Unsuccessful fret leveling

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Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Ron Daves » Sat Oct 20, 2012 1:00 pm

I have a Takamini G series steel string that has had buzzes in a couple places. I took it in to a Luthier for warranty work and he sent me away apparently satisfied. However, when I got it home, there was still a buzz on the D string at the 4th fret. I've built three instruments now (2 classicals and a Uke) and leveling the frets seemed fairly straightforward. On the instruments that I built, I used a flat file followed by a builder's level with 80 grit, then a crowning file and finally polishing with 8 grits of ever finer sandpaper. For the task on the Takamine, I skipped the flat file, used the level and 80 grit (operated with caution not to sand too much) , then checked the frets with a fret triangle (StewMac). I used a black felt tip marker to be sure I had sanded each fret. Then, I chased the fret leveling up the fretboard with the triangle and a fret leveling (StewMac) file, making all the frets level according to the triangle. The D string is now buzzing all the way from the first to the 7th fret. I've tightened the truss rod and loosened it about 1/4 turn with no great effect. I sighted to neck and it appears to be flat. At this point, what I'm asking is: Should I chase these apparently high frets with the triangle/file combination or should I just start over with the flat file>builders level>crown file>sandpaper. By the way, the neck appears to be flat without strings at tension. I searched the archives for answers, but didn't find anything that covered this problem. Advice, please.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Alain Lambert » Sat Oct 20, 2012 1:47 pm

It may be a bad string! Try changing the string.

You need to make/verify your setup.
1) Adjust the relief
Capo at fret 1 and 14.
Measure the distance between the string and the top of the fret at fret 7 with a feeler gauge. It should be around 0.005 to 0.010 inches
You adjust it with the truss rod. More tension = more relief

2) Verify the action
With the guitar tuned to pitch, measure the distance between the fret 12 and the string.
Martin specs are: 5/64 for string 1 and 7/64 for string 6. The other strings are in between. This would make the D string around 3/32"

If it still buz and only on D string, then it may not be a fret problem!

Hope this help
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Ron Daves » Sat Oct 20, 2012 1:51 pm

Correction: The fretboard appears to be flat with the strings at tension.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Mark Swanson » Sat Oct 20, 2012 2:20 pm

More tension = more relief


Actually, the terms can be confusing. More tension on the rod means less relief, and what Ron needs here is more relief because as he says, the fingerboard is flat with strings at tension. So, he needs to loosen the rod until the neck bows upward into the direction of the string pull, which would be more relief. Loosen until you get the distance between the strings and the frets that Alain mentioned.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Ron Belanger » Sat Oct 20, 2012 5:39 pm

Also when levelling frets 80 grit is way too coarse. 220 or 320 will get you there quick enough.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Ryan Mazzocco » Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:17 am

My first guess would be the nut slot is too low on the D string. My rule of thumb (and I heard it here first) is press the sting down at the third fret and make sure you "just barely clear" the first fret. if it touches you are probably too low at the nut.

Edit: that was dumb... nevermind. you are buzzing from the first to the 7th. the nut is pretty much out of the equation by that time.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Michael Lewis » Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:59 am

Check that all frets are firmly anchored so they give a sharp click when tapped with a small metal object. If any frets are loose they can spring out of the way of the files or leveling tools, only to spring up when they are not being pressed down. Frets must be firmly locked in the fingerboard before any leveling is done.

Measure the relief with a straight edge and feeler gauges. Most relief at 7th fret, tapers to nothing the ends of the fingerboard.

Measure and adjust strings in the nut so when fretted between 3rd and 4th frets the strings just clear the first fret.

Measure string height above the 12th fret. The string height here is subjective, some like it very low which will require subtle yet critical adjustments, some like the action higher so they can drive the guitar aggressively, and most folks are somewhere in between those extremes.

The sequence of steps of this procedure are important, as each step is somewhat dependent on the previous step.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Ron Daves » Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:35 pm

Sorry if I look a bit confused here. It’s a learning process.
Alan Lambert:
1.) I Capo’d at 1 & 14 and measured at 7. Distance from top of fret to bottom of string = .007
2.) Tuned guitar to putch and measured from top of fret 12 to bottom of string
string 1 = 5/64
D string = 5/64
string 6 = 5/64 +

That’s as close as I can get with a 5-power magni-focus and steel ruler.

Mark Swanson:
OK-I’ll try loosening the truss rod some more. I tried tightening it just a bit and that didn’t make any difference. Then I loosened it a bit and same result. I’ll try a little more loosening. I don’t know how much is too much. I’ve seen some guitars where the truss rod threads were stripped and I don’t want that to happen to me.

