Fret Buzzing – How Much is Too Much?

Another popular email I get is about fret buzz. I get questions like what is fret buzz, where does it come from and the biggie how much is too much? I know everyone wants a great playing guitar but there are certain anomalies you have to live with and one of them is fret buzz…..but how much is too much?

First of all what is fret buzz or sometimes called rattle? This is actually the sound of your guitar strings vibrating and touching the frets making that buzzy, rattly sound. Whether you get it on open strings or fretted, the sound is basically the same. There are ways to reduce it but because this wonderfully imperfect machine called the guitar is imperfect fret buzz will never really go away. You will have to live with a certain amount of it whether it be a $100 or $100,000 guitar. You can raise the action, adjust the neck, level and dress frets, check the nut slot depth, etc and if all of these are optimized the buzz will be reduced, no doubt. But there will always be a certain degree of residual buzz.

So let’s not try to fight it or even try to get rid of it. Instead accept the fact that there will always be some fret buzz hanging around. What you can do however is decide for yourself how much you can live with. This is a game changer because you are no longer focused on getting rid of something that can’t be eradicated. I remember when I worked as the repair tech at Outlaw Guitars I had to deal with players that were buying some expensive vintage guitars. Their mentality was that their guitar was expensive (some of them very expensive) so it should play perfectly. They equated a large dollar amount to playability which completely defies logic from a tech’s perspective. My techy view was and still is based on the guitar’s component properties. I have played some inexpensive guitars that played MUCH better than some expensive ones…..price had nothing to do with it. Walking the other side of the fence as a player I want a guitar that plays great to me….period.

My personal set-up may not suit everyone. My guitars tend to have more fret buzz than most others for a few reasons. The main reason is that I like to set my guitar necks almost dead straight. This can cause more fret buzz but the guitar feels fast to me so that’s the trade-off I have to live with. There is no right or wrong amount of fret buzz on a guitar. Some things you want to avoid are; excessive fret buzz that hinders the sustain of the strings, the buzzing sound competes with the fundamentsl notes and when you bend a string the notes don’t get dampend and die or choke out. Barring these few guidelines you decide what you can live with. How much fret buzz is too much for you and your technique? It is possible that someone with a lighter touch than myself would play one of my guitars and not get much fret buzz at all. On the other hand I could let a heavy handed player that works as a plumber during the day and it may buzz like a beehive. Every player and every guitar is different so it’s always a challenge to dial in each guitar to their owner’s technique and expectations. It may take some time but once you get it dialed in you can get your focus back to making music on your your guitar which is what it’s all about!