Acoustic Guitar Setup for Fingerstyle – Measurements and advice

fingerstyle acoustic setup

Fingerstyle is a classical and very distinct acoustic guitar playing style, which makes use of the five fingers on the right hand (for right-handed players) instead of picks.

As a general rule, acoustic guitar setup for fingerstyle should have string action set to be as low as possible, despite the fact that the strings might buzz a little, Fingerstyle is much more gentle in comparison to strumming with picks, meaning that in fingerstyle the strings’ path is smaller both horizontally and vertically.

Fingerstyle results in a much more “intimate” feeling on the instrument and allows for very subtle nuances when playing.

This results in much more uniqueness to each player, since their playing skills are not only directly related to their ability, but also to the physical properties of their hands.

What is fingerstyle on acoustic guitars?

Let’s start by saying that it’s way more complicated to learn than the traditional playing style we are all used to. With a pick, you only have the option to strum or play single strings at any given time, while fingerstyle allows for hitting strings in intricated and complex patterns:

But does fingerstyle needs a specific setup or a broader, more common setup will work?

Let’s break the topic down so we can understand things a little better

Acoustic guitar setup

Acoustic Guitar Setup for Fingerstyle

Acoustic guitar setup relates directly to string action.

Different musicians have different preferences when it comes to string height, pressure, intonation, and other factors.

To set up an acoustic guitar means to ensure that all of the components (bridge, neck, frets, nut, truss rod, etc…) are working in conjunction to favor musicality, and as intended by the artist’s preferences.

Since acoustic guitars are subject to changes in temperature, stress from tuning/playing, and many other factors, properly setting up your acoustic guitar at least twice a year should be enough to keep it in good shape, and avoid more serious problems.

But these procedures are meant for knowledgeable professionals, and if done wrong will result in an instrument that will be difficult to play, or downright prevent it from sounding the way it should.

Acoustic Guitar Setup for Fingerstyle

Acoustic Guitar Setup for Fingerstyle - String height

Let’s start by saying that you should choose whatever works for you as a musician, and not whatever someone else said it should be like.

However, there are reasons why professional and renowned artists choose to set up their equipment in similar ways.

The string action set up for fingerstyle should be very low, regardless of what guitar technicians say about buzzing.

Of course, the instrument should still sound to its fullest potential, but having the strings set to a low action will make it much easier on the picking hand.

Having a low action setup means that the right hand (for right-handed players) will have easier access to each string, regardless of where in the fretboard the note is played.

Fingerstyle acoustic guitar setup measurements

Since every instrument is different, these measurements should be taken as a starting point. These measurements are intended to work best with a 0.12 string gauge. Lighter gauge strings will also make it easier to play, though they are less durable and tend to break more often.

You will need the correct tools to measure these, and if are able to determine that your instrument needs adjustment, we recommend that you seek a professional luthier to carry on the necessary procedures.

Without a string action gauge ruler and a capo, it’s nearly impossible to find out if your guitar needs adjustment to play fingerstyle.

Having a capo set on the 1st fret:

  • Measure the action on the 13th fret on the low E string – Its height should be about 4/64 inch or about 1.6 milimeters from the fret itself
  • Measure the action on the 13th fret on the high E string – Its height should be about 3/64 inch or about 1.2 millimeters from the fret itself

Having your acoustic guitar set up for fingerstyle using these measurements as a reference should result in a much more comfortable instrument to play.

Just remember that these setups are permanent, and in case you want to switch back to the previous adjustments (to play with a pick without excessive buzz for instance), you’ll need to take it back to the guitar shop to set it up again.

In conclusion – Acoustic Guitar Setup for Fingerstyle

fingerstyle guitar setup

Fingerstyle acoustic guitar players like their setup to be easy on the right hand, or, as some luthiers call it, the “butter setup”, even if it translates to a little buzzing when playing more fiercely.

The correct setup depends on lots of adjustments, from the truss rod to the bridge, nut, frets, and many other intricate procedures. Since these procedures can result in a broken instrument, it is recommended that you take your guitar to a luthier to do it

However, having the right tools, you can measure the action (string height) and determine if your acoustic guitar is close enough to the intended measures to play fingerstyle.

Fingerstyle is a beautiful technique that gave birth to many musical genres, such as bossa nova. But it’s not for beginners.

Having the ability to play using all fingers from the right-hand sets great players apart, and enhances their musicality tremendously.

But setting up a guitar for fingerstyle only has a few disadvantages, so it’s a decision to be made consciously, knowing that it might cost you another setup in case you want to give up.

See also  Is it Cheaper to Build Your Own Guitar? Avoid making mistakes

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *