Volume 4 - Buzzes

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Northcoast Voice



   Stay in tune                    vol #4

                                                                                                                          By Luthier Patrick Podpadec

Hello again all you fellow musicians! I hope the past few weeks have served you well, with no playability issues to speak of.  I have had a few repairs this past week that I would like to share with you.One of them pertains to the nut of the guitar.  Many times I will get a guitar or mandolin in the shop and the customer is complaining of a buzz on one or more of the strings. Well the first thing that I do is try to narrow it down to which string it is and then try to figure out where on that string it seems to be buzzing. I check this by fretting each note to determine which fret it is buzzing. If I find that the buzz is happening on the string when I play it in the open position, that tells me that it is the groove that guides the string is too deep and is fretting out on the first fret, therefore causing a buzz. This is a common problem on instruments that use plastic for the nut material. It seems that the steel string is much harder than the plastic and over time will eventually wear a deeper groove than is needed in the plastic. Although I have come across many different types of plastic, some harder than others, it always seems to be a problem. Generally on more expensive instruments the nut material will be made of  bone . This is my choice of material but, there also many other types that are also very good alternatives.  Some of these might include “Micarta”, a very hard man made product, similar to bone in density. Another man made substance, “Corian”, generally used in kitchen counter tops, and also graphite, a very hard and dense material that is known to have self lubricating properties. I have come across nuts that are made of brass, which to me, makes the sound a little too bright. I like the warm and natural tone that comes from a nut made from a good quality piece of bone.

Bone nut blanks can be purchased from many places including some music stores but, I caution anyone that would try to take on the task of “cutting” one to fit your own instrument. I’m not saying it can’t be done I just feel that it is probably better suited to the more experienced craftsman. Another good point to know is that the hardest part of the cow bone comes from the forearm of the cow. I actually get my bone material from my local butcher and boil the fat and oils from it several times and cut my bone nut blanks on my bandsaw. It takes a little more work to do this but, I find that I have much more control of the quality and sizes that I may choose for any particular instrument that I might come across. I also use this bone for the saddle material on the bridge. I have used it on inlays too.

Another source of possible “buzz” problems, lie in the fretboard, more specifically the frets themselves. There actually have been books or very extensive articles written on this subject alone. I will do my best to try to make sense of it in just a few short sentences. What is happening is, is that one or more frets either raise up or gets pressed lower than the adjacent fret causing a buzz when you press the string over the offending area. This can be fixed by a number of different methods. Sometimes by firmly hitting the offending area with a fretting hammer can reseat the fret. another method is to "level" the frets. This is done with a 10” flat bastard file.( don’t ask me why they call it that) After leveling it is usually necessary to “crown” the frets with a “crowning file”. These can only be purchased at a luthier supply house and is another procedure that should be left for your friendly repairman. Although I may make these procedures sound simple I still want to express extreme caution in trying to perform them without some serious practice or experience behind you. It is very easy to cause more problems by fixing one the wrong  way . Unfortunately there is not enough room in this article for me to explain in detail the proper way to level and crown frets. But I do want to help you with any of your playing problems, so please feel free to send me an email with any questions you might have and I will do my best to answer them a.s.a.p. My e-mail is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thank You!


Thanks Again!
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings