Are you frustrated with the constant buzzing sound coming from your guitar? Fret buzz can be a common problem for guitar players of all levels, but it’s not something that should be ignored.
Not only does it affect the quality of your sound, but it can also lead to more serious issues with your instrument if left unaddressed.
Luckily, fixing fret buzz is usually a straightforward process that you can do at home with some basic tools and knowledge.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the causes of fret buzz, how to diagnose the issue on your own, and steps you can take to fix and prevent it from happening in the future.
With a little bit of patience and practice, you’ll be able to get rid of that annoying buzzing once and for all!
What is fret buzz?
Fret buzz, also known as string buzz, refers to the unpleasant rattling sound that one or more guitar strings can produce. Normally, the only point of contact between a string and the fretboard is the fret that you’re pressing down on.
However, at times, the string can vibrate against another part of the guitar, usually, another fret closer to the bridge, leading to a metallic rattle. This causes a reduction in sustain and an overall decrease in sound quality.
It’s important to note that while fret buzz is not related to loose hardware, such hardware can also produce a rattling sound. So, when buzz occurs, it’s always a good idea to check for loose strap pins, tuning posts, or pegheads before looking at the strings.
Bear in mind that fret buzz is different from guitar amp buzz. Check this article if you want to know how to fix your guitar amp.
Causes of Fret Buzz
Now that you know what guitar fret buzz sounds like, let’s explore why it happens and what causes it.
The frets are uneven or worn out
As time passes, some frets may become loose, sink into the fretboard, or protrude. Additionally, grooves can form where the string meets the fret. All of these issues can cause notes to buzz when played.
If buzzing only happens on a specific note, an uneven fret may be the root cause.
The guitar nut is worn out
Frequent playing can cause deep grooves to form in the nut, resulting in the strings sitting lower and buzzing against the frets. This problem typically affects older guitars.
You should examine your nut to determine whether the grooves are wider or deeper than the string’s gauge.
Read more about guitar nut here.
Your strings are old
If a thick layer of grime builds up on the strings, all six may buzz against the frets. Alternatively, if a single string is buzzing, it may be kinked or unwound.
Whenever you encounter buzzing while playing, inspect each string one by one and keep an eye out for any tarnish, build-up, or unraveling.
Your acoustic guitar is dried out
When the relative humidity levels fall below 40%, the wood used in your guitar can start to shrink. This can lead to several issues, such as the soundboard sinking inward, lowering the guitar’s action, and causing fret buzz. In addition to affecting the guitar’s sound, a lack of moisture can cause cracks in the top, loosen bracings, and make other parts of the guitar break lose.
Your fretboard is swell due to the high humidity level
Excessive humidity levels above 55% can cause the upper fretboard of acoustic guitars and archtops to swell where the neck meets the body. This swelling can lead to higher frets that interfere with the strings’ vibrations, causing fret buzz.
The guitar’s action is low
The term “action” refers to the gap between the strings and the fretboard. If the action is too low, the strings can make contact with the frets, resulting in buzzing. If your strings are buzzing against the frets and the neck is correctly aligned, then raising the action may be necessary.
Your guitar’s neck is warped
The buzzing sound you hear may be caused by problems with your guitar’s neck tension.
To allow the strings to vibrate freely, a guitar neck should have a slight forward bow. If the neck is completely flat or back bowed, the strings will rattle against the frets.
Conversely, if the neck is excessively bowed, pressing down on the strings will require more effort.
Bad playing technique
If you hear buzzing while fretting a note or chord but not on open strings, your technique may be the issue. Not pressing the strings firmly enough can cause an uneven, buzzy sound or notes that die out quickly.
Similarly, pressing too far away from the intended fret or strumming the strings with too much force can also trigger fret buzz.
How to fix fret buzz according to the cause
Now, after exploring the possible reasons for fret buzz, let’s see how to fix it.
How to fix fret buzz when the frets are uneven or worn out
Uneven frets may need a fret dressing, which includes fixing loose and raised frets and possibly replacing them. This involves examining and fixing loose or raised frets, leveling them to ensure that each one is at the same height, and sometimes replacing them entirely. This process can be quite complicated and requires specialized tools and knowledge. Therefore, it is recommended to have a professional guitar technician handle the fret dressing process to avoid further damage to the instrument.
How to fix fret buzz when the guitar nut is worn out
Replacing the nut can be a complex process, as it requires ensuring the new nut fits precisely and is properly set up to ensure the guitar plays correctly. As such, it is generally best to take your guitar to a professional for nut replacement rather than attempting it yourself. A skilled technician can assess the issue and replace the nut with a new one that will restore your guitar’s sound and playability.
