Fret Buzz is one of the most stubborn problems you will come across as a guitarist, if not solved on time. This problem occurs when the strings start vibrating against the fret on the neck. It’s completely normal to experience fret buzz in your career, as it is one of the most common issues that you would ever face, but the good part is that it’s solvable with a few tips and tricks.
Uneven frets, low string action, lack of neck relief, and humidity are some of the most common causes behind fret buzz.
As these are the reasons that you may come across while you are experiencing fret buzz, then you can solve the issue by leveling the frets, increasing string action, adjusting the truss rod, or just even cleaning the fretboard and strings properly. There are numerous causes and fixes for this issue, and there’s nothing to worry about.
In my past years, I have faced fret buzz multiple times, and most of the time, it was a new perpetrator that was causing this issue. However, it takes some knowledge to solve it in no time. In this article, we will be highlighting every concern regarding fret buzz, the causes, solutions, and prevention too.
Buzzing noises can also be caused by other parts of your guitar, such as the pedal or amp. For such problems, you can visit this article to fix every type of buzzing noise coming from your guitar.
Note: If you are having buzzing issues from your amp instead, then head over to my other article here. Complete Guide To Stop EVERY Type Of Buzzing Noises For Amp!
Causes & Fixes For Fret Buzz: A Comprehensive List
Here are some of the most common causes and their fixes for fret buzz;
1. Nut Is Too Deep
If you are experiencing fret buzz on High E String, then it may be because your guitar nut is too deep.
The piece from which the strings pass is known as the nut and when it becomes too deep or shallow, it can cause fret buzz. The nut is usually made from bone or plastic and it’s tasked to keep the strings at a distance from each other so they don’t interact.
If the buzz is indeed caused by a deep nut, then you either need to get the nut changed or you can mix baking powder with super glue and fix the groove if it is shallow or deep.
2. Not Enough Neck Relief
Guitar neck that’s too straight (not enough neck relief) can cause fret buzz because there isn’t much gap between the fret and string. The neck is made to have a slight dip at the 8th fret to make sure that the strings are positioned properly. However, over time the neck can bow backward or forward, which ultimately results in fret buzz.
Adjusting the truss rod can increase your neck relief and fix your fet buzz in no time. You can check the article on how to adjust the truss rod to fix fret buzz, and learn more about the required tools and knowledge to do it properly without destroying any piece of your guitar.
3. Action is too low
Low-string action is known for bringing the strings closer to the frets, ultimately increasing the chances of fret buzz. There’s no denying the fact that some people love playing guitar on low-string action.
However, it shouldn’t be this low that it may cause fret buzz, which is super annoying sometimes. Low-string action is only good when you are not fond of applying too much pressure on the strings.
If you have an electric guitar, the action should be set to under 2mm on the low E string at the 12th fret and for the high E string it should be 1.5mm. Let’s consider, if you have an acoustic guitar, the low E string action should be 2.3mm and the high E string 1.8mm at the 12th fret to avoid buzzing.
Adjusting string action is much easier on electric guitars as they have adjustable bridges, unlike acoustic guitars where you have to raise the saddles or either replace them. You can learn more about low action and fret buzz on lower and higher frets here;
4. Uneven Frets
When the frets are uneven, you are more likely to experience fret buzz as strings come in contact with frets very easily. The frets of your guitar are designed to be level with each other, and all of them should be at the right height.
When some frets are shorter than others, or even taller, it can create buzzing when you play the guitar. Frets can become uneven over time due to excessive use or style of playing.
If you are planning to fix worn frets, you must have the right tools with you such as a fret rocker to calculate the height of the frets and leveling beam to make the frets level. Moreover, you need to use a two-sided crowning file for the crowning process and lastly fine grade sandpaper to polish the frets at the end.
It’s not a very lengthy process if you do it properly. However, you need to be very calm while doing any of these steps as guitars are made with very sensitive pieces, and you need to level the frets with proper calculations.
5. Low humidity
A humidity level of less than 40% in the environment can cause fret buzz. It may come as a surprise but it’s true. Humidity is a major factor that can cause fret buzz. Too dry air can cause excessive fret buzz as it can also mess up the neck relief of your guitar. It is important to check if the humidity is between 40% to 50% where you are playing or storing the guitar.
As guitar necks are made from wood, they can easily warp when the air becomes too dry. In such a situation, you need to get a humidifier to maintain the humidity in your environment.
If humidity has already done the damage, then you need to consult a professional to either fix the neck or change any piece of your guitar. If you have an older or cheaper guitar, you can fix it by yourself, but it is important to know the right steps and have the required tools.
Do Thinner & Lighter Strings Help Reduce Fret Buzz?
Thinner and lighter strings help to reduce fret buzz as they have less tension. Excessive tension in the strings is usually responsible for persistent fret buzz. Thinner and lighter strings are a plus factor if your aim is to eliminate or get rid of fret buzz. Yet, the playing style of the guitarist also plays a pivotal role to determine if fret buzz will exist or not.
Sometimes, when you change from heavier to lighter gauge, the guitar is prone to fret buzz as the new strings will need some time to get adjusted. Moreover, thinner strings stay in tune for a much longer time when compared to thicker and heavier strings.
It is pretty stiff to bring thicker string material up to pitch, thus this increases more chances of fret buzz. String gauge can have an important impact on fret buzz, you can check here;
Is It Normal For New String To Buzz?
If the newly attached strings are thinner than the previous ones, they are more likely to buzz, but that is pretty normal. When new strings are thinner, they are placed slightly lower in the nut area as the nut is already shaped to manage old thick strings. Other than that, if the action is set too low, new strings can buzz pretty easily.
You need to check the saddle area to confirm if the action is set too low. On an electric guitar, you can use available screws to change the height of the strings.
