato funk rhythm on low action sounds floppy to my ears. Low action that rattles on the frets is going to wear the frets and the strings much faster than a higher setting will. And I like clarity, even with distortion. Each of my guitars has a slightly different setup, but none would be thought of as “low” action. I use 10-46 DR Pure Blues at this stage, but I used 13-58 with a wound G in the ‘70’s, and 11-56 with a plain G (.020) in the ‘90’s (on the same guitars).
In the photos the SG has the lowest string height. It also has a shorter scale length than the Fenders. So there’s another factor… AD0CBDCB-D61F-4D03-9630-A8BC59C8E5C6.jpeg 6D202800-B2E0-4424-9306-EC414C8B35D3.jpeg 3572D699-4A2D-4F38-B720-E713085CAA3E.jpeg 16CEC50C-7865-4FB5-90BC-DB7404BD80AC.jpeg
 

ashtone

Strat-Talk Member
Jun 15, 2014
80
Colorado Springs, Colorado
All this talk about “SRV and his thick string/high action” seems to imply that “tone” was the reason for that choice. What my personal experience has shown me is that bigger strings let you play much harder with your picking/strumming hand. That full-stroke Texas Blues rhythm style doesn’t work with light strings. There’s too little resistance to powerful strumming, and the pitch bends when you hit light gauge strings too hard with a pick. The “Big Texas Tone” requires you to strum hard. The real reason for the big strings and high action is the attack. You can really dig into it. A lighter pick and thinner strings just don’t have the same feel as big strings and a medium or heavy pick.
The tonal difference is just a by-product.
 

Maplelover

Strat-Talker
Jul 17, 2016
123
NE Ohio
I’ve thought a lot about this in for a long time , for about 10 years I was part of the “ Let’s develop carpal tunnel in honor of Stevie Ray Vaughan” With heavy strings and high action because that’s where the tone was supposed to be. Plus some people with age start to care a little bit less about shredding and more about dynamics and good tone and melodic slower playing.

Lately something has shifted and I have the action set pretty low on my maple neck player Strat. I’m at risk for psoriatic arthritis and figure let’s just let the amp do the work. My hand muscles are not very strong maybe try to protect what I have.

Just random thoughts
Just caught this. As you said, with age comes a whole different mind set and it certainly tells the hands what's NOT hurting and what is. I've been playing looooooong before SRV came on the scene, and as it was revealed , he was a disciple of Albert King first and foremost.. I'd never fault that !! I love Albert Collins more ..
I used to like my action higher than most , according to my then guitar tech at world renown Lay's Guitar in Akron, OH shop (look it up) especially the B & E strings for slide playing. I was young , and strangled the maple neck to FORCE it to my will !
I'm going to be 72 in November.....flew by fast , but I still love the 4 -5 times a month gigging.
My action is as low as will allow without buzzing on maple and rosewood.. my hands never tire.
Enjoy the stage and lights....there's nothing like it !
 

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Doc538

Strat-Talker
Silver Member
Dec 10, 2017
471
Ma
9's and 10's set as low as possible. I started on an old cheap High String acoustic that could mangle your fingers, then I got my first electric and lowered it down to above buzz, been there ever since. I could care less what anybody else does, this is a personal thing
 

Ronnie Fn D

Senior Stratmaster
Feb 1, 2022
1,414
Valrico FL
I like it schmedium. Not high but not too low because sometimes I get into it and Stardew picking way too hard and if the action is too low it becomes a hotter pile of garbage than normal. I think the "average" or whatever they come from the factory is good.
 

Chief101

Senior Stratmaster
Jan 14, 2012
1,188
Kentucky
I have a relatively touch. I play all of my guitars as low as I can get them without any buzz. I can play a higher setup, but why?
 


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