High vs. Low Action on Low Frets and the Nut

I’m trying to figure out if my bass has a setup problem, or maybe it’s just me. I bought a Squier used. It had been modified; I was able to replace the modded electronics with Switchcraft / Fender / Seymour Duncan hardware.

After a time I noticed that the action on my bass is a lot lower than what I’ve tried at guitar center. It’s been modded I am sure, and the intonation is a little off on the A string.

Here’s my issue: I was working in the improv lesson in module 8 using the F major scale on the E string, and I just buzz a lot on the 1st fret of the E string. I try and try to be more deliberate, but I just can’t tame that first fret on E. When I let up on it with out taking my index finger off it, it just buzzes for a instant, and it it really bugs me. I can make it behave, but not in an exercise.

Is my index finger weak? …or is did whomever set up this bass file down the nut down too low?


I think I’d start out with checking the truss adjustment first. Get that set and then work with each individual string for action and intonation. If in fact the nut has been filed lower, you should probably install a new nut (no big thing), but I have been known to loosen a string and slide a small sliver of paper in the nut groove and then tighten the string back up again… not a great fix, but works in a bind…

Keep on Thumpin’!


I had the same problem a few weeks ago and did the paper under the string trick. Corrected the problem. When the professionals get back in their shops, I’ll take it in for a little TLC.


How to tell if your nut is filed too low - for each string,

  • Fret the second fret on the side towards the body of the bass (i.e. finger up against the second fret wire in the third fret)
  • Check that there is a tiny gap between the string and the first fret top

If there is no gap, the nut is filed too low.
If there is more than just a tiny gap (like 0.1-0.2mm), the nut is too high and needs filing.


You can also check if the neck is too flat, and needs truss adjustment.

There are a few things to check actually.
First, you say the action is very low., so raising the action a little bit might do the trick.

If you do about 1/4 to 1/2 turn at a time to each set screw at the bridge of that string, you should not raise the action too high, and this could solve the problem.

I usually set my action as low as I can, tune the bass, and play notes up and down each string until I find a buzz somewhere. Then I raise that string a 1/4 turn at a time til the buzz is gone.

With a new set up, I may find the buzz a few days large, I always have my tools near by to make adjustments. I usually find bridge adjustments do the trick.

Of course, that is if I know the truss does not need to be adjusted.

So the first check is the neck, and it’s fast and simple. It is best if you have a capo, makes it super easy, in fact, that’s the only real reason I own a capo.

If you press the first fret (capo if you can). Then press down on the last fret near the body, you will then be looking at the gap of air at thr 12th fret. There should be a gap, the string should not be resting on the fret. The gap should be small, about .010 to .020 (.2 - .4 mm) roughly.

If you have no gap, the truss needs to be loosened. If the gap is too great, the truss needs to be tightened.

Once that is set, or confirmed, you can try the bridge adjustments.

Only then, if it’s not good will I consider the nut. Others have already talked about that. Above.
HTH and is clear


Interesting fix, @Lanny and @JerryP!

My Jazz seems to have come from the factory with the nut filed too low for the E string. I am the second owner, but I don’t believe the first owner did ANYTHING with the bass in terms of setups while he had it…

I am a bit wary to have to replace the nut (for fear of wrecking the entire neck)… there are some other “fixes” than the paper bit, namely the baking soda and super glue approach featured, e.g., in this video:

Maybe I’ll try that first…
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One thing I love about Warwicks, that I wish other manufacturers would do, is the Just-A-Nut.

Warwick nuts and bridges just seem light years ahead of everyone else to me, at least for usability and adjustability. Especially the bridges, which in addition to the normal per-saddle action height, also allow allen nut height adjustments at all four corners of the bridge, and also the saddles individually adjust left and right to easily alter string spacing to personal taste.


Isn’t this a bit dependent on how many frets your bass has in total? Or, better, where that last fret at the body actually is? What I am getting at is, isn’t it best to find the point half-way between the first fret and the last fret near the body, which, for standard basses, is probably closer to the 8th/9th fret than the 12th fret??


