Buzzing on String Instruments: Causes and Cures

Nickie

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 31, 2010
Messages
9,657
Points
48
Well, it's in the shop. The luthier explained what happened to it. I was right to take it in to him, there wasn't a damn thing I could have done to improve it, short of buying a new ukulele.
His explanation: The C string buzzes, of course, when the other ones do not, because it is the fattest string, and makes the largest orbit when struck. We're talking about thousandths of an inch!
My ukulele neck has begun to arch "backward" away from the top, toward the back of the instrument, making the frets at the end lower, therefore making the middle frets higher, in effect. He said this happens because wood is organic and it changes. He said if guitar and ukulele necks were way thicker, maybe this wouldn't happen so much, but then they wouldn't be much fun to play.
That is why guitars and even some expensive ukes have rods going through the neck (like my GF'S bass) that can be adjusted. As long as I have ukuleles that are made of wood, this can happen. I don't know when mine was made, but I've only had it since December. It happened that fast! Maybe it's because of how humid it is in Florida, and I'm always taking it outside to work with me. Even though my car has AC, and so does my condo, it still might get pretty "moist" in my gigbag. I'm going to ask him if I should shop for a good case, even though it's a cheap uke, it;s the only one I have right now, and UAS hasn't hit me (thank the gods!)
So it will be in the shop for a day or too, having the neck/frets "filed" with a really flat file. Then it will be good as new until it happens again. If necks were made of carbon fiber, this wouldn't happen, but then luthiers might be unemployed, and ukes would double or triple in price. Plus, carbon fiber has no "soul" like wood does!
 

Nickie

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 31, 2010
Messages
9,657
Points
48
It's home! My luthier would not take any money because he wasn't satisfied with the results, but I wanted the uke for a jam session tomorrow. He lowered the action a bit, it was too high for me. He replaced the Aquila C string with a string for a classical guitar. Classical guitar strings have more tension than ukulele strings. He said that if he had had a whole set of them, he would have strung the whole uke with them, but the store is out, because a Classical Guitar club from Tampa came over and bought them all. The guitar strings would keep the neck from warping away from the top, and maybe even correct it, he said. That string feels different, and the buzz isn't as pronounced now. I asked him if some "surgery", i.e., replacing the first four or five frets with slightly higher ones would work. He said, yes, and smiled at my savvy. It will look different, he said, because those frets will be fatter. I told him I don't care, if it will salvage the instrument. So it will go back soon to try that. I bought the hard case, not because of moisture problems, but because I am clumsy, and am taking it on a cruise this fall.
Has anyone else had this kind of result with this problem? After this, even though I like my Cordoba, I think it will be my last. I'm getting curious about other brands now...
 
Last edited:

Rick Turner

New member
Joined
Jul 26, 2009
Messages
2,699
Points
0
Classical guitar strings do not necessarily have higher tension than uke strings...it's all a matter of the exact composition and diameter of each string. There is a wide range of tensions available for all stringed instrument strings.

Another more correct and permanent fix would be to pull all the frets out "plane" the fingerboard (usually done by sanding) flat or even put a bit of relief into it, and then refret the fingerboard with whatever fret size you prefer. It would be kind of odd to have two different sizes of frets in the instrument...that's kind of a 3rd World repair...

Refretting and correcting the fingerboard is not all that big a deal if the uke has any value at all and/or if you really like the sound of it.

My feeling is that folks shouldn't buy instruments that are NOT worth repairing and maintaining.
 

Nickie

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 31, 2010
Messages
9,657
Points
48
"3rd world repair" LOL!
Hey, I was born a Redneck, I plead innocence!
I'm open to all suggestions...
 

paeataa

New member
Joined
Apr 6, 2011
Messages
153
Points
0
I'd never imagined that I'd have the same problem. My cheap ukulele has a buzzing problem on the C string (on the open string up to the first 4 frets). Although it is cheap, it was set up and restrung with Aquila. So, I expected that the uke should be at least playable.

