Having to fix the buzzing frets on your bass from time to time is a normal part of the 4 and 5-string life.
This is because there are a ton of different things that cause your bass to make a buzzing sound. For the same reason, it can be hard to accurately pinpoint the cause of the buzz.
That`s why I decided to make this guide. It will help you diagnose and fix the cause of the fret buzz on your bass, regardless of what is causing it.
This is because I`ve listed out every single thing that could be causing the noise, as well as a relevant fix for each of them. As a result, you will be able to diagnose and fix the buzzing sound of the bass as quickly as possible.
1. The action is too low
“Action” refers to the amount of space between the bass strings and the frets. In general, bass players prefer low action, as this makes strings easier to fret.
However, when the action is set too low, the strings and frets will make perpetual contact. In turn, this can result in the bass making a constant buzzing noise when it`s plugged in but unplayed.
Solution: Insepct wheter the action on your bass is so low that the strings are making contact with the frets.
If they are indeed touching, or appear to be very close to touching, adjust the action on your bass up.
2. The frets are uneven
If the frets on a bass are uneven in height, you might experience fret buzz when playing at individual frets.
For example, you might not experience any buzz when playing the 3rd or 5th fret, but the 4th fret could produce a buzz or rattle-like sound. This generally happens when frets get worn out, damaged, or become loose.
Solution: If the frets on your bass are uneven or worn out, it is best to take the instrument to a luthier to get it fixed. This is because dressing the frets is hard to do on your own, and going about it incorrectly can do a lot of harm to your bass.
With that said, there are some DIY solutions you can try at your own discretion.
If certain frets have become loose, you can attempt to hit them back into their slot using a hard plastic hammer or the handle of a screwdriver. This can be a cheaper and faster way to solve the issue in some cases, though you do run the risk of damaging your bass further this way.
3. Too much or too little neck bend
Inside the neck of your bass, there is a rod that keeps the tension of the neck stable. If your bass guitar`s producing a rattling sound, chances are that this issue is related to this truss rod being too loose or too tight.
The result of this is that the neck of the bass will bend excessively or be too stiff. When this happens, you will generally notice that the bass feels harder to play and has intonation issues in addition to producing a buzz.
If the neck is too straight, it is common for the deepest frets on the bass to produce a buzz. Vice Versa, too much bend generally results in the uppermost frets of the bass making a buzzing sound.
Solution: Adjust the truss rod on your bass.
Oftentimes, you can also quickly see whether the neck is likely to be causing the buzzing sound or not. By looking down the full length of the bass, you can get a general idea of whether the neck has a good amount of bend to it.
Ideally, you want a slight bend, while a completely straight, or excessively bent neck can cause buzzing.
4. Grounding issue
For a bass to output a clear signal to an amplifier, all of the metal in the bass needs to be connected. When some metal parts inside the bass become unconnected this can cause a static bass buzz in the signal. This is known as a grounding issue.
A grounding issue is likely to be the cause of the noise if a loud buzz occurs when you touch the strings, but there is also a faint hum when not touching them. Another indication is that the buzz appeared after you accidentally dropped or hit your bass.
Solution: I`ve gone into detail about how to fix grounding issues in my article on bass static.
Be aware that doing this on your own requires you to solder together parts inside of the bass. You might also need a multimeter in order to find where the grounding issue lies.
5. Uneven nut height
The nut is the small piece that houses the strings between the headstock and neck. Nut height refers to how high the bass strings are seated in the nut.
If the slots in the nut are uneven, the strings will also be uneven as a result. This in turn can result in them producing a buzz, as this can lead to excessively low or uneven action at certain spots.
Solution: Adjust the nut height on your bass guitar. Make sure to do so in small increments at a time, and to be careful not to file the nut too deep.
Alternatively, new plastic nuts can oftentimes be found for less than $10.
If your bass buzzes when you`re not touching the strings, this could be happening because of interference.
Interference can be caused by a multitude of external signals, such as radiowaves, fluorescent lights, and wi-fi signals. These types of signals can be picked up by the pickups of your bass and produce varying degrees of hums and buzzes.