More on the problem:

When I leveled the frets with the builder’s level and 80-grit paper (too course) I only abraded until all the black marks were gone. Then I went back with the StewMac leveling tringle and filed any fret that the triangle said was high. I’m not sure this was necessary and need some input on this. Then I rounded the frets with a StewMac rounding file. I may have been too aggressive, because when I went back to check with the triangle, I had variations that weren’t there before.

Anyway, after all this measuring, it appears the strings are too close and the saddle needs to be raised. I have already done this using a piece of a credit card. However, there were already three shims below the pickup and with the credit card slipped in there also, the saddle, which is loose in the slot, leaned more than it did when it came from the factory.

I also note that the nut slots are pretty deep. The Guitar Maker’s Manual that I followed suggested that ½ the string show above the nut. What do you guys think?

At this point, I’ll try some excitingly clever way to raise the saddle and report back. I’m reluctant to do any more fret work until I get more input from you guys.

Thanks in advance for you help.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Barry Daniels » Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:07 pm

After leveling with a carpenters level (use 150 to 220 grit sandpaper) you do not need to chase down individual frets. They will be at the same hight if all frets have been touched by the level. The object then is to get the frets sanded and polished by removing the LEAST AMOUNT OF FRET MATERIAL AS POSSIBLE. This will keep the frets level. My sanding and buffing process consists of two steps. I sand with 320 grit wet or dry paper. And then I buff on a polishing wheel with gray compound. I always end up with frets that are very level, yet glossy.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Ron Daves » Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:28 pm

Wow! Looks like I've been way to aggressive. I used six grits of sandpaper starting with 320 and ending with 2000 and took about 20 swipes per fret. That was after about 20 swipes with the rounding file and then more individual fret filing to solve perceived variances. Thanks for that input.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Ron Daves » Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:29 pm

I loosened the truss rod until it doesn't appear to be doing much. Distance at 7th fret with 1 & 14 capo'd is still about 9-10 thousandths from fret to bottom of string. With strings removed, the neck is virtually flat.
Last edited by Ron Daves on Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Barry Daniels » Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:43 pm

That sounds like a reasonable amount of relief.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Ron Daves » Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:56 pm

Put on a new set of strings and raised the saddle by the width of a credit card. No mas buzzingas (sounds like a good title for a country western song). Thanks for all the help.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Michael Lewis » Mon Oct 22, 2012 12:32 am

Ron, you should probably make a new saddle so you don't have so many shims under it, and so it doesn't lean. A severely leaning saddle can lever the saddle slot and crack it away from the bridge. Also your pick up isn't getting the best contact with the bottom of the saddle with shims in there.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Ron Daves » Mon Oct 22, 2012 10:02 am

Good point. The pickup is a brass "U" shaped piece of metal that fits into the bridge slot and the saddle fits into this piece of metal. So Takamine made the slot wide enough for the metal "U" and their custom saddle has to be thin enough to fit the "U" and thus thinner than the slot. I'm kind of curious as to why a manufacturer as experienced as Takamine would build this problem into their guitars. I guess I could fashion a wider saddle and skinny it down where it fits into the "U". Takamini has fashioned this saddle with custom intonation adjustments where the break over point for the two smallest strings is on the back of the saddle and the rest of the strings break over on the front. It's playing okay right now and I have a professional musician friend who has offered to take the guitar to a Takamini authorized warranty luthier in a couple weeks. I think I'll wait to see what the luthier has to say, since the instrument is still under warranty and is playing ok for my inexperienced fingers.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Mark Swanson » Mon Oct 22, 2012 10:36 am

I guess I could fashion a wider saddle and skinny it down where it fits into the "U".


That's the way it is supposed to be, and it was when it left the factory. I am not too fond of that style of pickup either! So make your saddle to fit the slot snuggly, and then bevel the bottom edge to fit in the pickup. It sounds like someone has already replaced the saddle and not done it right.
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Re: Unsuccessful fret leveling

Postby Mario Kessels » Fri Oct 26, 2012 3:15 am

when you have gone through the steps like leveling and relief and you canceled out all these variables and the one string is still giving the problems you have to start thinking about other things. Indeed the string might be the problem itself.
when you have enough relief and the string buzzes all the way i would be more conspicious about the saddle end then the area where you're searching now. Of course raising the action will at some point solve this problem but you give up playability of the other 5 strings that were good already.
I would try to maybe give the tongue (12th and up) a little more room, since dependent on the interaction of the neck with the trussrod the problems might be caused by this area.
frettbuzz is a strange thing to analyze, the problem might be at the opposite of where you think it would be or think you can even hear it.
Basically, level is level meaning that leveling it over and over will not change anything so look in different areas. What happens if you put the string 1mm to the side on the saddle for instance? You will find it, be patient.
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