Nevertheless, I am waiting for my seller to respond what we could do about it.
 

angusdegraosta

New member
Joined
Nov 7, 2011
Messages
144
Points
0
I'm amazed how many things can cause a buzz. In my case, I replaced Aquilas with a thinner diameter string - first Martin, then Southcoast. This caused some buzzing at the nut. Placing a thin, tiny piece of eyeglass felt under the string in the bottom of the nut groove was what did the trick in my case. Maybe paper or pocket lint would work too.
 
Last edited:

Sixthinsight

New member
Joined
Dec 25, 2011
Messages
17
Points
0
Hi everyone, I took my Kamaka gold label to a ukulele store to get the factory old strings taken off and Worths put on... after the procedure I didn't notice until I got home that the A string buzzed horribly. Upon further attention I inspected the bridge and the slot that the string sits in on the bridge (forgive my horrible terminology) was gouged to twice its normal size allowing vibrations. It looks as though the guy used a pair of pliers to cut out the old strings and gouged it. Its such a sad sight on this ukulele and I realize he was no professional even though he stated they do work on ukuleles all the time.

I just need clarification as to whether the gouge would cause this and it isn't something else, but the damn thing didnt do it before the injury.....but the strings perhaps too could be a reason?

I will take this to a real luthier this time but only wonder if the bridge is now able to be fixed without replacing.

Thanks, any ideas?
 

kauaijim

New member
Joined
May 13, 2012
Messages
100
Points
0
Bridge or nut? The newer Kamaka tenors have a compensated bridge and I think they will send you a new one for a few dollars. The longest part of that "repair" will be loosening the strings and retuning as the bridge just slides out and in. Nuts are easy, too, but different Kamaka's use slightly different materials and types of glue. Call the factory. They won't recommend a luthier but they will advise you. There are other fixes for oversized grooves in nuts that you will find with a quick search. My Kamaka was at the factory two weeks ago and had the action adjusted and the bridge replaced. Lucky to live Hawaii.
 

Yestyn The Great

New member
Joined
Jul 19, 2012
Messages
131
Points
0
I don't know if anyone will see this but I think some buzzing on my cordoba 25tk-ce may be caused by loose wires. How would you recommend fixing this issue? I know I should try attaching the wires better but how exactly?
 

Coleton33Music

New member
Joined
Jun 4, 2011
Messages
69
Points
0
Hi, I had a problem with buzzing on the E string. My ukulele has a removable nut. Not as common, but ashbury ukuleles does it. So, the last time I changed strings I apparently turned the nut out of curiosity. (just looking at it) then when I put it back in, I put it in backwards. So the E string slot was therefore to wide causing the string to rattle in the slot. Meanwhile, the C string had slightly high action. So once I thought of what the problem could be, I loosened the strings so i could turn the nut back to where it was. Then, my E sting didn't rattle, and my C string action wasn't as high.

Also, the angled nut was facing the right way, so the intonation was a little more correct.

btw. my ukulele is an Ashbury AU-40 soprano. So you can look up pics. Wonderful ukulele!
 

Nickie

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 31, 2010
Messages
9,657
Points
48
Wow, what a great thread! Thanks everyone for your input, especially the o p.
 

915toy

New member
Joined
Nov 27, 2012
Messages
3
Points
0
Great thread!

I'm still having a buzz from my lanikai's pickup. When I touch the jack while its plugged into the uke, the buzz goes away...but returns once i stop touching it. Im assuming its a ground issue or the jack hole on the uke is faulty? What can I do to rig up a ground onto the jack hole or the wires inside? Im stumped and a rookie when it comes to these pickups! Thanks
 

Kayouker

New member
Joined
Jan 7, 2014
Messages
85
Points
0
Great job - and a few suggested additions...

Thanks for a lovely and valuable summary. A few additions from a personal experience with a duplicate note at frets 1 and 2 on the G-string and what we heard as a G-string buzz at the saddle...

