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Why Does My Guitar Buzz When Strumming Hard?

The first thing we naturally want to do when picking up an acoustic is strum some satisfying open chords. The guitar feels good on your hands, and you feel there’s nothing there could go wrong, going at it with all you’ve got. Sometimes though, you hear a tedious fret buzz when strumming hard and get pulled back into reality, wondering what is wrong with your guitar or your playing.

Strumming too hard causes the string to vibrate more than they normally should, thus touching the frets or other hardware slightly, causing the buzz. A balance of practicing your strumming dynamics and setting up the guitar right will fix the issue permanently. 

The guitar is all about learning from mistakes. Luckily I’ve been through the struggles you’re going through now and will share what now are obvious fixes I wish I had known back then.

What Causes Fret Buzz When Strumming Hard?

If you look at guitar strings while playing, you’ll see a blur of moving lines. If you zoom in though, you will see them swinging up and down. The harder you strum, the more they wobble – add a low action to the mix, and they might touch the frets. 

  • The frets are touching the strings – What makes fret buzz tricky is that it could be caused by any fret, even the ones you never reach out to play up high on the low strings. This is the most common cause of fret buzz, and there are many ways to fix it.
  • The strings are not resting well on the nut – The nut is tricky, as it should lock the strings in place but leave enough movement. If either of the conditions is not fulfilled, you might hear the buzz coming from there. Keep in mind that buzzin’ in the nut is a red light of tunning issues.
  • The strings are not resting well on the bridge – There are many types of bridges, and each consumes over time or needs to be set up accordingly. On my old Strat, the strings had put so much friction against the neck as to create another cavity beside the original one on the saddle. Always check if the strings are in the right place when things start to buzz.
  • The tuning pegs are faulty -What happened to me with my Strat is that the tuning pegs were so old and rusted inside that they buzzed from bad friction. Also, a common mistake is leaving strings uncut when changing them. Many players do that as on electric with distortion; you won’t feel much of their influence, yet on a very compressed clean tone or an acoustic, the loose ends might touch other strings and buzz.

Work on Your Strumming Technique

I’ll be touching here on what I consider the most important aspect of your playing on any level – playing dynamics. Getting a feel of how strongly you have to strum, or the opposite, will not only fix fret buzz when strumming but make you a better player. 

Music, especially the guitar, is all about dynamics. No matter how good your technique is, there’s always room for better dynamics.

 If you ever wonder what separates the man from the boys in the studio or a high-level gig is the ability to control your tone/playing to the level of flowing smoothly with the band. The first step to reaching that point, as a beginner, is experimenting with your strumming hand and going from the softest to the hardest strum until you find a good balance of what works or not.

Also, remember that your left hand could be the culprit as pressing down too hard causes buzz and, even worse, detunes the chord! I cover all about the dynamics of the left and right hand in my course, fixing both problems for a beginner in her first month of playing.

Make Sure Your Guitar Is Setup Correctly

A few turns of the truss rod could save you all the trouble of doing any other service to your guitar. Too much or too little relief can make the whole difference in fixing fret buzz when strumming hard and for most other issues when playing.

You can check my guide on setting up a guitar, or more precisely, understanding its basics and knowing what you can take on yourself and where you should take the guitar to a luthier. 

The truss rod is intimidating, but filling the nut, replacing it, and all other things related to adjusting the bridge can prove to be much trickier on both acoustics and electrics and probably specific tools. 

All sorts of other small details changing, like changing string gauge and materials, could lead to the need for a setup.  

A Small Amount of Fret Buzz is Normal

As with all in music, inconsistencies create a style, and a small amount of ‘error’ is part of the sound of all acoustic instruments. A guitar will never be 100% in tune, just as every player’s vibrato and bends sound different, as they all reach a different pitch using various techniques, timing, and approaches.

A small amount of fret buzz when strumming the guitar is normal and sometimes is mostly ‘felt’ by the player rather than heard by the listener. The buzz became part of the tone in a few genres, like the delta blues, with newer recordings often sounding almost ‘too polished’ for the passionate listener.

On an electric, most of the buzzing is not caught by the pickups. On an acoustic, it sometimes becomes a part of the tone and dynamics if it’s not fastidious and only happens when you intentionally strum hard – just like a distortion effect kicks in when needed.

Sweetwater goes in-depth into fret buzz, covering some other technical aspects in their guide.

One great tip I can give you from studio experience is to record yourself and hear the fret buzz. Your ears are your best measure of what sounds good or not, and only approaching it from a listener’s perspective will hone your ears enough to tell how much fret buzz is acceptable.