Guitars are some of the most sensitive instruments around.
One of the most common problems that guitarists face is known as fret buzz. While fret buzz isn’t the prettiest sound in the world by far, it’s not unfixable.
Before we dive in and discuss any potential fret buzz fix, you need you to do one thing…
Look at how you are playing!
Seriously, be self-analytical. All too often the player is the cause of fret buzz.
- Is your action set too high, making it difficult for you to press down all the way?
- Are you not pressing down on certain frets hard enough?
- Are your fretting fingers close enough to the fret that you want to play?
If you know for sure that it is not an issue with your playing, the next step is to assess your guitar.
What Is Fret Buzz?
Let’s make sure you know what fret buzz is before we move any further.
Definition – Fret buzz is that irritating sound that comes from a guitar string buzzing against the wire of a fret when you pluck it. There are a variety of causes when it comes to fret buzz. It sounds a bit like this:
What Causes Guitar Strings to Buzz?
Below are some of the most common sources of guitar fret buzz
Uneven frets are one of the biggest causes of fret buzz. It happens when one fret raises higher than the ones that are surrounding it, catching the string when it is plucked. The height can vary, sometimes being very noticeable and sometimes not noticeable at all. Most of the time, you won’t even be able to see it.
There are many causes of uneven frets. Older guitars can warp and the frets can rise. Changes in temperature or humidity can also warp the fingerboard, causing frets to rise, which is especially true in acoustic guitars. If you’re not sure if you have uneven frets, here are a few ways that you can check:
- Use a fret checker (or a credit card if you don’t have one) and place it long-ways over the first three frets.
- Look underneath the fret checker and see if there are any gaps
- Continue moving the fret checker up the fretboard checking three frets every time.
- Perform this entire process on the top half of you neck (EAD strings) and the bottom half of your neck (GBE strings), as frets are sometimes even near the bottom and uneven near the top, or vice versa.
- If you find gaps, you’ll have to reseat it
String Action is Too Low
To determine if your string action is too low, you first have to determine what part of your neck the buzz is coming from. For the most part, if the buzz is only occurring when you play the lower frets (the ones that are closest to the headstock), your action might be set too low.
An electric guitar should have an action of 1/16 of an inch on the 12th fret.
String action can either come from your action being set too low, or from the simple fact that you replaced your old strings with new strings of a thicker gauge. If you typically use .010s and you put on .011s, you may have to raise the action to compensate.
Luckily, it’s not that difficult of a task.
A guitar neck can be pretty sensitive. You may have string buzz because your neck is bowing or warping. Bowing or warping can be fairly inconspicuous in most cases, making it difficult to realize, though in some cases it can be pretty extreme.
Slight bowing and warping might not even be a thought in your head until you take your guitar to a professional.
Luckily, the lesser the bow or warp, the easier it is to fix by adjusting the truss rod. Adjustable truss rods are put on guitars to help correct slight bends and warping. They can be made with an array of materials, including carbon fiber, steel, or aluminum.
With that being said, some bowing and warping is far too severe to be fixed by at home and will require the help of a professional. Here are some ways to determine if your neck is bowing or warping:
- Using a long object with a straight edge (such as a long ruler or yardstick), place it along the center of your neck longways.
- Find where your object is touching the frets and where it is not. Standard guitar necks might have a small dip around the 12th fret. If the dip is too big, you’ll likely be experiencing that nasty buzz because of warping.
- If you find that your object only touches the 12th fret or the frets around it, you have yourself a bow.
Nuts, whether made of bone or plastic, can wear down quite a bit over time. Luckily, a bad nut is easily detectable.
You’ll notice if your nut slots have been worn down, like in the picture above. Nuts can wear down so low that they can actually lower the action on your guitar, therefore causing your frets to buzz.
If this is your problem, all you’ll have to do is replace your nut.
Strings Are Old
You should be changing your string at least every three months or 100 hours of practice. You can change them more if you play more often.
