The Cook Trio

How to Fix Buzzing Frets on the Bass

In this ultimate guide, you will learn how to fix buzzing frets on the bass guitar!

Once you have your bass guitar tuned to the right settings, it is frustrating to hear a rattling or buzzing sound when you play. Unfortunately, fret buzz is something you will have to deal with at one point since it is so infuriating you cannot ignore it.
Fortunately, most of the time, you can fix it by yourself though if all your efforts fail, then it helps to get the services of a qualified guitar technician.

What is a fret buzz?

First, you should understand what a fret buzz is to avoid confusing it with other guitar tech problems and be sure you align the right solution to the right problem. A fret buzz is an irritating sound you get when a guitar string is rattling against a fret wire on the neck instead of over it. 

 Common causes of frets buzz 

 There are several causes of frets, but the three most common ones are; 

  • Frets are not at the same level, with some being shorter and others being taller. 
  • A low depth of string action 
  • Lack of sufficient relief on the neck means it is either bowing backward or perfectly straight. 
  • Wrong plucking technique 

 When the frets are not at the same level, the tall frets will be a problem because the string is going to be in contact with them. Thus, when you pluck the string, it vibrates against them. Usually, there should be sufficient space allowing the spring to vibrate without touching frets. 

 String action refers to the height of your guitar string at a specific fret. Usually, the frets at which the measurement is taken are the first fret, fourth fret, fifth fret, twelfth fret, and seventeenth fret. Your playing preference determines the kind of string action you get depending on whether you want high string action or a low, almost slamming kind of string action, which most players prefer. The issue, however, is there is a limit to how low string action can get before it becomes problematic.  

 Usually, the threshold for bass strings is around 0.080, a bit higher than for treble strings. Going any lower than this will create buzzing on the frets. You should use a specialized string action gauge and not a ruler for proper measurement. It allows you to set each string to the desired level accurately. 

 A neck relief refers to the slight dip’ around the middle of the guitar’s neck, usually around the eighth fret. The neck is usually supposed to be as close to straight without being perfectly straight. If the neck has the normal dip, then it is called a forward bow. 

 If it has no dip but instead a hump, then it is a back bow. Back bows always cause buzzing problems, and too straight a neck will result in some rattling. While you may have worked on the perfect settings of your guitar, your guitar neck’s relief will change with time due to; 

  • Temperature changes 
  • String gauges 
  • Humidity 
  • Tuning 
  • Elevation 

Six ways to stop fret buzz

how to fix buzz frets on bass guitar

Now that you know the common causes, here are the six effective ways to fix them and other causes; 

Truss rod adjustments

The truss rod is the metal rod found inside your instrument neck. Its function is to hold the neck in position as the tension in the strings will, with time, pull the neck toward the body, causing a bend. The truss rod can bend one way or the other, and when the strings pull it toward the body or are out of position for one reason or another, the strings will strike the frets, causing the buzzing sound. The truss rod is responsible for keeping the right neck relief at a slight bow. 

 If you notice the buzzing sound coming from the upper and lower neck section, chances are the truss rod has too much of a U shape. If the buzzing noise comes from the middle of the fretboard, the neck probably has a back bow. Fortunately, you can fix the issue by truss rod adjustment, which is a straightforward settings operation. You, however, want to be careful not to over-adjust the truss rod as that will damage your guitar. There are plenty of tutorial videos online which will guide you through every step, or alternatively, you can get a professional to fix it for you. 

Raise string action

It makes sense that you may prefer low action. In this setup, the strings are close to the fretboard, making it easy to hit the notes, especially as you move up the fretboard. Low spring action means you do not have to press too hard to get the right notes. As the article has shown, the only problem is there is only so low you would go. If you get too low, then the string height will graze against the frets resulting in the rattling sound. 

 Low action is not the problem if your bass has never been set up, as most new guitars are usually set too high, which necessitates the need for a setup after purchase. You would know low action is the problem if the rattling sound starts after a recent setup. You only need to raise it up slightly to give some room for the vibration of the spring, and you can enjoy a pleasant playing experience. 

Use the right technique.

At times, your instrument is not the cause of buzzing frets. Instead, the culprit could be your technique. If you have inspected your bass and found the setting to be appropriate, or the buzzing has been there since you started playing bass, then the issue is your technique. There are three aspects of playing that can cause buzzing. 

  1. You are too aggressive in your strumming.

 If you are strumming too hard, you make the strings move around more than is normal, or is their design. Because of the strings’ extra movement, they will hit the frets and produce buzzing. The best part is most basses are electric guitars which means you do not need to pluck aggressively on the guitar; you can simply increase the volume. 

  1. You are pressing too close to the frets.

 How you are pressing in between the frets can affect the buzzing too. If you are pressing down close to a fret on either side, it makes the string be pressed down more closely than normal and causes buzzing. It becomes a more significant issue when playing on the upper end of the neck than the lower end. Fortunately, this is a problem you can change with more experience. 

