Chasing the Mystery Buzz
The classic cause of buzzing
© Frank Ford, 11/1/98; Photos by FF, October 1998
The number one cause of buzzing is the vibrating string hitting on the frets because the action is too low. It stands to reason that the closer the string is to the frets the more likely it is to rattle against them when played.
Action is best described as the distance between the bottom of the string and the top of the twelfth fret. Virtually all fretted instruments have a twelfth fret and it is right in the middle of the string, so it makes the ideal measuring point.
I just stand a scale up, balanced on the fret and look under the string:
It's easy enough to get a clear reading:
In general, acoustic guitars have "low action" if they measure 3/32" or less under the sixth string and 2/32" under the first. High action starts around 4/32" and 3/32" respectively. These are only simple factory guidelines, and are useful for comparison, but not for setting the action to an individual taste and ability. Trial and error may be the only way to get it just right in some circumstances.
Suffice it to say that the lower the action the greater the likelihood of buzzing, and if all other aspects of the instrument's setup have been confirmed, then raising the action may be the only way to reduce buzzing.
Low action may also point out the need to address other issues. For example, lowering the action may reveal buzzing on an uneven fret.
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