Fender CD-60S V2 Acoustic Guitar Pack
Taylor Academy 10E Dreadnought Acoustic
Yamaha FG800 Folk Acoustic Guitar
Table of Contents
The string action (meaning how high the strings are from the fretboard) on acoustic guitars is a huge factor in deciding which model may be the best for you. Just as with an electric guitar, many players prefer string action that is low, as it usually makes it much easier to play.
I’ve done the research and have come up with, in my opinion, 8 of the best acoustic guitars with low action (around 1/16” on the high E (1.6mm) to 3/32” (2.4mm) for the low E.).
I’ve made my choices based off of a few overall criteria, mostly the manufacturer’s specs along with featuring only respected guitar brands.
One thing to keep in mind – acoustics can be very sensitive to the environment, and that has a big effect on string action. I’d always recommend a full setup by a professional as a first step. That’s true regardless of the model that you may end up buying.
It’s showtime – lights, camera, action!
The 8 Best Acoustic Guitars With Low Action:
Fender CD-60S Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Starter Pack
Starter packs are a great way for a beginner to get everything they may need to start playing without spending a ton of money.
Of course, none of it really matters unless the guitar itself comes to the party. No worries here – the CD-60S is perfectly tailored for a beginner that may not understand how important it is to have a guitar that is very comfortable to play.
The CD-60S follows a trend in entry-level guitars where it features a solid spruce top. Mahogany is used for the back and sides, and the neck is constructed from solid mahogany as well.
Fender really focused on playability with the CD-60S. It comes right out of the box with low string action and an ‘easy to play’ neck profile that features rolled edges on the fretboard.
The pack includes a gig bag, strap, picks, and strings along with a trial subscription to Fender Play. Overall it’s a great package deal that you shouldn’t overlook.
Taylor Academy Series
Most of the guitar brands on my list are well known for high quality guitars. That’s certainly true for Taylor guitars, and the Academy Series is a great low action model which has an an even better price.
Many players yearn to own a Taylor, and it’s hard to see where you’d go wrong with the Academy. The dreadnought shaped body construction features a solid spruce top along with sapele sides and back to produce a warm and rich tone.
Sapele is a good alternative to mahogany, and it’s a bit harder as well. That makes it a good choice for the neck on the Academy, and it’s also topped off with a genuine ebony fretboard with 20 frets.
Low action is a benefit that you’ll experience the minute you pick it up and strum a few chords.
It sounds great all on it’s own, but the Academy doesn’t disappoint when plugged in. You’ll find the Taylor ES-B system here, and while it may not be as ‘top end’ as what’s found on their higher end models, it’s more than functional. One big plus it the built in chromatic tuner – a feature typically not found on most Taylor guitars.
All in all, the Taylor Academy Series is a smooth playing, great sounding guitar that offers a lot of bang for the buck.
Yamaha FG800 Folk Acoustic Guitar
The FG800 from Yamaha is considered an entry-level guitar, and it is a great starting point for beginners. It’s impressive in the fact that it boasts high-end features at a low price point.
Taking a closer look at all that the FG800 has to offer, it’s easy to be a bit surprised by what it has to offer. The dreadnought shaped body has a solid Sitka spruce top while using nato for the back and sides. Strength and stability for the neck is very important on acoustic guitars due to the high string tension, and nato is a great material choice.
There was a time where budget acoustic guitars had extremely poor quality. The string action was incredibly high, and sometimes even a good setup couldn’t correct it.
That’s not the case with the FG800. The acid test for string action is being able to play full barre chords higher up on the neck, and you can pull that off with ease thanks to a low string action setup.
My only complaint with the FG800 is the same as with some other models on the list. While it’s true that they play well and sound pretty good, not having a pickup can be a problem for any player that may want to move to the next level.
Ibanez AE245JR Acoustic Electric Guitar
There’s no doubt that acoustic guitars can be considered works of art. The Ibanez AE245JR has all of the hallmarks of a comfortable to play guitar while having visual appointments that set it apart from others in the pack.
Starting off, the AE245JR features a solid okoume top, and it uses okoume for the sides and back as well. Okoume is a suitable option in place of mahogany, and it is typically lighter weight and has a similar tonal profile. The finish is rich and dark, and it features an open pore finish to let it really resonate.
Nyatoh (another mahogany alternative) is used for the neck, and the fretboard goes even more exotic. It’s made out of katalox (a rosewood substitute), and here may be the most visually striking aspect of the AE254JR.
You won’t find the typical dot inlays here. An attractive ‘wooden vine’ inlay design adds a touch of class that you may not find on other guitars.
Playability is also the name of the game, with a low string action that makes fretting those pesky barre chords comfortable and easy.
The undersaddle pickup and preamp setup gets the job done, but it does have limited flexibility. The only control is a mute switch. There are no volume or EQ controls, and it would have been nice to have a tuner included.
