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I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!
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Author:  Conor_Searl [ Fri Jan 05, 2018 4:13 pm ]
Post subject:  I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

I've got a Tokai Love Rock (les paul copy) here. There were a couple super high frets that were choking out notes and it needed a general set up. It all seemed like a text book set up to me, I've done a bunch of tune-o-matics now. So I levelled and dressed the fret board which seemed good when it was done, then proceeded to set the thing up. The action was a tad high, but at around factory specs and the place where I keep most of my guitars, and the customer plays pretty heavy so I figured it was okay. But he felt the high strings were a tad high. So I dropped the action a bit, but now I'm getting weird ghosty buzzes on the e, b, and g strings between the 14 and 17 frets. Some of it was the string retainer, which I addressed but now it seems like those high frets are breezing across the the following frets ever so slightly, would it be appropriate to address each of the high frets individually to ensure they are falling away enough? Or am I missing something? Perhaps I've just lost perspective completely? If I play with a light touch I get good tone, and no buzzing, if I dig in a bit it starts to sizzle. It's not anything a person would hear plugged in. My neck relief is at .012", and the action on the low e at the 12th fret is 4/64", and at the high e it is about 3/64".

Author:  Hesh [ Fri Jan 05, 2018 4:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

No, frets and the fret plane should always be addressed as a whole. It's perfectly fine to seat a loose fret or two but if they are not loose but very unlevel the limiting factor to a better set-up is the instrument requires a fret dress (level, recrown, polish, ends, induce relief as necessary where necessary).

This is not your problem. If an instrument can't be properly set-up due to requiring more, bad neck angle, poor fret work you go back to the client and tell them what it's going to take to make it right and bill them too. It's not your fault that this guitar is a POS......

BTW this is one of the issues with doing music store work. You are not there to triage the instrument with the client present so that there is no mistaking on their part that it needs what you clearly show them and explain to them that it needs.

When I did music store work I was given final say over estimates and had the clients phone numbers to discuss things with them. I would not do it any other way.

Author:  Haans [ Fri Jan 05, 2018 5:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

Tokai Love Rock?
Sounds like hippie jewelry...
3/64" sounds pretty good, guy must be a real shredder. Tell him to learn how to play. Glad I never did much dealing with real pounders.
Phone numbers are best, Hesh is right.

Author:  Chris Pile [ Fri Jan 05, 2018 5:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

Tokai has been around since the 80's..... Mostly good stuff.

Author:  Conor_Searl [ Fri Jan 05, 2018 5:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

So Hesh, when I took the strings off I made sure the neck was as flat as possible, however my straightedge was sitting on top of the 5th fret as well as the 18th, these two frets were super high. When the guitar came in there was so much relief it seemed to mitigate the lower fret, but the 18th was still choking high notes out. So I proceeded to do the fret dress you describe, as I've done before without any problems. But after the rest of the set up I got the buzzes I was talking about, is it possible that this is an issue with the plane of the fret board itself and not just the frets?

My straightedge isn't notched and so I'm not sure how to check the actual plane of the fret board. It always seemed to me that as long as the straight edge is interacting with the fret crowns in an appropriate way then we have a good playing surface regardless of what the actual fret board is doing. But it almost seems like the fret board might be doing that ski jump thing, but I've never really noticed that before on set neck guitars.

Author:  Hesh [ Fri Jan 05, 2018 7:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

Connor this is complicated and this is why we teach professional level fretting class in Ann Arbor. It's not something that I can explain how to do in a tutorial.

But to give you a view of what it takes at our shop I can tell you a few things. It doesn't matter what the fret board looks like. Sure we level them, induce fall away, correct relief and the amount exactly where we want it. But have you ever heard of scalloped fret boards? Of course you have seen guitars with divots worn in the fret boards too from the player's fingers. Divots, scallops none of these things will be a limiting factor in low action because the strings need..... never..... see... them.

What matters and ONLY what matters is what the strings see and in terms of the "level set" of the fret plane this means the tops of the frets.

Action of 3/64" is below what's considered low action and if the player is like most shredders he/she is also tuning to D or even low C. No matter how perfect the fret plane in these tunings the strings are so very slacked that with any attack with any authority from the player it's going to be rattling mess.

But if the player has a light touch and knows what stroke to use in terms of not being Robin Hood driving the strings into the frets action of 2/64th" is even possible and it won't rattle with the right player.

To get here though you have to treat fret work from the perspective of a machinist with tolerances the thicknesses of ink..... I speak of less than .0005".

This requires leveling beams that span the 1st though the 12th that are absolutely flat and that have been checked on a calibrated surface plate. It requires an understanding that we have gravity.... and wood moves.... and how we support the neck when working on it is critical too as well as an understanding of what the stinking thing will do differently when inverted into the playing position.

Great fret work benefits from "a touch" where we understand that simply unwanted finger pressure while doing the fret work in the wrong place at the wrong time can skew things negatively.

We never check anything with a straight edge and the fret rocker was never intended to be a tool to do fret work, it's just quick to spot test a fret or two or three.

Great fret work and that's what's required for the action that you cited is always done treating the entire fret plane as a whole. It's a good idea with a guitar like this to check for loose frets, all of them and maybe glue them in place anyway just to be sure.

So I'm sorry I can't post a way forward but I can tell you that the action that this player wants, 3/64" is not possible without excellent fret work AND the knowledge how to do it.

