5 Best Low-Action Electric Guitars

Ever felt the frustration of not matching up to the lightning-fast riffs of legendary guitarists? Despite endless practice sessions spanning months or even years, does that speed still seem just out of reach?

Chances are, the hurdle is not your skill but the height of your guitar strings. In the music realm, we call this the ‘action’.

To play those blazing-fast notes, most pro shredders set their action super low. But what on earth does “low action” mean? Let’s decode this.

What is Action?

The action of a guitar describes the gap between its strings and frets. Essentially, the shorter this gap, the lower the action, and vice-versa. Typically, an action ranging from 1.5 to 2mm is seen as low.

What Determines the Action on Your Guitar?

Several elements influence your guitar’s action height: the frets, neck, nut, and bridge.

  1. The Frets: For that desired low action, your frets must be impeccably level. This involves shaving the frets and ensuring their rounded shape through a technique known as fret dressing.
  2. The Neck: Your guitar’s neck must be nearly or entirely straight. This is achieved by tweaking the truss rod located inside the neck.
  3. The Nut: The nut’s height dictates the string’s proximity to the frets. To adjust this height, the nut is gradually filed down in a method akin to fret filing.
  4. The Bridge: Once the neck is in position and the nut has been modified, it’s time to tweak the bridge. Typically, this is done by turning screws or fiddling with an Allen Key on both sides of the bridge saddle.

How to Lower Your Action?

To adjust your guitar’s action, follow the aforementioned steps. If you’re unfamiliar with this process, it’s wise to consult a guitar technician or a luthier.

Tip: Acquainting yourself by adjusting the bridge and aligning your neck can be beneficial. This empowers you to swiftly and easily modify your guitar’s action. Numerous contemporary guitars are designed for effortless action adjustment. For instance, guitars with the Floyd Rose tremolo system can have their bridges fine-tuned using an Allen Key.

Why You Would Want a Low-Action

Opting for a low action offers a plethora of advantages. Primarily, it eases playing. The reduced distance the strings must travel means less pressure is needed to touch the frets, ensuring smoother transitions between strings. This lower action facilitates quicker playing – a necessity for genres like metal, fusion, and jazz.

Disadvantages of a Low Action

But, all that glitters is not gold. A too-low action can lead to:

  • Fret Buzz: Occurs when a plucked string touches other frets, generating a buzz.
  • Fretting Out: Where the string, post-plucking, doesn’t resonate, effectively getting muted by the frets.
  • Sustain Issues: Even if you escape fret buzz or fretting out, an overly low action can impact sustain, truncating the duration your notes ring.

While any guitar’s action can be adjusted, some are naturally predisposed to low action, especially those tailored for metal aficionados.

1. Ibanez RG Series

Specifically, the RG Standard is budget-friendly and boasts a floating tremolo for hassle-free action tweaks. Meanwhile, the Prestige range is built for rapid playing, requiring minimal adjustment straight out of its packaging.

Origin & Legacy: Founded in Nagoya, Japan, in 1957, Ibanez has always been at the forefront of providing quality instruments to players around the world. The RG series, short for “Roadstar Guitar”, is perhaps one of the most iconic lines in the realm of rock and metal.

Features:

  • Body: Made primarily of basswood, it has a lightweight profile ideal for stage performances.
  • Neck: A thin and fast Wizard neck allows for rapid movement along the fretboard.
  • Pickups: It comes with proprietary Ibanez pickups, but many models also sport DiMarzios, EMGs, or Seymour Duncans.
  • Tremolo System: Most RGs come equipped with the famous Ibanez Edge tremolo systems which are renowned for their stability and ease of use.

Notable Users: Steve Vai with his signature JEM series, which is derived from the RG series.

2. Jackson Pro Series Soloist-II

The Jackson Pro Series Soloist-II is a contemporary metal maestro. It flaunts a 12” – 16” compound radius coupled with a floating bridge. An ideal match for a low action.

Origin & Legacy: Jackson guitars, established in 1980 in the USA, quickly made a name for itself in the heavy metal community. The Soloist model, introduced in 1984, was their maiden neck-through-body design.

Features:

  • Body: Typically crafted from mahogany or alder, offering a solid base for metal and rock tones.
  • Neck: Maple neck with a compound radius fretboard allows comfortable chording and lightning-fast leads.
  • Pickups: Often equipped with high-output pickups suitable for aggressive tones.
  • Tremolo System: Floyd Rose or Floyd Rose-licensed tremolos are common, ensuring stable tuning even with heavy whammy use.

Notable Users: Phil Collen of Def Leppard and Chris Broderick formerly of Megadeth.

3. ESP LTD EC-1000

The ESP LTD EC-1000, with its 13.7” fretboard radius, might not be the flattest around, but it’s perfect for a low, clear action.

Origin & Legacy: ESP Company, founded in Tokyo in 1975, quickly gained fame for its high-quality custom guitars. The LTD line, introduced in the mid-90s, was aimed to provide more affordable versions of their ESP standard series.

Features:

  • Body: Often crafted from mahogany with a flamed or quilted maple top, it adds visual aesthetics to its tonal warmth.
  • Neck: Mahogany neck with a rosewood or ebony fretboard. The EC-1000 often has a thin “U” profile for faster playing.
  • Pickups: Depending on the model, it’s equipped with EMGs or Seymour Duncans, catering to both vintage and modern tones.
  • Extras: Often comes with locking tuners and Tonepros locking bridge for added tuning stability.

Notable Users: James Hetfield of Metallica and George Lynch of Dokken.

4. Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder

The Sun Valley Super Shredder, as its name suggests, is built for speed. Its 12” – 16” compound neck and floating tremolo system enable ultra-low action gameplay.

Origin & Legacy: Schecter began in 1976 in California, initially as a parts company. They expanded to making high-quality custom guitars and eventually produced models more accessible to the public.

Features:

  • Body: Crafted from mahogany or alder and sometimes with a flamed maple top.
  • Neck: Maple neck with a rosewood fretboard. A thin ‘C’ neck profile ensures ease of playability.
  • Pickups: Features EMGs or Schecter’s proprietary pickups suitable for high-gain scenarios.
  • Tremolo System: Comes with a Floyd Rose Special ‘Hot Rod’ Tremolo, perfect for dive bombs and flutters.

Notable Users: Synyster Gates of Avenged Sevenfold and Zacky Vengeance of Avenged Sevenfold.

5. Fender Special Edition Custom Tele

If metal isn’t up your alley, Fender offers low-action alternatives. The Special Edition Custom Tele, with its flat 15.75” neck radius, promises a shredding experience par excellence.

Origin & Legacy: Fender, founded in 1946 by Leo Fender, is arguably the most iconic guitar brand ever. The Telecaster, introduced in the early ’50s, is one of the first solid-body electric guitars and has been a staple in music ever since.

Features:

  • Body: Typically made from ash or alder, providing a balanced tonality.
  • Neck: Maple neck and fretboard. This particular model likely sports a modern “C” profile for enhanced playability.
  • Pickups: Custom pickups, often provide a blend of vintage warmth and modern clarity.
  • Bridge: Comes with the iconic Telecaster bridge, offering stability and twang in equal measure.

Notable Users: Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Brad Paisley, and many more.

In Conclusion

Each of these guitars holds a significant place in the world of music, offering unique features and tones catering to a wide spectrum of players. Armed with this knowledge, you can set your strings low and truly tap into your potential. Who knows? Maybe soon, you’ll be outplaying the best in the business.