How can I lower my string action without ruining the 1st fret?

Recently bought an Ibanez gio 7 string (online) so I was expecting to do a quick setup and be ready to play. I changed the strings and lowered the action but now whenever I play a note on the 1st fret of any string, i get an ugly buzzing sound and sometimes it even sounds like half a step up. Is there a way I can keep a decently low string action without sacrificing that first fret??

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  • 2 months ago
    Favorite Answer

    From what you describe, the frets were not levelled properly - or it was dropped on the neck - and it needs a fret dressing to get everything back in line.

    If the nut were too low it would be buzzing on the first fret with the strings open.

    Either the first fret is low or the second is high. That cannot be correct by setup, it needs a proper dress. A decent guitar shop should do it for possibly 30-

    You could put a short metal straight edge down the neck parallel to the strings to see which fret is out?

    If it's the second one that is high, it may just have been knocked out of place & you could try tapping it in; use something soft plastic like a rubber coated screwdriver handle and tap it very gently, working back & forth across the fret with the strings loosened off and held clear. 

    Do not hit it hard, you could mess up the curvature; it's just a test to see if it is loose and lifting out.

    If it works and seats level again, add a tiny drop of superglue in to the cut below the end of the fret at each side of the neck. That's a standard luthiers was of stabilising them..

    Otherwise, take it to a shop.

    Edit - just another thought - "new strings"..

    Press hard down on each string, right against the nut on the fret side.

    If they are springing up too much, trying to follow a slight curve over the nut rather than a straight line down the fretboard, that can possibly mess up the first fret - though I'd only expect it at the low E side, not the thinner strings if it were that effect.

    It's more common on basses, though still somewhat unusual.

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  • 1 month ago

    Before doing anything, make sure your neck is straight, if not adjust the truss rod. If you don't know how to, it is best to spend the extra cash to have it properly set up.

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  • Me2
    Lv 7
    2 months ago

    I believe Tommymc thinks the buzz occurs on OPEN strings, but you said, "...on the 1st fret of any string...", so, for now, please disregard his remarks about nut slot height.

      

    For the record —

      

    (1) NEVER touch the nut except to lubricate it.  Adjusting slot depth requires special tools, expertise, and great precision.  The difference between optimal and "oops, too low, hand me a new nut" is a small fraction of a millimetre.

      

    (2) The truss rod is a device setting neck relief, NOT for changing the action.

      

    Tommymc's suggestion to check neck relief is well founded, but note that overtightening the truss rod causes buzzing on LOWER frets, not higher.  As that's the symptom, I suspect it is indeed too tight.

      

    Rather than depress the string at the highest fret, I recommend the standard practise of pressing at the 17th fret, then checking the gap between the string and the 7th fret wire.  For classical, press at 14th, check at 6th.  To adjust, loosen the nut 1/6th of a turn, then wait a minute to let the neck settle in before rechecking.

    I aim for a gap of 0.01 to 0.02 inch (about 1/64th), or 0.2 to 0.5 mm.  This is a little greater than Tommymc suggests, but he may have his guitars set up with a lower than average action, and consequently less relief.

      

    Getting back to the nut, it is worthwhile with any new instrument to verify the 1st fret clearance for each string.  To do this, verify that the neck relief is correct, then place a capo at the 3rd fret position, fairly close to the 3rd fret wire, and just tight enough for the strings to ring clearly.

      

    Each tensioned string is supported by the nut and the 2nd fret wire, and should just barely clear the 1st fret wire, by about 1/5th to 1/8th the string diameter.  This means that the clearance will be less for thinner strings, so the high E's clearance may need magnification to see.

      

    A significantly larger gap will make the string hard to press and play sharp at the lower frets.  A smaller gap causes fret buzz with normal or even fairly light picking.  A luthier is the best resource when nut work is needed.

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  • 2 months ago

    Is this *only* happening on the 1st fret? That's typically an indication that the nut slots are too low. Unless you did some filing on them, that's not likely to be the problem on a new guitar. The nuts typically leave the factory with the slots cut a little higher than absolutely necessary. If you want to check, the slots should be the same height (or higher) as a normal fret. If somebody has filed them down, the correct fix is a new nut, but as a quick fix, you can mix some baking soda and Krazy Glue to build up the slots.

    Before doing anything, I suggest you check the neck relief. If the truss rod is over-tightened, you could have a reverse bow....although that would typically cause buzzing higher up. Your neck should have a teeny forward bow. If you put a capo on the first fret and press the low string on the highest fret, you should be able to see daylight between the bottom of the string and the top of the mid fret...usually fret 7 or 8. Tolerance is about .008" or a little less than the thickness of your high E string. If you don't see a gap there, your truss rod is too tight.

    If your neck relief and nut slots are okay, there's not much else to do but raise the bridge.

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