Ukulele beginners tips - Buzzes and rattles | GOT A UKULELE - Learn Ukulele, beginners tips and reviews

18 Sep 2010

Ukulele beginners tips - Buzzes and rattles

My Ukulele Is Buzzing... One of the most common questions I get at Got A Ukulele is 'how to fix ukulele buzzing'?  In the best case it will be something simple like technique, but in the worst case can signal something serious like a flawed uke.

buzzing


Yet, discussion forums are awash with theories and advice (some useful, some not so), so I thought it useful to give my own thoughts. I have structured these from the simple to the serious, so if you have a buzz you can go down the list and hopefully solve your problem at an early stage before things get difficult. It's most often something simple so dont rush down the list without ruling out the easy stuff!!

1. Is it your technique? Getting a clean sound from a ukulele depends on good technique with your fretting fingers. Ensure you are pressing the strings perpendicularly to the neck and squarely between the frets. Ensure your fingers are not touching other strings. This will be difficult at first but practice! Sometimes buzzes can also occur due to over strumming or the position of the strum. Calm it down a little, strum at the end of the fingerboard.

2. Is it actually the strings? Buzzes don't need to come from the strings so check the rest of the ukulele. Are the tuner fittings tight? Are there any other fittings that are coming loose? The collars on the front of tuners are a common culprit. Another often overlooked culprit is string coils at the headstock, or the bits left over where you tie them on the bridge - trim them! I've even seen people think they have a buzz when it was the battery compartment rattling (or the clip on tuner clip!). Basically all sorts of things can buzz from the vibration that playing the ukulele causes. Check everything.

3. Is it a case of bad strings? Due to the nature of ukulele strings, it is possible to get a bad string in a pack. Can you isolate the string that is buzzing? May be worth swapping it, or another odd tip that often works, take it off and string it the other way around. This can solve problems where manufacturing has left a thin or thick spot on the string. But Barry - I dont want to waste a set of strings!! Seriously? If it isn't the strings - it means the strings you took off may still have life in them. Put them in the sleeves of the new pack and keep them in your uke case as spares! You WILL be changing strings at some point anyway!

4. Action at the saddle - we are now getting into more difficult territory, but easily fixed. If the saddle at the bridge is too low the strings are likely to vibrate against frets when strummed. Take off or loosen strings and pull out saddle carefully with long nosed pliers. To raise it you have two options. Either put a thin shim (or two) of wood veneer in the base of the saddle slot, replace saddle and strum. The alternative is a new saddle cut and shaped very slightly higher than old one. Your aim here is to raise it just enough to stop buzzing and we are talking thousandths of a millimetre. Raise it too much and you will cause intonation issues.

5. Action at the nut. Now we are in difficult territory. If the slots in the nut that the strings are on are too deep you are likely to get buzzes particularly on the lower frets. The fix is more difficult and you may now want to seriously consider going to a luthier. To try yourself you either need to fit a new nut (carefully tap out old nut and replace, filing down slots to suit action without buzzing) or try something cleverer!

I have successfully raised nut slots individually by taking a spare saddle and sanding it making sure to collect the dust. Apply a drop of super glue to the dust and quickly mix with a cocktail stick then fill In the offending nut slot (carefully). Breathe on it to start curing and leave overnight. What you have done is create a hard invisible fill to the nut slot you can re file down to the right height.

6. Others - if the above don't work then I am afraid you may have serious problems. You may have an offending fret that is too high and needs to be filed down. I would recommend a guitar tech doing this. Persistent buzzes may also signify a badly made uke, a neck out of alignment, or a bowed neck. If this is the case, and the instrument is new i would return it. If it's an old or used instrument the decision whether to get it professionally fixed will depend entirely on the value of the instrument. I'd consider getting a vintage Martin fixed, but not a makala dolphin!


I hope this is of use and helps remove any panic you may have. Buzzes are common and in the vast majority of cases are simple to solve. Just work down the list and good luck!

And if that isn't helpful enough - a video for you!

17 comments :

  1. Re point 5: I use talcum powder as a cheap and cheerful alternative to saddle dust.

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  2. Very useful addition to the above. If you are doing superglue thing with the nut, talcum powder would work brilliantly! Thanks

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  3. This is very helpful. Thanks!

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  4. I was switching to good strings on a cheap used uke and suddenly had terrible buzzing on the two middle strings. After much frustration I "fixed" the too deep slots problem by putting a very short piece of the new ukulele string in the slot before settling the string in place. It sounds great but I don't know if the fix will last.

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  5. May work for a while, but suspect the bits you put in will fall out in time (and will also have made the slots too high now)

    Fix is a new nut (not a big job for a good music shop) or fill and re cut the nut yourself. That's not as hard as it sounds as described in post above.

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  6. Yep - turned out to be my nut. I was able to fix it myself. Thanks for an excellent essay!

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  7. Thanks. Regarding point #4. I used cable tie instead of wood veneer. Work well for me.

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  8. The bridge on my new pineapple uke from Vietnam has popped off after less than two weeks. I have found lots of videos on how to reglue it but nothing is mentioned of the tiny pegs. I have one tiny peg unbroken embedded in the body of the uke and one that has snapped off level with the top. What do I do about these tiny pegs?

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  9. Kathleen - sounds to me like those pegs were designed to give strength to the joint - not sure how you will get that strength back with glue. Best I can suggest it take it to a luthier for a look. Or better still - if it is two weeks old, I'd be asking for a refund - it certainly shouldn't happen!

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  10. Your information is always on point. I know this information and I can tell you do as well. Well-done !

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  11. My uke make a buzzing sound when I strumming the third and fourth fret of the 1st chord. The buzz is coming from somewhere in the body. It's an electro acoustic Ukulele so I wonder if it could be something in the body which vibrate. But I don't understand why the buzz sound only on the 3rd and 4th fret of the A String?

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  12. @Wanali - because sometimes loose wiring or bracing etc can vibrate when certain resonances are played on the ukulele but not others

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  13. Hi, I just bought a Cordoba 20tm-ce tenor. It sounded fine in the store, but then I didn't really play it very loudly. When I got it home, the more I played it, the more I noticed the E string buzzing when I press down on any of the frets. Not only that, it sounds muted.

    I've double checked my technique, it's not hitting any of the frets, the buzz is consistent with any fret I touch (but the second is the worst), and it sounds like the buzz is coming from the saddle.

    I'm hesitant to think it's a bad string because it sounds fine when it's open. And I'm hesitant to think it's the saddle when it's the only string that buzzes. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  14. Actually a bad string can absolutely buzz when played even if ok when open. The fretting action changes the height of the string and that causes it.

    Equally, because the strings are different thicknesses it absolutely can be the saddle.

    All of that said - sounds like the ukulele is new? This is NOT acceptable for a dealer to sell you one like that - personally, I would take it back and ask them to change it or remedy the buzzing.

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  15. My new Oscar Schmidt U5 makes a scraping sound on my low G string. I changed two strings and still get a scraping sound from my fingernail. The string is nylon with silver wrap. Any suggestion?

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  16. Often, in my experience anyway, if you have electrics in the uke the internal wiring is quite often to blame, vibrating against the wood if it isn't tied down effectively.

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