How to Stop a Back Buzz on Classical Guitar
The most beautiful piece of music can be ruined if your guitar makes annoying sounds.
There are many little issues that could arise on the guitar. One of these is the “back buzz.”
This is a specific sound that usually only affects one or two notes. And even weirder, it may not affect those notes all the time. This can make it hard to diagnose.
But if you find you have one, here’s how to fix it and get back to playing your lovely music.
What is a Back Buzz?
Here’s the scenario:
- You press the 7th (or whichever) fret of the sixth string (low E).
- While you keep that note pressed, you play the open fourth string (D).
- Instead of a clean note, there is a horrid buzzing sound.
(This example uses the 6th and 4th strings, but it could happen on any of the wound strings.)
What gives? The note on the sixth string sounds fine by itself. So does the open D. But when played together, there’s a buzz.
Here’s what is happening:
One of the frets behind the fret pressed on the sixth string is slightly higher than the others.
When the string vibrates, it lightly touches that higher fret. This creates the dreaded buzz.
To solve this, there are two main options.
Immediate Fix: How to Stop the Buzz
The easiest and quickest way to stop the buzz is to raise the string.
To do this, we can insert a small piece of paper between the nut and the string.
We can use a piece of paper folded over once or twice. Or we can use a piece of card stock. Near any paper product will do.
Loosen the string and slide the paper under the string. Easy peasy. Tune back up and be on your way.
Is this a seasonal issue?
We may only get a back buzz during a certain season. The wood of the guitar may dry out in high summer or deep winter. Indoor air is often very dry in the winter due to heating, even if it’s rainy outside.
If the guitar dries out, the neck can warp or twist. This may be subtle, but enough to cause a buzz.
A humidifier in the room or in the guitar case may be all you need to settle the guitar down and return it to normal.
Change strings – this sometimes works
Sometimes, changing strings can remedy the issue. No guarantees.
The general protocol is to use the paper method above first. Then, when you next change your strings, see if the problem persists.
If it continues, you may need to find a more permanent solution…
Permanent Fix: See Your Local Luthier
For a long-lasting fix for the back buzz, we may need to call in the professionals. Your local luthier will likely make quick work of it.
A luthier is a guitar builder. A guitar technician is also trained for this type of work.
Your local professional can use a straight edge to find the fret that is causing the sound. Then they can file it down just enough to stop the buzz.
This can also be a great opportunity to have your luthier look over all the details of your guitar. They may have other suggestions to improve playability, useability, or sound.
It’s great fun to get your guitar back after a “60,000-mile checkup.” Small improvements can make a big difference in the daily practice experience.
Take It In Stride
A back buzz can seem like a big deal. It can affect how we sound in a big way.
But in the scheme of guitar health, it is usually a small affair, easily remedied.
If you get one, use the quick fix above. Then keep an eye on it. Chances are, the issue will either not last, or it will be an inexpensive job for a professional.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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