Fret buzz is a buzzing noise that happens when a string vibrates against one or more of the frets on your guitar. This is an extremely annoying problem and is especially common for new guitar players. You may experience more fret buzzing than other musicians that you talk to if you don’t practice any guitar maintenance.
If you leave your guitar exposed to seasonal changes without practicing any preventative maintenance, your instrument isn’t going to be able to withstand the test of time. By not controlling the humidity levels in your home or in the case of your guitar, the chances of your guitar warping will be increased, which will lead increased chances of fret buzzing.
Usually, it’s pretty easy to isolate which strings and which frets are buzzing. Sometimes, fret buzzing may occur when your strings are in an open position, but other times fret buzzing may occur with specific frets or specific strings.
As a general rule of thumb, if your buzz seems to be occurring only around the first fret, this typically means that your nut is too low or that the grooves in your nut have been worn down too much. If your buzzing is coming from the middle frets (3rd fret to 9th fret), you will probably need to take a look at your truss rod. However, if you find that the buzzing is coming from the fingerboard extension, your problem most likely is coming from warping of the instrument due to humidity exposure.
The buzzing noise that your instrument is creating doesn’t come from exactly one place, which means that there are different types of buzzing problems that your guitar may be facing if it is creating this noise.
The parts that come together to create your guitar can be causing the buzzing on your instrument. This is one of the most common reasons why guitarists will hear buzzing, especially among acoustic guitar players. The hardware on guitars can become loose and cause rattling, from loose input jacks, loose tuning machine bushing, to pick up components that aren’t seated well enough.
Braces that are split or that become too lose in an acoustic guitar can sometimes be heard vibrating against the back or the top of the instrument when you are playing or tapping on your guitar.
Sympathetic buzz isn’t very common, but it still does happen. There are certain frequencies that your guitar can produce that will cause vibrations and/or rattling in your instrument. But, remember, this will only happen when your guitar produces certain frequencies and can differ between each individual instrument.
This is the most common cause of buzzing, as it occurs when the string comes in contact with a fret. This may need different treatments in order to solve the problem (look at the chart below for further details).
|Symptom||Probable cause||How to fix it|
|One spot buzz |
Buzzing will occur on one note or in one general area. There is no buzzing when you move away from that spot.
|– Look at your frets. One or more of your frets are not level, meaning that one or more of your frets is either too high or too low. |
– There could be a spring or loose fret that is rising up out of the fingerboard.
– There could also be too much wear or deep groves in the frets.
|– Fix all loose frets by leveling them out and dressing them. |
– You may have to consider replacing worn frets.
|Buzzing when you strum hard |
Buzzing noise happens when you are picking/strumming aggressively. This type of buzzing will stop when you play lightly. J
|– There isn’t ample relief in the neck. |
– Poor quality set up.
– Your string gauge could be too light.
|– Try adjusting your truss rod; if you don’t know how to do this yourself, schedule an appointment with a luthier. |
– Properly set up your instrument.
– Use a heavier string gauge.
|Upper fret buzz |
This type of buzzing will be located where the neck of the instrument attaches to the body. Any notes that are playing near the body will be difficult to hear.
|– On an acoustic guitar, there is a piece of your fingerboard that is glued to the top. This piece may expand and contract when the humidity levels and/or the temperatures change. |
– The fingerboard is warped that makes the end too high, which is especially common with archtops.
|– Look to see if there any signs of humidity or dryness causing wear and tear on your guitar. |
– Your frets may need to be leveled.
– In some rare instances, the fingerboard may need to be evened out in order to remove a hump.
|Open string buzz |
This buzzing will occur when played open, but will stop when the string is fretted.
|– Having a poorly cut or worn nut slot is causing your strings to be placed too close to the frets near the nut of the guitar.||– Look into replacing the nut of the guitar or shim the nut slot in order to add additional height. |
– Make sure your guitar is set up properly.
|Frets out |
You will experience buzzing all over your instrument, all of the time. You may also notice that your strings are almost always touching your fingerboard.
|– Your truss rod may be too tight, which is causing back bowing on your neck. |
– The neck on your guitar could be warped or have too much back bow, even if you have loosened your truss rod.
|– Make sure your instrument is set up properly. |
– Adjust your truss rod to provide more relief.
– Use heavier gauge strings if you cannot provide your neck with relief by adjusting the truss rod.
|Buzzes everywhere |
Even if you have your instrument set up properly, you’re still going to find your entire guitar is buzzing. The buzzing may disappear if you pluck a string hard or if you are closer to the fret and the string is plucked softly.
|– Very small fret wire is used. |
– Your frets may be too low or too worn out.
|– Replace your frets.|
Quick tip about getting your guitar setup: if you’ve never setup a guitar by yourself, have someone with experience do it for you. Make sure that the person doing this has a general idea of guitar repairing.
Humidity has the ability to play a huge role in both avoiding fret buzz and causing fret buzz. In a perfect world, you should be keeping your guitar in a room that’s between 40%-50% humidity at all time.
If you keep your guitar in a room that doesn’t have enough humidity, the wood in your guitar is going to dry out. This will result in the top of your guitar to sink in or drop down. When the top of your guitar drops down, the strings and the bridge of your instrument are going to lower, which will cause fret buzzing.
However, at the same time, if you keep your guitar in a room that has too much humidity, the top of your guitar is going to expand, which is going to make your guitar look bloated. When the top of your guitar rises, the fingerboard extensions (frets 14 to 20) are also going to rise as well. This will cause the frets on your fingerboard extension to become closer to the strings than the rest of the neck, which will cause fret buzzing on the upper register.
First and foremost, get your hands on a straight edge ruler. The first step you’re going to want to take it laying the straight end across the top of the guitar. When your instrument was originally built, there was a slight arch built into the top. When your guitar is perfectly humidifier, the ruler should be making contact with the top of the guitar, except for a tiny gap that’s on the edge of the top. If your guitar is in perfect condition, this tiny gap should only measure out to be 1/32” at either end.
If you find that the gap at the outer edge of the top is larger than 1.32”, your guitar is over humidified. On the other hand, if you find that when you lay your ruler across the top of the guitar and the ruler is not in contact with the top, this is a sign that your guitar needs humidity.
You can either add a humidified to the room you’re storing your guitar in or you can purchase yourself a guitar humidifier that will fit in your guitar’s case. You will want to make sure that until you have 1/32” gap at either end of the straight end.
Buy some desiccant packs (you can get them off of Amazon or eBay) and put them in your guitar case to help your guitar dry. Also make sure to lower the humidity level in the room that you’re storing your guitar by using a dehumidifier. You are going to want to do that until your outer ends are down to 1/32”.
Sometimes, just making the smallest change in your string gauge can be the reason why you’re experiencing fret buzzing. Make sure that when you’re going through and making your adjustments, that you go through and make one adjustment at a time. That way, if one adjustment doesn’t make anything better, you can return your adjustment back to what it was before you go out and try something else. If you don’t do this, you could end up making your buzzing worse or totally ruining your guitar.
If after reading through this article, you’ve discovered the importance of keeping up with maintenance on your guitar, here’s a guide on how to properly maintain your guitar so that you can avoid running to maintenance related buzzing problems. Once you try out several options by your own hand and can’t find a solution to your fret buzzing, taking your instrument to a luthier is almost a guaranteed way to diagnose the problem with your instrument and having it fixed for you!