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Monday, December 3, 2012

Bite Size Tips 004A – Buzzing No More!

Buzzing is arguably one of most common guitar issues. It will happen in your lifetime of guitar playing regardless you’re into electric or acoustic guitars. This Bite Size article will discuss acoustic guitars buzzing. To avoid over-simplifying buzzing issues of acoustic guitars, I will highlight both the causes and solutions. Once again, this sharing comes from my personal experiences. Make sure you’re exercise good judgment and adaptability in dealing with your guitar buzzing issues.

These are few common causes for guitar buzzing issues.
  1. Low string action or height (nut & saddle)
  2. Bowed Neck which alters string relief
  3. Uneven crown heights of the fret wires
To keep the article compact, I will address a single cause in this article, i.e low string action. The other two will be addressed in subsequent postings.

Buzzing causes by low string action is commonly due to the set-up of the nut and saddle. String slots cut too deep or insufficient saddle crown height are two set up problems that contribute to buzzing. Typically, string relief for acoustic guitar ranges from 2mm to 4mm taken at the 12th fret.

Measuring string action at 12th fret

More pictures of actual guitars with low and sufficient string relief set up at 12th fret.

Low string action; the 20 cents coin contacts the string

Sufficient string action; slight clearance

Obviously replacing the wrongly set-up nut or saddle can stop the buzzing. However those who are not well practiced, it may be better to consult a qualified guitar tech. For those who DIY mostly, you could undertake the attempt. Alternatively, you can shim-up the nut or saddle to increase the string action thus reducing or eliminating the buzzing. The following pictures and descriptions will show how shim-up works for both nut and saddle. Please note that in most cases, it is not necessary to shim-up both the nut and saddle at the same time. It should be decided by whichever part that causes the buzzing.

Shim is thin strip of material that is used for aligning, fitting, etc. parts together. In this case, we will be using wood. Preferably woods that is associated with guitar making. While any wood should do the job, it is a good lutherie practice to use associated materials. Shims are commonly made from veneers. The picture below showed maple veneers. Well, veneers are thin layers of wood. Maple veneers are pretty common in the market.

This may raise the question about the resulting sonic properties of the guitar fitted with shims. By and large, maple is hardwood that possesses acoustic properties therefore it should not adversely affect the guitar tone. However if one uses stripes cut from name cards or plastics, I would not give the same amount of assurance.

Maple veneers

You can visit Art & Craft shops or wood shops to get larger piece of veneer. All you need to do is to cut out the required footprints.

Veneers cut into nut and saddle footprints

Pay attention to details; personally I will not leave the corners of the shims sharp. The corners are chamfered instead.

Maple veneer with corners chamfered

Last but not least, stick the shims to the nut and saddle. Use of super-glue for adhesion is preferred.

Maple Veneers made into shims, glued to the nut and saddle

The rest is just fitting the nut or saddle back where they belong.

Caveat; for those who are not familiar with removing guitar nuts, it will be best to view some video clips on YouTube regarding it. As for the drop-in saddle, it is much easier to deal with. In any case, make sure you have every step visualized in your mind to avoid making errors. A friend of mine uses this mantra to avoid making unforced errors in his work; Measure twice and cut once!

Have fun!

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