Is it the frets?

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by jshape, Jan 21, 2018.

  1. jshape

    jshape TDPRI Member

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    I recently caved and bought one of those cheap Chinese knockoff necks for about $35 for a Tele build I'm working on. I figured if it ended up playing nice then it's a steal, and if it was a piece of junk then I'm not out that much.

    So I took the chance, and it actually feels pretty good. It's straight, has a functioning truss rod, and it's chunkier than my other Tele and Strat necks, which i really dig. The finish is pretty good too, except for some reason they painted on a fake skunk stripe, which I don't really see the point of, but whatever - it doesn't effect playability. My only big complaint is that I like pretty low action and as soon as I get anything even close to low I get buzz and fret-outs, especially in higher registers above the 12th fret.

    I would consider myself way more of a tech than a luthier. I've put together many partscasters over the years with pretty good success, a couple which are still in my starting line-up for gigs currently. I can solder pretty well, and I've even messed around with some refinishing and routing modifications. But usually when the files and chisels need to come out, that's when I call on the pros. In this case, just from visual examination the frets appear to be level, and it doesn't make sense to me to pay a tech/luthier potentially several times what I paid for the neck originally just to achieve that low action feeling I desperately crave. That's the reason i learned to solder pickups in the first place - so I wouldn't have to pay a tech a hundred bucks everytime i want to make some tone tweaks.

    It'd probably make more sense to buy another, nicer, neck. However, I like the chunky feeling this one has so much I'd really like to make it work for this build. Which brings me to my main questions:
    1. From my description, does it even sound like unleveled frets are the culprit for the buzz and fret-outs, and the required high action?
    2. If it is the frets, how easy would it be for me to learn how to level frets on this guitar myself? And what are the essential tools for this job?

    Thanks for the help everyone!
     
  2. TeleTucson

    TeleTucson Tele-Afflicted

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    You haven't given us enough info. You've obviously got it on a body, and strung up. Have you done the standard set-up checks? I assume your buzz problem is with fretted notes, otherwise I'd want to look at the nut. Assuming this is really a problem with fretted notes, you need to check relief (modified with truss rod adjustment) and - less obvious - check for neck flaws like "ski jump" above the 17th fret. The first is easy to check by fretting the low E at the first and 15th fret (or so) and then touching down the string at the 8th fret or so, and seeing how much it takes to reach the frets there (should be about 0.010" or less). The latter can be checked by fretting at the 15th and 21st or 22nd, and seeing if there is much noticeable relief between. If so, it may be a problem and you should be able to see it when you sight down the neck from the headstock. This can cause buzzing even with "level" frets, and sometimes comes about from over-tightening the neck in the pocket. But sometimes it's hard to get rid of this, and you need to get the high frets past the 17th filed.

    Then, the next thing is to go along the neck with a few inch long straight edge, and rock it along frets, three at a time, to see if any are high or low. It seems to be your assumption that this is where you may have an issue, but this is easy to check also.

    Cheap does not mean flawed, especially these days. If it is flawed, from the above tests, then it may be the right answer to trash it because the shop work - or your personal time - may be more expensive than it is worth.

    My 2 cents.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2018
  3. Macrogats

    Macrogats Friend of Leo's

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    Interesting question. Unfortunately I can't offer any advise, but you've got me wondering because I buy assorted necks for guitars I've been building. I too like VERY low action, and have recently been experimenting with nut filing, and one particular neck I got has suddenly developed fret buzz at the high end, which I'm wondering could be due to uneven frets. The neck in question is probably the crappiest (and cheapest) I've bought, so I guess I'll take a closer look at the fret situation.

    I get my necks off local importers, so can only imagine they all come from China. Some of them are really very nice, and I've just had a close inspection of one I'm working on/with atm - a very nice Rosewood board and highly lacquered back which I really love - and one or two frets look a little uneven around the 15th to 17th Mark. Much closer inspection required I imagine!

    I'm thinking I'm going to have to invest in the proper fret levelling tools to get these necks in proper working order.

    Anyway - will be interested to see some of the responses you get re this. Good luck.
     
  4. Macrogats

    Macrogats Friend of Leo's

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    Great insight TeleTuscon. Does using a straight edge along the whole fretboard help define problem areas? That is - after you're satisfied with proper nut height and string depth.
     
  5. TeleTucson

    TeleTucson Tele-Afflicted

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    I haven't found it practical to try a straight edge along the whole neck, because in the ideal set-up the neck has a very slight concave bow. You can try to adjust that to perfectly flat by tightening the truss rod, but that's not how it will be when finished so it might not accurately represent the final, adjusted, shape. Finding frets that are low or high is best done by rocking a very short straight edge across three frets at a time - and then thinking carefully about what you find relative to all the adjacent frets.
     
  6. creekrat

    creekrat TDPRI Member

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    I’d say you need to do or have someone do a fret level on it.
     
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  7. Fatstring

    Fatstring TDPRI Member

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    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/...inese-junk-by-franklin-w-dixon/9780448089393/

    Sorry this old book was the first thing that popped to mind. For fret buzz, usually set truss rod tension carefully for optimum relief per spec. Then set action height per spec and raise action if needed to prevent buzz. If the buzz is fairly consistent up and down the neck it may be best you can do. If its localized, may have a high fret to find adjacent.
     
