View Full Version : Acceptable level of fret buzz?

06-24-2011, 12:20 PM
Is there an acceptable level of fret buzz? Is buzz induced only by hard plucking tolerable in general or is any buzz considered bad? What if it isn't heard during regular playing but only when plucking hard? I'm talking about buzz when fretting the 1st-3rd frets, not when open.

06-24-2011, 12:29 PM
I play pretty hard most of the time (you can hand an old punk rocker a uke...but he is still gonna be an old punk rocker) and have no buzz unless I fret the chords sloppily (often). I had a buzz on a couple of ukes, one needed the frets (couple were raised after 70 years...go figure) re-dressed and I had to learn how to do that first, one needed different strings desperately, but I would say if your uke is buzzing, it can be fixed in most cases. The lowest action I own or hav eever played is on a Kala lacewood MGM set up and it NEVER buzzes, no matter what I subject it to.
You did not say what uke it is or where it comes from, which would help diagnostically.

06-24-2011, 01:16 PM
Its a Luna Concert Tattoo. The action is about 0.8mm at the 1st fret and 3mm at the 12th fret. When I put a ruler on the fretboard, it doesn't appear to have any frets that are high. I'm assuming most of the time the buzz comes from the next fret up?

06-24-2011, 02:54 PM
I've had a Luna buzz on me before.
I think the action coulda been set a tad too low, at the nut.
Other reasons are that the neck has developed a bend or backbow, frets popping out, or it's the strings (especially wound strings).

If the uke is fairly new, I'd consider getting it exchanged for a new one.
There is no "acceptable" fret buzz. Fret buzz is annoying, and means there is something wrong.

And the most important thing is, is it acceptable to you? Can you live with it, or does it annoy you?
Usually, I can't tolerate fret buzz. But my Rally Banjo uke has some buzz on the first fret of the E string. Repair store told me that the neck has a backbow, and there isn't much I can do to fix it other than doing a complete fretdress (expensive).
The reason I keep it is that upon telling the seller of the defect, he gave me a very good discount, so I can live with it.

mm stan
06-24-2011, 03:18 PM
I feel there should not be any buzz on any ukes...sounds like a high fret...or low action...it can be fixed...take it in, shouldn't be too hard..hopefully...good luck...

06-24-2011, 03:26 PM
The action is higher than I set mine, sounds like a wonky fret. A ruler in one part of a fret will not necessarily expose a high spot (you need a straight piece of aluminum that is as wide as the fretboard- at least that is what I had my mate make me). COuld be really lousy strings, but even the GHS they often put on stock ukes will not buzz-they just make funky sounds.
Seeing that it is not a 50 year old heirloom dad played in college...I would exchange it and give them another go at getting you one that works right.

06-24-2011, 03:35 PM
Fret buzz question is tricky as you can always eliminate it with higher action unless the frets are ridicoulously off level. You deal with so many variables as the necks that comne with the ukes have no adjustment (unless a pono tenor that have truss rods). Some slight relief is okau on a upbow but never a back bow. Then there is string brand and choice as you can set a ukulele for example with Hilo worth dadarrio or high tension strings athan you can with aquila Where you strum or finger pick also makes a difference. if you are over the holoe it will buzz more than if you move closer to the 16th fret way up the upper bout where most do. The main culprit in buzzing is always the c strings as its physical propertires produce the largest swing arc. Also a ukulele shipped from 45 50 or higher humidity set perfect and then going to a dry climate with low humidity most necks tend to backbow and lower action thus produce buzz. When setting up a instrument you must account for climate its going to ...level of care you think the customer will do and then of customer expectations. Very few ukes will accept a action like an electric strat can and not buzz or be dead spots from not enough room for string to arc. I hope this helps If you must raise action use a material thats hard and dense a shim made from ebony or rosewood veneer works fine and most ordinary ears cannot tell the saddle is shimmed up. I hope it helps

06-24-2011, 05:29 PM
Thanks for chiming in Mike, it's great to see you

06-24-2011, 05:45 PM
Flamenco guitar players actually tune in some buzz on their set-ups. They need a very low action and actually incorprate the buzz into their style - sounds cool. For them the acceptable level is very high - neccessary even. If you want to mimic that on a ukulele, you can play that way as well.

Nonetheless, most ukulele players don't want it, and there's really no reason to have it unless you like the sound. As TCK said, your action is not low - something else is going on - with the frets or the neck.

And what a great post on set-up by Mike!

06-24-2011, 05:57 PM
Hmm, it came with aquilas. I think it'll go back.

06-24-2011, 07:08 PM
Ladies and gentlemen...Mike is back- I bow out and stop spouting all the things I learned from pouring over all his posts and then hitting the man-cave, to study his work and replicate it on my own ukes.
Welcome back Mike- good to see you on a post like this one

06-24-2011, 08:21 PM
You can raise the strings at the nut with tiny pieces of paper. I've done it to good effect.

06-25-2011, 05:02 AM
My opinion is that no fret buzz is acceptable with ordinary picking or strumming. I won't rehash what others have said here, especially since MGM covered the technical aspects far better than I can.

The catch, of course, is that "ordinary" picking or strumming varies from person to person. So, sometimes, you have to look at playing style as a cause of buzzing. Put quite simply, some people can successfully play with very low actions while other people playing that same uke will buzz like crazy. I learned this the hard way when I had a custom SG guitar built for me by a local builder who has since become a bit famous. Anyway, the afternoon I picked up the guitar from his shop, he was playing ZZ top covers on it, etc., without a hint of buzz even though the action was crazy low. The moment I touched it it became a buzz-o-matic. We ended up raising the action at the 12th fret by a good 2mm so I could play it without buzzing. However, I learned my lesson from that and began working on technique, and over a period of a few weeks was able to lower the action back down to where he'd had it.

If you push the strings down or pull them up as you play they are going to vibrate in a different plane that is more perpendicular to the fretboard and thus brings the strings closer to the frets at one end of their cycle. (Actually, they don't really vibrate in a plane, more like an ellipse, but you get the idea.) All other things being equal, if you brush the strings more parallel with the fretboard you will be able to play lower actions without buzzing.

The other technique-related thing is how hard you strum or pick. Good players strive to achieve a variety of "dynamics" throughout the song, emphasizing certain phrases by increasing volume, etc. If you start out with a hard strum as a baseline then you are going to have to hammer the instrument really hard to get a louder dynamic, and that's going to put you into buzzing territory. It's best to learn to start with a softer "soft" dynamic - if you need more volume to be heard in a band mix then get a better uke or use amplification.

I'm still a fairly "enthusiastic" player yet I've found that I can play ukes with ridiculously low action if they've been set up right with nice level frets. I got my Kiwaya longneck soprano from MGM and the action at the 12th fret is almost ridiculously low, yet I have to hammer it pretty hard to get a buzz. I compensated the saddle that is on my KoAloha longneck and that brought the action down to the same territory. I don't recall what they measure out at, but it's lower than I've seen on any body's uke and they don't buzz. Now, if I was to hammer them, or hit those strings vertically, yah, it would probably buzz.

Bottom line, the action (especially at the nut) needs to be low enough for good intonation - beyond that you should personalize the action to your style. If you've got a smooth delicate touch - or wish to develop one, then gradually bring the action down at the saddle. If you're "enthusiastic," and happy being so, then leave the action at the bridge higher.