1. Buzzes ARE hard to find and may not be where they seem to be. I had a G-string buzz that two of us absolutely heard at the saddle. Actually it proved to later emanate from the 2nd fret, but the buzz was at the saddle. Which leads to my 2nd addition.

2. Testing a buzz can be done by pressing with a finger at a suspected source: nut, saddle, bridge, string end, etc. while playing the suspected string. If pressing thusly stops the buzz, you've found the source. This is how I eliminated the saddle, above.

3. Checking level with a ruler may not work. If only one fret is high, it will but if two frets are high, it won't. And so it goes. A couple steel rules, marked in inches and centi/millimeters, a 12" and a 6" are useful. A credit card can be used as a rough short straight edge to bridge 3 frets for a rocker test.

Still, analysis by rocking is an learned skill. A couple drams of a good rum will help. In my case the ruler test didn't help as there were multiple high frets. A ruler is very useful in measuring for intonation.

4. A far more informative tool is an inexpensive digital sliding caliper that measure OD, ID and especially height VERY accurately. Only by measuring fret height repeatedly was I able to determine that my problem was very localized to a 2nd fret a bit high under the G-string.

This then is an exception to your observation that duplicate notes are rarely caused by a high fret, thus the new rule is that "there are no rules", lol.

5. Although you recommend generally against leveling or filing, the fact that the ukulele played beautifully on all frets except the G-string first fret, that a good measurement made clear the problem was VERY localized to a slightly high 2nd fret under the G I decided to try.

Keep in mind my mechanical skills are better applied to tire changing, tune up, filing sparkplugs and mowing lawns. I thus proceeded as an overconfident fool, but a carefoole one.

Bought a cheep needle file kit from Harbor Freight for $3.99 which included a nice thin, flat, narrow mini-file. Didn't have to remove the strings, just lift the G enough to provide a little access for the tiny, thin file. Took three light strokes, test, repeat. After four careful rounds of very light filing, voila! Success.

The key: knowing exactly where the problem was. The video that inspired by filing daring-do?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c527_CtazOQ&list=PL6E9BBCB6B8E2FE1D


Summary:

1. Buzzes may not be where you think they are. Like a water leak that appears far from the source, sound can be transmitted.

2. Pressing with a finger at suspected locations is a good technique.

3. Rulers work better for measuring for intonation, but not so much for finding high frets

4. An inexpensive digital caliper is invaluable for measuring fret and string height, and finding localized problems.

5. Localized high frets can be corrected by you.

Again dear Buddhuu, an absolutely terrific piece, very much appreciated. May you have a life of moderate success, lol...
 

blorb

New member
Joined
Sep 20, 2015
Messages
30
Points
0
Filling this out for myself, don't mind me.

1) Does it seem to be the headstock end of the instrument that buzzes?

Yes.

2) Does it seem to be the bridge end that buzzes?

No.

3) Does the instrument buzz or rattle if you hold the strings muted and shake it?

Yes.

4) Does it happen just with open strings

No.

5) Does it happen just when strings are fretted or with a capo?

No.

6) Does it happen with open strings AND when strings are fretted or with a capo?

Yes.

7) Do only certain strings buzz?

Can't really hear it on the A string.

8) Does the buzz happen around certain frets?

Higher frets.

9) Does the buzz happen only when certain notes are fretted?

Lower notes
 

Nickie

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 31, 2010
Messages
9,657
Points
48
I'm amazed how many things can cause a buzz. In my case, I replaced Aquilas with a thinner diameter string - first Martin, then Southcoast. This caused some buzzing at the nut. Placing a thin, tiny piece of eyeglass felt under the string in the bottom of the nut groove was what did the trick in my case. Maybe paper or pocket lint would work too.

I wish the heck I'd come back and read this post a long time ago. I got an Ohana concert uke for a gift. It started buzzing within a year. I took it back to the shop that it came from, and the owner would do nothing but tell me I was hearing harmonics. I told him he's a deaf baby boomer rocker.
I took it to my luthier, who dressed the frets, did a good setup, and noted that the very thin neck is warping. It wasn't bad, I did a string change to Aquila Lavas, which sounded good, but still buzzed. I took it back to the luthier. He looked it over, strummed it, scratched his head, and said "Just change the strings."
So I, wanting to make the uke sound more mellow, changed the strings to Worth Brown thins. Guess what? Hardly any buzzing at all. It's amazing how a change of less that a millimeter can make such a difference!
 