We have players who are set at 2/64th" and 3/64th" but in order to give them this set-up we've dressed or refret their instruments.

Let me ask you this. If you take your car to the mechanic and ask for a tune-up and they find out when it's time to work on your car that the transmission is shot is the mechanic responsible for fixing your transmission and not charging you because you never asked for it?

Hell no! :D The point here is in this business many seemingly simple requests may have limiting factors that have to be addressed first. It's not on us to just eat this stuff especially when we were not the one to take the thing in. Learn to be a "trusted advisor" with your clients and I would also strongly suggest always, always having the ability to have direct contact with every client.

Author:  Hesh [ Fri Jan 05, 2018 7:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

Ski ramps are very common and more so IME on electrics with a bolt on neck but they can be present on anything.

Ski ramps are often the limiting factor to decent action and again it's a precision fret dress that has to be done to eliminate the ski ramp before any decent set-up can be done if in fact the ski ramp is the major limiting factor.

We teach our students to have a level set, meaning the leveling beam in contact with all fret tops of the 1st through the 12th. After the 12th the contact is diminished as the last, extension frets "fall away." This "fall away" is something that we create and some the best production instruments and Luthier built instruments have it milled into them specifically as well.

If a ski ramp is present that prevents the leveling beam from contacting 1 - 12 low action won't be happening.

This is where the short beam, also leveled and checked on a calibrated surface plate comes in to mill down the extension. Again it's not something that can be taught in my experience on-line, it's too complicated. I suspect that some of the OLFers who have taken our course will agree.

Remember too and I say this often joking with people including clients. No one ever brings us anything unless it's .....messed.... up. ;)

Author:  Chris Pile [ Sat Jan 06, 2018 12:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

This might sound weird, but are you sure they were high frets? Sometime low frets on either side of some frets will yield the same buzz. Also, if you are shooting for stoopid low action, the truss rod has to be almost straight. The lower the action goes, the less wiggle room you've got. Wish I could see the axe, I'm having trouble envisioning the exact problem....

Author:  Freeman [ Sat Jan 06, 2018 12:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

Conor, first 0.012 is a lot of relief on an electric - with good frets you should be able to get down to 0,004 or less.

Second, I find a really good way to check the frets is to fret a string at the first fret and pick it. If it doesn't buzz then you must have enough clearance, right? Measure it at the second fret - it will probably be two or three or four thousands. Now fret at 2 and measure 3, fret at 3 and measure 4, just go down the fretboard with the same feeler - if it doesn't buzz at 2 and you have at least that much clearance then it should buzz anywhere else, right?

I don't actually measure this but rather just hold the string down and wiggle the feeler around at the next fret - you can feel it pinching down if the clearance is getting less. If it seems to get tight at one fret then mark it, you probably have a high fret and should come back with your rocker. If it seems to get progressively higher all the way down the neck then you can probably lower the action at the bridge. If it gets higher in the middle of the neck (6 or 7 or so) then starts getting tighter you probably have too much relief. If it gets tighter around 13 or 14 or 16, then maybe looser again you've got a ski jump.

Its actually one of the things that I do when I'm all done with a guitar - just very quickly measure the next fret clearance for each string at each fret. You can tell really quickly if something is wonky.

btw - I also check "back fret" clearance at the first couple of frets after I've worked on the nut. If I hold down a string at 3 I want a couple of thousands clearance at 1 (fretting at 3 also presses the string onto 2). If you don't have a couple of thou you'll get buzzing with open strings.

Here is a really good discussion on the effects of relief on action (and next fret clearance) - Kimsey is one of the authorities that I look to when I'm doing work (mostly on acoustics)

Author:  jeffhigh [ Sat Jan 06, 2018 3:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

I'd agree with Freeman, 12 thou is too much relief, going to 4 will allow you to raise the bridge slightly while maintaining 12th fret action height, but give you more next fret clearance on the upper fret region.

Assuming your fret levelling is adequate. I'm with Hesh on levelling the whole fret plane rather than spot work.

Author:  Conor_Searl [ Sat Jan 06, 2018 5:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

Man! The logic of the geometry just falls into place sometimes, that and a good nights sleep and a little distance helps a lot too. Right or wrong in my former life I'd often add a touch of relief to mitigate low action and string buzz, but in this case I reduced the relief down to about .006 or .007 thou and the buzzing seems all gone, I have my 3/64" action, and it makes complete sense!

I seem to need to learn this lesson over and over again when it comes to this luthiery stuff, patience is the paramount virtue, if you're stressing it's time to walk away and get some perspective.

Thank you all for your gracious advice, you regularly help me out and open my eyes to new things.

Author:  Freeman [ Sat Jan 06, 2018 10:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: I've got a buzzy Tokai, and I'm losing my mind!

A little relief is good. Too much is bad. If you pull the string down into this valley in the middle or as you get close to the neck joint you get very close to those frets at the joint. Read the Kimsey article carefully


I'll add that its kind of a Catch 22. If your frets are really good you can get by with low relief. If you have low relief you can get low action. If your frets are bad you probably need higher relief, which then means you need higher action. Remember our discussion about the infamous spreadsheet - I don't touch anything on a guitar until I know its hydrated, structurally sound and the geometry is correct, and the frets are good. Make that perfect.

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