Be especially wary of this if your bass has single-coil pickups, as they are more prone to picking up signals of this kind.
Solution: Play your bass guitar in a different location. A different room in your house should be sufficient, though a different location like a rehearsal space is even better.
Furthermore, use the knobs on your bass to blend your pickups in different ways. This way you will quickly notice what pickups are picking up the interference, if any.
If you find the cause of the buzz, you can do one of two things. Either adapt your pickup choice and where you play your bass to avoid the interference. Or, shield your bass guitar in order to prevent it from picking up interference as easily.
7. Weak fretting technique
How you fret, pluck, and hold down bass strings has a big impact on the overall sound of your instrument. So much so, that in some cases your technique can cause the bass to make a buzzing noise.
One way this can happen is if you are not properly holding down strings with your fretting hand. This can result in the strings producing a rattling type of buzz when plucked.
Solution: Make sure you are firmly holding down the bass strings when you fret them.
This does not mean you need to use any force or strength. It simply means that strings should be pressed all the way down, and not feel loose when fretted.
8. Unprecise fretting technique
Another way that your fretting could be causing the strings to buzz, is if you are being too imprecise. What I mean by this, is that instead of fretting the string next to the fret, you are fretting it at incorrect or inconsistent spots on the fretboard.
This causes the strings to break at a looser angle against the frets. In turn, this makes them more prone to buzz.
Solution: Fret the strings next to the fret as opposed to the middle of the fret.
9. The bass is dirty
In time, dirt will build up on the strings of your bass, as well as the fretboard of the neck. Thus, if the bass is not cleaned at least somewhat consistently, this can lead to the signal of the bass sounding more and more buzzy.
Dirty strings and dirty fretboards are more likely to be the cause if the buzzing noise has gradually become more pronounced. There is also the obvious clue that you can see grim and dirt on the strings and fretboard.
Solution: Clean and reuse the bass strings. In cases where cleaning and rejuvenating the strings does not improve their condition, buy a new set.
Then, clean the fretboard thoroughly.
If either of these solutions removes the buzzing noise, make sure to clean both the strings and neck more frequently going forward.
10. Faulty amplifier or cable
Lastly, a fault in your amplifier or cable could be the cause of the buzzing noise.
If this happens to be the case, there are some steps you can take on your own to fix the buzzing sound. However, it can be challenging to properly troubleshoot faulty amplifiers past a certain point.
It is also often more costly to get an amp repaired, rather than just buying a new one.
Solution: Try playing the bass with a different instrument cable. If the buzz only occurs when using a specific cable, I recommend replacing it rather than putting any effort into trying to repair it.
Ensure that the outlet the amplifier is plugged into is grounded. These are safer types of outlets that send some of the electric power into the ground.
In America, grounded outlets have 3 prongs, as opposed to 2. In Europe, they have 2 metal hooks on their sides. Find a grounded outlet to play your bass through to see if this fixes the issue before moving on.
If the issue persists, unless you have professional credentials, my recommendation is to ask local repair shops how much a repair would cost. Then, make a decision on whether you should replace the amp, repair it, or look into how to play the bass without an amp.
With that said, DIY Amp Maintenance is possible and something I`ve seen several bassists do without issue. However, this does entail working with electronics that can contain high voltage even when turned off. Thus, I personally don`t recommend it, and I am not liable for any damage that ensues from you doing so.
As you can tell by now, getting rid of fret buzz on a bass can either be a quick or a time-consuming task. Luckily, by knowing what to look for you can get the issue solved relatively quickly in most cases.
Another thing to add is that a little fret buzz is not necessarily something that needs to be fixed. In fact, some bass players prefer having a little bit of it.
If you want to get rid of the buzz, use the abovementioned steps to troubleshoot and fix the issue. At the same time, only treat the buzz as an issue if it is intrusive to your playing or you find it annoying.
Also, if you find it difficult or overwhelming to fix the buzzing noise the bass makes on your own, you can always opt to take it to a luthier. Chances are that if there is fret buzz, the bass is in need of a setup anyway.
Related reading: Average cost of bass setups in the US and the UK.