Buzzing on String Instruments: Causes and Cures

buddhuu

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After 35 years of playing and tweaking guitars and, more recently, mandolins and ukes etc, I've come across lots of different annoying buzzes. Not only do they turn out to have the same causes again and again, but I see the same questions about buzz over and over on forums.

So, just though I'd post a little summary of the causes of buzz that I'm familiar with, things to look for and how to fix.

First thing is to track down where the buzz seems to come from. Sometimes harder than you might think!

Here's a numbered list of symptoms. Under that is a list of causes that tells you which symptoms point to which problem.

Symptoms

1) Does it seem to be the headstock end of the instrument that buzzes?
2) Does it seem to be the bridge end that buzzes?
3) Does the instrument buzz or rattle if you hold the strings muted and shake it?
4) Does it happen just with open strings
5) Does it happen just when strings are fretted or with a capo?
6) Does it happen with open strings AND when strings are fretted or with a capo?
7) Do only certain strings buzz?
8) Does the buzz happen around certain frets?
9) Does the buzz happen only when certain notes are fretted?

Causes

  • Worn/damaged/old/faulty strings: Symtoms 1,2,4,5,6,7,8,9 from the list above.
    A change of strings can't hurt. So if it seems possible that the strings may be the culprit, why not change 'em and eliminate that possible cause?
  • Loose hardware: Symptoms: 1 or 3 from the list above.
    Firstly check for rattling tuners, loose tuner screws, worn worm gears, loose and floppy string-ends, loose tuner shaft bushes/washers. Tighten screws and loose parts, replace worn parts, trim strings.
  • Nut issues: Symptoms 1, 4, or 7 from the list above.
    Check that nut slots angle back and down towards the tuners. Check that there is no loose plastic/tusq/bone in the nut slots. Check that slots are not too wide for the string gauges. Check that nut slots are not cut too deep causing unfretted strings to buzz against 1st fret.
    If you don't have the knowledge/tools to adjust nut slots then seek advice from a music store, luthier or guitar tech. I recommend the use of purpose made nut files for adjustments.
  • Loose truss rod (rare in ukes!): Symptoms 1,2,3,4 or 6 from the list above.
    Check to see if instrument has a truss rod (may be a cover on the headstock or a nut/screw at the body end of the neck as viewed from inside the soundhole). Check with appropriate wrench to ensure that rod is not completely slack and insecure. Tighten CAREFULLY until some bite/resistance is felt. This should stop most rattling rods unless the rod is faulty or incorrectly fitted. In that event, seek pro help.
  • Foreign matter inside uke body: Worth checking with any of the symptoms above!
    Shake it about, look inside and clear the stuff out!
  • Loose/unsecured wires on electric models: Worth checking with any of the symptoms above.
    Secure wires with ties or tape. If you need to anchor them to the uke body then try to fix to the instrument sides/ribs rather than the soundboard or back if you have a choice.
  • Bridge issues: Symtoms 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 or 9 believe it or not!
    If bridge is slotted (uncommon) then check the same points as for nut issues, except if slots angle down they should do so towards the butt end of the instrument - down and away from the headstock. Check that bridge saddle is not too low, causing buzz/rattle against frets. If too low then either shim the saddle to the correct height or replace saddle.
  • Loose braces / struts: Symptoms 2,3,6,7,8 or 9 in the list above.
    For some of these hard-to-locate buzzes, if you're sure they aren't vibrating pickup wires etc, they just may be loose braces. This is something you see quite a lot on old acoustic guitars - for some reason older Gibson acoustic guitars seem especially prone to it. Unfortunately, uke soundholes are harder to get your hands into than the ones on guitars, so it's not so easy to feel around. I'd suggest using a small light, a dental type mirror and something with which to prod at the various struts. Just check out for any obvious loose components. Shaking the instrument, or tapping the top can sometimes show up a loose brace.
    A loose brace is not a disaster - it is usually a pretty easy fix for someone with experience and the right glue and clamps etc - but unless it is a very cheap uke, a trip to the luthier or guitar shop is the wisest way to get it put right.
  • Fret issues: Symptoms 1,3,4,5,6,7,8 or 9 in the list above.
    NB: Unless you have experience of adjusting frets, and the right tools, it is best not to go at them with files etc. Seek pro assistance.
    Even though neck and nut end buzzes that vanish when you fret notes at the 1st fret usually indicate nut issues, it is possible that they may also mean a high or crooked 1st fret. To check, take a steel straight edge and lay it across the frets lengthwise. You should be able to (gently, so as not to score gouges) be able to slide the steel back and forth along the neck without the end of it snagging or bumping over proud frets.

    To check for high frets nearer the middle of the fretboard, see if the straight edge rocks at all as if a high fret were a fulcrum. The steel should lie flat and even on all frets.

    Worn frets, especially in low positions can cause buzz on higher ones, so check for wear.

    A point on the fretboard where the same note sounds when you finger a string on two adjacent frets usually (in my experience) means a low fret. This will need to be replaced or the whole fretboard levelled. Paradoxically, this same-note symptom can also (rarely in my experience) mean a high fret!

    The brave may attempt to level frets by tapping with a light hammer to ensure they are seated properly, or levelling with a flat file or flat, unworn grinding/sharpening stone. After filing, frets will require rounding and polishing. Best done by the experienced.

