String buzz even with high neck relief and action

KelvinS1965

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I think that's where you're going wrong. You can't assume a technician is a pro just because they're a technician. You can't just assume everybody is a "pro tech". Many aren't. They just think they are. If you're getting a guitar back that sounds like a sitar on multiple strings, THAT AINT NO Pro. No matter how long they've been doing it or how much they charge. If they can't cut a nut, they probably shouldn't be a technician.
Indeed: I made the mistake of taking a guitar to a local shop that many people recommend (and continue to do so) on a local musician's Facebook page. He made a complete mess of a re-fret, damaged the binding as well and a rubbish job of cutting a new bone nut. Unfortunately I was in a rush when I picked it up and this was just before things started closing down in 2020, so it was too late to do anything about it by the time it really sunk in how bad it was. :( While it was 'only' an Epiphone LP, I'd owned it for years and it was my 30th birthday present. I'd gradually replaced parts as they wore out and apart from the worn frets it was a really nice playing and sounding guitar until he got his hands on it. He knew the sentimental value it had to me as well, but I just think he didn't care, or thought it wasn't worth taking the effort on such a lowly guitar...he still charged me £200 though. o_O

I took it to another guy who had previously re-fretted my much loved 1982 JV Squier Strat and he did a perfect job of it. I really don't know why I didn't take it to him first. Anyway, due to the damaged binding and other issues he had it about 6 months, doing as a 'fill in' job between his other work. I knew this going in and he did the job for his regular price, despite the extra work on the binding, etc and un-doing the damage by the shop. It was worth it: I now have an Epiphone Les Paul that plays as well as my Gibson SG Standard (which is pleked). Shame I've now spent more than the cost of the guitar when new on two re-frets. :oops:

What erks me now is if I see someone asking for recommendations on the musician's FB group I'm on, I'm always quick to recommend the guy who sorted it out for me. However, there will always be a bunch of people recommending the shop that messed it up for me: One (or maybe two posts) against many and you know how people will vote. Of course I can't say 'don't go there he wrecked my LP' so I have to leave it there. I do wonder how many more guitars he has messed up since though, or maybe he just had a really bad day doing mine. Even so you'd have thought he'd realise it was a bad job and put it right...

I do everything other than fret work on my guitars, so maybe it's something I should learn. However, it's not a job that needs doing often and all my guitars play properly now, so probably I should stick with just regular set up and playing them. At least I know somewhere I can take it to get it done properly.
 

fushifushi

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I picked up the guitar from the luthier yesterday. He had installed a new nut, leveled/crowned the frets, and set it up.

The whole point of taking this to the pro and having "the works" done was to get rid of the excessive fret buzz on the low E and A strings. He managed to greatly reduce it. Where the buzz used to be present across almost all the frets even with a light touch, it is now focused on a hot spot around frets 5-7 on both strings. The buzz in this region occurs with a light/medium touch, which is livable but still disappointing. It's clearly audible from the amp. This is after he bumped up the relief from 0.006" to 0.008" and slightly increased the action when I pointed out the buzzing. The other frets on the two low strings will only buzz with a medium/heavy touch, which is definitely acceptable.

I told him that I appreciated the improvements but was disappointed that even after a fret leveling I was still getting hot spots of buzzing. I asked if this is just something one has to accept with some guitars. Here's what he said:

-- The Telecaster design (especially the bridge) ends up accentuating/amplifying every little buzz more than the designs of other guitars. Getting the setup correct on a Tele can be very sensitive.
-- The frets have now been leveled as perfectly as they can be, so there's no further work he can do at this point beyond adjusting the setup.
-- To further reduce this buzzing, we'd have to incrementally increase action until I'm satisfied. He acknowledges that this takes me further away from nice low action, so he says there's a limit to how satisfying this solution is.
-- He suggested I might try 11's for the extra tension. He'd be happy to put those on and set the guitar back up.
-- It's important to him that I'm a satisfied customer, so he suggested I play the guitar at home for a couple days then call him back. I can take it back in so we can continue to tweak the setup together until I'm happy (and possibly put on 11's). If in the end I'm just not satisfied with the result he can credit me back some money.

So that's where I've landed for now. I'll play the guitar for a couple days and see if the buzzing in that hot spot continues to bug me. I'm sure I'm being hyper critical of the frets right now and overly focused on the buzzing. Maybe with time it won't bother me as much. I'm open to trying out the 11's, but I'm less keen on a big increase in the action because the whole goal was to get the buzzing to an acceptable place without high action.
 

northernguitar

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I picked up the guitar from the luthier yesterday. He had installed a new nut, leveled/crowned the frets, and set it up.

