So you pulled your guitar off the rack or out of the case, tune it up to pitch, go for that first lick, then “BUZZ”. The unpleasant, tinging metallic buzz of the string vibrating off of a fret totally throws you off your game. Rats! Now you may be asking yourself, ‘Is there something wrong with my frets?’ Well, the answer may not be so simple but TCM has got you covered on all things frets.
What causes fret buzz? There are three main factors to look at when checking for fret buzz; neck relief, fret height and fret wear. The easiest one to check is fret wear, and you can even do it yourself! All you have to do is simply fret all the strings with your index finger, somewhere around the first few frets is best, then gently slide the strings across the fret just a little. What we’re looking for is the contact point where the string hits the fret and checking for large grooves or divots. These grooves are wear from the metal to metal contact of string and fret, and is perfectly normal (unless you have crazy invincible stainless steel frets). Fret wear can cause string buzz by creating a lower point on the fret that, when fretted, will cause the string to come into too close contact of the next fret up. If you have this type of wear on your frets, then it’s definitely time for a fret dress (aka fret level and crown). Extremely worn in divots may require new frets entirely, as part of a refret.
Another factor to check is neck relief, or the amount of neck curve caused by string tension. A neck that has too little or too much relief can cause fret buzz. If your guitar is buzzy in the middle registers, around frets 7 or so, you may have too much neck relief. Fret buzz around the first few frets indicates too little relief, or ‘back-bow’. A proper setup is the cure for such occasions, which also covers action, intonation and a good cleaning of the frets as well.
If your frets have no wear and the guitar has been set-up within the past six months, then we need to look at fret height. Using a fancy gauges and laser cut tools, our repair department can sniff out pesky high frets. High frets can cause buzzing much in the same way a worn fret does - when playing a fret that’s proper height, the string will buzz off of the high fret. The solution here is similar also, a good level and crown will knock down any high frets.
While a setup is a great place to start when trying to fix fret buzz, it may be necessary to perform a fret dress or ‘level and crown’. This is done by taking a flat beam with sandpaper on it across all the frets, thus leveling them out with one another. We then crown, or round the top of, the frets to give it a smooth and precise playing surface. A refret is a little more involved. Refrets require the removal of the frets and then a complete plaining and re-radius of the fretboard. We then prepare and install frets of the chosen size, level and crown them and set the instrument back up to spec. A refret also includes a hand-cut bone nut to provide the purest tone and smoothest tuning.
Fret wear is a normal part of playing guitar, but it doesn't have to become a headache. Schedule a free repair consultation with a TCM luthier today, and let us show you how easy it is to get your guitar back in top playing condition.