The Dreaded Open “A” String Buzz.

Milled A tuner
Pic 1

If you’ve ever strung up a Fender P or J bass you probably noticed that you need to snip the strings down before you load them into the tuning peg; that is if you happen to have a wire clipper. If not, you are stuck winding excess string for a good 1/2 hr. For those of you with no wire cutters, that extra labor may have been tedious but you avoided a major problem by winding all that string: open A string Buzz. Those of us who clipped our string learned pretty quick that the A string does not have enough string angle behind the nut with only a few wraps around the post, causing an awful buzz when plucking the A string open. This can be remedied by remembering NOT TO CLIP THE A STRING before loading into the tuner. Usually, by the time it is ready to change the strings, this fact is long forgotten and you end up in the same boat again with the horrible buzz.

Now vintage Fender basses are not so much of a problem because the shaft of the tuning machine has no flange to it and the string can be forced down the shaft with very little winding, and sufficient string angle can be achieved even if you clipped it too short. However, newer Fender basses including Mexican made instrument, have tuning shafts with flanges. Don’t ask me why they changed this. The original design worked fine. All i can think is that they thought it looked nicer. Well, this nice looking flange forces the A string up the shaft unless you wind the entire A string onto it.

I personally got sick of throwing out new A strings and came up with a remedy. I milled the shaft of the A tuner to defeat the bottom part of the flange. I don’t own a milling machine or a lathe so i utilized my drill press. First I removed the shaft from the tuner and removed the back screw that holds the gear to the shaft. Then I found  a longer screw that fit the threads of that same hole (about 1/2″ longer). I cut of the head of this new screw so there was about 1/2″ of threading sticking out. I loaded that into my drill press chuck. This allowed me to spin the tuner shaft in my drill press while I held a metal file to the side of the shaft. I held the file steadily in the area that needed to be reduce; basically a half an inch of the area below the flange (see pic 1). It took a long time but the results were worth it. When I installed the shaft back into the tuner and strung up the bass, the A string had just as much angle as the strings with the string tree…and I didn’t have to throw out a perfectly good A string or add another string tree the head stock. Plus after it was strung up, my repair was hidden by the string wrapping (see pic 2)!

Milled A tuner and string

Pic 2

Hope you’ve enjoyed my guitar nerd tech tip, there’s more where that came from!
-Chris DiPinto

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One Response to The Dreaded Open “A” String Buzz.

  1. Mark Andrew Sadowski says:

    I love this section of the site. Most Luthiers are LOATHE to give away trade secrets, but Chris is doing this to help budding Guitar techs eliminate the small problems that seem to stifle most of us amateurs out here in Philly. Chris is absolutely right about actions. The fact that most guitars don’t have zero frets make the power and stamina of acoustics a Very touchy thing! I’ve worked on everything from budget Jap plywood stuff from the late 60’s, to collector item Gibsons and Fenders, and the key ingredient is how high is high enough to clear after fret 12 to make these babies throw long, and give you the REAL sizzle you just can’t find in modern guitars. Everybody wants their rig to be as low as possible, to give their fingers relief, Especially on acoustics. There is one thing to remember, and this applies to 12’s too! (my specialty!) You cannot lay the thicker strings down low and get the response you are looking for! On a 12 string model, it’s even more critical! I worked on a 64 Stella trapeze 12 for 3 DAYS, with a long handled nut driver and a PAIR OF VICE GRIPS! Because they are pressed bodies, one missed turn and watch as your neck leaves that dovetail and you have 2 pieces instead of one! You can’t scrape the bridge because it’s totally flat, and it has to be turned about 8 degrees from center to get the intonation right. I almost broke my left wrist trying to turn the truss nut, and then resorted to turning the thing with the grips, one 16th at a time, once every 2 hours. It was slightly high on the low E, but it rang like a bell and played all the way to fret 14! Well worth the little bit of pain to sound like Leadbelly! This applies to older 6 strings too. Some fret problems give buzz because the necks tend to warp, and must have the truss adjusted BEFORE you decide if that J45adj from 58 is low enough NOT to play with it. Most big money boxes, like the Syncromatic he has, is even touchier, and may need a refret to make it work! His doesn’t, I tried it. If you are a jazz buff, it’s the bomb, and even though I’m a loud rock guy, It’s a real beaut! Bolt neck guitars are really touchy, especially strats, but the same rules apply. Having your big E loaded down to 3/32nds, will not give the tone you want, no matter HOW good or expensive those Bardens are that you just bought. Look back and check those old guitar player mags everyone throws away and look at the masters. THEY INSIST on great tone, and will except no less, even if it hurts a little more during a gig, because, at the end, All the fans say is, ” geez! How can I wail like that?” Raise the back 3 strings a little higher, send those pickups higher, (after you drop those Poles dead flat) and make sure you use the brand of strings you like are the ones you’ve tried for more than 3 minutes. I ran every brand of string known on my 76 Blonde Custom, (Yes, chris sold that one) and even after I handmounted a nickel ABR onto the Nashville studs and converted the bridge parts to original 61 nylon ones, It took me 2 years to find the right strings. I used Dean Markley 46-10 nickles until I sold it. Chris is also right about guitar weight! That paul weighed 16 pounds on my shoulder, and even though it KILLED me, I hated to part with it. The best rig I ever owned and played was a 59 dual cut Junior cherry that weighed 6 pounds! Nothing could stop it. Like AN idiot, I traded it for a 64 Epi Texan, and I still miss it. The strings were slightly higher than most 50’s pauls, but God could that guitar growl, 1 p90, 2 knobs, no waiting! Keep watching this site. You can learn A LOT from Chris, He’s strictly NO BULLSHIT, and even though he looks young, he has years behind him. I just wish I could build them from scratch like him. Ask Him about the SG12 I homebrewed, with dual l500’s. Even he was surprised! Hope the fall sees him doing boffo business, and trust me, I’ve dealt with him since he moved to Fishtown. He treats you fair, and gives you respect and that’s very rare these days! Great job Chris, and to the Master Martone, RIP……

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