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Recurring fret leveling problem

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by Peckhammer, Apr 30, 2018.

  1. Peckhammer

    Peckhammer Tele-Holic

    Dec 1, 2014
    My questions relate to Fender guitars, but what has prompted me to ask them are my experiences with several recent fret leveling jobs I've done on Strats. Just because I have not had this experience on telecasters does not mean that it's a Strat thing. It's just luck of the draw.

    On a few fret jobs over the past couple years, and one I am working on now, I've run through all the expected steps. Upon completion. I check with a fret rocker, and everything appears dead level. If fall away was added, that checks out fine too. Neck goes back on the guitar, action is set to it's previous measurements, and the 5th and 6th strings buzz on every fret. Action on those strings is frequently 5/64th. Careful playing minimizes the buzz. No open string buzz. Add relief, very little change. Raise action high enough it will eventually go away, but sometimes it's ridiculously high.

    Any thoughts on what I may be doing or overlooking that is contributing to the problem?
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2018
  2. Steve_U1S

    Steve_U1S Tele-Afflicted Ad Free Member

    Apr 23, 2013
    Toronto, Canada
    Check to see that your crowns are really fully crowned to a peak - as opposed to any residual flatness.
    Check to see what the disposition of the neck itself becomes under string tension; maybe it does some non-linear curvature (like a bit of 'S' shape) under load which isn't apparent when relieved of string tension.
    That makes things trickier to deal with.
    (May seem obvious, but just in case; always check things over with fresh strings.)

    Just a couple of thoughts based on my own experiences to date with the fun world of fret level work.
  3. philosofriend

    philosofriend Tele-Holic

    Oct 28, 2015
    Bad strings can buzz. Worn saddles can buzz, though a sitar sound is more common. Does it really buzz on all the frets? If it buzzes on the last (highest pitch) fret, that proves that your fret job is not at fault. If it is a fret problem, and the buzz is equal at each fret, you would be able to raise the strings a bit and have great low action. Good fretwork = consistent fret noise all the way up and down the string. Bad fretwork= some frets loud and clear while others buzz.

    Whatever tool you are using to level the frets, you should be pulling the tool on paths that follow the string paths. Since the nut is narrower than the bridge, the string paths are not parallel. It takes a practice and fine hand control to do this, but this is the most geometrically correct way to level frets. It gives you the best clear tones when bending strings especially. The smaller the fretboard radius the more important this is.

    The fret rocker is a great tool but you also need to know the long picture while the strings are under tension. You can get the edge of a stainless steel ruler in there. You can use the string itself as a straightedge. Capo it at a low fret, press the string down at a high fret, and measure the relief in the middle.

    Do you have a guitar with great action that you can compare yours to?
    If you keep on being annoyed by this you should have an experienced repairman look at it while you are there to talk to him.
    backporchmusic likes this.
  4. Peckhammer

    Peckhammer Tele-Holic

    Dec 1, 2014
    That should be me...

    > you should be pulling the tool on paths that follow the string paths

    This is a good reminder. Also thanks to Steve_U1S for the tips.

    I did experience this same thing with one of my own guitars, 5th string is always the common offender in these scenarios, sometimes the 6th. Doing a light touch leveling and re-crown cleared everything up. Gotta be something in my approach that surfaces now and again.
    Steve_U1S likes this.
  5. Peckhammer

    Peckhammer Tele-Holic

    Dec 1, 2014
    The guitar I am writing about it not mine, but I took your advice and pulled out my own strat which is not played very often, and was setup by a well known luthier friend of mine. He did not do any fretwork, but set the guitar up when I first bought it. It buzzes quite a bit; worse then the one I am working on. And the action is higher too. 3/32" bass side. It's not a direct comparison since my strat has 09s, the other one has 10s. Fender specs suggest you can run these at 2/32" (measured at the 17th fret) on the bass and treble sides. I rarely find that to be true, but having to raise the bass side over 5/64" on a 9.5 radius neck (mine) or the other guitar with a 12" radius neck is disappointing. Not only that, it does not cure the buzz on either guitar.
  6. old_picker

    old_picker Tele-Afflicted

    I use the parallel to center line leveling technique and never really had a problem with getting low action .045" at the 12th. If the user is an extreme bender a slight ramp down the the last 10 frets [fall away] helps with fret out. Using the method parallel to the string line is also valid if you have a good eye or lay down tape with lines to follow. It may be possible to get closer action using this method but to what end? Many players through here want higher action than .045" at the 12th especially blues players.

    The Fret Rocker is an ideal tool for localised trouble shooting of high frets but is never used here on a fret leveling job. If I am fretting a neck I'll check each one as I go with a rocker to ensure it is bedded in properly. Minor variations are ok and dissapear when leveling at the end of the job.
    zephyrR1 likes this.
  7. sssteeve_a

    sssteeve_a TDPRI Member

    Jun 12, 2016
    When necessary I will ramp the high frets to allow for 4 or 5 fret bends on the plain strings (this with 009s.) After marking the fret tops with a Sharpie I usually add a slight compound radius to the highest frets to keep the plain strings from fretting out when pushed. Looking at the fret tops the Sharpie is gone in the middle of a fan-shaped pattern starting as a point at maybe the 15th fret and spreading to the full fret width at the 22nd. (I guess a picture here would help!)

    As for the 5th and 6th strings I hate it when they buzz so if needed I will do a little extra ramping on them as well, even starting from the 10th fret if that is what it takes.

    I guess my point is that I do "creative ramping" to accommodate the particular needs of the guitar that I am working on (so far about 25 of my own including ones I've bought and returned to GC within 30 or 45 days just for additional practice. I thought I better learn on my own guitars before working on those of paying customers...)

    Steve Ahola

    P.S. The problem described in Post #1 is unusual with the low strings buzzing at all frets. The trick I mentioned is for them buzzing at, say, the 12th fret and up.
    zephyrR1 likes this.
  8. Jupiter

    Jupiter Telefied Silver Supporter

    Jun 22, 2010
    Osaka, Japan
    awasson likes this.
  9. SecretSquirrel

    SecretSquirrel Tele-Afflicted Ad Free Member

    Jul 2, 2015
    Are you certain it's not an issue with the saddles?

    (oops, old thread, but maybe unresolved?)
  10. highwaycat

    highwaycat Tele-Meister

    Jun 15, 2017
    One way to diagnose is if the buzz only goes away if the neck is set straight with no relief, then the leveling wasn't done right. One common reason for this is the neck was too straight in a backbow when leveled. But it can also be because you took too much off the low E side or just need to be careful around there. Don't use any pressure and try to do it gracefully.

    So tighten the truss rod until there is no relief, but not in a backbow, and see if the buzz goes away.
    Peckhammer likes this.
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