The whole point of taking this to the pro and having "the works" done was to get rid of the excessive fret buzz on the low E and A strings. He managed to greatly reduce it. Where the buzz used to be present across almost all the frets even with a light touch, it is now focused on a hot spot around frets 5-7 on both strings. The buzz in this region occurs with a light/medium touch, which is livable but still disappointing. It's clearly audible from the amp. This is after he bumped up the relief from 0.006" to 0.008" and slightly increased the action when I pointed out the buzzing. The other frets on the two low strings will only buzz with a medium/heavy touch, which is definitely acceptable.

I told him that I appreciated the improvements but was disappointed that even after a fret leveling I was still getting hot spots of buzzing. I asked if this is just something one has to accept with some guitars. Here's what he said:

-- The Telecaster design (especially the bridge) ends up accentuating/amplifying every little buzz more than the designs of other guitars. Getting the setup correct on a Tele can be very sensitive.
-- The frets have now been leveled as perfectly as they can be, so there's no further work he can do at this point beyond adjusting the setup.
-- To further reduce this buzzing, we'd have to incrementally increase action until I'm satisfied. He acknowledges that this takes me further away from nice low action, so he says there's a limit to how satisfying this solution is.
-- He suggested I might try 11's for the extra tension. He'd be happy to put those on and set the guitar back up.
-- It's important to him that I'm a satisfied customer, so he suggested I play the guitar at home for a couple days then call him back. I can take it back in so we can continue to tweak the setup together until I'm happy (and possibly put on 11's). If in the end I'm just not satisfied with the result he can credit me back some money.

So that's where I've landed for now. I'll play the guitar for a couple days and see if the buzzing in that hot spot continues to bug me. I'm sure I'm being hyper critical of the frets right now and overly focused on the buzzing. Maybe with time it won't bother me as much. I'm open to trying out the 11's, but I'm less keen on a big increase in the action because the whole goal was to get the buzzing to an acceptable place without high action.
Nevermind.
 

Happy Enchilada

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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.
This right here is why I never use the "traditional" 3-barrel saddles. I prefer the individual ones, and if it's a guitar I'm going to keep forever, the GraphTech version. Not to mention dialing intonation in. But people gonna do what they gonna do ...
 

fushifushi

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I've now played the guitar for a couple days. It mostly plays well, definitely better than before. The A string is the most sensitive. It'll buzz (clearly audible through the amp) around frets 5-7 unless I'm more gentle with my picking. The low E has the same buzzing hot spot but it's not as sensitive as the A string, so I don't need to be as gentle with my picking. I'll admit I might have a heavier touch than others, but the buzzing is acceptable to me in all the rest of the neck except for this hot spot.

Overall, it's livable. It just doesn't feel like the premium guitar I thought it would after having this work done. This guitar has the kind of annoying buzzing that on any other guitar I'd say, "Some day I'll get this fixed by a tech." Except that I just got it back from a pro tech. I could use a reality check at this point.

1) Was it unrealistic of me to expect a fret leveling to bring the buzzing down to consistent and acceptable levels across the frets? For reference, the relief is around 0.008" and the action at the 12th fret is 6/64" on bass and 5.5/64" on treble.

2) Even after a fret leveling, do you sometimes still get hot spots where there's more buzzing than the rest of the neck?

3) Do you have to accept that some guitars come with issues where you have to make compromises? Even on a newly assembled guitar with fresh, high quality parts? For example, if you were in this position, would you just bite the bullet and either live with the buzzing, raise the action, or learn how to play more gently in the hot spots?


Thanks,
Jason
 
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PhredE

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(Been down a similar road in the past..)

I am suspecting frets, fretboard, neck as a main source of the problems.
The fact that they were re-visited in your process tells me they were not in tip-top shape and still may not be completely.

As a check.. Run a fret rocker (anything with a totally flat edge -- even a credit type card will work in a pinch, but a proper fret rocker is best) over the frets. Check 3 frets at a time running across the fretboard completely-- high E to low E) to ensure the frets are dead flat/even there.
(I always backtrack and take nothing for granted -- eliminate that as a possible source of problem). At a minimum, carefully check frets 4 through 8, especially under the A, E and D strings.

Are the frets properly crowned and fully polished? Even small scratches can lead to sonic abnormalities and even buzzing sometimes. A badly crowned fret can give sitar-like fretted notes as well. You should be able to run your thumbnail across the frets and it should be smooth / 'glass-like' if polished well.

Also, during the process of troubleshooting and adjusting, if you haven't swapped strings out yet I'd strongly suggest that at some point as well.

Good luck.

Edit: Afterthought.. just as a future suggestion, IMO you'll elicit the most helpful feedback with a set of good close-up pics -- especially of the frets in the problem area (side profile and along fretboard, etc) and current action, nut, relief, etc measurements as well. Having both would allow the skilled technical folks (definitely not myself!) to hone in whatever problem(s) are lurking.
 