  8. LowThudd

    LowThudd Friend of Leo's

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  9. Macrogats

    Macrogats Friend of Leo's

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    Thanks TT. I'll give that a go.

    Cheers Fatstring. I'll try tweaking the TR once more, reset action height then check as per TT's suggestion above.

    Yes, have been looking at one of these. It may be time to invest in one.
     
  10. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Get the neck straight with a machined straight edge and a truss rod adjustment. Get yourself a dead flat piece of material. Marble or float plate glass come to mind. Stick on some sticky back 220 -320 grit abrasive. Mask the frets off, and use sharpie on the fret tops. Then level the frets until you have hit sharpie on all of them. Having seen videos of how they make those necks, I sincerely doubt anyone leveled them.


    http://www.fretnotguitarrepair.com/repair/acoustic-guitar/fret-leveling.php


    http://www.stewmac.com/How-To/Onlin..._fret_buzz_spot_leveling_and_re-crowning.html

    http://www.guitarrepairbench.com/electric-guitar-repairs/fret_dress.html
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
  11. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    +1 on what Marty said...

    the simple truth is, a neck is only a piece of wood hanging out there to hold the frets and the nut in the correct respective location, and give ya something to mount tuners to, to secure that end of the string... IF the wood is "straight" or functinally "straight" and you like the feel of the neck, and the frets are level, that neck will play as well as any expensive neck.

    the down side of inexpensive necks will be finish.. so you WILL have to roll the edges, address the frets, sand it, for the lacquer, the "headstock shape may be a bit quirky ... and the truss rod may not be of the same quality as those found in more costly necks, but if it works, it works..

    While there are those that will attribute "sonic" qualities to the neck's symbiosis with the body, that is entirely subjective. I would NOT even allow such to enter the mental equation...

    and heres an alternative method of doing the fret leveling and a few other ditties I've done over the years.

    Ron Kirn

    http://www.tdpri.com/forum/tele-technical/201556-fret-leveling-yer-tele-101-a.html

    http://jpbturbo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Tele_template-illustrated-reader-spreads.pdf

    http://jpbturbo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Tele-reader-spreads.pdf

    http://jpbturbo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Setup-reader-spreads.pdf

    http://jpbturbo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Strat-reader-spreads.pdf

    http://jpbturbo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Strat_template-illustrated-reader-spreads.pdf
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
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  12. LowThudd

    LowThudd Friend of Leo's

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    Thanks for posting the PDFs Ron!
     
  13. 10orgtr

    10orgtr Tele-Meister

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    If you like the neck sort it out as per Ron and Marty and you will have learned a new skill set and have a happy neck. I don't think I'm alone when I say you can't get better advice than those two gentlemen provide.
    Cheers,
    Woody
     
  14. TeleTucson

    TeleTucson Tele-Afflicted

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    If you're up for, and needing, a full fret level, crown & polish, the links above are your path to salvation. But first, I'd make sure you really need it by going through a good set-up procedure and a really careful inspection. If it's flawed, then you need to make your own personal call as to whether you want to learn those skills, or go for a better neck where you're more likely to be closer to the mark right out of the box. If you want to learn the skills, a cheap neck is a great place to start. For the experienced pros posting above, it's like falling off a log so it's easy to just go ahead and do it. Others don't even have all the right tools.
     
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  15. awasson

    awasson Poster Extraordinaire

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    @jshape, I’m in the same boat as you so maybe I can share some experience.

    I’ve got a cheap Chinese tele neck that I’m messing about with this week. Mine has a rosewood or walnut inlaid skunk stripe, maple neck, rosewood slab, Modern chunky C, 9.5” radius, medium jumbo frets. I’ve had it for a couple of years but haven’t had any time to do anything with it until just this week.

    After some setup, adjusting and assessing, I concluded that I had at least one high fret at the 16th fret but I didn’t know of any other issues. I figured because it was a cheap neck it definitely needed to be levelled, regardless of the high #16 fret. I’ve read a lot of @guitarbuilder neck and fretting threads and I’ve read a bunch of @Ronkirn guitar setup threads and PDFs but only have only now (this week) attempted to do a fret level, crown, polish myself.

    On Wednesday, I picked up a piece of scrap stone countertop from the local kitchen counter shop, plus a bunch of Metal sand paper and some spray adhesive. Then I made myself a leveling tool. It’s the length of the fretboard + maybe an extra inch. I followed Ron Kirns instructions. As described in the PDF, the weight of the Stone is all that’s needed (plus time and patience) and I found that as well the high fret at the 16th fret, I had a low area on the 10th fret and low areas on the 21st and 22nd frets. It took a while to get the frets level but eventually I got all of the black felt marker sanded off the frets.

    BB54B3C4-C57F-44E5-8388-CF856E5A608F.jpeg

    After my first run at it, I reapplied the marker and ran my leveller tool over the frets again to make sure that it was now easily sanding off the marker and I rotated my tool 180 degrees to make sure that it was consistently flat while I was doing the levelling. It was.