Martin DJr-10 acoustic guitar
Martin is yet another iconic brand when it comes to quality made guitars. With the DJr-10, they have produced a short scale guitar that delivers great results in the feature department.
The DJr-10 is considered a ‘junior’ sized dreadnought, which makes it a great choice for players with smaller body proportions. It offers a choice of a solid Sitka spruce or sapele top, along with using sapele for both the back and the sides.
The hardwood neck has a ‘high performance taper’ design that adds even more comfort to the already low string action.
One particularly unique feature is the Plek setup for the fretboard. Plek is a computer based process where the frets are measured and leveled to a high level of quality and precision. This enhances the playability even further, as the process gives pretty much the same results as having a trained luthier perform a proper fret job.
The DJr-10 looks, plays, and sounds great, but there are some drawbacks. The biggest one in my opinion is that there is no pickup/preamp system. It’s a shame that a guitar this good doesn’t come stock with a way to plug in. That can be very important when playing in a live setting.
Taylor 114e Acoustic Electric Guitar
Taylor has landed another spot on my list with the 114e. Here you’ll find an almost perfect combination of legendary tone and quality, all in a silky playing full size guitar that is among the least expensive models that Taylor have to offer.
While Taylor does create literal works of art that cost thousands of dollars, you really shouldn’t discount all that the 114e delivers just because of its relatively lower price tag. The Grand Auditorium shaped body features a solid Sitka spruce top with layered walnut being used for the back and sides.
The neck on the 114e has a slightly smaller nut width than other Taylor guitars in higher price brackets.
Add that to the low string action and comfortable Taylor neck profile, and you have a guitar that may play just as smooth as other models that cost substantially more.
A bonus on the 114e is the Taylor ES-2 system. Most acoustics use a piezo transducer under the bridge saddle. They can be known for sounding bright and almost harsh. With the ES-2, Taylor has placed the piezo elements behind the bridge instead of under it. This allows the pickup to more accurately amplify the natural sound of the guitar.
Alvarez Artist Series AD60 Dreadnought Guitar
The AD60 has a visual appeal and playability level that can make you easily forget that it’s a lower priced beginner’s model.
The body is constructed with a solid Sitka spruce top along with a mahogany back and sides. Mahogany is also used for the neck, and it has a true rosewood fingerboard as well. Those tonewood choices are found on many guitars that usually command several times the price of the AD60.
The string action right out of the gate is lower than many other guitars on the market, and it can be refined even further with a quick trip to a professional for a full setup.
One feature that does make the AD60 pale somewhat in comparison to other beginner’s guitars – there is no pickup installed. For some players just starting out that may not be that big of a deal, but there’s no denying that having a pickup/preamp system makes playing live and recording a whole lot easier.
Washburn Harvest D7S
Budget model guitars certainly aren’t what they used to be. The methods used by most guitar manufacturers these days can produce higher quality levels that used to be unheard of at the extreme low end of the market.
The Washburn Harvest D7S is a perfect testament to that, as it is a great blend of quality and pricing that would please many budding guitarists.
First off, it’s amazing that you’ll find a solid spruce top (along with mahogany sides and back) in a guitar that is this inexpensive. The neck is equally as impressive with a mahogany construction and a 2 way truss rod design.
Yes, the D7S is very inexpensive, but I really hesitate to use the word ‘cheap’. The quality level of the build, the materials selection, and the ease of playing (thanks to the low action) is simply hard to beat. That’s especially true when you take a look at other models and realize what a good deal the D7S really is.
I do have to point out a theme that seems to go with many of these models, however. There isn’t any way to plug the D7S in. I personally find that limiting, and it keeps a great guitar from being the tool that a player uses when they advance to the next level.
What is a low action on an acoustic guitar?
What may be considered ‘ideal’ for string action may be different depending on the guitar brand. Let’s just take a look at what some common guidelines are for string action height. One thing to point out – the measurements are taken from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the string.
A good guideline for ‘typical’ string action is 5/64” (2.0mm) for the high (thin) E string, and 7/64” (2.8mm) for the low (thick) E.
Why the difference?
The thicker string will need more room to properly vibrate, so having a little more will help to avoid any issues.
Settings for ‘low’ action are usually around 1/16” on the high E (1.6mm) to 3/32” (2.4mm) for the low E. Doesn’t sound like all that much, does it? It really isn’t, but you may be amazed as to how much difference you can actually feel with just that slight change in action height.
Can the action on an acoustic guitar be lowered?
Adjusting the action on an acoustic guitar can be more difficult than on an electric. That’s mostly because of the differences in how the two guitar types are designed and made.
Electric guitars usually have bridge assemblies with all kinds of action adjustments. More often than not these changes can be made pretty fast, using simple tools such as an allen wrench. You’ll typically be able to adjust the string height for each string individually.
Sometimes the steps you may need to take to get your action just right may be a lot more involved that just turning a screw, and you can actually do some major damage. Personally, I would leave a task like this to an expert. That’s especially true if you bought a guitar at the higher end of the scale.
