Carl Verheyen on Action vs. Tone

February 01, 2010
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 As I tried different guitars at the 2010 winter NAMM show, I noticed the age-old guitar maker's set-up dilemma: Low action/easy to play versus higher action/better tone. I've always believed that action height had more to do with your tone than even string gauge. I'm constantly approached by guitarists at my shows that ask, "Are you using .011s on your Strat? The sound is so big!" 

I use a .009 through .046 set, but my action is a lot higher than most. I don't want to hear any fret noise or the ticky-ticky sound of pick and fret noise over the fundamental note. I want to hear the chime and clarity of the guitar when played clean. This makes for a full, fat distortion sound that tracks very fast and supports my "every note counts" philosophy. The only way I can achieve this seems to be with medium action. I found very few guitars set up like this at NAMM—everyone seems to go for the ease of playing setup over tone. Any comments?

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