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Why Guitar Strings Buzz & How To Fix Them

Last Updated: September 30, 2016 / by Joseph Evans



Have you ever noticed an irritating buzz sound on some of your guitar strings? Driving you crazy?  Let's have a look at what might be causing this noise and how to fix the problem. 

What's Up With That Buzz

There is a multitude of different things that might cause the unintentional sound you're hearing. Investigating the problem yourself might save you some time and money, so here are a few things you need to know about fret buzz:

Firstly, a clean instrument has a clean sound...

Let’s start with the simplest culprit, dirt. There are two places you need to check:

AYour guitar strings: Check the underside of your strings. Do you notice any build up? If so, might be time to invest in some proper cleaning products for your instrument. Start with just wiping it with a damp cloth. If that doesn't work, buy a product aimed at cleaning guitars. 

A clean guitar will have a better sound. B. Check your fretboard: Build up of dirt on your fretboard might be unlikely, but it is better to check. For general maintenance of your guitar, you might want to think about cleaning your fretboard whenever you are replacing your guitar strings

You can clean your fretboard by using a damp cloth or other guitar cleaning products. Like with the strings, if a damp cloth does not do the job you will have to invest in specialized cleaning products. 

Be gentle, though. Your guitar is sensitive and you would not want to cause any additional problems. You will also not want to damage the wood finish of your guitar. 

When checking your guitar for dirt, you might also want to think back to the last time you checked your strings. It might just be time for a new set. 

If a clean guitar is still producing a buzz then you need to dig a bit deeper to find the cause: 

1. Locate The Problem

Your first step would be to try and find the location the fret buzz is produced. 

Pick each string without fretting any notes. Then fret each string at the first fret and move down. Take note of the sound. This will help you identify the location of the fret buzz and in turn, will help find a solution. 

2. Fret Buzz When Strings Are Open

Sometimes your string will buzz when it's open (not fretted), but stops when you fret anywhere on the guitar. This might indicate that there is a worn or poorly cut nut slot. 

The solution to this problem is to set up your instrument properly or replace the nut.  

Fret buzz is a common problem3. Fret Buzz in One Spot

If the buzz is heard on one spot (one note or one fret), then your frets might not be level here.

You will have to secure any loose frets, or you might need to replace a fret or two.

 If you are not sure how to replace a fret, the best would be to take your instrument to a technician and show him/her where the problem lies.

They will be able to give you the best advice on your options and they should also be able to make the appropriate changes to your fretboard. 

Fret buzz might not always be easy to eliminate on your own. It all depends on your knowledge of your guitar. Don't hesitate to ask a professional for some assistance. 

4. Fret Buzz Close To Your Body

If the buzz is heard when playing close the body of your guitar, you are experiencing what is known as upper fret buzz. Upper fret buzz has a lot to do with the environmental impacts on your guitar. Especially if you have an acoustic guitar. 

Moisture levels or extreme temperatures might be the reason for you fret buzz. 

Again, a professional might have to take a look and give their advice on the right way forward. It might be as simple as humidifying or in extreme cases, you might have to remove a hump from the fret board. 

5. Fret Buzz When Strings Are Played Hard

If you only here the fret  buzz when playing more aggressively than usual, or perhaps iis eliminated by playing lighter, the problem might be insufficient relief in the neck. 

It might just be a poor set up of your guitar strings. Simply check that your instrument's setup is done correctly. 

Alternatively, your string gauge might be too light for your playing requirements or your instrument. If this is the case then you will have to restring your guitar with heavier strings.

When buying new strings you might also need to do a little bit of research to make sure you purchase the right gauge for your needs.  In extreme cases, might have to adjust your rod. 

Fret buzz can become a real distraction.6. Fret Buzz Everywhere

If you constantly hear the buzz no matter where and how you play your guitar, your frets might be worn out and need replacing. 

If your strings are touching in the center of the frets or on other areas of your board, your truss rod might be too tight, or your neck might even be warped.

Ask a technician to set up your instrument. If the buzz still heard then your truss rod might need more relief or you might need heavier strings. 

The Ultimate Solution

You might have a better indication of where the problem lies now, and possible solutions. It is always better to speak to someone with more knowledge than you might have.

The last thing you would want to do is make things worse by tampering with something you are not sure about. 

The ultimate solution is to take your guitar to a technician and let the professional have a look. But it never hurts some insight into your problem before you do so. 


About the Author: Joseph Evans

My name is Joseph Evans and I am a guitar playing, freelance writing, online teaching music lover based in Seattle, WA. Growing up in a musical family naturally lead to obtaining my Bachelor of Music (BM) in Composition & Music Theory degree, after which I taught and traveled my way across Europe for 7 years before returning back home to settle in beautiful Seattle. On a typical day, you would find me playing my guitar, pottering around in the vegetable garden, going on long hikes, reading and/or writing.


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