The 'Scoop' On Buzzing Bass Fingerboards
Nothing will frustrate a bass player more than a buzz coming from
his bass. There can be a whole combination of reasons or it
can be super simple. When we get a new bass in the shop that
has a buzz coming from the fingerboard it is more than likely a low
(or high) spot on the 'board'. The old saying of "what goes
up, must come down!" certainly holds true with fingerboards.
Also, bass fingerboards for the record are surely the hardest to plane and
optimize than any other stringed instrument in the violin family.
The reason being is that as basses go, we are obviously looking at
feet of length, rather than a few short inches as on a violin.
There is then way greater room and issues with regards to
irregularities in the fingerboard. Depending on the bass, the string, the
player and music genres, basses will buzz at varying degrees and
Let's do a quick checklist of some of the most easy and most common
First, please make sure that it isn't a bad string! This is
rare, but when you are trying to fix a buzz nothing will make
you more crazy than finding a 'bad' string AFTER you have looked at
and tried everything else!! Look at the string where it is
buzzing. Sometimes you will see a nick or an obvious defect.
Replace that string and try it again. Sometimes you
may even get a string that looks perfectly fine and then to replace it and
find the buzz is nicely gone. Don't be fooled by using a more
muted (less vibrant) kind of string. If you can, try to use
the same brand so that they behave similarly.
Secondly, there may be a 'bump' on the board. This is often
usually the culprit. Often you cannot see the bump because it
is so slight, but you
can most easily find it, as it will be almost directly ahead (just
higher) of the note buzzing. For instance, say your E on the G
string is buzzing. Look at or near the F, F#, or even G for
that high spot. Usually, though that buzz will not only be
behind a bump, but will actually also be under (in pitch) some kind
of flat spot where the fingerboard doesn't allow for any 'relief for
the vibrating string to move (i.e. it touches the board and then you
hear it buzz.) Another way to see this is to take a steel
ruler (with a nice flat straight edge) and slide it along the top
surface of the fingerboard. The best way is to slide it
alongside the string since that is exactly where the string comes in
contact with the surface of the board. If you do this, try to
have a good source of light (like a lamp or even flashlight) behind
the ruler so that you can see the little sliver of space under the
ruler. You should see a constant (ever so slight) sliver of
light all along the board coming under the ruler. Look for a
flat surface where no light comes through or even a bump in the
board where the ruler acts like a teeter-totter. You can even
take a pencil and mark exactly where the buzz occurs on the
fingerboard and then study it with the light and ruler method.
Again, any work needed should be done by a qualified luthier that
Most often your bass repairman/luthier can
easily take just a few sweeps with his plane or metal hand scraper to
take that flat out and feather the rest of the board length under
and above the pitch spot on the fingerboard. Before finishing
(with oil and polish) they can quickly play the note first to make
sure it is gone. If not, you will often hear an improvement
(less buzzing!) and to repeat the process little by little until the
buzz is gone. In
Traeger's bass optimization book, he makes a comment about not
being too 'greedy' at first with the block plane. I agree!
Taking off a little bit at a time and checking it is far better than
aggressively removing ebony. It's easier to remove wood and ridiculously
more expensive to add it back on! Be patient and always ask a
qualified repairman to help with that.
Once in a while you will get a buzz and after checking for a
defective string, then logically think that it is a fingerboard issue.
You check the board closely (and not matter what), cannot figure out
where the spot is or why it is happening at all. We have personally seen some
really great, professionally set up, quality basses ($100k+) and
they buzz all the same. These days, with bass players playing
violin and cello solo music on the bass, the standards are very high
for low strings and great set ups that will enable this kind of
playing. Only after you have checked the string (for defects),
or your luthier cannot see anything wrong with the board, please try
on your A string (below) the bridge.
Amazingly, it is a strange kind of wolf type note that will cause
that note to flap or vibrate so irregularly that it buzzes against the
board. It's always a beautiful thing when an otherwise
perfectly performing bass will have a crazy note, that can be
remedied with a little brass weight added on the A string. You
may even want to try this first before taking it in to a luthier.
Often, with an inexperienced luthier or someone not used to the
crazy way basses can vibrate, their first inclination is to plane
the buzz away. Unfortunately, these type of (wolf) buzzes are
so nasty that we have seen heavily planed (or deeply 'scooped')
fingerboards that are so deeply cambered that they are then rendered
almost unplayable making the strings too high to play on for any
real period of time, when all it really needed was a wolf eliminator
on the string.
- some basses have 'seasonal' buzzes with wolf notes that can
come and go throughout the year. Keep a wolf eliminator in
your rosin pocket if you have one. If the weather changes
and you start getting that 'buzz', try putting it on.
If you don't have a wolf
eliminator to slip on, you can always substitute with anything
'weighty' to tape on or even ask someone to pinch that spot (the A
string between the bridge and tailpiece, just above the colored
winding) while you play it to ascertain if that is the cause of the
problem. This can at least give you an indication if the
buzz stops then. The wolf eliminators that we use here run
between 18-24 grams.
Lastly, another cause this kind of 'wolfy' buzz is that the bass
sound post is out of adjustment, in the wrong place, is too tight
(or even too loose). Often when the post is too tight or in
the wrong spot, it will keep the top from a more freer vibration.
The best way to visualize how a sound post will work it's optimum is
the Teeter-Totter again: When the Teeter-Totter is nicely
balanced, the kids can have an easy time balancing themselves and
reasonably maneuver. If the fulcrum is moved off center then
it becomes much harder to work and balance. The top of your
bass rocks from left to right (side to side) and functions much the
These are just some ideas of how and why a bass fingerboard will
buzz or clack. Surely, you could have chosen another
instrument less big, less troublesome, but not nearly as gratifying
to play! Always remember that if you are not experienced enough with
bass set ups (most all are not), you will save money and aggravation
by taking your bass into a bass specialist. Always try for
someone that specializes in basses. If that is not possible,
then going to a good violin shop is your next logical step.
Bass Fingerboard Buzz Checklist:
- first look at and make sure your string isn't damaged or
defective (maybe try another string) preferably of the same make
- get a steel or metal ruler to check if there is a flat area
or bump on the board at or around where the buzz emanates
- is there a wolf note? That alone can cause the string to
- how about that sound post? Is it in the correct place, is it
too tight or too loose...