When playing the 4th fret string D there is a buzzing sound. You can't hear the buzzing when the bass is plugged into my amp, only when the bass is alone. Should I be worried about this? Any solutions?

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    is it only when you're playing the 4th fret, not higher frets? – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 3 '17 at 10:11
  • I had a bass that rattled in a similar spot. It didn't really affect the sound most of the time but I found ways to use it to my advantage - It all depends on the kinds of sounds you want to make. – popctrl Jan 3 '17 at 17:51

In general, it's fairly common for a bass set up with a reasonably low action to have a few rattles and buzzes here and there and not something to worry about.

However, if it's bothering you at all, its worth seeing if it can be solved without compromising on other aspects of the instrument's playability. If the rattle is coming from the string hitting the frets, it probably will be affecting the sustain of that note.

If the rattle is coming from the string hitting the frets, solving this might in general be done in one or more of 4 ways : adjusting the action at the nut, adjusting the action at the bridge, changing the amount of relief in the neck, and making sure the frets are levelled properly.

If you're only getting a rattle on the 4th fret D string, I'd start by checking that the 5th fret isn't a little high. This might be something that you need someone more experienced to show you how to do (and fixing it will need the right tools and knowledge too).

It's likely you can make the problem go away by raising the action at the bridge on the D string saddle, but if you only have a problem with one fret, that will be giving you an unnecessarily high action.

Sometimes you can get 'sympathetic' rattles coming from a loose screw or stray bit of unclipped wire on the headstock too, so listen carefully and see if you can track down exactly where it's coming from.

  • If it rattles on 4th fret, don't think adjusting the nut will have any effect. I've sometimes solved the high fretwire problem with a gentle tap with a small hammer at the offending spot. – Tim Jan 3 '17 at 12:28
  • @Tim I agree that the nut is not prime suspect in this case (and have tightened up that paragraph a bit). Nevertheless I have had noticeable nut-side rattles on bass on occasion! My poor man's fret-leveling technique is rubbing another smooth metal object (like the handle of an old knife) along the fret and back; such techniques are probably only applicable to "beater" instruments, but then those are the only kind I ever own. – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 3 '17 at 12:38
  • Trouble with 'filing' down high frets is that you can end up chasing the whole fretboard along to the bridge end, so gently is the only way to go. Ever tried Bass Collection? Nothing to do with bad frets, I promise! From '80/'90. Incredible value for money. You could have a fabulous bass for 'beater' money - or less! – Tim Jan 3 '17 at 13:23
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    Regarding your point about "sympathetic" rattles - on a semi-acoustic guitar I have, playing a D makes one of the pickups vibrate in its housing. I keep meaning to have it fixed, but when it's played through an amp I can't hear it, so I always forget. But it vibrates specifically to D, so if I down tune my E string to D I get it as well. – Matt Jones Jan 3 '17 at 17:02
  • @MattJones I think you touch on a really good point. I don't know the scientific term for it but I have definitely seen (heard?) instrumental resonance "sweet spots" (just like with room acoustics) where a specific note bounces around in just the right way as to be unique from other notes around it. The OP could be dealing with a simple setup issue on his guitar or he might be hitting a note that happens to vibrate his instrument in a very specific way that is perceived as a buzz to the naked ear. – DanK Jan 3 '17 at 17:58

When I play my fretted bass without amplification, then the buzzing and clattering is in fact much louder than the actual notes!

As you say, this kind of noise is generally much less present in the amplifier signal, which is after all the important thing which the audience gets to hear. IMO, the buzzing that you do hear over the amp actually tends to have a positive effect: this adds to the “growl” of the bass, and gets you heard in the mix and adds definition to the notes.

Now, all that is assuming a somewhat uniform, controllable buzzing, the kind that's caused by the strings clashing with the fretboard. This should largely vanish when playing quieter (again a useful thing, as it means you can achieve a dynamic sound even when the signal is strongly compressed). If only a single note is buzzing, and even at quiet playing, then this is at any rate not musically useful. It might be a good idea to let a luthier check what's going on.
But quite possibly it simply doesn't matter. If this is some kind of sympathetic resonance at the headstock, then it probably won't be audible at all in a band context, and should anyway be exclipsed by fretboard buzzing if playing at typical rock volume.

  • +1 for pointing out that fret noises can be good; I often want a bit of clatter against the frets at the bottom of the neck just to give some growl to the start of notes. – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 3 '17 at 15:05

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