    I was able to level the frets with the neck attached to the body but the crowning tool I have required me to remove the neck to get at the high frets. It’s a cheap fret crowning tool I bought from Amazon and I am certain I can and will get a better tool but it did cut a consistent crown so it wasn’t a terrible purchase.

    All in all from start to finish including masking, disassembly and reassembly it took about 4 hours and now the neck is pretty good. I can run the action pretty low with very little relief and it’s a fast feeling neck for playing lead now. I’m still working at getting the action as low as I want it (I’m struggling with a little fret sizzling noise when I strum hard) but i know the frets are level now and I no longer fret out when I bend around the 15th on the high e or b strings.

    I highly encourage you to visit a local kitchen countertop shop, pickup up some scrap stone countertop and follow Ron’s instructions. To start with, get a cheap crowning file (get the right size for your frets) and if you have a dremel, get some polishing fittings. It’s not mandatory but you may as well. It’s definitely not as difficult as I thought it would be and it’s made a real improvement.
     
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  16. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    for me, learning the setup, including fret leveling, is to the world of the guitar as learning to parallel park is to driving... ;)

    Ron Kirn
     
  17. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity

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    Or...these days...how to drive a standard transmission.
     
  18. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    Now that's one I can relate to... while my wife has always driven cars with the utilitarian automatic transmissions, I have never had one... my current ride, is 400 + hp with a real genuine 6 speed manual... lovin' it...

    I taught my girls to drive a manual, taught my grand-kids to drive a manual too... Now if I could just get 'em to leave the digital cameras alone an pickup a true manual film based 35mm Nikon... sigh... ahh the good old days.. 1/500 second @ f16 with Tri-X on a bright sunny day.... :cool:

    rk
     
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  19. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity

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    I have this nightmare of clutching my chest and gasping for air...just being able to speak enough to say, "Hospital...get me to the hospital..." and the person with me says, "Sorry dude...can't drive standard."
    My wife is 27 and she can match revs and shift without the clutch!
    BUT...when we recently moved, I unearthed my 35mm SLR and she said, "Wooooah! What's that?" o_O;)
     
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  20. awasson

    awasson Poster Extraordinaire

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    @jshape, something I’d like to add that others can elaborate on is the possibility that the neck might have a bit of bump or “ski jump” between the 13th & 21st frets. I don’t know if all necks do this because of my lack of experience in this realm but I noticed it on the budget neck I mentioned earlier and it resulted in a noticeable buzz that was always there when set to low action. Sort of like playing with a snare drum beside you rattling with every strum.

    I couldn’t see it but I tested for it after I had done a fret level and crown. I set up the guitar with comfortably low action, tuned it up and put a capo on the first fret. Then I fretted the 12th fret and measured the gap on the low E string at the 6th, 7th & 8th ftrets. I had low action and a very small amount of relief and my feeler gauge read about .020mm gap. Then I fretted at the last fret (22nd in this case). The gap had increased to .025mm leading me to believe that the neck must have an upward tilt towards the end frets which was why I was seeing more gap when I fretted up at the 22nd fret and less gap, fretted at the 12th. I used a fret rocker to double check and each triplet of frets were at the same heights, no rocking.

    So I had read about this in a number of Tele tech discussions on fret levelling and I had also read about how to work around the problem with levelling with fall-off or fall-away. Many of the fret board experts don’t find fall-off or fall-away necessary but perhaps these lower quality necks require it, if you want some nice low action. I decided to add it to my neck and the results are impressive.

    I re-taped my fretboard from 13 -to- 22 and marked the fret tops with my black marker. Then I made another fret leveller with a short piece of scrap I had removed from the original scrap when I made the full length leveller. It’s just the right size to span the upper 9 or 10 frets. I’m using 150 grit Emory cloth. I put 2 wraps of green painters tape over the 12th fret and a single wrap of green painters tape over the end of my short fret leveller so that it would glide over the 12th fret and be slightly raised doing so. Then I levelled the frets from 13 -to- 22 allowing the tool to glide over the 12th without abraising it. Obviously fret #13 was the last to be touched and as soon as the black marker was lightly removed, I moved on to crowning and finishing.

    As I mentioned, the results are impressive; to me anyway. I’m no expert so I usually take a day or two to fully dial in relief and height and then I go for intonation. I’m in no rush and it’s kind of a process for me. Anyway, I set a comfortable action with just enough relief so the neck feels right in my hand and when I capo the 1st fret and fret the 12th and 22nd frets, I’m reading .015mm gap with my gauge. It’s way lower than my Strat, which has been my low action axe for some time and it no longer increases at the 22nd fret now so I think it’s a mission accomplished. Most importantly... the snare drum effect has gone for the most part. I can get it if I strum hard so I may need to raise the action just a touch but for most purposes, it plays cleanly now.

    Good luck with your neck. If it’s anything like the one I have, it will respond well to some levelling care and attention.

    Some photos of the fall-away/off process.

    B908EBB0-38DD-46B1-91F1-A7034EA15073.jpeg 81DCD972-AD2F-4041-93A3-5E002A092644.jpeg
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2018
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