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Setup is dialed in, but strings are still HIGH. Now what?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by JacoNOT, Aug 14, 2012.

  1. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    I have a $400 LTD B-205SM, which seems (to me) like a lot of bass for the money.

    I figured out where to set neck relief and string height so I float just slightly above the buzz and fret slap, but I would like to lower the strings a little more.... It arrived with the neck set totally FLAT, a breeze to play but very noisy.

    Neck relief is set within ESP/LTD manufacturer's spec. If I reduce it or lower the saddles at all, I'm back to Buzz City. FYI, the string heights are within the manufacturer's spec, too. It just feels noticably "tall".

    What's the next step that I can do to obtain a lower string height? Are we talking fret leveling? If so, is a PLEK job really worth the extra cost/trouble (I doubt there's a shop with PLEK capabilities near me...)

    Or is there some reason why a $400 bass will never have a good, LOW action...?
  2. If you have un-level frets, that needs to be fixed. Do you know how to check it for that condition? If not. remove the strings, adjust your truss rod to give you a flat, straight neck. Using the long machine rule method and the fret rocking method. check for bad frets. A minor fret leveling job may be all you need.
  3. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Thanks, Rocky.

    I don't have a dead-accurate metal straight edge long enough, but I have some short-length machinist-related "things" that should work for checking via the "fret rocking" method.

    As I understand it, this what I need to do to check the height of Fret B:
    Position a short straight edge centered on Fret B with its two ends over Fret A and Fret C. See if it rocks at all. It will rock if Fret B is higher than Fret A or Fret C, or BOTH. But the test won't work if the straight edge is so long that it engages a fourth fret, Fret D.
    Tell me if I'm missing something.

    I know Stew-Mac sells a short multi-sided straight edge for this, but the cost is too high for a tool I'm not likely to use often.
  4. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Where is your relief set? When we're talking 1/1000th's of an inch, credit cards / business cards / etc. don't cut it....use a feeler gauge.

  5. JLS


    Sep 12, 2008
    Emeryville, Ca
    I setup & repair guitars & basses
    The nut slots are not likely to be at the optimum depth, and I can almost guarantee you that a fretlevel/recrown will be necessary to achieve the kind of action you're seeking.
  6. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Thanks. I do use a feeler gauge, and I'm set at .012". Manufacturer's spec recommends .010" to .020" so I'm near the bottom of that range, as close as I can get before the "Rattle & Buzz" set in...
  7. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Thanks. Nut slots appear to be dead on. Depress the string at fret 3 and slide a feeler gauge in between the string and fret 1. It reads exactly what it should (I can't recall the measurement at the moment...)

    As for fret level and recrown, I hope not. I'm going to do what I can to check individual fret heights per Rocky's suggestions above. Fingers crossed.
  8. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    Where on the neck do the frets buzz? Gary Willis had a good setup diagnostic in his 101 Bass Tips book. This works very well for me, in setting the neck relief. First you lower the bridge saddles until you get buzzing. Then you note where on the neck the buzz is troublesome.

    When the buzzing is above the 12th fret, it indicates you have more neck relief than optimal.

    When the buzz is in the first five frets, you need a bit more neck relief.

    And if the buzzes are up and down the neck (not concentrated in first position or in the upper register) the neck relief is optimal, and you just need to raise the strings.

    As others have pointed out, if there's a problem with a particular fret or two you'll need to address them in particular. Willis's tip is about setting the neck relief.
  9. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Ewo/Steve ==

    THANKS. I have seen and taken notes on similar instructions gleened online, but I'm very glad to have your clear, concise summary. I used those concepts as I went "round-and-round" working toward the good setup I have now.

    I will do what I can to check fret heights, particularly those above 18 where it SEEMS (maybe) the buzzing occurs. Then I will conduct a new setup with your instructions in hand, and will save them for future reference. Very helpful.

