Many guitarists are on the search for a guitar that’s easy to play. Playability is super important, particularly when it comes to choosing your first guitar. But what actually makes one guitar easier to play than another?
Here’s a guide to the 4 most important factors when it comes to how easy a guitar is to use. I’ll make sure to go through each factor in detail so you know exactly what to look for when choosing your guitar. So let’s get started!
Factors that Make a Guitar Easy to Play
- Low action
- Light strings
- Different neck shapes
- Different body shapes
A guitar’s action is probably the most important thing when it comes to how easy it is to play. It applies to both acoustic and electric guitars so it’s definitely a key factor to consider, if playability is important to you.
So what is a guitar’s action?
If you’re new to guitars, then the word “action” probably means very little to you. And even some more experienced players still don’t really understand it and why it’s so important.
It’s actually super simple. It just refers to the distance between the top of your frets and your strings. It’s important when it comes to ease of playing because it affects how hard it is to hold a note.
A low action, is when the strings and frets are close together. This means that you don’t have to press down as hard to hold a fret.
But if you’ve got a high action, then you’ll have to press harder which is difficult for newer players who may experience pain or discomfort at first.
It’s important not to have the action too low though, as this increases the risk of fret buzz. And that’s definitely something you should avoid.
How to Measure your Guitar’s Action
Before you make any adjustments to your guitar, it’s a good idea to measure the action first. You can use an action gauge, pr a ruler to do this. Simply rest the ruler on the 12th fret. Keep it in place and then measure the distance between the top of the fret and the bottom of the guitar string. Repeat this process on all your strings.
What Should the Action Be?
On an electric guitar, the action should be around 1.5-1.7 mm on the high E string and 2.3-2.5 mm on the low E string.
On an acoustic guitar the action should be a bit higher. On the high E string it should be around 2 mm and on the low E string around 2.7-2.9 mm.
This is just a guide though. The lower the action, the easier it will be to play. But too low, and you risk hearing fret buzz. The chance of you hearing fret buzzing, also depends on how heavy you play. The more aggressive you play, the higher the chance you’ll experience buzzing.
How to Adjust the Action on a Guitar
It’s worth noting, that unless you’re a well practised and experienced guitar repair expert, then making any adjustments to your guitar is risky and should be avoided. If you’re not 100% confident that you know what you’re doing, then take your guitar to a specialist. They’ll be able to make all the adjustments for you. If you do it yourself when you don’t know what you’re doing, then you could end up completely ruining your guitar.
With that said, here are some things that affect the action of your guitar.
- Truss rod: this refers to the metal bar which runs inside the neck of a guitar. It can be adjusted which causes the neck of your guitar to straighten or bend. A slight bend is normal in a guitar neck.
- Bridge height: this can be lowered or raise to decrease or increase the action respectively.
- Nut height: this refers to the part of your guitar where the headstock and fretboard meet. Each string has a slot in the nut which can be adjusted to lower or raise the action.
Light String Gauge
Next on the list of things that affect how easy a guitar is to play, is the string gauge. This simply refers to how thick your guitar strings are. Thick strings are said to have a heavy gauge, whereas thin strings are said to have a light gauge.
How String Gauge Affects Ease of Playing
It should come as no surprise that thinner strings are easier to play with than thicker strings. They are a lot easier to hold down. So you don’t have to press as hard. This is helpful if your guitar requires a higher action due to fret buzz issues.
What is the Ideal Strings Gauge Be?
Most electric guitar strings have a gauge of around 0.010 and acoustic guitars have a gauge of 0.013. This gauge refers to the top E string. Most guitar strings come as a set, and the top E string gauge is how the gauge of the set is commonly referred to.
Disadvantages of Lighter Strings
Although lighter strings are easier to play with, they do have some disadvantages.
Thicker strings produce a beefier tone, which is considered better by a lot of guitar players. They are also a lot louder than thinner strings, meaning you’ll also get better sustain out of them.
This is because thicker strings contain more energy than thinner strings. As you already know, the sound of a guitar originates from the strings vibrating. With thicker strings, these vibrations take longer to disperse, hence, you’ll get a longer and more sustained note.
