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Fret Buzz Even with High Action? How to Fix It!

High action is sometimes the necessary adversity players learn to live with to avoid even the slightest fret buzz. You fight your way through the bends, build your calluses, and even start to like the nice fight the guitar puts in when you play it. However, what happens if you conquer the beast but get fret buzz even with high action?

If the frets buzz even with high action, the cause is most likely damaged/consumed hardware, a poorly done setup, or in some cases, your playing. Rest assured, it doesn’t mean the guitar is faulty, and it can happen even to the best premium instruments.

There’s a limit to how much you can fix at home, and my goal is to take that limit to the maximum and give you the right alert when you need the help of a professional.

Make Sure the Truss Rod Is Adjusted Correctly

The first steps to every setup, or anytime the guitars start to feel different, is checking if the trust road is adjusted correctly. ‘Correctly’ is not a set parameter for every guitar or player; however, there are some criteria to keep in mind that can make or break a great instrument.

If you get fret buzz with high action, the guitar neck might have too much of an up-bow. This happens when there to much tension on the truss rod, and the string cannot match that strength. 

On some guitars, even an almost straight neck can give fret buzz with a high action depending on the shape and radius of the fretboard.

For example, you’ll find that guitar with a flat fretboard radius, like most metal guitars, won’t give you many issues with fret buzz even if f the neck it’s dead straight – on the other hand, Strats will need just a bit of relief not to buzz.

Fixing it is easy; loosen the truss road by turning it counterclockwise. This said, there’s a mastery to it, as too much turning can ruin the neck. Always down-tune the strings completely and give a maxim turn of ¼ before retuning and checking. 

A pro tip in this situation is to leave the guitar settle for a bit and then give a very slight turn to compensate for the tension re-stabilizing after the first turn.

My previous guide goes deeper into all the steps of a good setup and best explains when it’s time to seek help.

Check for Uneven Frets

Another very common reason for fret buzz with a high action is uneven frets. This scenario needs a luthier with the right tools and knowledge, and there are different levels of how bad it can be.

You may need a simple leveling of the frets. It gets all frets at their appropriate height but does require a very sharp eye and strict measurement. You cannot eat up too much of the frets, or the guitar becomes unplayable.

Sweetwater has a great guide on checking for high frets on the neck you can follow to pinpoint the culprit.

Re-fretting is the next option if they are damaged beyond repair – it can be a bit harsh on your budget, but it never hurts any guitar. It happens eventually to all frets if you’re dedicated to playing the instrument, and it’s the type of work that keep luthier busy every season. 

Different types of frets can react differently with your hands, and their size gives a different feel to playing the guitar. Medium jumbo, jumbo, and all other measurements are important, much more than the fret material for your hands.

A pro tip from owning a collection of vintage guitars in my career is not never to back down on a re-fret. Frets get consumed over time, and I’m always skeptical about any post on reverb saying, “vintage 60s Strat with original frets.” 

Are the Nut Slots Too Low?

The nut is sometimes the culprit we least suspect and the trickiest to get right. There’s a fine balance between keeping the string in place and leaving them loose enough – if either condition is not fulfilled, we file the slots and sometimes go too much on them.

It’s easy to spot it cause if the open strings buzz, it’s most likely the nut that needs replacing or filling. There are multiple ways to approach the operation, some of which you can do yourself with the right tools.

The nut material is important, as ignoring it could lead to problems that make saving a few bucks not worth it. Even the best nuts, made today of synthetic bone, don’t cost a lot and are worth every cent.

Check the Neck Angle

Neck angle refers to how the neck is installed on the body. A wrong angle, usually too much of it, causes the string to touch the fretboard.  

This happened to me after I re-installed my neck using my trusty threaded insert. After getting the buzz, I tried everything, from the truss rod to the nut and bridge adjustment – but never did the thought of the neck angle cross my mind. I didn’t even know at the time what it meant and confused it as many do the fretboard radius.

My luthier friends caught the error in less than 10 seconds, and I felt the guilt of the operation all over me! The good news is he fixed it up in less time than it took me to cause the problem.

Is the Bridge or Nut Causing the Buzz?

It can be challenging to pinpoint where the buzz comes from when playing open strings. Even if you put your ear to use 100% and start listening for the origin of the buzz, it can be misleading as the sound is transmitted to different parts of the guitar. 

The bridge might cause the buzz cause the saddles are too low or are not going along the neck radius. For a typical Stratocaster neck, the high E and low E are slightly lower than the middle strings – as we say at times, the rounder the tone, the rounder the neck!

The string tension may also consume the saddles, causing a deep cavity or, worse, more than one. It’s a big red flag telling you to go bridge shopping. As with frets, all vintage guitars suffer this eventually.

A bridge can also collapse. Tune-o-Matic bridges often suffer that, yet it’s not an impossible fix.

Make Sure Your Technique is on Point

There is no limit to how good a guitar can sound, but the opposite is, unfortunately, true. It is a difficult instrument, and in my opinion, much more than any other on which you don’t touch the strings directly but rely on keys. 

Many things can go wrong, and a poor fretting or strumming technique can use the strings to buzz even when the action is high.

Even intermediate players tend not to fret close enough to the string when doing fast runs – Aso, the high action means you need to push harder down, but not as much as to cause buzz or detune the string. 

Strumming, on the other hand, will cause buzz and other unwanted noises. Start playing around with your guitar dynamics until you figure out the perfect balance.

Remember, not all buzzing is harmful, and a certain amount of fret buzz is acceptable. Check out my detailed guide on how much fret buzz is too much and see how that fits your real-life situation.