Last Updated on January 19, 2024 by Justin Thomas
Author: David Slavkovic
David has been playing guitar since 1998, his main focus back then was hard rock and metal. With years, his music tastes evolved and he eventually started appreciating all musical styles. Although officially an agricultural engineer, David began writing for Ultimate Guitar in 2017 where he’s currently working as a senior editor.Hide The Rambling▲
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I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.
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Why Guitar Strings usually Buzz?
There are a number of reasons why your guitar strings will buzz. in some cases, the string can hit other frets, which causes the buzzing sound and reduces the length of your notes (sustain). Here are a few of the most common reasons that can cause this annoying issue…
-Worn, old or off-tolerance strings
-Action is set too low
-Uneven, loose or worn frets
-The nut needs attention
-The neck has too much relief or back-bow
There’s hardly anything worse for guitar players than fret buzz. You take your precious instrument, start playing and notice that disgusting string buzzing sound(not to mention that you get a noticeably shorter sustain). And no matter how well and how hard you press on the strings, you still experience the same issue.
What’s more, your tone can suffer significantly, turning your playing experience into a nightmare. The worst part – your audience will notice it as well(if you have one).
But don’t worry, this is a pretty common problem and even the most experienced guitar players deal with this. It’s not much of a big deal and in most cases, it’s something that’s easily fixed.
In this brief guide…
- We’ll first see what causes strings buzz and how it manifests on electric guitars and acoustic guitars.
- In the end, we’ll explain how you can fix the string buzz. I also included videos from Youtube to help you out.
Let’s get started!
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As well as being the source of buzzing, old or worn strings can also cause all sorts of headaches. Along with major intonation issues, they’re also a health hazard!
The funny thing is, when it comes to guitar string rattle and fret buzz, simply changing your guitar’s strings is one of the most common ways to make your guitar sound and play great again. As a remedy for string buzz, changing your strings is also super easy and cost-effective.
STRING ACTION IS SET TOO LOW
When referring to “string action,” we’re talking about the distance between the string and the frets. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to approach string action. It usually comes down to a player’s personal preferences.
Low action is usually considered to be easier for playing.
But no matter the setup, the aim is to have string action perfectly along the entire neck. Guitar action is usually measured at a few different spots on the neck, and it’s expressed in fractions of a millimeter or fraction of an inch. 1st fret and 12th fret are two common places where string action is measured.
The rule is simple: the lower the string action, the higher the chances that you’ll experience fret buzz. To minimize the chances of guitar string buzz, some more expensive guitars are designed to work buzz-free with extremely low string action. Either way, setting up the right action with little to no string buzz is a bit tricky, but far from an impossible task.
We have separate acoustic guitar action adjusting guide.
All of the frets on the guitar should be at the same level. But in case they’re not, then you have a serious problem on your hands. For instance, you play the fourth string on the fourth fret. If the fifth or the sixth fret is higher than the fourth one, then the string buzz will occur.
For a guitar to function and play properly, each fret must be the exact same height as its neighbour. Otherwise the moment you play it at normal intensity, you’ll get that awful buzzing sound. You’ll hear it as fret buzz on lower frets, or even fret buzzing on higher frets – typically where the neck meets the body.
There are a few main reasons why this may be the case. One – your guitar’s frets have worn out. Two – the frets are loose, particularly at the fret ends. Three – your guitar was just not well made. It’s as simple as that.
THE GUITAR NUT IS WORN OR NOT CUT PROPERLY
The nut is a critical part of your guitar because it acts as a “zero” fret. Being placed right where the headstock meets the fretboard, it’s literally the start of the string length. After prolonged use, there’s a good chance that your the nut can wear out significantly. And this is a normal wear and tear for any guitar, so it will happen sooner or later.
Because the slots become too low, this can also make the action of the guitar at the nut too low and you will experience first fret buzz.
Additionally, an improperly cut nut can be a major contributor to guitar string buzz. This is very common on less expensive instruments. If the nut is not cut to the right height and the slots are cut too wide you may hear your guitar strings buzzing.