I'm sure I've missed out loads, so I'll pop back and add as I remember stuff.
 
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buddhuu

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Thanks very much, HaileISela. :)
 

broadside

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thanks for the advice. i had a feeling it'd be my bridge. where can i buy one from? ill search it up now. my C string lets off a weird buzzing sound when especially when playiong the g7 chord
 

cpatch

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The simplest cure for buzzing on string instruments is to play sober.
 

Brad Bordessa

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The screw-on endpin cap can be loose and vibrate. It's a buzz that has gotten overlooked by me on more than one occasion. Just tighten it up!
 

PoisonDart

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I blame reading this thread for my newly acquired second string second fret buzz.

At least now i know what to do about it.

Take it to someone who knows what they are doing and play my concert in the meantime!
 

MGM

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Great observations but also missed one important thing .....Try new strings first. I have fret dressed checked nuts tuners pickups braces and watsed hours of time trying to locate a buzz only to just change the string and PRESTO no BUZZ......Strings are not perfect especially in the nylon flouro nylgut type and some just dont vibrate and swing arc correctly....Change strings first then seek out all other options...I change about 30 sets of ukulele strings a day and invariably I will find one or two just bad strings straight from a new pack....this happens to all and every brand
 

buddhuu

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Great observations but also missed one important thing .....Try new strings first [...]

Good catch, man. Why do I always forget the obvious? :D

Thanks - I've edited the original post to include strings!
 

PoisonDart

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t change the string and PRESTO no BUZZ......Strings are not perfect especially in the nylon flouro nylgut type and some just dont vibrate and swing arc correctly....

I'd changed the wire wounds on my baritone twice and never the nylons, so i gave that a shot and it looked like it worked, I'll double check when I get home after they are done stretching out! :shaka:
 

gotrice415510

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i have a continuous buzz on my C string frets 1-4, on my E string frets 1-4, and the rest of the strings buzz from 1-4 but radomly. I got my ukue re-setup and frets have been evened out, but it still buzzes.
 

MGM

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what is the height of strings above the 12th fret to botoom of g string and also if you loosen the strings and add a toothpick under the saddle and the buzzes go away your action may be too low....
 

cashew

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i have a continuous buzz on my C string frets 1-4, on my E string frets 1-4, and the rest of the strings buzz from 1-4 but radomly. I got my ukue re-setup and frets have been evened out, but it still buzzes.

If its random, I'm gonna bet that its not the uke-- make sure that you're playing as cleanly as possible, firmly holding the strings down between the frets and not on top of them.

I hope this helps.
--Nut
 

alaaji

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My A string buzzes on the 7th fret and the 7th fret only. Would that be the nut or saddle or what? It's really annoying. :wallbash:
 

buddhuu

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If you mean it buzzes when you fret it at the 7th, then it's unlikely to be the nut. If it is ONLY when you fret at the 7th then the first thing I'd check would be to see if the 8th fret is a tiny, tiny bit raised at the treble side.

Also, the 7th fret could be just a tiny bit lower than the others.

A straight-edge or steel rule laid along the fretboard will often show up any frets that stand high as it will rock on them. Low frets can be harder to spot without experience.

Oh, and also check for kinks in the string around there.
 

lacerveza

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thanks a lot for that,i've got the opportunity to buy a pono tenor for a fraction of the price cos it has buzzing issues (i wouldn't be able to afford it otherwise).i've been humming and haaing about it but now i feel a bit more confident its worth the gamble, i know its not the strings cos they have been replaced, but i believe that pono tenors have a truss rod which may have been overlooked,(the part you wrote about truss rods got my attention) so i think i may go for it(even if i can't fix it i wont have lost that much and i'll have a spare set of grover tuners).
thanks much kudos
 

Christie

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Hello, My symptoms aren't quite described in your list. But I am hoping you can help.

I have a very resonant uke. I have been noticing intermittent buzzing and now that I have changed to worth clears (which makes the uke sound really great) the buzzing is even more pronounced. Dinking around I have found that if I partially fret something on my G string and it is a note I am playing on my A string, I get a buzzing that sounds like it comes from the bridge area. I don't have to strum the G string at all. I can just pick the A string and the buzz will occur either open (if A note on g is partially fretted) or any note on A fretted with a corresponding unison note on G string partially fretted but not strummed.

Further, I am finding that this happens when any unison note on another string is partially fretted even though that string is not played (i.e., there is a buzz when playing the A string that will vanish if I take my finger off that other string).

Have you any explanation or cure?

Thanks.
 

Hidden Character

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Does amount of pressure applied count as an issue? I get a buzz on my C string second fret, but its not all the time. What i do notice is that it doesnt buzz when i just put enough pressure to put it down, but it does if i put too much.
 

Joe Beamish

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Hidden Character: See buddhuu's post just above. Since you're getting a buzz on the second fret, you might check the third fret to see if it's a bit loose, or if it's sitting higher than the second fret. I just had a similar issue on my vintage uke and discovered several loose, springy frets which I'm having a shop glue down. When you're playing the C string on the second fret, it's possible that the extra pressure is bringing the string down juuust low enough to graze that third fret. You shouldn't have to worry about applying too much pressure when you're fretting notes. On my uke, I also noticed that the buzz was more noticeable when I strummed harder, which makes sense: the greater vibration was causing the string to come in contact with the next fret up the neck. Good luck!