We’ve all experienced it. Wanting to unwind after a stressful day, or trying to just chill and relax on a lazy weekend.
We grab our acoustic guitar to bring us to a happy place. As we begin to strum our precious instrument, our excitement turns to irritation upon realizing that it’s there again…piercing our eardrums like an annoying mosquito sound. Yes, you’ve guessed it right, a fret buzz.
We will discuss what it is and how to fix it so that your acoustic guitar will sound just the way it should.
WHAT IS A FRET BUZZ?
Before we fix a problem, we must be able to identify it first. A fret buzz is an annoying sound caused by a guitar string buzzing or rattling against a fret wire when the string is plucked.
TYPES OF FRET BUZZ
There are two distinct categories of a fret buzz.
Here are we going to discuss these two types of fret buzz one after another with possible causes and effective remedies to fix fret buzz on your acoustic guitar.
Technical Type Fret Buzz
The technical type is caused by your style of playing. How you approach the fret, the amount of pressure, or lack of it from your fingers on the strings. The other is mechanical, which can be coming from your guitar because of the truss rod, or other metallic things such as strings.
For the technical fret buzz, one of the causes is the fretting location. If you’re on the 2nd fret of the d-string but your finger is way behind the 2nd fret, this will cause the buzz.
The solution is to simply adjust your fretting finger right next to your intended fret, not on top of it but closer to it. By doing this, you will immediately notice a cleaner note without the buzz.
Another reason why you could be experiencing buzzy strings or muted chords is that you’re fretting with the pad of your fretting finger instead of your fingertip.
When you fret with the pad of your finger, you will get some clunky muted notes. By using your fingertip, you are putting a more precise fretting which will result in a crisp and cleaner sound.
The last but not the least is the right amount of pressure you need to apply when you fret. It’s a delicate balance because you don’t want to be white-knuckled on the guitar strings. But you don’t want to be loose on it as well. If you’re not applying enough pressure down, you’re gonna get a puny sounding note.
Applying the correct amount of pressure on a fret will result in a good, solid, clean tone. It all comes around a proper fretting approach. Once you learn to correct these flaws, you will notice an improvement in the sound of your guitar.
Mechanical Type Fret Buzz
With mechanical let’s work from the headstock down to the body of the guitar. But important to note also is that the buzz may not even come from the guitar itself. The shirt that you’re wearing might be the culprit of why your acoustic guitar is buzzing.
Any zipper, button, or pin that you have on your shirt may get in contact with the back of your guitar and create the buzz. To resolve this, you may either have to change your shirt or move the guitar a little bit away from your body.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s now focus on the fret buzz created within the guitar itself. One particular area you should be looking at is the tuners. The bushings or the loose metal parts on your tuners will create fret buzz.
To fix this is simple, just take a small dab of wood glue and with the strings off of your guitar, put it right underneath those bushings. That would put it securely into place and prevent it from buzzing.
Another place to look is behind the guitar’s nut. If the nuts’ slots are cut too shallow, there might be a buzz or a sympathetic overtone originating from the strings behind the nut. It’s also an easy fix. Just take a little piece of leather or cotton shoelace and thread it in between the strings to stop them from ringing behind the nut.
If any fret is loose and rising of the fingerboard or frets are not in the same height [even high/low height in any one fret] can cause buzzing sound on one area or one specific note. In this case, you should level all frets with each other and secure loose frets or replace worn frets. If you can’t complete the job by yourself, then you should take it to a guitar shop for a fret leveling/replacing procedure.
Your guitar’s truss rod might be another culprit for the fret buzz. As your guitar vibrates over time, the nut on the truss rod can loosen. It may sound scary but it’s not. Just take your truss rod wrench and go ahead and snug up the truss rod nut. This should fix the problem.
If strings are literally touching the frets in any area of the fretboard and buzzes nearly everywhere all the time when played open, then it might be the neck that has inadequate relief. It could be up bowed (warped) or bowing backward excessively due to truss rod adjustment. When this happens, you need to properly set up your guitar and adjust the truss rod to increase the amount of neck relief.
The ball-ends on your strings are another possible source of the buzz. When you change strings on your acoustic guitar, you put the ball into the little hole you put the bridge pin in.
You want that ball-end to sit right up against the bridge plate. Sometimes the ball-end just hangs a little bit below the bridge plate and not against it. When that happens those ball-ends will start to wiggle as you play, creating the annoying buzz on your guitar.
Another thing to look out for is the guitar strings. They easily wear out through use and abuse. The string windings on the bass strings may be separating from the core wire. This usually happens down by the saddle especially if you haven’t changed your strings in a long time. The obvious fix for this is to get a new set of strings.
Our last and more serious problem that may require you to bring your guitar to a repair shop is concerning cracks or loose brace. This may be caused by an accidental drop or loose brace due to humidity especially if you live in a place where the temperature is dry. No need to panic as this is still fixable but it may be beyond your competence so it’s best to leave it to the experts.
In some cases, if you are used to playing an acoustic-electric guitar plugged through the best acoustic guitar amp, then you may not hear the fret buzz anymore. Sometimes fret buzz won’t be noticeable if you are listening to your amp at normal volume. However, some player’s especially bass players, intentionally use the effect of string rattling against the fret to generate more growl in the sound. So check your guitar sound both plugged and unplugged situations to determine your preferred noise level.
It’s good to remember that there are two types of fret buzz and it’s important to identify which one causes the problem. Once you do, you will be able to apply the necessary fix and enjoy the richer and cleaner sound from your guitar.