Neck Relief and Backbow
Every once in a while, you should check your guitar’s relief. Since your guitar neck is made of wood, and metal strings create tension, the constant pressure can cause it to slowly warp over time. This is nothing unusual, and every modern electric and most acoustic guitars made in the last few decades have an adjustable metal bar inside their necks, called the truss rod.
A Backbowed neck can be the result of turning the truss rod too much or the effects of seasonal change – particularly during the winter in cold dry northern climates. A Backbowed neck is also a more common issue behind fret buzz because it forces unwanted frets to touch the strings.
Many times you’ll hear it as the low E string buzzing near the end of the neck or general fret buzz on lower frets.
This video gives you ways to check the neck relief of your guitar:
Electric Guitar Buzzing
Since string action on electric guitars is usually pretty low, the buzzing is a very common problem for them. Especially with lower-quality instruments. When playing without distortion, this can be really noticeable in your tone.
On the other hand, playing with distortion might “mask” this buzz. When playing with some “dirt” on top, you won’t notice it that much. However, you’ll still experience a lack of sustain and an overall poor experience.
It’s important to note that fret buzz on electric guitars should not be confused with electrical hum and buzz. These occur either due to grounding issues, poor shielding, or just the type of pickups (Single-Coils).
Gladly, fixing electric guitar fret buzz is sometimes pretty easy because making adjustments is so simple (more about this later).
Acoustic Guitar Buzzing
Just like with electrics, the buzz on acoustic guitars is due to the same exact reasons – the guitar string hits the other frets. This can be even a bigger issue, since you always play clean on acoustic guitars, and there’s just no way to “mask” it.
The problem here is that setting up acoustic guitars might be a little trickier compared to electric ones.
Why? Because most acoustic guitars are not nearly as adjustable as modern electric guitars. To make matters worse, some older acoustic guitars don’t even have truss rods. This can severely limit their playability.
And compared to electric guitars adjusting an acoustic saddle is not that easy, you can only sand or replace the nut or saddle and sandpaper the frets so much. Refretting or resetting the neck works sometimes, but these can become expensive repairs.
How to Fix Fret Buzz?
In order to do some basic adjustments on the electric guitar, you’ll need a set of hex wrenches (aka Allen keys), assorted screwdrivers, and possibly a string height measurement ruler (this is not a must). All of these are available in any regular guitar store or a hardware store.
Setting Up Your Guitar Bridge
The easiest way to go by is to set up your guitar’s bridge and adjust the truss rod. Most common electric guitars either have the hardtail or tremolo bridge with saddles, such as those found on Fender style guitars and superstrats, or the tune-o-matic bridges typically found on Gibson style instruments.
Fender-Style Bridges – Six Saddle Bridge
Fender-style bridges are a little easier to set up. Each individual string saddle has two adjustable screws. You’ll need an appropriate size hex wrench, which usually comes with any guitar you purchase these days. Tightening the screws, you raise the action, and by loosening them, you lower the action.
To help minimize electric guitar string buzzing, you will get much better results if you make sure your truss rod and neck relief is adjusted properly beforehand. After raising it a little, try and play the string on all of the frets. When you reach the desired height with no buzz, leave it there.
Here’s a video that reveals how to adjust the bridge and the saddles of the Stratocaster:
Tune-o-matic bridges might be a little trickier, as you’re mostly adjusting the height with just two screws on two ends of the bridge. Minor intonation and height adjusting can be done with a flathead screwdriver by moving the saddles.
In case you’re not confident doing this on your own, it’s a good idea to take your instrument to any guitar tech. Especially if we’re talking about tune-o-matic (Gibson-style) bridges as they might be more difficult to figure out.
And here’s a video that reveals how to adjust a Tune-o-matic bridge:
Adjusting The Truss Rod
Modern acoustic and electric guitars usually have adjustable truss rods that go throughout most of the neck’s length. On electric guitars, the truss rod is typically accessed at the headstock, and with the acoustic guitars it’s usually found right inside the upper part of the soundhole. For the adjustment, you’ll need the appropriate tool that matches the truss rod drive.
