Dealing with Dead Spots on the Fretboard

Bass Fretboard

Q: I’ve played a Fender ’61 Anniversary Precision the last year or so. It sounds great and is very comfortable to play, but I have drama with the G note on the E string being noticeably “plonky” sounding. A slight truss rod adjustment clockwise moves this down a semi tone. I’m fearing a dead spot… I’ve had a few guys look at it and claim it’s fine, saying the frets are perfect. The nut is okay too. I’ve tried mucking around with a G clamp. No joy there. Unless it’s a big stage with an SVT, the blah G is noticeable. Front of house operators just shrug. Recording seems to pick it up, though in play back it’s not so obvious. It has me stumped. Big round E and F… F#, less so. G… plonk. G# better. A is huge. Thanks for any insight. I’m not ruling out that this could be a Fender thing or that I might be OCD.

A: My understanding is that dead spots happen when the neck vibrates at the same frequency as a certain note, effectively canceling each other out just a bit. It definitely sounds like you either a dead spot that a change in mass can fix (clamp or some other options I’ll mention) or it’s a physical issue with the neck or frets (or, possibly some self-diagnosed OCD).

For starters, you might get some 2nd and 3rd opinions about your neck and frets, just to be sure.

I’d assume that this has been happening for a while an you’ve changed strings since you noticed it, at least once. You never know, it could be a string defect, although I don’t really know if that could actually effect just one note on the fretboard.

If everything checks out, it’s time to experiment with mass. Adding or subtracting different amounts of weight from the headstock essentially shifts the dead note to somewhere else. Often, it moves upwards if you add weight and isn’t as noticeable in higher registers.

Aside from the usual “Fatfinger” clamp or good old fashioned G clamp, here are some inventive and less clunky ways to fix it. Fatfinger now also makes brass plates that affixes to the rear of the headstock.

Before doing some of these, it’d be best to suss out what weight seems to solve the problem before just adding a plate or weights to the instrument. Often, just a few ounces will do it (so I’m told).

Check out these novel approaches to fixing dead spots:

Best of luck! Let us know if you try any of these ideas and what the results are.

Readers, how do you go about dealing with dead spots? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. colin

    my 68 tele bass had a shocker on the g string ,I did read may years ago this was a structural problem ,with many 68-70 tele’s

  2. Johnny

    I’m having a similar issue with my Nate Mendel Precision, except it’s the A on the 5th fret E string. Not really bad, but a noticeable difference in note sustain. Tried a truss rod adjustment but no joy there. I have a hipshot d-tuner coming so maybe that may help.

  3. I owned a 2000’s JB with the same dead spot in the same place. Going to the brightest roundwound string helped a bit, but then that wasn’t the sound I wanted either. That bass looked and sounded great otherwise, so I decided to sell it off.

  4. Walter

    Hmm, one thing noone mentioned yet ist the nut.
    I had a dead spot at G/G# on E-string on my old 75 Ibanez JB long time ago.
    After trying a lot of different things (changing bridge, tuners, clamp, all sorts of strings etc,) without success I wanted to give up on it.
    Then it happened at a gig that a drunken guest threw my JB with stand on the floor when passing by and the (plastic) nut broke. So I went to my repair store and the guy told me to try a bone nut instead. It was expensive but afterwards the dead spot was completely gone and is to this day. Maybe it’s the different material but also the different geometry of the bone nut, because it’s a little bit broader than the original plastic part.

    • Marty

      No, changing the nut cannot fix a dead spot on the fretboard.. What made the dead spot disappear from your guitar must have been something else, maybe it got a micro kink to the neck pocket or something similar as it fall which then affected the vibration dynamics of the guitar. A brass nut might theoretically add enough mass to neck to shift a dead spot slightly, but that swapping a ‘plastic’ nut with a bone nut could be a remedy for dead spots or indeed affect tone properties of a fretted note is simply not the case. Once you fret a string anywhere on the fretboard of a guitar, the nuts material and geometry seize to have any affect on tone. The nut only affects open (unfretted) strings.

  5. Israel

    try strings with a different gauge! It helped me once

  6. that bass guy

    I would look at getting the string height in relation to the distance from the pickup magnets checked. I used to have a noticeable overtone around the 7th fret. About the same time I got a new nut made to go with a different brand of string. The tech told me that the “thud” was because of a bad alignment between the strings and the distance to the magnets. Anyway, after getting the adjustment the bass sang. Bear in mind that if you switch string gauges or mess with your neck relief you’ll have to do the adjustment all over again.

  7. Guy Ferguson

    I have a Walnut Peavey Cirrus that has a terrible dead spot on the D string playing the B note. I’m wondering if changing to a brass nut would help.

  8. Ernest Bledsoe

    I was given a Squire Strat. It sounds great except on the 13th fret, A string. It’s dull and buzzing. I also hear a little buzzing on the 15th fret, D string. Not as bad though. Any suggestions.