How do you adjust the action on an acoustic guitar?
Keeping my recommendation in mind, there’s nothing wrong with having a good understanding of the steps needed to get the action on your guitar where you’d like it to be. And, while the guitars on my list are intended to set up with low action right off the rack, a little tweaking may be needed to get things exactly where you would like them.
Let’s take a very brief and basic look at the three main areas where adjustments can be made to lower your action.
Firstly, Adjusting the Neck
One term you’ll hear a lot when talking about guitar action and setups is ‘neck relief’. That is basically the amount of bowing that the neck has when all of the strings are properly tuned to pitch. Acoustic strings are usually thicker than the ones you’ll find on an electric, so it’s safe to say that there is a good amount of tension on the neck at all times.
A properly set up neck will have a very minor amount of relief to it. Too much, and the string action will always feel high regardless of the other adjustments you make. Too little, and you may have problems with the strings fretting out or buzzing.
To adjust neck relief, most modern guitars come with what is called a ‘truss rod’. It’s basically a steel rod that is embedded inside the neck, which helps to keep the neck strong and straight when all of the string tension is applied. Small adjustments to the truss rod will get your neck relief adjusted to the sweet spot for the lower action you’re looking for.
Secondly, Let's look at the Nut
The second point to look for when adjusting your action is the nut on your guitar. This one is VERY tricky to adjust, and one that is certainly best left to an expert. Adjustments to the nut are done in one of two ways – either take it out and remove material off the entire bottom, or get a set of nut files and carefully file down the individual string slots.
Kids, don’t try this at home. 🙂
Lastly, Adjusting the Bridge End
The last area to look at regarding string action is the bridge saddle itself. This is usually a single piece of material that sits in a slot on the bridge assembly that is glued to the top of the sound board.
As with the nut, there aren’t a lot of quick fixes here. To lower the action at the bridge, careful removal of material on the bottom of the saddle is really the only way. Not for the faint of heart by any means.
Can the action on an acoustic guitar be set too low?
Absolutely it can. And when the string height is too low, you may find yourself running into some problems which you most certainly will want to avoid.
Fret buzz can be extremely annoying, and it’s usually caused by the string action being so low that they don’t have enough room to vibrate as they should. You’ll be able to hear it on all of the strings, but it may be more obvious on the bass strings.
Buzzing is one thing, but it can get even worse. If your string action is too low then you may find yourself fretting out altogether. That’s where the string will hit the frets so much that the note won’t be able to ring out at all. I’ve seen some cases where it’s so bad that you can play three of four notes in a row and all of them don’t make a sound.
Other Guitar Brands To Consider (and Who To Avoid) When It Comes To Low Action
Truthfully, a lot of guitar brands are putting in a lot of effort into ensuring every model is easy to play. After all, no one wants to play an acoustic which is hard to handle, it would also get bad reviews and possibly hurt sales. That said, here are a few additional guitar brands worth checking out:
Action aside, the overall way the guitar feels can play an important role. Ovation have a lot of models which feature a rounded back, and it’s a bit like marmite – either you love it or you hate it. With a decent set of light gauge strings, these guitars are really lovely to play (if you don’t mind the shape) and deliver a killer sound.
Check out the Ovation Celebrity Elite Plus model, looks super pretty and gets a lot of great feedback too.
Comparatively speaking, Takamine compete with the likes of Taylor and Martin, and are affordable too. Some of their models are exceptional pieces of art, and their affordable range are very playable. Their approach to fingerboard design is focused on the players perspective, it’s almost certain you’ll find a low action height on just about their entire line up.
If you’re interested in Takamine as a low action acoustic option, check out the Takamine GJ72CE G Series
Gibson and Epiphone
If low action is an important factor to you, Gibson and Epiphone guitars are probably not for you. Looking through various discussions on the web, these guitars perform better on a high action, so even if you have a professional set up to get it as low as possible, it affects how it sounds.
There is no doubt that Gibson makes some legendary guitars, but it’s definitely not the most beginner friendly option.
Many different manufacturers offer acoustic guitars with low action direct from the factory floor. You will notice that there are mostly the ‘big names’ here, with Taylor taking up two spots, and for good reason. Taylor simply do excellent work, and if your budget stretches that far, you’d be making a great investment into an instrument which will last a long time.
It’s important to remember that specifications aren’t the same for each manufacturer. Also keep in mind that acoustic guitars are fragile instruments. The woods used can shift during shipment (and also just from the environment) – having a new guitar set up by a pro is definitely a worthwhile investment.
Right off the shelf, I felt that the Taylor Academy Series was the best right out of the box. The other models on the list put up some tough competition though, with the Martin Djr-10 and the Yamaha FG800 being high on the totem pole as well.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your experiences with acoustic guitars, so feel free to leave some comments below to jump start the conversation.