It’s a problem that can drive you slightly potty, but what causes fret buzz?
There’s something about a ‘buzzing’ sound that seems to make it particularly irritating (unless of course you’re aiming to create a buzzing sound…)
Whether it’s a fly buzzing around you, a refrigerator, mains hum, or some other buzz, it’s seldom a ‘positive’.
As a guitarist, fret buzz is the particular variety that can plague their playing lives.
But what causes fret buzz? Here we take a look at the main causes and solutions…
This is the most common cause of fret buzz. For the guys in stores, it’s also the most difficult when it comes to telling the owner/ player the cause of the buzz. Typically, the cause is fretting too far behind the intended fret, or not pressing the strings down hard enough. So, before you head off to your local music store, check that it isn’t your playing style that is to blame…
2. Nut problems (ahem!)
Sometimes, the nut gets overlooked when it comes to maintenance. Over time, nuts can sometimes get worn, resulting in grooves that are too big for the strings (or occasionally, they’re not cut very well in the first place). This will cause fret buzz. This is usually distinguishable by the fact that strings will buzz when played openly (not fretted). Thankfully, a new nut is a fairly easy fix.
3. Warped or twisted neck
If your strings buzz, pray that this isn’t the problem. It can be fixed, but it’s generally not straightforward. This is sometimes spotted by buzzes that occur on the upper frets, or string chokes when fretting. This is the reason you should avoid leaving your guitar in environments where temperatures or humidity change dramatically- neck warping can be the result.
4. Action that is set too low
This is also a very common cause of fret buzz. Setting the action too low can cause the strings to buzz against the fret board when played- particularly when played hard.
A good set-up can rectify this, by adjusting saddle height. On an electric guitar this is usually a fairly straightforward job, but is a little more complex on an acoustic guitar. If you aren’t confident, visit your local Dawsons store. The guys and gals there should be able to sort this out fairly easily.
5. Neck bow (or lack of it)
This is closely related to saddle height and set-up. The neck of nearly all modern guitars features a truss-rod, which allows the ‘bow’ (a slight curvature) to be adjusted. The reason for this is to provide some distance between the fretboard and the strings (think of it like bow and arrow).
A typical set-up is a balance between adjusting saddle height and neck bow, to provide a playing action that suits the player, whilst remaining intonated and without fret buzz. If you’re experiencing buzz all over, or over a section of the lower frets, this may be the cause.
6. High, uneven or worn frets
If the buzz is localised to a particular fret, then this may be the cause. Worn frets can sometimes be spotted by visible dips or notches. If they’re really worn, the may even cause the string to choke on the fret below. A good luthier or guitar tech should be able to fix this fairly easily.
There are other causes of ‘buzz’, but the above are the most common. If you’re concerned about it, and have established that it isn’t a technique issue, pop along to your local Dawsons Store, and let the guys take a look. After fettle, and a new set of strings, your pride and joy should be buzz free once more.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.