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Tech Tip: How to Get Rid of Annoying Fret Buzz

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Simple steps to find and eliminate the rattles and buzzes that wreck your sound

2014 Gibson Les Paul Studio Pro

Simple bridge saddle and neck adjustments can quickly cure buzzes on the fretboard of any guitar including this Gibson Les Paul Studio Pro.

Check the strings first. You may need to change them.

  • Have they accumulated grunge? (Check the underside of the strings too to see how much crud has accumulated there.) There are a number of string cleaning products and tools that will clean up your strings effectively. If none of these are handy, simply wiping down the strings with a slightly damp cloth is better than nothing. But if you can’t remember the last time you changed your strings, and the tone of your instrument has grown dull, it’s probably time to break down and invest in a new set. You’ll find a huge selection of strings at Musician’s Friend for electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and bass guitars.

  • Do you see dirt and grime buildup on the fretboard? (Though this an unlikely culprit where fret buzz is concerned, you might as well clean this surface during a string change.) Depending on the amount of of crud, you may want to clean the fretboard using a slightly damp cloth or a good guitar cleaner. Some people recommend using the finest grade of steel wool to remove extra-tough dirt from your fretboard. We urge caution though—go easy on the elbow grease to avoid scratching the wood finish.

  • Sweat and dirt buildup can eventually damage glue joints and warp your guitar’s fretboard and/or neck. Occasional fretboard cleaning will extend their life.

If the above steps don’t eliminate the buzzing, you may need the help of an experienced guitar technician. Unless you have some experience in adjusting your neck and bridge, it’s wise to avoid trying random adjustments to the bridge saddles or neck truss rod.

There are some things you can do to pinpoint the location of the problem. Check if the buzz is consistent across the length of the neck from the open strings to the highest frets closest the body of the instrument.

  • Pick each string without fretting any notes.

  • Fret each string at the first fret and move towards the body noting where the buzz appears and disappears. If the buzz is heard when picking an open string and continues even when you're fretting the highest-pitched frets, the problem is likely in your bridge/saddle assembly. Are there any loose parts? You may need to have a technician work on this area. (If the guitar tech is willing to let you observe, you can glean some skills for doing such maintenance work yourself in the future.)

If you pinpoint the buzzing in the section of your neck closer to the body:

  • You may need to adjust the string saddles to increase string clearance over the first frets. If you do this yourself, make your adjustments in small increments so you don't raise your action more than necessary. If the saddle height adjustment range is inadequate to eliminate the buzz, a truss rod adjustment is probably needed (see below).

  • There may be a fret, which needs to be sanded slightly to eliminate an inconsistent height across the fretboard. Don't make this adjustment yourself. If you go too far, the mutilated fret will become permanently sharp in pitch.

If the buzzing is closer to the middle of the neck or towards the nut:

  • Inserting a thin shim under the nut can raise the strings enough to eliminate unwelcome contact with the frets. Again, try shimming in small increments; an overly high action makes fretting difficult.

  • Your neck may need a truss rod adjustment. This metal rod, which runs the length of your guitar neck adjusts the degree of its bow. Unless you have experience with truss rod adjustments, this should be handled by a technician. Creating too great a bow can cause permanent and expensive damage to your neck, fretboard, and bridge. Tiny adjustments can make a big difference in the bow of the neck.

If you have a strong urge to do your own guitar maintenance, and are willing to work carefully and patiently, Alfred’s Teach Yourself Guitar Repair and Maintenance is a small and excellent investment. Highly detailed photos, clear text, and a companion DVD provides step-by-step instructions.

Alfred’s Teach Yourself Guitar Repair and Maintenance

Master guitar builder John Carruthers provides clear and concise directions on how to maintain and repair your guitar and keep it in top-notch shape with his Alfred’s Teach Yourself Guitar Repair and Maintenance.

Tags: Electric Guitars Guitar Repair & Maintenance

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