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Freeman Keller

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I'm sorry that your experience with fret leveling has not gone well. It is very hard to diagnose these things in a discussion like this, and I don't want to be critical of your tech's work, but I would still want to measure everything on the guitar as it is right now. I consider 0.008 inches of relief acceptable but slightly on the high side, as are your action measurements.

I have a little test that I describe in the setup thread that I call "next fret clearance". Basically it says if the guitar doesn't buzz with the strings open then the nut slots are at least OK. I fret a string at the first fret, if it doesn't buzz then the clearance at the 2nd must be OK. Measure it. Now go up the neck fretting each fret and measuring the clearance at the next. As long as it is at least what you measured at the first fret it shouldn't buzz.

I watch the pattern of next fret clearances and can tell a lot about relief and where it is occurring, the general shape of the neck (humps, high spots, drop off, ramps....). I can tell a lot about individual frets. I look for patterns and anomalies.

I wish you were close to me, I would love to go over your guitar with you and see if we can get to the bottom of it.
 

Boreas

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I've now played the guitar for a couple days. It mostly plays well, definitely better than before. The A string is the most sensitive. It'll buzz (clearly audible through the amp) around frets 5-7 unless I'm more gentle with my picking. The low E has the same buzzing hot spot but it's not as sensitive as the A string, so I don't need to be as gentle with my picking. I'll admit I might have a heavier touch than others, but the buzzing is acceptable to me in all the rest of the neck except for this hot spot.

Overall, it's livable. It just doesn't feel like the premium guitar I thought it would after having this work done. This guitar has the kind of annoying buzzing that on any other guitar I'd say, "Some day I'll get this fixed by a tech." Except that I just got it back from a pro tech. I could use a reality check at this point.

1) Was it unrealistic of me to expect a fret leveling to bring the buzzing down to consistent and acceptable levels across the frets? For reference, the relief is around 0.008" and the action at the 12th fret is 6/64" on bass and 5.5/64" on treble.

2) Even after a fret leveling, do you sometimes still get hot spots where there's more buzzing than the rest of the neck?

3) Do you have to accept that some guitars come with issues where you have to make compromises? Even on a newly assembled guitar with fresh, high quality parts? For example, if you were in this position, would you just bite the bullet and either live with the buzzing, raise the action, or learn how to play more gently in the hot spots?


Thanks,
Jason
Do you have another neck you could throw on temporarily to test?

I never get fret buzz with a properly dressed neck, unless my action is too low for my attack.

You seem to get symptoms I have never heard. I suspect you may be getting too critical.

I don't recall I have EVER gotten fret buzz bad enough to actually be heard in the amp - but I use super clean settings with no pedals.

The most expensive custom guitar in the world will not please someone with unrealistic expectations. Throughout this thread, it has been uncertain what you are actually hearing, and it seems to change. When you take it to the luthier, do THEY hear it? What do THEY say about your expectations? If my expectations can't be met, I adjust the action and/or my expectations.
 
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Kevin Wolfe

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I agree with @Freeman Keller. Listen to his advice. I concur that .008” is probably too much relief as evidenced by the buzz near the middle of the neck.
Think about it. No buzz at the nut end, no buzz at the heel end but buzz in the middle ,which is down in the “belly“ of your relief, so those strings are buzzing out on the higher frets. This condition is commonplace in the bass world.
if the nut is slotted correctly you shouldn’t need more than .003” to .005” of relief. Then adjust the actual height to your taste.
 

Buzzgrowl

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I was really hoping that taking my partscaster to a reputable tech would take it to the next level, but it hasn't.

Techs/luthiers will look down at amateur partscasters, in my experience. The quality of their effort is often related to how they judge the player-owner. Clearly, I'm a crap player, I've learned. 😄😬
 

Si G X

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interested also, as my strat as received, had no fretbuzz when played with a gentle touch, which is not my ham fisted way.
I get a lot of buzzing played how i play. So do people tend to play electrics really gently? As i had a guitar setup by a really good tech and had same issue.

I hit my guitars way harder than anyone else I know, so from my perspective, yes 'most' people play quite gently.

It's not a coincidence that I play 11-48 Power Slinky and the other guitarist in my band plays 9-42. lighter players can get away with lighter strings.

If you are beating the hell out of your guitar, using heavier strings is a must imo, the extra tension really helps as they don't 'flap around' as much.
 

Wallaby

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It would be interesting to know if the frets were leveled under tension.
 

Kurbmaster

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If you have a 6-saddle bridge, that might be your problem. The 3-saddle bridges, while they don't intonate as well, are much less likely to rattle and cause a sound like what you've described-
 




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