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Thread: Fret buzz and dead spots... besides frets, what else could be wrong?

  1. #1
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    Default Fret buzz and dead spots... besides frets, what else could be wrong?

    I've had good results leveling and re-crowned frets on all my guitars, but after about the 5th time (!), my 72 Les Paul really needed new frets, and that was beyond me. My finances aren't the best, so when I found a a highly recommended tech offering to do it for about 1/2 what I expected to pay, I let him do it. The result was cosmetically beautiful, and it literally felt 1000% better... so much so that I didn't really notice that it still needed some work. Back home, it didn't take me long to notice some slight buzzes on certain bends, and a lot of places where the string vibration is obviously being slightly muted initially (when first picked), but then sustains normally after the vibration settles. By the way, all the problems are on the high strings.

    I've had it back to the guy once and he made some "minor" adjustments, but really didn't fix it. So at this point I've "mapped" out the whole neck with different letters indicating different problem points for each string and fret. If he doesn't offer to correct it I'll probably just do it myself at this point. But before I have this discussion I wanted to be armed with some more information, and consider whether other things could be contributing to the problem. For example...

    1) I use a pretty odd set of strings, somewhat heavy at the bottom, and pretty thin on top (my preferred set is: 52,42,30,17,11,9). Could this be part of the problem?

    2) Over the past year I've changed my picking technique somewhat and my attack is much sharper thaan it used to be. I also now use a very heavy gauge pick. Maybe I'm adding to the problem, especially on the thinner high strings?

    3) I've used Graph-tec saddles for several years now. I do know they rob a little sustain, but very much appreciate the fact that I virtually never break strings anymore, and i do a LOT of bending. Could they be causing more apparent buzz or "dead spots"

    4) My action, at the high E, is just over 1/16". I'd think that for a vintage Gibson Les Paul with brand new frets that's not too much to ask. But maybe it is too low because of my picking style and heavy pick?

    I'm just trying to be as sure as possible that the problem is definitely the need for more fretwork. On the one hand I don't want the technician to be able to tell me some BS reason this happens, and on the other hand I want to make sure I'm fixing the RIGHT problem if I decide to re-dress the frets myself.

    Thanks for any and all advise.

  2. #2
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    1) I would think no.
    2) Yes.
    3) I would think no, but it might be worth finding out my changing the saddles.
    4) I think you should raise the action a bit.

    Opinions might vary, as they say in Burkina Faso (ok I made that up).
    The Law of Gravity is nonsense. No such law exists. If I think I float, and you think I float, then it happens.
    Master Guitar Academy - I also teach via SKYPE.

  3. #3
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    Thanks Robert. Advise always appreciated.

    For the benefit of some 80+ others that viewed my post and may run into a similar situation, the solution was simply poorly leveled frets. I didn't want to believe that, since I just had what seemed to be a cosmetically beautiful re-fret job done on a difficult Les Paul (Old wood, and side binding to deal with). And of course, since the previous frets had already been re-dressed so many times that there were already play-ability problems, it "seemed" so much better when I picked it up, I guess i just wanted to believe. Then, having brought it back to the tech twice already complaining of scattered buzzes and dead spots, him returning it after "minor adjustments", and later seeing the same issues, I was starting to doubt my better judgement. If there is a lesson in this, don't doubt your instincts.

    In the end I decided not to back to the tech again, and opted to re-level / crown myself. The tech had already done the difficult part for an incredibly low price. Besides, while I don't know if I could have handled a re-fret job, I have always gotten the best leveling and re-dressing result when I do it myself, so I'd no doubt have bothered him endlessly.

    When I did the initial test, where you color every fret and do some broad longitudinal plane/sanding, I immediately saw the "map" of problems I had drawn come perfectly to life. First of all, all frets beyond where the neck meets the body were a little high. Personally I like to do the opposite... slightly but progressively lower from the neck/body point onward. But the bigger sin was not high frets, but low ones. There were a number of frets that he must have driven too deep into the wood, and it was severe enough that I had to level off more than I'd have liked to, in order to bring all frets into alignment.

    there also was a slight radius problem. My bridge was simply not really curved enough, which would always tend to magnify any issues on the middle strings. This probably goes back to a replacement bridge I bought years ago. Although it was a true Gibson replacement bridge (or at least stamped as such), and sold specifically for a Les Paul, the construction was never an exact match for my stock bridge. It's a '72 Les Paul Deluxe, and no one seemed to have the exact same one. So bottom line, I had to suspend the bridge upside down between a carefully adjusted open vise, and tap on the center until the radius matched up. The adjustment was significant, but slight enough that I didn't have to grind the endpoints flat, where it hits the adjustment rings. But anyway, if you have an older Les Paul and ever need to consider replacing the bridge, watch out for this!

    Anyway, I WILL take up the matter with this tech the next time I see him, but at the end of the day I'm glad I did all this final work and fine-tuning. The problem wasn't my heavy picking attack, my odd string choices, my saddles, and there was nothing wrong with having 1/16" action on the High E near the body. The frets were simply out of alignment, and now it plays like a dream.

  4. #4
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    Congratulations, but it sounds like the tech didn't do his job properly.
    The Law of Gravity is nonsense. No such law exists. If I think I float, and you think I float, then it happens.
    Master Guitar Academy - I also teach via SKYPE.

  5. #5
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    Yeah, I was afraid to tackle the the re-fret myself. At the very least there were some costly tools I needed to attempt it, and the price break from someone highly recommended was too hard to resist. So there's another lesson I've often learned and re-learned... if you understand a process, buying the TOOLS is always a better investment then paying someone to do it. Teach man to fish, right? I understand leveling and crowning, wiring and electronics, and re-fretting is the only major skill I've not acquired. An opportunity missed in this case.

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