Why Guitar Strings Buzz–And What To Do About It
It’s so annoying. You’re fretting your chords beautifully, you’re strumming like a champ, but your chords sound less than ideal, because the strings are buzzing.
What’s going on?
The strings are slapping against frets along the neck, that’s what. And since the strings are vibrating hundreds of times per second–like the 440 times per second in the case of the A string, or even thousands of times per second in the case of higher strings, the result is an annoying buzzing sound.
Why is this happening?
On a properly set up and intonated guitar, the strings and neck are set at a precise angle, so that any string, no matter what fret it is played at, will have a clear line all the way down to the bridge of the guitar, on the body.
If your strings are buzzing, typically one of three things is happening:
- The strings are too close to the frets (this could also be said as “the action is too low”)
- One or more of the frets is too close to the strings
- The neck of the guitar is warped
Actually, come to think of it, I’ve played guitars that had all three of these problems at the same time!
But what should you do to fix this problem?
First, Realize That It Could Be Worse
A buzzing guitar isn’t the worst thing–because usually it is still playable. It is way better to have have a guitar with low action or a buzzing fret than to have a guitar with high action. When the strings are too far away from the frets it can be a physical challenge to play–and can even result in wrist injury. In fact, some guitarists set their guitars up on purpose as close as possible to a fret buzzing situation, because they want it to be easy to fret notes as possible.
So if the buzzing isn’t too bad and the guitar is otherwise a pleasure to play, a valid option is to do nothing.
Second, Consider A Setup
But maybe your action is too low, and it annoys you or it makes chords sound terrible. Then the next item on your list is to consider getting a “set-up”, which will include a readjustment of the neck via adjustment of a metal truss rod that runs through the neck.
If you have a super cheap guitar, you can look up neck adjustments on YouTube and try it yourself, but if you have a decent guitar I strongly suggest that you have a professional do it. It could easily cost $50, but it is really easy to permanently damage your guitar if you don’t know what you are doing.
For a finer guitar, expect to get a set up every couple of years.
That Pesky High Fret
A set-up should solve low action. But what if the problem is a poorly set fret which sticks out too far? In that case, the guitar tech will probably want to file the fret down. Again, this is only worth doing for a fairly nice guitar. For any guitar less than $200 in value, you’re probably better off either living with the problem, or ordering a fret file online and doing it yourself, even knowing that there is a decent chance you’ll screw it up. But it will be valuable experience.
For a nicer guitar, you guessed it–go to your friendly neighborhood luthier or guitar tech. And make friends, because you’ll be back again during your long guitar career.
The Warped Neck / Broken Truss Rod / Untreatable Issue
Unfortunately sometimes necks warp, truss rod bolts strip, and the Gods of Guitar do not smile on your instrument. Sometimes this is because they’ve been left in a barn for 10 years (that was my first guitar, given to me by a friendly farmer back in Idaho). Sometimes it is because they are poorly made. And sometimes it is just one of those things.
In that case, my friend, it is time to get a new guitar–or at least new to you.
So, what’s your situation? Do you have a buzz that you can live with? Or is it time to take action on your guitar action?
On To Greatness,