The one sound that guitarists hate.
No, not bagpipes. The buzz.
It sounds like fret buzz, but are the frets always to blame? Let’s look at frets first and see what else could be causing the worst sound on earth (to a guitarist).
That buzz may be a result of having the strings too low to the frets. This can be simple to fix – just get an Allen key (hex wrench) and raise the saddles a tad. If you have a wraparound or one piece bridge, that might mean raising all the strings at once. For most Fender-style bridges, you can raise individual saddles.
If the neck is too straight, or bowed, the centre of the neck will be higher than the rest causing the string to hit the frets when played lower down the neck. Relief is a very slight bow in the centre of the neck, giving the strings room to vibrate free of the frets. A little turn of the truss road can release tension on the neck, causing the pressure of the strings to bend the neck back into a curve.
Oh dear. The frets. Yes, it could actually be a high fret that is causing the buzz. To narrow it down, play every fret up the neck. When you come to a fret that doesn’t buzz, that is the one that is too high. Using a rocker or short straight edge, you can see where one fret would be higher, making the edge rock forward and backwards. Yup, that fret needs to be filed down, until it’s the same height, then sanded and polished smooth.
The nut is a cause of all kinds of trouble if it isn’t cut right, or has worn unevenly. If the portion of the nut behind the string interferes with the vibration of the string, it will buzz.
Probably the easiest culprit to sort out, the loose tuner probably sounds more like a rattle than a buzz. Play the offending string and touch each tuner (machine head) in turn to see if you can stop the buzzing. Grab a spanner and tighten up the loose one.
Loose Truss Rod
If you listen carefully and tap the back of the neck, a loose truss rod will rattle. Not good. Really not good! If the neck is worth keeping, the fingerboard can be removed and the truss rod made secure, but it’s a lengthy process. It’s also possible to syringe glue through a hole in the fingerboard underneath a dot marker. Again, it’s time consuming but it shouldn’t mean buying a whole new neck.
Sometimes saddles can wear unevenly too and create a more ‘ping’ type of buzzing sound. You can usually hear it – put your ear close to the saddle and you can tell that is where the sound is coming from. Separate saddles can be bought separately for most bridges and are simple enough to replace.
If you hear a buzz, don’t despair. Try a few of the ideas here to try and narrow down the cause. If you’re still stuck, drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.