How to stop fret buzz on an electric guitar

Fret buzz is a pain in the you-know-what. Not only does it sound bad, but it can be a nightmare to find out what's causing it. Here's how to ease the pain.

The first step in eliminating that pesky fret buzz is to find out what's causing it. That can be easier said than done, but if you take a methodical, step by step approach, and eliminate suspects one by one, you'll eventually have it licked.

First off. Check that it is actually coming from the strings. It could be an electrical issue, so unplug your guitar and check to see if it's still there. Gone? Congrats, you just saved yourself a world of trouble

If it's still there, check the strings are seated properly both at the top of the neck, in the nut, and in the saddles at the bridge. Sometimes a plastic nut can get worn and so the strings get too close to the frets, causing buzz. And give the bridge a close inspection, make sure that all the saddles have the strings where they should be, and there's nothing interfering with them.

Take a closer look

If that doesn't solve the mystery, the next step is to check the strings. First of all, pick up your guitar and hold it at eye-level, now look across the strings, with the high E closest to you and your eye in line with the pickups. Are any of the strings touching the pickups? No? Good, you've eliminated another suspect. 

Next on the list is dirt. Grime. Sweaty residue. If the strings have nasty stuff on them, that could be the cause of your buzzing. Clean them, preferably with a specialist product like GHS Fast Fret. If the strings have been on a while, or if cleaning them doesn't work, whip them off. It's time to clean the neck. Again, there are lots of specialist products you can get for this, which will help preserve the wood in the fretboard.

Time to call in the professionals

If none of that works, it's time to call in the professionals. You might have a fret that needs sanding, for example, and that's not something you want to tackle yourself. You could replace, or reseat the nut yourself, or adjust the saddles, but getting a guitar tech to do it is a much better idea. And if the truss rod needs adjusting, you'll be glad of your local guitar tech's help.

While your there, ask him or her to do a full set up for you, too. It's the next best thing to buying a whole new guitar.

Photo: Joel Penner

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