There are several reasons why you might experience fret buzz on your electric or acoustic guitar. Some are easy to identify and fix. Others might require an expert hand.
Playing your guitar can be such a beautiful and captivating experience, whether onstage, at rehearsal, or just jamming at home. However, over time you may notice your acoustic or electric guitar is developing an irritating buzz that completely ruins your sound.
There are a number of reasons why this fret buzz sound might exist, which means there are several effective ways you can get rid of it. Here are seven potential causes and some techniques you can use to clear up your guitar fret buzz straight away.
1. Dirty strings
A very common cause of buzz originates from the strings themselves. Over time, guitar strings pick up dirt from the air and grease from your fingers, all of which can contribute to that buzzing sound.
Changing your strings often is one way to avoid this, but sometimes, all you need to do is run a small kitchen towel along each string. Make sure you wrap the entire string for best results as the underside of the string can be a key location for grunge to build up.
2. Dirty fretboard
While you’re cleaning the strings of your guitar, make sure you’re also cleaning the fretboard, removing any dirt and grime that has built up on it. Since your fingers are pushing down on the frets, the same dirt-accumulating effect can take place.
Just as you did with the strings, run a small kitchen towel or tissue along the entirety of the fretboard, making sure you remove any build-up of dirt that may be there. There are also cleaning solutions you can purchase for both the strings and the fretboard.
3. Bridge trouble
Play each individual open string (without holding down any of the notes). Go through each one and identify if one (or more) is creating the buzzing sound. If there’s a culprit, check the bridge to ensure the sound isn’t coming from there.
On an electric guitar, you may find a loose part which could be responsible for the buzz. As with some of the issues that follow, if you have no experience fixing this yourself, you may need an expert’s help. If you’ve got some experience or are willing to experiment, you can seek a solution online by searching the brand and model of your guitar.
4. Worn-down nut
If you’ve cleaned the neck and fretboard and checked the bridge and the buzzing sound persists, check the area of your guitar where the nut is located (the end of the neck near the headstock) and make sure the strings haven’t settled further down over time.
You might ultimately need to replace the nut to remedy this, but a quick fix could be to insert a tiny piece of paper (folded once or more) just under the string where it sets into the nut to raise it ever so slightly and prevent it from buzzing.
5. Warped neck?
Sometimes, it’s not the strings or the nut, but the neck of your guitar which is causing the problem. Over time, especially if you’re keeping your guitar anywhere other than a case in a dry room, the neck can twist or warp — even just slightly — ultimately creating the buzzing sound where the strings come into contact with the frets.
You can make adjustments to the truss rod, though seeking a professional’s help on this is a good idea as you don’t want to exacerbate the issue. Sometimes, there’s no real remedy to this apart from replacing the neck. This just goes to show the importance of proper care and maintenance for any stringed instrument, which includes keeping your guitar in a case with humidity control and avoiding damp or humid environments.
6. Super low action
If you’ve set the action too low on your guitar, or it has lowered itself over time, this can cause your frets to buzz, especially if you’re used to playing aggressively. This is one of the more common causes of fret buzz.
To address this problem, you need to adjust the saddle height of your guitar. With electric guitars, you should have no problem with this, but it can be a fairly complex task if you’re carrying it out on an acoustic guitar.
You can check online for a solution, or if you’re not trusting in your truss rod (or bridge or nut) adjusting skills, it will be much safer to take your guitar to an expert or music shop to have them do it on your behalf.
7. Uneven frets
The final issue you may be facing is the fact that you’re playing an uneven fretboard. This issue is probably just a function of excessive play and it should be easy to identify by taking the time to look.
First, play every note on your low E string and identify anywhere you hear a buzz. Do the same with every string and check the correlating frets.
Hold your guitar, or place it on a level surface, and look down your neck from the nut to the bridge with your eye at string-level and check for bumps and dips on the frets (especially any that buzzed). If a fret is really worn out, you should be able to take it to a guitar shop to get it — or all — your frets replaced.
Gavin Whitner plays guitar for his alt-rock band. He blogs at MusicOomph about musical instruments, audio gear, headphones, speakers, and basically all things music. He also writes for publications like Music Connection, Making Music Magazine, and others.