Setup question

I just completed a setup on my BB735 that I got a couple months ago (long overdue). I’ve got the truss rod adjusted so it’s just slightly concave (like in figure A. of the illustration below).


I can now slide a credit card from the 21st fret along the neck toward the headstock, and the distance between strings and frets is uniform… until I get to the 1st fret, where it’s like hitting a brick wall. My conclusion is, the 1st fret is higher on the board than the other frets.
Do I need to file it down? Add more/less relief?
Any advice?

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The first fret is going to be closest to the strings, so that could explain the difference. If there is an issue with buzzing, you should consider adding more relief, otherwise it should be fine. Filing it down seems to be quite an extreme measure :grimacing:

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What about filing down the nut, since the first fret is closest to it?

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I would think this is unavoidable given the way the whole thing is constructed. Do you have any buzzing when playing open strings? If not, then I wouldn’t worry more about this!

As @Krescht said, filing down frets isn’t anything I even wanted to consider…

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That would further lower the strings, seems like a bad idea.

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If you are unsure about fret height, you might consider getting a PLEK done.

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If you really suspected something is off with the frets themselves, you might want to consider getting the bass PLEK’ed. @T_dub has done that as far as I know…

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No fret buzzing at all with open or fretted strings… so I guess I won’t concern myself with it. It just seemed odd that the first fret seems to be taller than the other frets.

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Filing the nut will lower the strings.

Here’s how to tell if the nut is too low or the first fret too high: fret the third fret, except on the opposite side from normal, up against the 2nd fret wire. The string should just barely clear the first fret without touching it. But just barely. There should be very little gap. Too much gap and the nut is too high and needs filing; if the string is sitting on the fret the nut is too low (or the fret is too high, but that seems doubtful.)

How to tell if a fret is too high: take something like a credit card and use it as a straightedge across three adjacent frets. It should sit flat across them. This can be somewhat thrown off by neck concavity in extremis, or by the frets being too far apart (like at the first fret), so you may need to find something long enough but not too long for this.

(I only know this because I just had to look it up myself, suspecting I had a fret that needed filing.)

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Thanks for the help everyone!

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Getting a setup done by a professional is not that expensive. I know there are so many people out there (especially on Youtube) saying to do it yourself but let’s just think about it. If you follow those instructions and you find yourself out of your depth, it’s time to stop. Your instrument cost a lot more than paying for a setup. Mostly a setup never needs much work but when you find yourself questioning fret height, nut filing and such it’s best to leave it to the professionals. Also, another way to think of it is that these guys have studied, worked and invested so much time in being able to perform such a job, they don’t ask so much money to apply their trade to your pride and joy. It’s their lively hood and paying for a decent setup here and there wont ruin you financially but may help them pay the bills.

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I think paying someone to do it for you is a fine option if that’s the way you wish to go. However, for those of us who have more time on our hands than money (IE: retired), and enjoy hands-on; doing it ourselves is another option. It’s not that difficult, and it’s not risky to the instrument if one takes their time and follows the process.
I took my first bass to Guitar Center for a setup a couple years ago, and the guy did it in 20 minutes while I waited (which I though was rather odd). After paying $50.00, I got it home and it was no different than it was when I brought it in, other than the new strings (which it didn’t need). I ended up making adjustments myself and wishing I hadn’t wasted $50.00.
The luthier here in the east side of Phoenix that everyone recommends charges $100.00 for a setup and has a 30 day backlog. If I had multiple backup basses and an extra $100.00, I might consider dropping this one off with him to see how he does.

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Humidity and temperature changes enough here that if I didn’t do it myself it would be around $200/year. It’s not like a setup is something you just need done once, unless you live in a place with really mellow weather maybe. But even then, eventually you’ll want to try new strings, which will often need a truss rod adjustment.

Even nut filing isn’t difficult and I was glad to be able to do it when my nut broke recently.

If I needed a fret levelling I would definitely take it in though.

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Ditto!

In my comment above, I was referring mainly to the basics such as truss rod adjustment, bridge adjustment, etc. For more major repairs, I would definitely take it in.

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I’ve always done all of my own work on my instruments - and yes, even fret leveling. When I started learning guitar back in the early ‘60’s, there wasn’t any spare cash to have someone else do things for us so as a result I grew up having to learn to do things myself. Personally, I’d rather do things my own way anyway. And yes, as @PamPurrs Pam mentions, being retired also allows time for us to spend not just learning to make music, but also to get very well acquainted with our gear…

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For nut filing, did you buy the gauged files? I can’t find a set of bass gauges for less than $70 which seems extreme for 4 files. I’ve also seen people use old roundwound strings superglued to popsicle sticks as makeshift nut files, which is what i was going to try first.

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Nope, I used a thin flat diamond file I have and was careful, filing a little at a time and testing with the strings to see when they fit.

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One of my other hobbies is riding my motorcycle. A motorcycle, like a bass guitar, requires regular maintenance. Performing this maintenance yourself is not only immensely gratifying, but it also gives you a better understanding of how it works, how all the little parts and pieces work together. That knowledge is very valuable, especially if for some reason it doesn’t work as it should. Saving a little money is a nice bonus, but understanding your motorcycle or bass guitar better is where the real value is.

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Ditto on the motorcycle.
I rode for 40 years and 6 different bikes. I always did my own oil changes, maintenance, and mods. I’ve even performed minor engine mods and fixes. Like you said, it bonds you with the machine, the same way performing a setup and other mods on your bass bonds you with the instrument.

I’m the same way with my firearms, but I won’t go there…

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Maybe I’m coming a little bit late, however, I hope that you have not yet filed anything on your bass :slight_smile:
Excuse me if I have missed something in the thread concerning the neck relief measurement and setup method, but did you:

  1. put a capo on the 1st fret,
  2. press down the strings at the 17th fret while
  3. verifying the action at the 8th fret,
    all these in playing position?
    This is the procedure recommended by several luthiers. They don’t even mention verifying the other frets, as far as it is only the neck bow that needs to be adjusted. (Of course, if you suspect that your frets are of inequal height, that’s quite another cup of tea.)
    Maybe you also have discovered the site of Gerry Hayes of Haze Guitars (https://hazeguitars.com/). Personally, I find his books and explanations very instructive and I was never disappointed by having followed his advices.
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