When it comes to irritating problems on the guitar, there are few that rank higher than fret buzz. This is an issue that will completely kill your guitar’s tone and slices through the notes in the worst possible way. However, it’s actually quite simple to find the root cause of fret buzzing and once you’ve identified the problem, you can remedy it easily too.
In this guide on how to fix fret buzz on acoustic guitar we will go through what fret buzz is, what the most common causes are and how it can be fixed. Let’s get buzzing!
Fret Buzz Explained
If you have ever heard an annoying buzzing noise when one of the guitar strings comes into contact with a fret, that’s fret buzz. Don’t confuse the noise of the string being played though. String buzz happens as the string vibrates, striking the fret constantly which then creates that buzzing sound so many of us hate.
Funnily though, in certain types of music, that buzz is a desirable sound, such as with flamenco guitar. Outside of these genres though avoiding fret buzz is something most guitar players will want to do at all costs.
You will find that you can identify any sort of string buzzing more easily if you play on open strings. In most cases it will only occur when you fret on certain notes.
Common Causes of Fret Buzz and How to Fix Them
There are a lot of different causes for fret buzz that apply to both acoustic and electric guitars. If you know what to look for you can isolate the source of the issue and then fix it. Some fices are straightforward, such as practicing more. Others require more in-depth repairs like replacing parts of the instrument.
Another thing with fret buzz is that it can be a bit of a gremlin. You fix it in one place, only to have it pop up again on a different fret. By looking through our tips below we hope you can identify the issue and use our remedies to rectify the problem.
Before we look at problems with the acoustic guitar itself and reaching out for that tool kit, you should investigate your technique. The way you play and the techniques you use could be what’s causing you to experience fret buzz.
When we look at technique issues causing a buzzing noise, there are three main causes:
- You’re not pressing down hard enough on the strings when playing.
- You’re pressing down too far behind the fret.
- You are strumming to hard on all the strings.
Luckily as far as rectifying a buzzing sound goes, a technique problem is the easiest one to put right. If you think that you are playing with light fingers, make that conscious effort to push down harder on the strings. If you’re being a bit too tough on the strings or you are finding playing uncomfortable, try out a string gauge that is lighter.
If you’ve looked at how hard you’re pushing down and you’re confident that it is the right amount, the next thing is to look where you’re pushing down. The string should be pressed right between the middle frets. If you find yourself pushing closer to or even on top of the fret, you won’t hear any sort of buzz. If you push down too high above a fret then the string will buzz when you play it.
This last one is a harder habit for you to break but moving your fingers to a center point between the frets can cure fret buzz.
The last thing you can do is reduce the intensity of your strum if you find that you are a heavy strummer. Strumming at the strings too hard means you come in at too sharp of an angle. This makes the strings vibrate up and down on the frets rather than side to side.
If you’ve accounted for all of these technique problems and you are still getting some buzz, there’s a high probability that the issue is with your guitar.
Height of Action
Having low action on a guitar is something that you will want to look for. The issue is when this action gets too low. Lower action means the strings are too close to the fretboard which can cause buzz. It may also choke notes when you play bends.
Adjusting the height of action on an acoustic guitar is different to an electric. It’s unlikely that you will have an adjustable saddle that can be used to lift your action. The alternative to this is to shim the saddle. You will have to remove all of the strings and then lift the saddle out from the bridge.
You should only need to raise saddle a millimeter or so so whatever you use to move it needs to be really thin. Place the shim into the recess of the bridge, place the saddle back into position and then replace the strings.
If the fret buzz is happening on the higher fret then you may want to shave down the nut instead. You can do this by either filing out the nut slot or shaving the bottom. To do it for only one string then it would be better to file out the slot.
When filing out a nut slot make sure to take a lot of care and go steady. Shaving down too much can cause you a lot more problems than just a buzzing fret. If multiple strings are buzzing then remove the nut entirely and sand down the bottom of it.
To do this, take your sandpaper and place it onto a sturdy, flat surface. Softly rub the base of the ut to take away some of the material. It’s a game of less is more when it comes to sanding down a nut so take off a little at a time and then check the results until you are happy with them.
