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Why Guitar Strings Buzz

A black and white close up photo of someone playing a Stratocaster.

String buzz is an issue that nearly every guitar player runs into at some point. You get your guitar, go to play it, and you hear a buzzing sound that is just loud enough to be bothersome. Guitar players spend years chasing down the cause of buzz, and it can often be a seemingly endless game of whack-a-mole. 

However, string buzz is often easy to track down and eliminate if you know what to look for. There are a handful of causes for why most guitar strings buzz, and with the right knowledge, fixing it is usually fairly simple. In this guide, we will break down the most common reasons why guitar strings buzz, as well as what you can do to fix it. 

Most Common Causes and How to Fix Them

You can breakdown the causes of string buzz into two categories—technique and mechanical issues. Technique problems are the easiest to address and don’t cost any money to fix, so let’s look at those first.

Technique

We all like to think we have great technique, but it’s easy to develop bad habits. And for beginners, running into string buzz from technique issues is even more common. Thankfully, these issues are very easy to fix. 

Strumming Too Hard

Strumming too hard is a very common cause of string buzz, and it impacts beginners and experienced players alike. We all get excited, and it’s easy to get a little too into it and start strumming really hard. While that may be fun, it can cause string buzz.

When you strum or pick a string, it vibrates to create a sound. The harder you strum, the more that string vibrates. As the string vibrates more and more, it creates a wider arc and can eventually touch the frets, creating string buzz. 

All you have to do to fix this is be more cognizant of how hard you are strumming. Remember that you don’t need to play a guitar that hard to make a great sound. If you are struggling, there is nothing wrong with getting a professional teacher to help you out with your technique. 

Not Fretting Properly

Another common cause of string buzz is not fretting properly. Not putting enough pressure on the string and fretting at the wrong location can both cause string buzz. For beginners, putting enough pressure to fret a note can be difficult. But with time, you will gain calluses and finger strength that make fretting easy. When fretting, the notes should be clear and distinct without any buzzing. 

As far as fretting at the right location, this is also a common issue for beginners. Many beginners will place their fingers on the fret or halfway between frets. Both of those can result in string buzz. The best place to fret is directly behind the nut, as it will give you the cleanest and clearest sound without buzz. Again, don’t be afraid to get a professional teacher if you are struggling with your fretting technique. 

Close up photo of multiple guitars sitting upright.

Mechanical Issues

Mechanical issues can be more difficult to address than improper technique, and they often require repairs or adjustments to your guitar. Still, these issues tend to be relatively easy to manage. We summarized the most common issues below, but if you suspect a mechanical issue could be afoot, we highly recommend watching our deep dive into all the setup issues that can lead to guitar string buzzing here:

Low or Poorly Cut Nut Slots

A very common cause of fret buzz is a low or poorly cut nut. Many guitar players barely even notice their nut slots, but they can have a huge impact on your guitar’s sound. A nut that is cut too low will make your strings be too close to the fretboard, resulting in fret buzz when you play. If your nut is cut improperly, such as a nut where the high point is in the middle of the slot, the string will buzz through the slot. 

One plus of this issue is that fixing or replacing your nut is usually inexpensive. If your nut is too low, it is often possible to shim it. If it is improperly cut, the best solution is to install a new nut and have it cut properly by an experienced professional.

Frets Aren’t Level

This is arguably the most annoying and troublesome cause of string buzz. If your frets aren’t even with each other, the taller frets will come in contact with the strings and create buzz. Identifying this issue can also be challenging since frets are small and there are a lot of them. 

The best way to check if your frets are level is to get a fret measuring tool and look for yourself. If your frets aren’t level, then your guitar will require a fret leveling to eliminate the buzz. Fret leveling can be a big undertaking, so it is recommended you take your guitar to an experienced technician if you aren’t comfortable with doing it yourself. 

Action is Too Low

Though some players prefer higher action, most of us prefer our guitars to have lower action. But if your action is too low, your strings will start to buzz. As with the other causes of buzz, the end result is your strings being too close to the frets and vibrating against them when played. 

While the solution may seem simple, it can actually be a difficult issue to manage. Raising the action will fix the issue, but you still want your guitar to be easy to play. Finding a balance between low action and not buzzing is often a challenge. 

Using a string action gauge can help you measure action and compare it to common recommendations. However, adjusting your action is a whole other discussion. There are a multitude of ways to adjust your action, such as modifying the nut, the truss rod, and the saddle or bridge. But knowing which ones to adjust when and how much requires lots of experience and knowledge. We recommend that you take your guitar to a professional for major action adjustments, especially if you don’t have much experience working on guitars. 

Close up photo of a brown hollow-body guitar.

Not Enough Neck Relief

Neck relief is the amount of bow the neck has. On a typical set up, the neck has a slight dip around the eighth fret. When the neck is bowed too far up, your action will be unplayably high. If the neck is bowed back and has little relief, the strings will be too close to the frets and cause buzz.

A plus is that adjusting your neck relief is easy, assuming your guitar has a truss rod (many older guitars and newer classical guitars do not have truss rods, which makes relief adjustments much more complicated). Simply adjust your truss rod to counter the back bow, and the buzz should go away. However, that is easier said than done. 

Making truss rod adjustments can seem scary if you’ve never done them before, and getting the relief just exactly right can take some time. Like always, we recommend that you take your guitar to a professional if you aren’t comfortable making truss rod adjustments on your own. 

It’s also important to mention that adjusting your truss is often a continuous thing. Your guitar’s relief will likely change over time. Factors like humidity, temperature, tuning, string size, and even elevation can change the relief of your guitar, requiring adjustments. It’s important to be conscious of your guitar’s relief and make adjustments as they are needed.

Conclusion

Though string buzz is a common annoyance, it is often easy to fix. Many times, it is the result of improper technique like strumming too hard or not fretting hard enough. In those cases, buzz can be eliminated by fixing your technique. Other times, string buzz is caused by mechanical issues like a poorly cut nut, un-level frets, too low of action, or not enough neck relief. Usually, those issues can be solved with minor adjustments to your guitar. For those who aren’t comfortable making those adjustments on their own, a professional luthier is recommended. 

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