Instinctively, I say no to this. No matter how many frets you have, the 12th is going to be at the middle of the string.


Actually it does matter because while the 12th is the middle of the string, due to the neck profile thinning over its length the bend of the wood is not linear. Different basses have maximum curve in different places. My Yamaha (24 frets) has maximum bend at around the 7th-8th fret, for example.

(“maximum bend” is probably the wrong term there. Really what I am talking about here is the inflection point where buzzing will begin if the neck is too flat.)


AFAIK it’s the 12th fret. I have not read, heard, or seen otherwise, but great question if somebody has a decisive answer.

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I can definitively state it is neither always nor usually the 12th in my experience. None of my basses maxed there.

This is easy to measure. Adjust your neck relief just slightly too flat, and then find the range of frets that buzz :slight_smile:

I also seem to remember my Yamaha manual specifying to measure at the 7th fret.


Hm, yes, but you use the string (as a natural straight object) to measure the curvature of the neck by pressing it down at two fixed points, which - to my intuition - should be equally spaced away from the point of max deflection…

But, I am neither a luthier nor an expert in bass neck mechanics - so, just wondering here :smile:

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Ok, there you have it. First time I heard to not use 12th fret, but I beleive you.

The measuring tools I have also say measure at 12th fret, but it is definitely a gross generalization.

But I think the margin for error is probably made up in the rather large gap allowance. Where a luthier would find the actual point, with more precise tools, and calibrate to a gap of say .005 to .008 and set action to exactly a set number.

I as a do it your seller can get away with the rough measurements based off the 12th fret

Does that sound reasonable, or is that still flawed thinking?


Nope, totally reasonable, and 12th is a safe default. Just pointing out it’s not always there.

Another reason I never measure, I just lower until buzzing and then raise until not :slight_smile:

To be honest I see no point in measuring at all. It’s more important to get it to where it feels and sounds right to you, not what the manufacturer specs say.


No, don’t just believe it because I (or someone else) says it :smile:We should consult different sources, collect data, make experiments, and then come to a conclusion/new hypothesis (is what I always tell my students - don’t just believe it because a professor says so…).

So, no “flawed thinking” at all. As mentioned, I certainly don’t know what is “more correct”… but, perhaps it is best to be pragmatic about it, as you and @howard also pointed out!


I fully agree with @howard that it is really a “feel” thing. I do almost everything by feel, as I have said, I lower till feels good, tune, play around the neck til I find a buzz, adjust, sometimes over several days and tunings.
I can’t express the feel part in a way for someone else to grasp without some starting points.
This is the starting point I use, for lack of a better one.
I actually want to take at least one of. Y set ups to a luthier and have it analyzed, and see where I am off.
I did meet a luthier thru some OfferUp add, where I got the GK head for $25. I am going to see if he will let m sit in on the setting of one of my instruments to see if I can get some more knowledge about it.


Do all of mine the same way @howard… I eyeball and go by feel. Then do all my final adjustments one string at a time by playing, stopping, tweaking a string, playing again. Once the string is to my liking, I re-check intonation, adjust as needed and then play the hell out of the damn thing… I am a firm believer in personal set ups. We all have different styles of play and different string to fretboard feels, pressures, and angles of attack.

We all have our own ways to do things though, and what ever works,… I always say…:grinning::+1:


Wow! So much advice!


@Lanny and @howard, I am curious, do you find that you sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, find the need to make adjustment days, even weeks later.
I mean specifically, that you find a fret buzzing a few days or weeks later, after much play, and then get the hex key out, Kiev a 1/4 to 1/2 turn on each side of that strings bridge until the buzz goes away…
And then carry on.

I find this happen at times, most often on D and G strings after a lot of slap POPPING, but it is not limited to just those strings or style of play.

I attribute it to Strings breaking in,and the neck settling after a truss adjustment. Or just from extended play time.

Agree? Disagree? Thoughts welcome by all.