How to fix fret buzz caused by old strings
If you notice that all the strings on your guitar are producing a buzzing sound due to a build-up of grime or other debris, replacing all the strings is the best course of action. However, if the buzzing comes only from one string and your strings are relatively new, you can simply replace the problem string rather than the entire set. Most music stores offer individual strings for purchase, so you can easily find the one you need.
How to fix fret buzz if your acoustic guitar is dried-out or your fretboard is swell due to the high humidity level
If your acoustic guitar is experiencing fret buzz due to a dried-out condition or swollen fretboard, you should first address the underlying issue of humidity.
For a dried-out guitar, you can use a humidifier to slowly reintroduce moisture to the wood.
If your guitar’s fretboard is swollen due to high humidity, you can try placing a dehumidifier in the room where you store your guitar.
Once the humidity level is back within the ideal range of 45-55%, the fret buzz issue may resolve itself.
If the issue persists after adjusting humidity levels, you may need to take your guitar to a professional for a fret dressing, which involves fixing loose and raised frets and possibly replacing them. In some cases, a truss rod adjustment may also be necessary. It’s important to have a professional handle these repairs to avoid causing further damage to your guitar.
How to fix fret buzz caused by low action
In some cases, adjusting the truss rod can solve the problem of low action and fret buzz. This is done by loosening the truss rod by turning it counterclockwise, which lifts the strings away from the neck. However, the change may not be noticeable at the higher and lower frets.
Another solution could be raising the saddle. This involves inserting a shim beneath the existing saddle or replacing it with a new one. If only one side of the saddle is causing buzzing on the top or bottom strings, it may need to be angled differently.
How to fix fret buzz if your guitar neck is warped
A truss rod adjustment can help you correct the bow in your guitar’s neck, whether you need to increase or decrease it.
If you’re uncertain about how to adjust your truss rod, we advise you to seek help from your local music store or a professional guitar technician.
How to fix fret buzz caused by bad playing technique
You don’t need to do any maintenance to fix these issues. All you need to do is apply firm, even pressure, with your fretting hand.
Remember to position your thumb about halfway up the neck and keep it directly behind your fingers, perpendicular to the strings. Try to place your fingertips as close to the frets as possible, and strum confidently (but don’t go too hard!).
If you’re still having issues after a few practice sessions, don’t worry – the source of the problem is probably something else.
How to prevent your guitar from fret buzz
Fret buzz can be an annoying problem that affects both acoustic and electric guitars, but with a few simple steps, you can avoid it.
Keep your guitar in a stable environment
Avoid exposing your guitar to extreme temperatures, humidity, or direct sunlight, which can cause the wood to expand or contract, leading to fretting buzz.
Check your strings
Make sure to change the strings regularly and choose the right gauge for your playing style.
Check your action
As we already said, if the action is too low, the strings will contact the frets and cause a buzz. Adjust the action as needed.
Keep your frets clean
Dirt and grime can build up on your frets over time, causing uneven wear and fret buzz. Clean your fretboard and frets regularly with a soft cloth.
Check your neck relief
Use a straight edge to check the neck relief and adjust the truss rod if necessary.
Play with proper technique
Use proper hand positioning and apply even pressure to the frets. Avoid pressing down too hard or lightly on the strings.
Well done! You’ve successfully learned how to fix fret buzz on your guitar. By understanding the causes of fret buzz and diagnosing the issue, you can take the necessary steps to fix it.
Whether it’s adjusting the truss rod or filing down high frets, these solutions will help get rid of that annoying buzzing sound.
Remember, preventing fret buzz is also important. Keeping your guitar well-maintained and properly set up can go a long way in avoiding this problem.
Can fret buzz damage my guitar in the long run?
If it’s just a minor issue that only happens occasionally, it likely won’t cause significant harm.
However, if the buzzing is constant and severe, it could cause damage to the strings or even warp the neck over time. In that case, we advise you to address fret buzz as soon as possible to prevent any potential damage.
Is it normal for a new guitar to have fret buzz?
It’s completely normal for a new guitar to have fret buzz due to slight imperfections in the manufacturing process or changes in humidity during shipping.
However, if the buzzing persists after adjusting your playing technique, it may be time to seek professional help or learn how to fix the fret buzz on your own.
How often should I check my guitar for fret buzz?
To keep your guitar in top condition, it’s a good idea to check for fret buzz periodically.
This is especially important if you’ve made any changes to your guitar’s setup or if you notice any changes in the sound or feel of your instrument.
Checking for fret buzz involves playing each note up and down the neck and listening for any unwanted buzzing sounds.