How to Setup a Guitar – Low, Without Any Buzz

The Setup
The number one request we hear at the shop is “low without any buzz”. We do more set-ups than any other service; they are what keep our customers coming back. Most people do not know the joy of a professional set up. You don’t know what type of player you are until you’ve had one! The most common complaints are:

  • Action is too high
  • It won’t play in tune
  • It won’t stay in tune

Everything else is just icing on the cake if you can get these 3 things down. Most people want the action (the height of the string off the fingerboard) low. We do this using a combination of the truss rod (which bows the neck either away from or towards the strings) and setting the height of the bridge saddle pieces or piece (acoustics). There is always a give and take to the action. If you want it super low, it will buzz on some notes. The string has to have room to move in order to produce a good, clean note. If you’re using any amount of distortion on an electric, you probably won’t even hear the buzz. Electrics were made to have lighter strings and a slinkier action, because once the amp gets hold of the note, any fret buzz usually disappears. We only worry about fret buzz when it hampers the sound of the string so badly that it can’t be ignored. Our set-up is full service. You can have someone do a tweak here and there, but we prefer a full A-Z treatment. We only stop short of leveling the frets on our set-up. Our full set up includes…

  • Redress and gloss buffing of frets
  • Tightening of all hardware
  • Full restring and stretch-in (price of string, not included)
  • Adjusting truss rod
  • Adjusting tremolo or tailpiece
  • Balancing output (on Acoustic/Electric)
  • Adjusting action
  • Adjusting intonation
  • Full electronics evaluation
  • Adjusting pickup heights
  • Full detail polish and cleaning

These adjustments done in proper relationship to one another will produce remarkable results. Sometimes the adjustments aren’t enough. Most often, in this case, the guitar needs fretwork.

17 Responses

  1. Bob Metzger says:

    Could you please comment on the difference between shimming a neck as opposed to adjusting the action via the bridge saddles. I mean this in relation to 4-bolt neck type Fender instruments without any tilt-neck adjustment. There is a time to adjust via the bridge and there is also a time to add a shim in the neck pocket but what conditions dictate which course of action. This assumes that the truss rod is properly adjusted and the frets are fairly level. I think alot of your customers would enjoy and learn from your response to this question.

    Thanks,

    Bob Metzger
    lumetz@earthlink.net

  2. chris says:

    You can shim the neck properly to adjust the action on a four bolt guitar. We prefer to build a full pocket shim and angle it in the direction we want the neck angle to move (no old Fender medium picks in the pocket, please). That can cause problems on certain guitars, depending on the stability of the neck where it joins the body. Shimming can sometimes create an unwanted hump on the neck where it joins the body.

  3. Brian Schiro says:

    As a follow-on comment/question regarding this topic, I have a Fender Victor Bailey Jazz bass and the neck plane is off by a little more than 1/16″, but enough to cause the upper register to buzz. Since any type of shim can cause unpredictable sonic results, I was considering planing the neck. What do you think of this approach?

  4. chris says:

    I would have to see the neck to be 100% sure, but after a period of years, the end of the fretboard on bolt on necks can develop a “ski jump” Most of the time, this can be leveled out by leveling the frets. If the plane of the neck is off enough, there is little you can do (besides rebuilding the neck pocket) except to shim the neck. Again, a full pocket shim is really the only way to go, so as not to create more rise at the end of the board.

  5. Dennis says:

    Hi. I have a left handed Ibenez AS73 and I love this guitar, however, I do have a real problem with my G string. When I press down on the first and second frets it goes totally sharp on me and it is most disturbing. I do not have an issue with any of the other strings just the G. What do you think is causing this and can you fix it?

  6. chris says:

    Dennis,
    The G string is the problem child of strings on electric guitars. It has to do with the stiffness vs. tension ratio. It is very tense and very stiff so the string pulls sharp a lot more easily than other strings. There are a few things to do to make sure the guitar plays in tune better. First, you need to make sure the guitar is set up properly. having the truss rod and nut slot heights adjusted to the right spec will make a big difference. The other thing that can be done is to have the Buzz Feiten System retrofitted to your guitar. This take the guitar and makes it a more true tempered instrument. The modification is very slight and it can make a huge difference. Take a look at their website at http://www.buzzfeiten.com/. We do the retrofit here at our shop if you decide you want to have it installed.

  7. david says:

    i have a washburn n4 with the cutaway neck, i have a crack in the fret board and wondering if this is repairable???

  8. chris says:

    Should be super repairable. If it is running with the grain, it is pretty simple. If the repair is across the grain, it can be more difficult.

  9. Elliot says:

    Yea I have this same problem with my D15 Martin. The action on it generally feels too high and I wonder if that’s me or if it actually needs some maintenance. Can I bring it in for you guys to check out and if it does need this set up how much does it cost?

  10. chris says:

    Elliot,
    Bring it by so we can have a look. If you haven’t ever had the guitar adjusted, i would imagine it could use a little love. Cost on an acoustic for full set up runs $55-65 depending on the condition.

  11. Charles Stephens says:

    Buzz may not affect tone, but it does affect sustain, right?

  12. chris says:

    Well, it can effect both depending on how uneven or loose the frets are. One of the things that can rob tone from your guitar is how well the frets are seated. One reason that American made gutiars often sound better than their Asian counterparts is the USA factory’s ability to install frets. Good, hard contact between fret and fingerboard can make a world of difference in how a guitar sounds as well as how it plays!

  13. josh says:

    I just put together a flying v style guitar with a new neck i got from guitarpartsonline and i repainted it the whole shebang! it looks great but i am having the hardest time with getting the low e string to stop buzzing on the first fret! any help?

  14. chris says:

    Well it could be that the neck doesn’t have enough “frontbow” it may be too straight! That, or the second fret may be too high right there or the low “E” nut slot may bee too low. Check these things out and see if you can resolve it…

  15. Dean says:

    Hi Chris. I have 3 guitars with Original Floyd Rose. Those
    are Washburn N4, ESP Horizon and Jackson SDK1. Problem I’m
    having with all of them is they do stay in tune but they do
    not return to pitch. I tried tightening everything, using
    different brands and gauges of strings, adding and removing
    springs from the cavity, lubricating the whole thing and
    still none of them come back to perfect pitch. Help!!!

  16. clarsell williams says:

    peavey landola acoustic electric i hate super low action
    even if no buzz is involved i prefer medium action so i am going to bring the guitar in to your shop for a set up
    to medium or at least a little bit higher than the low action on this guitar.

  17. chris says:

    No problem at all. Just make sure you let us know exactly how you want the guitar set up and we can do it for you!

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