Let’s Talk About Fret Buzz
Why does it happen?
Why do most guitars fall victim to fret buzz at least once in their lives?
How much fret buzz is acceptable?
To get a better grip on fret buzz, let’s discuss some common causes and how you might go about fixing it on your guitar.
How Much Fret Buzz Is Acceptable?
The main question we need to start with is, “how much fret buzz is acceptable before you have a serious problem on your hands?”
When you hear pro guitarists or techs talk about fret buzz, what they are referring to is the annoying sound of the string rattling against the fret. The thing is, fret buzz can be okay if it’s minimal.
There are ways to get around fret buzz, including raising your action really high, though you’ll consequently have to deal with intonation issues. Plus, playing guitar with super-high action is pretty difficult.
Players who want low action without any buzz are, unfortunately, not being realistic. There might be a few ways to lessen the amount of buzz, including the use of thick strings or playing with a soft touch, though even these “fixes” won’t wholly rid your guitar of buzz.
As for the question of “how much fret buzz is acceptable?” — it’s up to you.
Most electric guitars will have a fair amount of buzz when they aren’t plugged in, but that buzz becomes far less noticeable when an amp is in the picture. That slight amount of buzz that you hear is completely natural. However, if you’re playing with your electric guitar plugged in, and you get a percussive-sounding buzz or bends that fret out, you’re dealing with an issue that may need some professional attention.
Fixing Fret Buzz
Adjusting the Saddle
Sometimes frets will buzz because the saddle is too low. You will no doubt be able to see the strings touching or resting on the frets at this point. 2/64ths is very low action and anything under that is probably too low.
A low saddle issue is typically easy to identify, as the buzzing remains constant up and down the neck. Try making a saddle adjustment if you notice consistent fret buzz throughout the fretboard.
Another common issue that might cause fret buzz is unruly neck curvature. A guitar’s neck should be almost straight. There should be a slight curve to give the notes a bit of room to sing, but if the neck has a prominent, smile-like curve to it, there will be some serious buzzing in the center of the neck.
On the other hand, if the neck is too tight or “back-bowed,” the buzzing becomes more noticeable on the lower frets than the middle frets.
To fix the curvature of your neck, you will need to make adjustments to the truss rod. If you have never done this before or are not comfortable doing it, we recommend taking your guitar to your local shop.
If you are comfortable making truss rod adjustments, make sure to go in slow, quarter-turn increments. The last thing you want to do is crank the truss rod around quickly, as you could cause severe and irreversible damage to your guitar.
Tools You Need To Fix Fret Buzz On Your Own
String Action Gauge
A string action gauge is a necessary tool to measure the action height on a guitar. A good string action gauge will measure in 64th of an inch, as well as millimeters, and will allow you to get more precise measurements from your guitar than you would by merely “eyeballing” it.
When it comes to adjusting neck relief, capos can tell you whether or not your guitar has a straight line. Start by affixing the capo to the first fret of your neck to depress the high E string. You can also affix the capo to the point where the neck joins the body of the guitar. For Strats and Teles, this is usually the 17th fret.
Once your strings are locked in place, you can bust out your feeler gauge.
When purchasing a feeler gauge for a guitar, the measurements must be microscopic. Look for ones that move down to 10,000ths of an inch. When we talk about relief, these tiny measurements are part of the game, as any adjustments must be incredibly accurate.
We use a feeler gauge to measure the gap between the top of the eighth fret and the bottom of the string. The reason we measure this area is that the eighth fret is where the neck curvature should be deepest.
My Guitar Is Set Up, But I Still Hear TONS of Buzz. What Gives?
Whether your guitar was set up at home or by a pro, here are a few things to consider if the buzzing persists:
Not Fretting in the Right Place
When you fret your guitar, you must place your finger just behind the fret. Anywhere else but this proper spot will likely give you that unwanted buzz.
Not Applying Enough Pressure
If you aren’t pressing the strings down hard enough, they won’t make the right amount of contact with the frets. Many beginners struggle with this when learning barre chords, as they require a fair amount of pressure to ring out.
Strumming Too Hard
On the other hand, you might be playing too hard. If you hit the strings too hard while playing, they might vibrate up and down a bit too much instead of vibrating from side to side. The outcome? Serious buzzing.
The Wrong Strings
Did you recently change your string gauge? If so, the change might have altered the tension in the neck. Once in a while, I’ll switch my strings from 10s to 9s. To compensate for lower tension, I have to adjust the shape of the neck.
Staying On a Good Buzz
As you can see, there are several reasons you may experience the dread of fret buzz on your electric guitar. While some might be easy to distinguish and repair with a little DIY magic, others might require the hands of an expert.
At the end of the day, if you’re unsure what’s at the root of the issue, hit up your local guitar tech. It may cost a bit of money, but that’s part of the game when you’re serious about being a better player. Now buzz off!