    Hey, did you sculpt that head/bust? Very nice. Is it marble or some synthetic altenative?
  10. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    A few questions:
    Where are you measuring the height of the strings above the frets? 12th fret?
    Are you holding the strings down at the first fret while performing these measurements?
    Why do you want the strings even lower?
  11. The fret rocker tool must cover 3 frets, some will be far apart, some will be close. When the tool "rocks" it tells you there is unevenness. It could be a high fret or a low fret. Once you find the problem area you have to determine which fret is high or low. When you find high frets, they can be filed down. When you find one or more low frets (very rare) They may need to be replaced because there is no good way to raise a fret.
  12. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    Unless that feeler gauge is like a .003", it's probably too high.

    The easy check is to look at the height over the first fret, then fret the first and look at the height over the second fret; they should be pretty close.
  13. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Capo on Fret 1 and depress string at Fret 19, approximately where the neck meets the body. Measure string height at Fret 8, the approximate midpoint between the two ends.

    I think a lower action is always easier to play, and I need all the help I can get (heh heh). I tried a very nice Schecter Omen 5 prior to buying this LTD. Same price, but the action felt lower and easier to play, so I'm pretty sure I can do better than what I have at present. Also, this LTD arrived with no measurable neck relief and was a joy to slide around on (of course, the fret rattle and buzz were unacceptable) and I sure would like to get closer to that feel.
  14. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    Some basics to help communicate the status of the set up:

    String height is measured at the twelfth fret from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string. Don't depress anything. Measured in sixty fourths of an inch in the USA. Metric elsewhere. Should observed on the bass and treble side of the neck. String height at the last fret (body side) is also useful when trying to diagnose neck/set up maladies.

    Relief is measured at the seventh (or eighth if string is capo-ed at first fret) with a straight edge and feeler gauges from the top of the fret to the bottom of the straight edge (or string). Measured in thousandths of an inch in the USA, metric everywhere else.

    Feeler gauges can be purchased at the local auto parts store for five dollars or so. A six inch rule with divisions on the sixty fourths can be purchased at the hardware store for five or six dollars. General is the typical brand. These tools last for decades. Precision straight edges are ground to a thousandth of an inch and are available from Stew-Mac and other industrial sources. They are expensive. They last until dropped on concrete shop floors. Using a capo-ed string is o.k. but harder to use than a straight edge.
  15. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Depress string as when fretting at Fret 3. Insert feeler gauge leaf atop Fret 1:


    _.006"_.007"_.003"_ <.003" _ <.003"

    .003" is the smallest feeler gauge leaf I have

    B-string, string height above Fret 1 is .025"
    B-string fretted at Fret 1, string height above Fret 2 is .016"

    G-string, string height above Fret 1 is .018"
    G-string fretted at Fret 1, string height above Fret 2 is .016"

    I can't measure the three inner strings without removing B and G strings for access.
  16. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    My mistake. I was in a hurry this morning and took a quick look at my setup notes from weeks ago. The details I provided in post #13 above were for my NECK RELIEF / TRUSS ROD ADJUSTMENTS. Duh...:meh: Sorry to cost you extra typing, 202dy. Thanks.

    I hate talking in terms of 1/64", but that's how my mini pocket rule is divided, and that's how the online tutorials I consulted discuss the procedure. So here's (approximately) how my string heights appear at 12th fret as you correctly advise:

    B string 6.5 / 64"

    E string 6.0 / 64"

    A string 5.5 / 64"

    D string 5 / 64"

    G string 4.5 / 64"

    It's hard to be entirely accurate in setting or even seeing these measurements, but I wore a magnifying "goggle thing" and these are pretty accurate.
  17. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    sounds like you've got a good grip on measuring stuff! :D

    those numbers suggest that the nut is close to OK, maybe the E and B are a little bit tall.

    so i guess we're back to fretwork anomalies, unfortunately.
  18. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    What are the string heights at the last fret?
  19. Andyman001

    Andyman001 moderation must be taken with a grain of salt

    Feb 11, 2010
    and it is VERY early:D

    These seem like really good numbers
  20. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    They are. As is the relief. But they don't tell the whole story. The last bit of data for a (not-on-the-bench-unseen-internet) diagnosis are string heights at the last fret. That will give the total picture of the geometry. It could be that a shim is necessary. Or not. When the geometry is correct the problem lies in the frets, the fingerboard, or both.

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