It can happen for any number of reasons, on any type of guitar. The only thing that’s always true is that buzzing sounds bad! Does it sound like an angry bumblebee appears every time you try to strum a chord? You’ve got a buzzing problem!
While this article covers a remedy for an issue you may not currently have, you’ll probably find yourself dealing with it at some point. It’s worth reading even though you won’t be following the steps as you read – you’ll probably remember the guide later, when you do have a problem! You may even want to bookmark this page in your browser.
When tackling buzz, there’s a priority list to check along. The idea is to check the easiest to change things first and then the hardest to change things last; the checklist methods means that the sooner you hit something that works, the easier it is to do and you won’t end up doing something you didn’t need to. The first point in the list isn’t even attached to your guitar!
You are the number one cause of buzzing. Not you personally, but you as in the guitarist and not the instrument. The vast majority of minor buzzing issues are down to playing technique and fiddling with your guitar won’t help you. The two main checks for this are to check each fret with your strongest finger to make sure you aren’t just pressing too lightly and allowing the string to rattle against a fret and to make sure that, when you press down, your finger’s right behind the fret itself. If you check this and the buzz still occurs, it’s time to move on; it isn’t your fault this time.
The next step will set you on a branching path – you need to figure out where the buzz is actually happening. The simplest method is to just make the buzz happen and listen, if the buzz happens with open strings it can be quite easy: listen at the nut, then at the bridge and finally just to the fretboard. If it happens only with fretted notes, do the same but also check up and down each string – especially if you are checking an electric.
If the buzzing is happening at the nut some things to try are: using a different gauge of string, using fine grit sandpaper on the nut slots in case it’s become rough against the strings and using some sort of lubricant like nut sauce.
If the buzzing is happening at the bridge it can be for some different reasons depending on what kind of guitar you play. On an acoustic, common causes include loose pins that need to be pushed in more firmly, too much or too little water content causing issues with the top if it’s solid wood – there are many humidity regulation solutions on the market – or a loose saddle that needs to be glued in or replaced. On an electric you don’t need to worry about humidity but sometimes low quality saddles can corrode and cause buzzing, saddle may even be set wonkily and shake where they are. Corroded saddles can be filed or replaced and wonky placement can be fixed with an Allen Key.
Easy fixes so far, but now we’re moving into territory where you may wish to take your guitar to a tech or luthier. I’ll start with the few remaining easy fixes but the last couple include a very strong warning to go to a professional if you have any doubt.
Buzzing that originates from the fretboard itself tends to be a bit trickier; a fingerboard is less replaceable than a saddle or nut! As always, we start with simple options. On an acoustic, just like with some bridge issues, humidity can be the culprit – it can cause the action (string height) to lower and skim frets, solve this in the same way as previously mentioned for humidity affecting the bridge position. It’s essentially the same problem, just with the buzz happening somewhere else. On an electric you want to check if the buzzing is only on one or two strings, if it is then your life probably just got easier: you just need to raise the bridge or individual saddles until the string no longer buzzes against frets.
If neither of these options are it for you, it may be a case of grooves in certain frets making the string rattle. You could hypothetically deal with this yourself but you’ll probably do more harm than good without experience – I wouldn’t try it, myself. You should bring your guitar to tech with positive reviews either online or from friends you trust. They can replace or file and refinish frets to eliminate issues.
The last main possibility is neck relief. If your guitar’s neck is made of wood (Some aren’t! I have one made of solid aluminium) it’s probably going to move. When the wood of your neck shifts, your neck curves and can either bend outwards or develop a hump. Curving outwards is a problem too, but what causes buzz is a hump. This is what your truss rod is for; you can turn it one way or the other to force your neck to shift back.
Warning: You can destroy your guitar messing with this. Do not do it if you aren’t confident you understand, take it to a tech instead.
If you’re comfortable that you can do it and have done your research, make sure to only make quarter turn adjustments at a time and allow it to settle, eyeing the neck in between changes. If this was your problem it will be sorted in no time and everything will feel better when you play.
Hopefully any buzz you face is due to an easier issue. You can probably see why you should check if it’s something simpler first!
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