If fret buzz in new strings is persistent, then you should inspect the issue properly as it can be an indicator of problems with neck relief or uneven frets which are some of the most reported reasons for fret buzz. You can check this article to read more about fret buzz regarding new strings and how much time would it take for them to settle in;
Is Minor Fret Buzz Acceptable? (The Impact)
Acoustic Guitar Fret Buzz
Minor fret buzz on acoustic guitars is only acceptable if the strings are new. If you are experiencing fret buzz on old strings, it is a clear indicator of any underlying issue. Moreover, the fret buzz on an acoustic guitar is much more prominent than on others.
Minor fret buzz is more noticeable on acoustic guitar as it distracts the player as well as the listeners. The sound produced by acoustic guitars is expected to be smoother than electric, and there is no exception for fret buzz. If you are playing an acoustic guitar, fret buzz is more-clear as it can affect the overall tone of the guitar.
Electric Guitar Fret Buzz
Some electric guitar players are okay with minor fret buzz as their action is set too low according to their preferences, but some may even find it disturbing here too. Fret buzz mostly exists in low-quality guitars, the ones that have problems with the neck or frets. It is a sign of poor setup.
Many guitarists may prefer minor fret buzz, as it would contribute to their playing style, but the majority of people don’t accept even a little bit of fret buzz on electric guitars, as they find it distracting. Sometimes it is the amp that is buzzing or creating a hiss, you can learn more about it here;
Bass Fret Buzz
The strings on a bass are thicker than others due to which they are less flexible and vibrate at a low frequency, ultimately resulting in minor fret buzz. However, the impact of fret buzz on bass is minimal as it can add up to its overall bass sound. If you have a playing style that prefers a bit of fret buzz, then minor fret buzz on bass isn’t a problem.
There are times when you have the perfect setup but still, there is a minor fret buzz, such cases are pretty normal when talking about bass. There isn’t a certain answer when it comes to the acceptability of fret buzz on bass.
Some people accept it, some don’t. It depends on the technique of the player. No matter what the instrument is, if the player doesn’t prefer fret buzz, it will be distracting.
Yet, the impact varies from person to person as well as equipment to equipment. You can read more about fret buzz on bass and get to know where it comes from in this article;
Ways To Prevent Fret Buzz From Happening Again
If you are interested in changing your old strings because strings are now starting to buzz or are not your type anymore. These are some best ways to prevent fret buzz from happening again;
1. Use Light String Gauge
If the new strings have a lighter gauge as compared to the previously attached heavier strings then the buzzing is unavoidable. If you change the strings for a similar gauge as the old one then the buzzing is vulnerable to happen. Many different brands have their strings, some vibrate more, some are very lighter to play and some are causing the buzz. Before buying it from any brand you should need to check the string gauge first.
A string gauge is the weight of the thickness of the string and also it can tell you about the tone of the string. Some standard positions for the guitar range such as from super light to heavy. While reaching a given pitch, substantial strings just need to be put under more strain.
2. Avoid Low humidity
The maximum percentage of recommended humidity to play the guitar without any buzz or interruption is from 45% to 55%. Every guitar life cycle plays an important role in the environment that you choose for it. There are very high chances that your strings might buzz or damage even after you restring the guitar just because you live in a dry area.
The sharp fret ends are the main indicators of a dry guitar, filled with humidity inside its strings and you’ll notice that your fingers would suddenly begin to hurt while you are playing the guitar.
3. Adjust Tuning
Whenever you try to attach new strings to the guitar, the main thing you need to understand is to adjust it to the standard tuning and then see if it’s still buzzing or not. Once you’re okay with the standard tuning, you can also change it afterward, according to your liking.
Just make sure that the action is not too low because this is one of the main reasons behind buzzing. After restringing your guitar, you need to increase the string action first as much as it is required, just to avoid the buzzing.
4. Apply The Right Amount Of Pressure
After you are done with restringing your guitar, you must keep in your mind that the amount of pressure needed to play the guitar might be a little different now. You need to make good contact with the strings of your guitar. When you don’t apply the right amount of pressure on the strings, they are prone to hit the fret and cause a buzz that you would certainly prefer.
5. Keep Strings & Fretboard Clean
If you want to avoid fret buzz, you have to keep the strings and fretboard clean. Due to excessive use of the guitar, it is understandable that it gets dirtier with time, but with proper care, you can keep it just like new. Cover it properly when you are traveling, especially in dusty areas. Store it in a room with moderate temperature and humidity with the cover on.
In case any of these guitar pieces get dirty, you can clean them with a washcloth. You have to give some time to the maintenance of your guitar at least once every two months, to make sure everything is properly intact and clean.
Can High Action Cause Fret Buzz?
High action can also sometimes cause buzzing if the nut slots are too deep. Action height plays an immensely important role in causing or restricting fret buzz.
As you know, we all want to make sure that we are not putting too much pressure on the strings, as it is common to get fatigued faster. However, the lower the action is, the more likely your guitar is to buzz. Yet, it is very rare for high action to cause fret buzz.
Can Too Much Neck Relief Cause Buzz?
If you experience fret buzz on the upper register of the guitar neck, it is due to too much neck relief. As lack of neck relief is a perpetrator of fret buzz, the same is the case with excessive neck relief. When the neck is not positioned correctly, there are high chances of experiencing fret buzz. The forward bow is one of the most highlighted reasons for fret buzz.
When the neck of your guitar bows away from the strings more than required, the strings don’t clear the upper fret register if playing mid-neck positions. When neck relief is too little, it causes buzz all over, but too much neck relief causes fret buzz higher up the neck.
As the neck has a strong impact on string action, it is advised to properly adjust neck relief by turning the truss rod with the required tools.