Strings will wear a lot if you don’t change them. Repeated tuning, bending, and playing, will cause them to lose tightness
The more you play, the more gunk build-up you’ll get too. Not only can changing your strings fix guitar buzz, but it can also make your guitar sound better overall.
I Have Fret Buzz on One String Only, What’s The Deal?
If only one of your strings is buzzing, it might be an issue with that individual string. This is especially true if everything else looks like it is in pretty solid shape.
Individual strings can get worn out pretty quickly. Some can even be bad eggs the minute you pull them out of the pack. Less than often, new strings will come will small kinks in them or loosely wrapped sections that are difficult to spot with the naked eye.
If one of your strings is buzzing, try replacing it and see what happens.
How Can I Fix Fret Buzz?
Uneven Frets Fix
- A Fret Checker (Credit Card will do if you don’t have one)
- Fretting Hammer
- Fret Crown File
- Guitar Neck Rest
- Masking Tape
- Begin by removing your guitar strings and placing your guitar on a flat surface.
- Support the neck of your guitar with a neck rest. Take your fretting hammer and gently tap the fret to reseat it into the neck. If you don’t do this gently, or if you use a regular hammer, you could end up damaging your frets.
- Using masking tape, mask off the wood part of your fretboard and leave your frets uncovered.
- Take your fret crown file and begin
recrowningthe frets that you had to reseat.
Once your done, you can polish your frets as well.
String Action Fix
- Adjustment Screws (Dependent on the type of bridge your guitar has)
- Radius Gauge (Dependent on the radius of your guitar)
- String Action Gauge Ruler
- Remove your locking lugs if you have a locking nut.
- Play every string to find out which of them are buzzing
- Loosen (detune) all of your strings
- Use your screwdriver or Allen wrench to raise the bridge saddle of that particular string
- Tighten that string again in quarter-turn increments. You can stop turning when the string stops buzzing.
- Now, raise each saddle by the same number of quarter turns as you did with the problem string
- Using your radius gauge, check to make sure that you have a proper curve. You can find information on the radius of your particular guitar on the manufacturer site.
Neck Bow / Hump Fix
- Adjustment Wrench for Truss Rod
- Yardstick or straight edge tool
- Loosen your strings without removing them
- Remove your truss rod cover. The truss rod cover can either be found at the heel of the guitar or behind the nut. If yours is at the heel, you may need to completely remove your strings, as well as the neck of your guitar
- If you have to correct a bow, turn the truss rod counter-clockwise a quarter of the way each turn. Continue to check your neck with a straight edge tool until the hump is gone.
- If you have a warped neck, or one with too much relief, turn the truss clockwise a quarter of the way each turn. Continue to check your neck with a straight edge tool until the dip is gone.
Bad Nut Fix
- A Replacement Nut (Proper for your make and model of guitar)
- Guitar Neck Rest
- X-Acto Knife
- Wood Glue
- Remove your old guitar strings
- Place your guitar’s neck on top of
a reston a flat surface
- Place the sharp end of your chisel against the nut end on the top or bottom
- To pop your nut loose, tap the chisel with a hammer. Be gentle enough so that you don’t damage your neck, though apply enough force that it comes off. ❗️IMPORTANT: If it feels like it is too difficult to take off, make sure to take it to a professional.
- Once your nut is off of the neck, use your X-Acto knife to get rid of glue residue that is still stuck to your guitar. Use the acetone to clear anything left.
- Apply a minimal amount of glue to each end of the nut, just enough to make sure that it sticks
- Allow at least 30 minutes for it to dry before restringing your guitar
If Ya Ain’t A Bee, Ya Don’t Want No Buzz
We hope that our article helped get rid of that nasty fret buzz that has been putting a damper on your playing. Whether you decide to fix it yourself or get a trained technician to do it for you, it’s a must-fix if you want to be taken seriously.
Eliminate of that buzz and get back to playing that beautiful guitar you love!