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Fret Buzz Above 12th Fret: Get Rid of Buzz on High Frets

Imagine you’re playing open cowboy chords smoothly along with the band. The chorus hits, and you press down the pedal grooving to the power of distorted power chords. And just when it’s time for the gods of rock to shine upon you during the solo section, you majestically bend the 15th fret and suddenly hear a buzz, or worse, a dead note.

 I have been there, and you most likely have to; that’s why I will show you how to get rid of buzz on high frets.

Fret buzz on high frets is fixed by re-checking first your playing technique up the neck and, after, the setup of the guitar and any flaws in the frets, neck, or hardware.

There are many ways to fix fret buzz high on the neck, but there are just as many causes. I will go through all and give you direction on when you need a luthier or when it’s a matter of sharpening up your left-hand skills.

Why Does My Guitar Buzz Above the 12th Fret?

The more we try to make a guitar easy to play, the closer we get to cause problems if we’re not careful enough or if the hardware is not at its best. The same logic goes for our technique.

  • The string action is too low or doesn’t follow the fretboard curvature.

The first thing most players want is to have the strings as close to the frets as possible. For many, that’s the ultimate setup goal; for others, like me, that helps play fast but hinders your playing in other aspects – for example, causing frets to touch the strings or even mute them.

  • The neck doesn’t have the right bow. 

There are many types of neck profiles, each with its curvature, size, and feel. Generally, if there’s less back-bow on the neck, you will have problems with fret buzz and dead notes. Worse, the neck could be warped.

  • Frets are uneven or consumed.

This worst-case scenario would need a luthier that does well at replacing or leveling frets. From my experience, there exists close to no vintage instrument that doesn’t need a fret replacement – it’s almost a waste getting a 50s Strat and not replacing the frets first, as it won’t be at its best.

If you’re curious where your hand mostly plays, check the area where frets are most consumed.

  • Recent changes to string gauge or hardware

This falls into the category of checking your setup, yet it’s best to mention it separately that anything that causes the pressure on the neck to change could affect neck relief and, thus, buzz or dead notes. 

The new neck you placed might not be set up right, or the nut cavities might be passed their days.

  • Faulty playing technique

Attention to how you fret and how strongly you pick/strum or press down is key. Even intermediate players need help with this, as it’s easy to ignore this aspect of playing, especially if you’re used to only playing one guitar and then switching to another.

I, too, have a problem when switching to Ibanez guitars after years of playing Strats, Teles, and Les Pauls. No matter how many years pass, I must remember some basics when faced with a neck profile I’m not used to playing.

How To Get Rid of Fret Buzz Above the 12th Fret

Getting rid of free buzz above the 12th fret could be as easy as paying attention to your left hand to an expensive fret job.

  • Neck relief

If you want to fix the neck relief, stick by the rule, “righty tighty lefty loosey,” and never turn the truss rod more than a quarter or half turn before testing the guitar. This is the first step to a setup and, many times, the only you need.

Remember, there’s not one set relief point, and it depends much on your preference. I do like some curvature on the neck, while other players want it as straight as possible. And if you can’t figure it out – luthiers have heard all sorts of requests as the guitar doctors they are.

  • Action

There are many types of neck, yet all help you adjust the action either by moving the entire bridge or individual saddles. Do this after adjusting the neck relief and remembering that in some necks, for example, a vintage Strat, the neck has a radius the strings should follow.

  • Fret leveling

This can get tricky, and you need the right measurements and tools for the procedure. Most importantly, you need the confidence a luthier has to eat up the frets of a vintage neck.

I advise never to feel sorry for an old guitar that needs leveling or re-fretting a vintage guitar, even if it’s a piece of history; the goal is to get the best out of it.

  • Neck angle

The neck angle relates to how the neck is mounted on the guitar and varies for different models, scale lengths, etc.  The difference in angle is only a few degrees in different models, and all have a sweet spot. What is tricky about the procedure is that you might need to re-install the neck. 

  • Neck/string radius

The string/fretboard radius refers to the natural curvature of the fretboard from low E to high E. Typically, metal guitars or anything that focuses on technical music has a straight fretboard; vintage or vintage-inspired gear has a more rounded fretboard. 

The string height should be adjusted to the radius to avoid buzz and dead notes. Most of the time, it’s a matter of testing what works, not necessarily involving detailed measurements.

  • Technique

Remember, you play next to the frets, not above them, not far from it – it might be something you learn on day 1 of playing, but it’s a skill that can easily be ignored even by intermediate when tricky techniques are in the mix.

You might also be playing too hard, and as we know, picking or strumming too hard will make even the best guitars buzz. The same logic goes for pressing down too hard with your left hand. This is fixed by experience and consciously thinking of pressing down lighter until you find the minimum strength needed.

Once you get this sorted, the next is to check how much you raise your left hand when you play. It won’t affect fret buzz, but your stamina and technique immensely. 

Is It OK To Have Some Fret Buzz?

No guitar is perfect, and that characteristic is now engraved in the sound of rock, blues, and all genres. Even the most evolved $3k+ signature guitar will have some imperfections due to the physical nature of the instrument – in fact, this makes some guitars special and gives them ‘character.’

If it makes you feel better, even the ridiculously expensive 50s and 60s gold top Les Pauls will never be perfectly intonated just because the neck at the time was not designed perfectly; that didn’t stop Jimi Page, though.

On an electric, as long as the buzz is not caught by the pickups on a clean tone as much as to become a bother, it will just melt with the brightness and attack of the instruments. 

On an acoustic, you need to be more careful with buzz, especially if it’s heard when you strum – however, even the best pre-war Martin might not allow you to bend over the 12th fret.

If you went through the steps of this article and are wondering if you did a good job, I go into more depth on the topic in my guide. It will help you figure out how much fret buzz is ok from different perspectives.