String buzz even with high neck relief and action

Freeman Keller

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Hi everyone,

I'm trying to set up my partscaster Tele (MJT body, Warmoth neck, 10-16" compound radius). The problem is that the low E buzzes too much when fretted (no buzz when strummed open). Even when I use a softer attack I still get buzz. The A also has a bit of buzz when fretted but it's an amount I can live with.

Initially there was not much neck relief, so I've gradually added relief and raised the saddles in an attempt to reduce the buzz. Now the neck relief and action are pretty high and still there's buzz. I'm not sure where to go from here. Here are the specs I'm measuring.
  • Relief - 0.018" (measured by capo-ing the first fret, fretting the 21st fret, and using the biggest feeler gauge at the 8th fret that doesn't nudge the low E string)
  • Action on low E - 8/64ths (measured at 17th fret)
  • Action on high E - 5/64ths (measure at 17th fret)
My numbers seem high compared to Fender's suggested baseline specs. I understand that every player is different and that it's okay not to follow these baseline specs, but isn't 0.018" relief and 8/64ths on the low E pretty dang high, plus the fact that it still buzzes a lot? I guess I could be playing with an incredibly hard attack but I really don't think that's the case.

Any thoughts?

Thanks,
Jason


Jason, I just reread your first post and noticed that you used a Warmoth neck. Did you happen to level and dress the frets before you did anything else? In an interview in American Lutherie magazine Ken Warmoth said they expect users of their necks to touch up the frets but he admits that most don't. That is a little trickier with a compound radius board but still should be done.

It is also worth while doing the "next fret clearance" test before you go any farther. That can tell you a lot about relief and action and several other potential problems.
 

Beebe

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Are you sure it's the frets? Sometimes it's hard to tell exactly where a buzz is coming from.
 

telemnemonics

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Every pro has a bad day/week/year/whatever sometimes. The good ones will back up their work and make it right. Give him a call and see what he says. If you go see him or someone else, bring the guitar that plays right.

I just recently worked on a guitar that had some fret buzzing issues that I thought I'd straightened out, but I missed that a couple of frets were coming unseated. I had to go back and redo my work after repairing that issue. (Fortunately, the customer hadn't picked it up yet.)
In fairness to the tech though, after the tech did the setup the customer increased relief to .018 and raised the action further so the techs setup was arguably ruined by the customer. Then bringing it back and telling the tech "you screwed it up again" is like finishing dinner then telling the waiter you want your money back.
OTOH the tech had already cut the nut slots too deep and the customer had to go back to get them filled.
On the third hand, the customer/ OP keeps giving partial info here, and requesting explanations, so we know that we don't really know.

I think it's fishy that @fushifushi can't say what frets the low E buzzes at and also can't say if three strings were sitaring or four strings were sitaring?
Maybe I'm nit picking?
But you MUST determine exactly what is happening- before you fix it!
Here like is so common we have a hobbyist struggling to understand the geometry via turning screws and plucking strings.
Please hobby techs! Tell us EXACTLY where it hurts!

This is the hobby assembler community today!
Not only are more and more players trying their hand at turning screws without first understanding why they would tighten or loosen which screws, but then when they ask for help they don't know what info is essential, and further, they don't know which advice to take when "we" tell them what we think they should do!

I don't mean this as an attack on the OP, it's how the hobby assembly thing is playing out, and it's my own frustration with thread after thread where we read a request for tech help that omits more critical info than it includes.
And again, the collective WE will answer multiple times based on guessing, because many of "we" are also hobby techs who recall a neck shim fixed something.

Sorry to rant and whine!
 

Boreas

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I'm definitely from the rock/blues tradition, so my technique probably does generate more buzz. But like I've said, even at a soft attack the buzz is happening on the low E. Here's another point of reference. I had been playing my friend's Tele for the past few months until my partscaster was ready. Our Teles are very similar, except that his Tele doesn't have the same action and buzzing problems as mine.


This video looks great. I'll try out his method. Thanks for sharing it!


The tech called me to say all he thought it needed was a nut filing and set up. I said go for it. Then he called to say it was done.


I had been playing my friend's similar Tele for the past few months without these buzzing issues.


I'm going to hold my tongue here, but I did feel like this was amateur hour. Surprising because the guy has been a reputable tech in the area for a couple decades and two of my musician friends independently and enthusiastically recommended him to me for this project. This was supposed to be me taking it to a true pro and having him set this thing up beautifully, but I don't think I conveyed that to his shop well enough. In the end, this felt like yet another mediocre production line set up job. There is another proper luthier that I've gone to before who can probably do what I need. I didn't go to him for this project because 1) he's twice as expensive as any other techs and 2) my friends spoke glowingly of this other guy. Lesson learned.

