Ask a Luthier Codabows Instruments Links Pi Guitar String Band Contact
Return to questions listing:

Buzzing Strings

Q: Hi there! Good site.
I have a new Breedlove acoustic/electric. The "A" and "D" strings buzz at early chords (very slightly when open, even); just those two strings, all the way down the neck starting at about the 3rd fret. I've loosened up the neck already, still there. The buzz seems to come from frets closer to the saddle.
Should I keep loosening the neck until it goes away, try to find a luthier in my area to dress the necks or just live with it? Could it be that my guitar needs some "breaking in" and loving before it gets settled? Would a humidifier in the case help? What about heavier or lighter strings?

A: My guess is that the bridge saddle is too low in the middle. As you loosen the neck the action goes up at the 5th fret but doesn't change at the 15th. If the neck was perfectly straight and it buzzed at the 15th fret, it would buzz equally on all the frets. What you need is called an "action set". The action is the playability of the guitar as governed by the straightness of the neck, the levelness of the fret tops, the roundness of the fret tops, the height of the nut and the saddle and the angle of the string attachment behind the nut and the saddle, optimized for your playing style. If you change one element of this function you need to readjust all of them. Running the saddle up and down and twisting the trussrod can stop buzzing, but it can't achieve the perfect action. You should definitely find a luthier in your area. "Breaking in" refers to the fact that the tone of a guitar improves with age and playing. It has nothing to do with action. You should not tolerate an imperfect action for one second.
Your choice of string gauge should be made on the basis of tone.
Heavier strings are louder and stay in tune better and last longer. Lighter strings produce a wider range of overtones. Heavier strings are harder to push down, but since they move less as you pluck them, they can be set closer to the fingerboard. Bigger guitars are designed to produce more bass to compensate for the less bass of heavier strings. Smaller guitars are happiest with light gauge. Medium strings pull at 180 lbs. Light gauge pull at 160. The action must be set for one or the other, and if you switch, you will need a readjustment.
Never let your guitar live in air with less than 30 percent humidity. It is happiest at 45 to 50. The factory where it was born is kept at 43. In the temperate climates, air in houses heated with forced air gas will drop to 10 percent or less. Humidify the house, humidify the case.
If you live in a desert, move. There are places in the world where guitars can get too wet but the most common villain is dryness.

Steve Mason

Return to Questions