  1. You are not pressing down hard enough.

 Here is another playing technique issue that affects new bass players. If you are switching from guitars to bass, you are likely to have this issue where you press down too lightly, which creates a lot of buzzing. With further practice, you should be able to press down slightly harder to prevent the buzz but not too hard as that will then produce sharp notes. 

Replace the aging nut

fix buzzing on frets

Another issue that can cause the rattling sound is an old nut. The nut is that small piece of white plastic or other material that attaches the strings from the fretboard to the tuners. In prime state, it ensures the strings do not lie directly on the fretboard. However, as it gets older, like many other things, it wears down.  

 As a result, the strings will dig far into it and eventually get too close or come into contact with the fretboard resulting in the buzzing sound. This problem usually affects old instruments, so you do not have to worry about it if you have a new bass. 

 Fortunately, all you need to do is replace the old nut, and they are not expensive. The only challenge is that it is a delicate process, removing the old nut and installing the new one. Often it is best if you leave it to a professional as there are some tools required that you may not have. However, if you feel up to it, there are several step-by-step guides that will show you what you need and what to do every step of the way. The hardest part is removing the old nut. You can use a flathead screwdriver for this purpose to loosen it first and then gently tap it out with the other end. 

 You must be gentle and careful, or else you risk breaking the end of the bass’ neck, which will be a costly mistake. At times, the nut may come off in pieces, and though not ideal, it is still effective as long as no damage comes to the neck. 

The fretboard needs cleaning.

The other unexpected cause of buzzing frets is piled-up dirt and grease. This problem affects the frets reducing the space available for the string vibration. At times the problem is so extreme you may not be able to play some of the stings like the low e string is usually one of the most affected. If you have a bass that has stayed long without cleaning and it is buzzing, the dirt could be the problem. Here are a few pointers on how to go about fixing this issue; 

  1. Cleaning the frets

 First, get yourself a small amount of steel wool which you will use for cleaning. Place the steel in some warm water, then wring it leaving it damp. Proceed to clean the frets gently so that you do not scratch the fretboard. You will notice the frets become shiny, and then you can use some paper towels or a microfiber cloth to dry the frets.

  1. Cleaning the fingerboard

 For the fingerboard, a microfiber cloth or paper towel will be enough. If your bass neck is made from any other wood besides maple, you can use a few drops of lemon oil during the cleaning. It helps hydrate the fingerboard giving it a smooth, silk-like feel. Unfortunately, you will not get the same effect on maple wood. Thus, use warm water for the cleaning. Once you are through with the frets and fingerboard, the buzzing will no longer be there. 

Get the frets fixed

This is the last option and solution for buzzing frets. It is another problem that affects older bass instruments. With time the frets are worn out after years of pressing, smacking, and rubbing. They become uneven, and with the different levels buzzing sets in. Fixing the frets will set you back a couple of hundred dollars, so you should only consider it after you have ruled out any other cause for fret buzz. The main solution is having your bass regretted.  

 You cannot do this by yourself so take it to a professional shop. The technician will also examine the frets and determine if they need replacement or if the problem is elsewhere. Another alternative is to have the fret dress done. It is a cheaper alternative and works if the frets are not extremely worn out. In this process, the frets are shaved down to an appropriate and even height to prevent the strings from touching some. 

 It may cost half the amount you will need for a refretting job. Either way, you should be sure the wearing out of the frets is the problem before choosing to fix them. The good idea is to observe where the buzzing is coming from and be mindful of the age of your bass. If the buzzing sound comes from the most used areas, then probably the frets need fixing. 

If you prefer a video guide you can check the video below on how to stop fret buzz on the bass guitar

Conclusion of How to fix buzzing frets on the bass

The main part of fixing buzzing frets is identifying where the sound is coming from. Usually, the first three steps in this guide should help you fix the problem. You may have to go through the fretboard and the whole neck to pinpoint exactly the cause of the problem. At times a simple adjustment to the saddle or bridge can make all the difference. If you are new to maintaining your bass, it will help if you get a professional’s help. Alternatively, you can go through the various tutorials online or get a maintenance guide for further details. 

 Whatever option you choose, avoid being random in any adjustments you make, especially if your bass is already set up. Exercising caution ensures you protect your instrument, especially the neck, and it still plays great even after you fix the buzzing This guide gives you details that should help you search for all the likely causes of buzzing frets, so if you try everything and fail, then get a technician to help.  

 Remember, too, beyond the instrument’s parts, it could easily be your playing technique, so new bass players should give themselves a month or two to get used to playing bass correctly, and you will notice the problem fade away. 

Hope you learned now how to fix buzzing frets on the bass.

Simon Mattav

I am the owner of The Cook Trio, a three-piece band that has been performing in the Chicago area for over 10 years. I have a passion for music – everything from guitar to songs. I graduated from the music University of Chicago! My passion is writing songs about my life experiences, feelings and emotions through different genres. My inspirations are some of today’s popular songwriters such as Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez among others.

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