JeLeh

New member
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Messages
84
Points
0
Buzzing on Kala Waterman

First, thank you for the informative post! I'm wondering if the troubleshooting is any different for plastic ukes though. I have a Kala Waterman that I purchased new about 7 months ago that has developed buzzes and I don't know why. I tried going down the checklist in the initial post, but some of the solutions don't seem possible since it's an all-plastic uke. The saddle and bridge are all one piece, and I don't think it can be removed. The nut is also molded and doesn't seem conducive to modification.

The buzzing began when I changed the strings from the factory installed strings (Aquila, I think) to Martin flurocarbon strings. I was sure to position the strings at the tuners to look the same as ukes in my collection that still have factory-installed strings and are working properly. As per the suggestions on this thread, I tried switching back to Aquila strings as a first attempt at trouble-shooting, but buzzing still happens with the same intensity and frequency.

It was not buzzing prior to changing the strings, and I haven't changed my technique, so I don't think it's me. Also, I don't have buzzing issues on any of my other ukes, which I would be if it were my technique.

Specifics of the buzzing:
Buzzes at headstock end and bridge end.
Does not buzz or rattle if hold strings muted and shake.
Happens with both open strings or fretted strings.
Buzzing seems worse and happens most frequently on G and E strings, but happens on C and A strings too.
Buzzing is particularly noticeable around lower frets, near headstock.

I have also checked/done:
Checked tuners (open-geared) for loose screws, but none are loose.
Trimmed ends of string at headstock.

It is admittedly a cheap uke, so it may just be the nature of the beast, but I wondered if anyone else has experienced (and hopefully fixed) this problem on a Kala Waterman. I realize the response/solution might be "get a better uke," but I chose this one specifically to keep in the car where I thought the plastic would be impervious to extreme temperatures. Thanks for any advice!
 

ManonBLV

New member
Joined
Aug 20, 2016
Messages
1
Points
0
Great diagnostic - maybe missing one solution?

I have a 40 year old Tama which is just out of a complete rejuvenerization cure by a professional. Last night the Sol cord was buzzing when open. This post helped me understand the problem had to be somewhere in the head and the issue maybe with the nut (symptoms 1,4,7) but there did not seem to be anything wrong there. Testing further, I found that the buzz stopped when I pressed the cord tuning peg screw. Gently with the proper screwdriver, I tested if the screw was loose. It was! I then made sure all the tuning pegs' screws were screwed just tight not too tight. The problem with my Sol cord is solved and I find that the string sounds even better! Great post! Thank you:)
 

bobmeredith

New member
Joined
Dec 13, 2013
Messages
7
Points
0
Sneaky problem

Old thread I know; but always relevant.

My new Kala tenor arrived today (Kala KA-STGE-C). Not top drawer but suits my modest needs for a low G tenor. Plays nice, sounds good.......but had a slight buzz when played. After about 30mins of trouble shooting I narrowed it down to the internal spring washers and hex nut holding the o/p jack in place.

After an hour of bad language and persistant experimentation I was able to get the jack out through the soundhole....tighten up the washers and nut.....and pull the jack back through the hole at the back (using the dental floss I tied to the barrel). Replace external nut and end cap and it was done.


All good, operation was a success, and patient is doing well. Now I need a scotch!
 
Last edited:

Ukecaster

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 7, 2009
Messages
4,151
Points
48
How about buzz on a 40's Favilla soprano? I get C string buzz when played open and on most all frets. Sounds like it's coming from the bridge end. When I touch the top near the G string from the mid soundhole, down to and including the bridge, the buzz stops. This is with brand new Martin M600 strings, although I suppose it could be a bogus A string.