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First, you’ll need to figure out how whether the neck is “back bowed” or “forward bowed.” The quickest way is to press the third or fourth string on your guitar’s 1st and 14th frets and see whether there are any gaps around the eighth or ninth fret. If there’s a relatively large gap of light thicker than a credit card, it means that your neck is forward bowed. If that’s the case, then you’ll need to tighten the truss rod adjuster.
We also have the opposite case, with the “back bow” or “arched” neck. Using the same measuring method mentioned above , you may see no gap of light or the strings may be touching the frets along the neck’s entire length. In this case, you’ll have to loosen the truss rod up a little.
When it comes to truss rod adjustment, you’ll need to be careful and do only slight adjustments, from less than 1/8 to as much as a 1/4 of a turn. Otherwise, you might risk permanently damaging your guitar’s neck.
I recommend that you watch this video before doing anything:
WORN OR LOOSE FRETS
What causes fret buzz? Mainly uneven, worn or loose frets.
In case your guitar frets have worn out, there’s no other way – you’ll need to replace them. This is typical for older guitars where friction has completely ruined the frets. For this, we advise that you consult a professional. It’s not an uncommon process, but it requires some advanced knowledge and experience.
If the frets are loose they will need to be glued down. This is also a job better left to a professional.
If the frets are uneven because of poor manufacturing, this is a major cause of fret buzz and string rattle. You can use sandpaper or your local music store professionals to try even the frets. This is called fret leveling.
You don’t need many tools to do fret leveling yourself. You need something straight (a straight piece of wood for example, also called a levelling beam), tape, and various grades of sandpaper for polishing.
Find our favorite guitar tool kits here.
Here is a quick video which helps you to figure out what kind of process fret leveling is:
At some point you will notice your guitar strings are buzzing no matter how many adjustments you make. As mentioned previously, dealing with frets that are beyond their useful life is not a job for the average guitarist. Keep in mind this is a normal thing that virtually every guitar will go through if it is played all the time.
I recommend that you let a professional handle the refretting process.
Again, the best way to show you how this is done is a video:
Replacing The Nut
Just as you may need to replace your frets the same thing goes for your guitar’s nut. It too can wear out so much that no matter how you try to solve buzzing problems it needs to be replaced. In case you think it has worn out and you’re not sure how to deal with it yourself, take it to a luthier and have them sort it out.
Or, if you have the confidence, the right part and proper tools you can try to do it yourself. But I still recommend that you let professionals handle the nut replacing.
If you are DIY-guy or gal, here’s a video that will help you a lot:
If Nothing Works, or If It’s Too Expensive…
In some cases, none of these methods will help you with fret buzz. This is especially the case with cheaper guitars. Sometimes they’re just built so badly that you cannot fix them without replacing major parts.
If the repair or replacement costs are too high, you should maybe buy a new instrument.
Are New Guitar Strings Supposed to Buzz?
Yes and no. It’s not a simple question to answer. Whenever you’re changing strings, there’s a chance that your guitar’s setup will change slightly. This is especially the case if your new set of strings are not the same gauge as the ones you used before. Even if your guitar was set up well and had no string buzz issues, a different gauge could mess things up.
This can happen if you’re transitioning from lighter to heavier strings while keeping the same tune. Even though the differences between, let’s say, .010 and .011 gauge strings might not seem drastic, this slight change could cause some string buzzing.
You also need to know that all of the small components on your guitar’s bridge are sensitive to any changes. When you remove the strings and clean your guitar, you might mess things up a little. So even the same gauge and brand of strings can have some buzz. Setting up your guitar once again should solve the issue.
I hope that these tips helped you to solve the issue of the buzzing strings. Buzzing is really annoying but as you saw, it’s not impossible to fix. Sometimes it’s really easy and sometimes it takes a little bit more time and money.
Also, in some rare cases, your own playing can cause fret buzz. Fender made this great post to help you out.
If you have any questions, leave a comment down below and feel free to share this post too.
I wish you all the best and keep rocking!
Sometimes the guitar amp is the reason for buzzing, if you think this might be the case, check our Why Does My Guitar Amp Buzz-guide.
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