But who knows? I'm still going to flatten the neck out and start again. Maybe I and my tinkering are more the source of the problem than the tech.
Some techs farm out the easier stuff to others - like a new hire or apprentice. But that should certainly be stated up front.

Again, make sure it isn't twisted.
 

Boreas

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Jason, I just reread your first post and noticed that you used a Warmoth neck. Did you happen to level and dress the frets before you did anything else? In an interview in American Lutherie magazine Ken Warmoth said they expect users of their necks to touch up the frets but he admits that most don't. That is a little trickier with a compound radius board but still should be done.

It is also worth while doing the "next fret clearance" test before you go any farther. That can tell you a lot about relief and action and several other potential problems.
Jeesh - I didn't notice this point. Even perfectly leveled frets on a new neck will start popping in dry weather. May have even popped sitting in the shop waiting to be picked up.
 

Freeman Keller

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Sorry to rant and whine!

Don't be sorry.

I have one cardinal rule in my shop - the first thing I do with ANY guitar is to measure EVERYTHING and write it down before I touch ANYTHING. I know (approximately) what each of these measurements should be and I know which ones affect others.

I'll add that I turn down work frequently and for a variety of reasons, but when I choose to do it I do it right.
 

fushifushi

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In fairness to the tech though, after the tech did the setup the customer increased relief to .018 and raised the action further so the techs setup was arguably ruined by the customer.
That's totally fair. I have indeed interfered with the tech's setup, and I admit I have probably caused everything to get worse. But the reason I interfered with the setup in the first place is that I couldn't tolerate the buzzing on the E and A strings. Maybe I shouldn't have touched anything and just called the tech back up.

I think it's fishy that @fushifushi can't say what frets the low E buzzes at
You asked me which frets are buzzing only 90 minutes ago. I haven't had time yet to respond to your question and I'm not near my guitar right now. :) I plan to check on which frets buzz when I'm back home. It seemed like most of the frets were buzzing but I want to be accurate. I appreciate your thoroughness and am here to learn. I'm not withholding information intentionally. I just don't know what's important.

also can't say if three strings were sitaring or four strings were sitaring
I had found three strings sitar-ing. The D, G, and B. But then the tech mentioned to me that he heard sitar-ing on the high E as well so filled that slot in, too. I personally didn't notice the sitar-ing on the high E.

when they ask for help they don't know what info is essential, and further, they don't know which advice to take when "we" tell them what we think they should do!
Very true. While I really appreciate hearing all of your knowledge and suggestions, even within this thread I've heard a multitude of possible diagnoses and suggestions for next steps. That's not a complaint at all. Just means I still need to decide which information to follow and which information not to follow, and I don't have a good basis for making that choice because my own ignorance got me here in the first place!

In any case, I value what you say, telemnemonics. I've read countless threads on TDPRI over the past six months as I've worked on this Tele project, and I've always paid particular attention to your posts.

Jason
 

Boreas

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That's totally fair. I have indeed interfered with the tech's setup, and I admit I have probably caused everything to get worse. But the reason I interfered with the setup in the first place is that I couldn't tolerate the buzzing on the E and A strings. Maybe I shouldn't have touched anything and just called the tech back up.


You asked me which frets are buzzing only 90 minutes ago. I haven't had time yet to respond to your question and I'm not near my guitar right now. :) I plan to check on which frets buzz when I'm back home. It seemed like most of the frets were buzzing but I want to be accurate. I appreciate your thoroughness and am here to learn. I'm not withholding information intentionally. I just don't know what's important.


I had found three strings sitar-ing. The D, G, and B. But then the tech mentioned to me that he heard sitar-ing on the high E as well so filled that slot in, too. I personally didn't notice the sitar-ing on the high E.


Very true. While I really appreciate hearing all of your knowledge and suggestions, even within this thread I've heard a multitude of possible diagnoses and suggestions for next steps. That's not a complaint at all. Just means I still need to decide which information to follow and which information not to follow, and I don't have a good basis for making that choice because my own ignorance got me here in the first place!

In any case, I value what you say, telemnemonics. I've read countless threads on TDPRI over the past six months as I've worked on this Tele project, and I've always paid particular attention to your posts.

Jason
I would say your next move is to either find or fabricate a fret rocker and see what is going on with the frets. Often a good credit card will find a particularly bad fret. It is very common for frets to lift on a new neck - especially if it is dry in your house. I don't know if Warmoth glues their frets or not, but I suspect your next move will be setting frets and a level/crown/polish.
 