If you want to learn more, then head over to our post on the 4 ways that a guitar’s strings affects its tone.
It’ll come as no surprise that the shape of your guitar’s neck is very important when it comes to how easy it is to play. It’ll affect how hard it is to hold and note, and how quickly you can change between notes and chords. There are several things to consider when broadly discussing neck shapes, these include the neck’s profile, depth and width. They all impact how easy your guitar will be to play.
The shape of your guitar’s neck is super important when it comes to determining how easy it is to play. This is also known as the “neck profile”, and it simply refers to the shape of the back of a guitar’s neck.
There are three main neck profiles these are called C, V and U. Now there is no “best neck shape”. It’s all personal preference. It’s a good idea to try each type of neck and see which one you feel most comfortable with. It’ll all depend on your hands, your playing style and the kind of music you often play.
- C Shape: This is the most common neck profile. It’s usually not very deep and has an oval shape that is considered easy to play by most guitarists.
- U Shape: this is a more rounded and deeper version of the C-shape. It’s better for players with larger hands, but those with small hands may struggle with this profile.
- V-Shape: this is the most old-fashioned neck type, found on more vintage guitars generally.
Neck Width and Depth
The width and depth of the neck is a separate issue to the shape. You can have thicker and wider C-shaped profile than others. That’s why neck type isn’t a very clean cut issue.
The depth of the neck refers to the thickness as if you looked down on your guitar’s neck when playing stood up. The width refers to the size of the neck when looking at it if it was laid out flat.
Thinner necks are generally a lot faster, meaning you’ll be able to play quick riffs more easily. Thicker necks are sturdier and more robust. Again, you’ll need to try different widths and depths to see which best suits your hand shape and playing style.
Next up on the list of factors which affect how easy a guitar is to play, is the body shape. This is important for both acoustic and electric guitars, however with electric guitars, there tends to be more variability.
With acoustic guitars, the shape does not vary as much. However, some shapes are easy to play than others. But with electric guitars, there are tonnes of different designs, all which affect their playability.
Most electric guitars have either a single, or double cutaway design. For example, the Les Paul has a single cutaway design, which means that you can access the highest frets only from the underside of the guitar. Double cutaway designs like the Stratocaster allow you to access the top frets from either side of the neck.
So if you often use these top frets, you may find it easier to play with a double cutaway design.
There are of course plenty of other guitar designs, so give a few a go and see which works best for you and your playing style.
The size of your guitar’s body also affects it’s playability. Deep acoustic guitars have a louder sound, but they are also harder to play if you’re not used to them. Especially whilst standing up.
Finally on the list, is the weight of the guitar. There isn’t a huge amount to say about this point, except for the fact that generally the lighter a guitar is, the easier it is to play!
This is more of an issue if you play your guitar stood up and play for a long time at gigs. If you’re using a heavy guitar, your shoulders can start to ache which will affect your playing ability. Even if you’re sat down this can still be a problem though, as the weight will be resting on your leg.
Some guitars are lighter than others, for example the Gibson Les Paul is well-known for being a heavy guitar.
There’s not too much you can do about this if you’ve already purchased your guitar though. Except for purchasing a high quality guitar strap for gigging to make it a bit easier on your shoulders and back!
Are More Expensive Guitars Easier to Play?
Now we’ve gone through the most important factors that determine how easy a guitar is to play, it’s time to visit a very frequently asked question, are more expensive guitars easier to play?
Having read this guide, you’ll understand that the ease of playing, is very subjective and depends on a lot of factors. What’s easy for one person to play, won’t be easier for another. With that said, there is one reason why expensive guitars may be considered easier to play.
Higher end guitars are usually built better. This means that you’re less likely to experience fret buzz, even with a lower action. Hence, this can make it easier to hold a note and puts less pressure on your fingers.
More expensive guitars also generally sound nicer, so it can give you the impression that it’s easier to play. If you want to know more about why this is the case, then head over to our post on the 5 reasons why some guitars sound better than others.
So there you go! Those are the main ways to make your guitar easier to play. I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful: