Persistent Fret Buzz

Adinol

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Greetings,

I customer brought in an American Strat to fix fret buzz. The frets were pretty flat from wear and a few frets were high. Jumbo frets. I did some spot leveling with the fret kisser and recrowned all the frets, then polished. The recrowning was done properly, with Sharpie and Z file.

The relief is set to .011" as customer likes and he actually likes medium action, so we are not dealing with low action. The fret buzz persists with strings 10 - 46 gauge. Even when I raise the E1 string action to .90 I get fret buzz starting from about the 9th fret to about 14th fret. I rechecked all the frets with rocker and I'm not getting any rocking. I even changed the strings in case there was a kink somewhere. And the buzz is not coming from the saddles or other hardware.

Any ideas what I should be looking for, next?

Thanks
 

jkes01

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I’m no pro, but have leveled more frets than I care to remember. That fret kisser is intended for spot leveling, but I would not trust it. Better to spend the money on a leveling beam and diamond crowning files.

To eliminate any chance of fret buzz, a full fret level, crown, and polish should be performed, especially if the frets were as worn as you say.
 

Adinol

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Thanks for your thoughts.

One reason I didn't do a full level was because I could not straighten the neck. I hear what you are saying about the spot level. You might be right.

I do have a leveling beam and I guess I'll just do another leveling job tomorrow.

Sometimes I find that a full leveling job is quite aggressive and I want to avoid taking material. So I did some tests to determine how to approach it. I did a fret rocker test, marked off the high ones and did a spot leveling job. Then I used a straight edge and tried inserting really thin paper (from a receipt printing roll) to see if the paper catches between the straight edge and the frets.

The good news is that, since I basically just lowered a few high frets I didn't cause any damage with my recrowning. Doing a full leveling job with a beam tomorrow morning will not put it any lower than if I did it to start with.

But I did waste some time.

Lesson learned.

Thanks...
 

jkes01

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Thanks for your thoughts.

One reason I didn't do a full level was because I could not straighten the neck. I hear what you are saying about the spot level. You might be right.

I do have a leveling beam and I guess I'll just do another leveling job tomorrow.

Sometimes I find that a full leveling job is quite aggressive and I want to avoid taking material. So I did some tests to determine how to approach it. I did a fret rocker test, marked off the high ones and did a spot leveling job. Then I used a straight edge and tried inserting really thin paper (from a receipt printing roll) to see if the paper catches between the straight edge and the frets.

The good news is that, since I basically just lowered a few high frets I didn't cause any damage with my recrowning. Doing a full leveling job with a beam tomorrow morning will not put it any lower than if I did it to start with.

But I did waste some time.

Lesson learned.

Thanks...
Believe me, I have had problematic necks and had to do a re-level and crown, a big PIA, but I wasn’t happy with first go round. So, what do ya do? Sometimes you have to find a happy medium.

Had a friend’s early 90’s Mexican Strat a few months ago. He just wanted me to install locking tuners, new output jack, and do ”my stuff” to it. It was in unplayable condition when he handed it to me. Action was too low, fretting out on open strings, the nut was split through the G string, and the frets were all chewed up. Seems I never get the ones that just need the frets polished and new strings. :mad: Best thing was the Fender locking tuners popped right in with no modifications.

Had to tackle one problem at a time. I made new bone nut, but left a little extra in the slots for after leveling the frets. Straightened the neck as best as I could, but the end of the fretboard had a “ski ramp” at the end. Leveled with a file and sanding beam, crowned and polished the frets and gave it a little fallaway. Finished setting it up by the numbers and it buzzed everywhere.

Went to shim the neck to allow the action to go lower and there was already a shim in there. It was actually metal screen from a window or door. Made a new maple shim and it still wasn’t good. Tired without the shim and the action was ridiculously high, even with the saddles as low as they could go. Put the shim back in. Went back and leveled and crowned the frets one more time and gave it some more aggressive sanding in the fallaway. Tweaking the neck, nut slots, saddles until I found a place where it was acceptable.

Action was a little too high for me, but it was now playable. It actually played pretty good. Better than he has ever seen it. I told him I wasn’t happy with it, that it fought me the entire time and I did the best I could. After all, it wasn’t playable when I got it and he understood that.

I told him if it was a vintage guitar, I could refret it after leveling the board. since it’s just a run of the mill strat, we could buy a new neck for less and go from there. He understood and was really happy with the way it turned out. Especially since I wet sanded and polished the candy red paint. Not only it looked good, but was now playable. It’s now his #1 and his ‘76 SG I worked on stays in the case most of the time.

I guess my point is with all this rambling is that the numbers are a starting point, but every guitar is different. You never know what unfavorable conditions it has seen. What works on one guitar won’t necessarily work on the next. You have to compensate to find the sweet spot where it plays and doesn’t buzz. Whatever it takes, within reason or whatever time and effort you are willing to invest in the project.

Give it another shot and post back. Good luck
 
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Adinol

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I can feel your pain. Luckily, that project you talked about is now over for you and is just one more story from the battlefield. I guess we all have those stories.

The Strat I'm working on was just brought to me (on Wednesday) as in, "It needs setup. I need it by Friday, cause I'm recording on Saturday." Of course I didn't think much of it. Then I looked at the guitar and saw the wear on the frets so I asked if he is getting any sitar kind of buzz. "Yes," he said. I explained that this is usually caused by flattened frets and explained the physics. He said that what exactly why he wanted a seutp and that the guitar also doesn't intonate properly. Again, I explained how flattened frets have 2 point of contact and how a vibrating string is switching from one point of contact to the other and causes sitar buzzing and you get unstable readings on the strobe tuner because the string is switching from one point of contact to the other. "Can I set it up?" he asked. I said, "A setup is not going to take care of this, you need a level and crown job," and I explained what it was, with drawings.

I also explained that a setup is included in a level and crown job because that's just part of the entire job and that if he pays me for a setup today and decides it was not good enough, then decides to do a level and crown job, he'd just be wasting his money on the initial setup job. Because, I explained, a setup is done after level and crown, and not before.

I also explained why a fretboard with 7.25 radius will buzz when he bends strings, if the action is too low for that type of board. He knew nothing about that before.

The guy was so happy with the theoretical explanations that he agreed to have me do the level and crown job. I really didn't feel like a used car salesman. In fact, it made me feel like the guy finally got his answer why he had been struggling with this guitar up until the point he met me.

The problem was, this was not a kind of job one should process as a rush job (I have a recording session on Saturday) especially when I have other instruments on my list, with other customers waiting to pick them up. But I really wanted to help a recording musician and play my role in making his recording better than it would have been. I knew what my time estimate was to complete a job like this and I was confident I could do it. But then problems started popping up.

Another problem is stripped height adjustment set screws on the saddles. Those are the very small Fender ones. Someone had used a tool that didn't quite fit and I don't have replacement ones at this very moment.

His saddle radius was 14" while his fretboard radius is 7.25. I know when I'd match the radius the customer would feel the difference. Luckily, I explained and he didn't mind if that would end up feeling different.

But another problem was that when the E6 and G3 saddles were maxed out all the way back I still got a sharp reading on the 12th fret. So, I told him the only quick fix would be to remove the springs behind these 2 saddles, so I could drive the saddles back a bit more.

It was just one thing after another.

He wanted the guitar by Friday, so he could record on Saturday evening. Now we agreed I'd have to finish by 5pm today (Saturday) so that he could have his guitar. He doesn't want to record with another guitar because this is the guitar he wrote the songs on.

I thought about this guitar when I lay in bad last night and the guitar was the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning.

One of those projects...

I'll work on it today and I should have a conclusion to this story tonight, when I return home.

Thank you for sharing your story and for all your advice.
 

jkes01

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No problem, that’s why we have this little corner of the internet. The best place anywhere for this kind of information sharing. As simple as Strats are, they can be a real pain. As for the saddle springs, I’ve cut them in half before to allow more travel.
 

Adinol

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So, I was able to improve on this by straightening the neck and lifting the saddles. The customer wanted the relief to be more pronounced, which is why we ended up at .011. But I lowered it to .003 and rechecked the frets with the rocker. Then I raised the saddled to the same medium action (kept it medium because of the tight radius). I believe it improved. The customer sent a friend to pick up the guitar and the friend thought it was all good. In fact his words were, "this is much better than it used to be" (referring to how it was before I did any work at all). The customer will call me back in a few days to let me know how the guitar is performing for him.

Interestingly, I have a guitar that now has visible fret wear from all the sting bending solos. Many of the frets are rocking when I check with the rocker. However, the action on the guitar is super low and I have no fret buzz to speak of. I'm sure I would get sitar buzz if I raised the bridge, so I'm not touching anything. Although I'm thinking of doing a stainless refret , eventually.

But it's interesting how I get no buzz on a guitar like that. I'm sure it has to do with the fact that I have not adjusted any setup parameters every since I had that guitar. It is a very stable instrument and the neck is rock solid. That guitar has an ABR-1 bridge and I never take all the strings off when restringing it. The reason for that is precisely because I do not want the thumb nuts to get loose and move. So, I change the outside 2 strings first then the inside 4 strings.
 

LtDave32

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Personally, I find that fret rocker (and a dozen other little gadgets from Stew mac) a waste of time.

as jkes pointed out, It's much better to set the whole thing up so you know where you stand. I wouldn't "spot fix" for a customer who just brought a guitar in for a quickie.

I'd have to do it my way, which is the entire fret board. My thinking is, he'll be back again and again and again, with this buzz, that buzz, etc.

But you've got to straighten the neck. Easy enough to check with a straight edge. It often isn't going to be perfect; you may see some daylight here and there, but get it as straight as you can.

Sharpie it up, then ever so lightly, run your beam (I hope it's flat and straight, and not one of those radius beams) and kiss the tops of the frets.

This will tell you where you are, all over the fret board.

After doing all the leveling, checking, re-marking and leveling again, It takes me about 30 minutes of work with a re-crowning file to get the frets up to round again.

Then it takes me another 20-30 to put a polish on them, going through 400-600-800 paper then #0000 steel wool.

After that, it's fine polish with compound.

So that's about an hour of labor for an end result of a beautifully playing guitar. Fair trade any day.
 

Adinol

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Oh, yes, thank you, Dave, for your detailed post. I do in fact use the same procedure as you describe, with the exception that I made my own leveling beams from cheap Home Depot water bubble levels. I have a few, cause the are cheap and that way each one is for a different grit.

With this particular guitar I started off by trying to do a full leveling but I had issues with getting the initial level before sanding down. The neck has a small discrepancy in symmetry between the bass and treble sides and also what I guess was a microscopic concave area on the treble side. I wanted to try with a spot leveling so that I would not take down too muck form one side.

This probably contributed to the problem (or perhaps was the only cause). But as I described in my Saturday post, when I straightened the neck more and lifted the saddles it was better. The customer initially wanted more relief but less relief seemed to work better with that neck.

This is I guess a good example that shows how every neck is different.

Thanks guys...
 

Adinol

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Oh, yes, thank you, Dave, for your detailed post. I do in fact generally use the same procedure as you describe, with the exception that I made my own leveling beams from cheap Home Depot water bubble levels. I have a few, cause the are cheap and that way each one is for a different grit.

With this particular guitar I started off by trying to do a full leveling but I had issues with getting the initial level before sanding down. The neck has a small discrepancy in symmetry between the bass and treble sides and also what I guess was a microscopic concave area on the treble side. I wanted to try with a spot leveling so that I would not take down too muck form one side.

This probably contributed to the problem (or perhaps was the only cause). But as I described in my Saturday post, when I straightened the neck more and lifted the saddles it was better. The customer initially wanted more relief but less relief seemed to work better with that neck.

This is I guess a good example that shows how every neck is different.

Thanks guys...
 

LtDave32

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Oh, yes, thank you, Dave, for your detailed post. I do in fact use the same procedure as you describe, with the exception that I made my own leveling beams from cheap Home Depot water bubble levels. I have a few, cause the are cheap and that way each one is for a different grit.
Excellent idea.
 

Elkoki

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I'm not a pro, but I had a high spot on the 15th fret of my Squier and I also used a fret kisser and it only sort of helped.. The rocking went away, but it still frets out when the string is bent.
 

Adinol

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I'm not a pro, but I had a high spot on the 15th fret of my Squier and I also used a fret kisser and it only sort of helped.. The rocking went away, but it still frets out when the string is bent.
I'm wondering, if I may ask, how did you have access ot a fret kisser if you are not a pro? It is an expensive tool, so I'm curious. Also, did you re-crown the fret after spot leveling, BTW?

In any event, it would be important to consider your fretboard radius and your action height. If it is one of those Fender/Squier necks with very tight radius and if you have low action, the bent strings sometimes frets out.

I also wonder if you might have the same issue that I was having on the guitar I talked about here, where the relief was too pronounced. So, for example, a .070" action on the 12th fret when the 8th fret relief is .010" is not the same thing as the same 12th fret action of .070" action if the relief is .020". In the second scenario the saddles are higher, so less fretting out when playing high up the neck.

Since you mentioned that you are not a pro, do you have a way of measuring your relief?
 

Elkoki

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I bought it on Amazon and partially paid for it with a giftcard I got for free. I originally ordered it for a MIJ Ibanez that I got for a great deal ($130). It had 2 high spots on the higher frets. I listed the guitar on ebay explaining the issues with it wondering if I could flip it for profit and to my surprise it sold like 2 days later so I shipped it out before the kisser arrived. Before it sold I asked techs in my area if they could spot level the frets and they suggested a whole fret level for $150 so I figured the fret kisser would be worth a try... decided I'd give it a try on a squier neck. I might've done it wrong though. I basically just fret the last fret and check the clearance around the 11th fret.. I crowned it with a little bone . The squier is really cheap and I probably rushed in to try the tool. I just wanted to try the tool to be honest. Had I done it on the Ibanez I likely would've taken my time with it , researched more, bought a straight edge and got advice to whether it's a good idea or not.. the squier is old and missing parts so its not much of problem .

I can setup guitars fine. But when it comes to fret leveling and crowning I'm still a total noob and this was pretty much my first attempt at fret leveling.. yeah I'm sure I screwed up somehow .. I'd never dare try it on a high end guitar like my Carvin
 
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Adinol

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...I basically just fret the last fret and check the clearance around the 11th fret..
I'm not sure I understand how you did this checking. The best way to check is with a fret rocker, or any straight edge that you can lay over 3 frets. Then if it is rocking it means the center fret is higher than the 2 outer frets onto which you placed the straight edge (or rocker). You can't really check this with a string.

I crowned it with a little bone .
I also don't understand this part about crowning with a bone.

I can setup guitars fine. But when it comes to fret leveling and crowning I'm still a total noob and this was pretty much my first attempt at fret leveling.. yeah I'm sure I screwed up somehow ...
I find the procedure to be quite easy, but only if I use the right tools:

fret rocker
Sharpie marker
fret kisser
Z files for crowning

then when polishing you can use a fingerboard protector or just tape off with blue tape. I use 800 grit sand paper (no too much) and finish off with 0000 steel wool. When I feel inspired I even go as far as using the StewMac erasers or polishing compounds.

The Sharpie is essential. This is really the only way to see how much you are filing off and how much is left, in which spots.

The guitar (or dismounted neck) should be firmly secured, so there's no wiggling when you do your filing strokes. I also think it's important to keep blowing away all the fine metal dust that the files are removing. Otherwise that dust accumulates in the Z file(s) and it ends up scratching the areas that you do not intend to file down.

Hope this helps.
 

Elkoki

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I'm not sure I understand how you did this checking. The best way to check is with a fret rocker, or any straight edge that you can lay over 3 frets. Then if it is rocking it means the center fret is higher than the 2 outer frets onto which you placed the straight edge (or rocker). You can't really check this with a string.


I also don't understand this part about crowning with a bone.


I find the procedure to be quite easy, but only if I use the right tools:

fret rocker
Sharpie marker
fret kisser
Z files for crowning

then when polishing you can use a fingerboard protector or just tape off with blue tape. I use 800 grit sand paper (no too much) and finish off with 0000 steel wool. When I feel inspired I even go as far as using the StewMac erasers or polishing compounds.

The Sharpie is essential. This is really the only way to see how much you are filing off and how much is left, in which spots.

The guitar (or dismounted neck) should be firmly secured, so there's no wiggling when you do your filing strokes. I also think it's important to keep blowing away all the fine metal dust that the files are removing. Otherwise that dust accumulates in the Z file(s) and it ends up scratching the areas that you do not intend to file down.

Hope this helps.

I didnt explain myself well. I checked the relief of the neck by fretting the last fret and checking the clearance of the 10th fret. That's how I checked the relief since you asked. I used the fret rocker to check for high spots and all that I then used the fret kisser and crowned with a little bone. It's a fret crowning tool, google it. I know about all that. I only felt like a probably did it wrong because that note still frets out when bent but it could be something else
 

Adinol

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...a little bone. It's a fret crowning tool, google it.
Interesting tool. I'll have to look into it. I like having several options as every job is not always the same.

...probably did it wrong because that note still frets out when bent but it could be something else.
You probably do have one of those tight radius fret boards and the best thing I can think of is what I described above, which appears to have solved my problem, too.
 




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