Can an acoustic’s action be as low as an electric?

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Can it? The only difference I see is that a typical acoustic has thicker strings, but otherwise a guitar’s a guitar, right? Or not?
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  • Technically yes: pop out the bridge, file it down and fine tune the truss rod (if you have one). However, acoustic and electric guitars are very different things... 
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  • Matt_McGMatt_McG Frets: 64
    Depends how hard you are going to hit it, too, I'd guess.

    I have a super cheap Chinese archtop with an action that's about the same as an average electric, but I hit it a lot harder, so I can make it buzz out slightly if I'm aggressive enough.

    For classical, I'd definitely want the action somewhat higher than the average electric, because some of the right hand techniques displace the strings more vertically.
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  • AlexCAlexC Frets: 1316
    My two electro acoustics have very low action. Probably as low as my LP Standard.
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    I’m not really a strummer, more of a fingerpicker on the acoustic, with plucked chords. I figured I’d use it more if it was easier to play. Or not easier so much as more suited to how I play. 

    Only one way to find out I guess… just wanted to check I wasn’t making a fundamental error before I break out the files. 
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  • Phil_aka_PipPhil_aka_Pip Frets: 8779
    I think that to achieve adequate vibration transfer to the soundtable, the strings on an acoustic need to vibrate with greater amplitude than the strings on an electric guitar do in order to set up the appropriate signal from a magnetic pickup. If that is true then you need more clearance between the string and the frets underneath it on an acoustic, otherwise you will get fret buzz.
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    I think that to achieve adequate vibration transfer to the soundtable, the strings on an acoustic need to vibrate with greater amplitude than the strings on an electric guitar do in order to set up the appropriate signal from a magnetic pickup. If that is true then you need more clearance between the string and the frets underneath it on an acoustic, otherwise you will get fret buzz.
    But surely they’ll only vibrate more if you strike them harder? Maybe the extra power comes from the thicker strings typical on an acoustic (which, being tighter, might also vibrate less)?
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 31545
    Can it? The only difference I see is that a typical acoustic has thicker strings, but otherwise a guitar’s a guitar, right? Or not?
    No, not usually. The reason is that the bridge is also vibrating up and down - by a surprisingly large amount, if you haven't seen slow-motion film of one - so when it's at the lowest point of its travel the strings will be closer to the frets compared to on an electric with the same 'static' action and will hit them. So you need to have the bridge higher by at least half the amount that the top can vibrate by.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    ICBM said:
    Can it? The only difference I see is that a typical acoustic has thicker strings, but otherwise a guitar’s a guitar, right? Or not?
    No, not usually. The reason is that the bridge is also vibrating up and down - by a surprisingly large amount, if you haven't seen slow-motion film of one - so when it's at the lowest point of its travel the strings will be closer to the frets compared to on an electric with the same 'static' action and will hit them. So you need to have the bridge higher by at least half the amount that the top can vibrate by.
    Fantastic answer. And now of course I shall waste my evening watching slo-mo acoustic guitar videos. 
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  • sweepysweepy Frets: 1709
    I would say that my Cats Eye acoustic has a lower action than many electrics with no buzz or annoying overtones although I am a very light player
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  • WolfetoneWolfetone Frets: 970
    Unless your saddle is comically high, I would concentrate on getting the action as good as possible at the nut. It's fairly rare to be playing beyond 7th/8th fret on an acoustic anyway.

    I always get the neck straight and sort the nut out and that normally gives me an action that doesn't rattle. 
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  • richardhomerrichardhomer Frets: 18370
    It’s interesting how little difference in measurements seems like ‘a lot’.

    My electrics generally measure around 1.5mm at the octave on the low E - my acoustic is 2.5mm - but looks at least twice as high as the electrics.

    Its certainly the case that volume is usually significantly compromised when the action is set too low on an acoustic.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 31545

    Its certainly the case that volume is usually significantly compromised when the action is set too low on an acoustic.
    And tone, in my experience. It's because the strings hitting the frets happens much earlier than is audible - it only has to be on the first cycle of the string vibration (where it's hidden by the pick attack, so you don't hear it) to really take a significant amount of energy out of the string.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    I just got the guitar back after an extended “loan” from a friend, and the plastic saddle is all chewed up anyway. I’m going to have to replace it, so I’ll do a bit of nut work at the same time. 
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