Freeman Keller

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You never set neck relief as a reaction to buzzing.
You set neck relief when the neck doesn't have the proper relief.
It's not a buzz adjustment.
Anybody who says, "You have buzzing? Try backing off your truss rod 1/4 turn," is completely clueless.

The ones I love are the folks who say "my action is a little high, I'll adjust the truss rod" and then they hold the guitar up, squint and look down the neck and do their magic.
 

Sea Devil

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Looking down a guitar's neck tells you very little. You can definitely spot a twist that way, but not much else.
 

KokoTele

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I agree that most people can’t tell anything by sighting down a neck, but a practiced eye can.

I can tell if there’s an even bow or if it’s uneven, if there’s a hump where the body meets the neck, if there are frets that are unseating or otherwise excessively high…

It’s not a precise test, but it’s often a good first look for me to focus my investigation.
 

fushifushi

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Fretted at what fret?
You say the low E buzzes when fretted; where though, everywhere?
I get buzzing on the 1st through 14th frets (actually a little less buzz on the 2nd fret but still some) and then the buzz dies down above that.

Thanks Koko, here is that illustration

Neckprofile.JPG
Thanks very much! That overview is very helpful. I will refer back to this.

Did you happen to level and dress the frets before you did anything else?
Nope, I didn't do anything to the frets though I was anticipating the frets would need attention. I was prepared to pay a tech to do this if necessary.

Even perfectly leveled frets on a new neck will start popping in dry weather.
It's insanely dry in Minnesota and in my house right now.

Thanks everyone for your comments. It's been very informative. My Next steps will be getting the neck flat again and examining the frets.
 

telemnemonics

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Very very odd for all frets from 1st to 14th to buzz with big relief and high action.
Not odd on the upper frets but odd on say 1-8.
If the 8th fret is the bottom of the relief then pulling the string down into the bottom of that hollow it makes sense for the string to get too close to the frets above.
Is it every single fret from 1-8 that buzzes?
Or random frets buzz over the whole length, indicating certain frets are high?
For example does the E string buzz against the fourth fret when you fret the third, but move up and fret the fourth and it DOESN'T buzz on the fifth?
That would mean the fourth fret is high.
Etc.
 

Boreas

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Very very odd for all frets from 1st to 14th to buzz with big relief and high action.
Not odd on the upper frets but odd on say 1-8.
If the 8th fret is the bottom of the relief then pulling the string down into the bottom of that hollow it makes sense for the string to get too close to the frets above.
Is it every single fret from 1-8 that buzzes?
Or random frets buzz over the whole length, indicating certain frets are high?
For example does the E string buzz against the fourth fret when you fret the third, but move up and fret the fourth and it DOESN'T buzz on the fifth?
That would mean the fourth fret is high.
Etc.
True, but that is assuming you have one high fret. He could have several if his neck is all dried out and it was never leveled to begin with. And high at different spots on different frets. He has a sick neck.
 

Boreas

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I get buzzing on the 1st through 14th frets (actually a little less buzz on the 2nd fret but still some) and then the buzz dies down above that.


Thanks very much! That overview is very helpful. I will refer back to this.


Nope, I didn't do anything to the frets though I was anticipating the frets would need attention. I was prepared to pay a tech to do this if necessary.


It's insanely dry in Minnesota and in my house right now.

Thanks everyone for your comments. It's been very informative. My Next steps will be getting the neck flat again and examining the frets.
You are going to be chasing your tail if the humidity in the neck is not well controlled. I would halt all work until you can get a room, and the neck stabilized at at least 40% humidity. The wood is shrinking and likely warping/twisting and the fret slots are opening up, likely releasing some frets. Working on an unstable neck can cause more problems than it solves.
 

telemnemonics

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True, but that is assuming you have one high fret. He could have several if his neck is all dried out and it was never leveled to begin with. And high at different spots on different frets. He has a sick neck.
Oh right several frets can be high, but you can't have 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13 and 14 ALL be high!

I'm still uncertain that it's not some other thing like an oddly shaped saddle that's buzzing, if the low E buzzes on the whole damn neck?

I find though that almost every new neck has a few frets high by a couple .001s which is enough to be worth leveling before calling it good.
First step is (as you mentioned) finding exactly what is wrong or here determining which if any frets are high, with a short straight edge.
 

fushifushi

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I'm still uncertain that it's not some other thing like an oddly shaped saddle that's buzzing, if the low E buzzes on the whole damn neck?
I was wondering too if it's a saddle issue. The buzz is problematic across most of the low E string and the buzz is also present on the A although it's not as bad. Both are connected to the same barrel. I've got Gotoh In-Tune Compensated brass saddles.
 




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