No matter how a guitar has been setup, the frets should all be at the same level as one another. If you have fret imperfections then this is inevitably going to lead to fret buzz. In this case, there’s nothing adjusting the action or your technique can do.
There are a few reasons why your frets may be uneven. The first cause can be that the factory that made the guitar installed the frets incorrectly. Another reason is that frets can be worn away over time which will eventually lead to buzzing.
To see if you have uneven frets you will need to take a fret rocker, a credit card or something with a straight edge that can be laid over three frets at the same time. You shouldn’t be able to rock whatever you are using backward and forwards if your frets are level.
If you’ve found you can rock back and forth on a fret then it means that it’s uneven. Repeat the process for the entire fretboard or you can check specific strings if you are having problems in one certain area.
Unless you have a lot of experience in setting up a guitar then you should always reach out to a professional luthier to make any sort of fret adjustments. They can carry out a fret leveling service or they may give you a PLEK service instead. In the worst-case scenario you may be told you need a costly refret, but we hope this isn’t the situation you end up in.
Recent Changes to Strings
If you have changed your strings recently and then noticed some buzzing sounds then it could be the strings that are to blame. It may be that you got the wrong gauge or that you’ve decided to go with a heavier or lighter string. In this case the tension will have a big impact on the neck relief.
Heavier strings will increase the tension ont he neck relief while lighter strings reduce it. You will typically experience fret buzz when you install lighter strings on your guitar. This is because it introduces more back bow and brings the frets closer to the strings in terms of string height.
Fret buzz that is caused by a change to the string gauge can be solved by setting up your guitar properly. Any time you change the gauge of your strings, make sure you are also adjusting the action and neck relief of the instrument too. This ensures that the strings sit at the correct string height above the frets.
Poor Quality Instruments
Guitars that are on the lower end of the price scaled, especially those that are made by brands that aren’t well known names in the industry, can experience problems with quality. As they go through the quality assurance process in the factory there can be all sorts of manufacturing defects that are missed. Some of these won’t be recoverable.
If you have bought a brand new guitar and you’ve tried everything to get rid of the fret buzz, you may have bought a faulty product. In this case you should be entitled to a refund of your money or to exchange it for a new instrument from the place yu bought it from, as long as you’re in their terms and conditions.
We’ve saved this one for absolute last because a twisted neck of a guitar is probably the worst thing that could ever happen to your instrument. If the neck is twisted or warped it literally means what it says on the tin – the neck is twisted in some way.
Guitars are usually crafted from wood which is a natural material. Because of this naturalness the guitar will react to changes in humidity and temperature. The wood contains pores which absorb all the moisture from the air. This then causes the wood to expand and contract as moisture is absorbed and then expelled when the humidity drops. As this happens continuously over a period of time, the guitar neck can become warped and twisted.
When the neck of a guitar twisst it lefts up the frets on one side of the instrument and then lowers them on the other side. If this happens, fret buzz and choked out bends are common problems you will experience. Anyone that finds that their guitar neck is twisted will find that there’s not much that can be done to fix it.
You may have a guitar that comes with a bolt on neck which means you could replace it right away. The neck doesn’t come with any sort of tuning hardware so you will need to be experienced in replacing the neck and then removing and resinstalling the tuning mechanisms. A set neck guitar that doesn’t have this option will need to be taken to an experienced luthier to see if it can be salvaged, but there’s no guarantee in this situation.
Most of the time buzzing frets will be caused by the guitar not being set up properly. Knowing how to make the right adjustments will save you a lot of time and can also save you money. Trying to fight that annoying, unknown buzzing sound will end up driving you mad. So, make sure you follow the steps avoce and make any adjustments as they are needed. We want to make sure you are as well equipped as possible so that you can correct any sort of fret problems you might be experiencing.
Is it normal for a new guitar to have fret buzz?
Having fret buzz on a brand new guitar is definitely not normal. It’s usually age that will be causing fret buzz and new strings shouldn’t be buzzing. If this is happening, the guitar may need a truss rod adjustment or you can take it back to the guitar shop to have the problem fixed.