How to embrace fret buzz and enjoy it
You'll enjoy your roundy-neck guitar a whole lot more once you work with fret buzz instead of against it.
Above is the Fender American Professional Stratocaster. The fingerboard radius is 9.5-inch. Feels great, but buzzes around here and there because that's just the nature of how Fender electric guitar necks work.
Whenever you search for anything related to fret buzz on the internet, you only see articles and videos on how to get rid of it because fret buzz is deemed Worst Thing Ever on a guitar.
It's not - if you know how to work with it.
Shown by example
Above is Greg Koch, a far better guitar player than I, playing a Wildwood Guitars "10" '62 Strat Relic. This specific spec is to indicate the fingerboard radius is shaped to 10-inch rather than 7.25 or 9.5.
You can hear very early in the video that the guitar has fret buzz. Does that indicate player error? No. Does that mean the guitar is bad or was set up improperly? Absolutely not. The guitar has fret buzz because that's just the nature of what Fender spec guitars do.
Now of course, when you listen to what Greg is doing, you'll say to yourself, "Well... in the way he's playing, the fret buzz is acceptable."
"Perfect" Fender or Squier setup sometimes has fret buzz
The vast majority of electric guitar necks for both Fender and Squier will have the "Modern C" shape (which is a slim oval) on the back with the 9.5-inch fingerboard radius on the front and "medium jumbo" size fret wire.
If you set up the neck with the action low as most players do, you will usually hear some buzzing on the wound strings 4 (D), 5 (A) and 6 (low E).
Even with a neck that has no uneven frets and the truss rod has the proper neck relief set, you will still run into fret buzz mainly for the fact you're playing a very round neck.
7 ways to work with fret buzz
(This is presuming your neck and saddles are set up correctly.)
1. Chord more
Chords that use 5 or 6 strings sound fine even with some fret buzz present.
2. "Small chord" more (anything but fifths)
This just means that whenever possible, play 2-note chords because like with the 5-note and 6-note chords, having a little amount of buzz present is acceptable when more than one note is heard...
...except for "power chords" fifths. Chances are pretty good that any guitar player who reads this has been playing for more than 3 months. If that sounds like you, you can do a lot better than playing stupid power chords.
3. Use short notes and chords
Fret buzzing only sounds truly terrible if left to be heard for a long time. Use shorter notes and chords to combat that. Get good enough at it and you can completely mask any and all fret buzzing.
4. Use light overdrive
This can be heard in the video above at the 2:20 mark. A light overdrive transforms fret buzz into a nice overtone.
5. Turn the tone down
Take some of the treble out and this will mask out fret buzz as it is a high pitched clacky sound by nature.
6. Play percussively
Most guitar players refer to this as playing "funky rhythms". It's a style of chord play that's mostly clean and involves a fair amount of muted notes, also known as ghost notes.
You can also hear Greg above playing some percussive lines where he pulls the strings for certain chords with the picking hand and lets them literally snap back to the frets.
7. Use the front side pickup more
The front pickup, known as the rhythm pickup or "neck pickup", does work better with fret buzz when chording. It also works better with single notes when you're trying to either mask buzz or just make it sound better.
Yes, there are $7,000 guitars that buzz
The guitar see above Greg is playing is, at the time I write this, posted for sale at $6,999. And it buzzes. You can hear it in the video. Again, it's not player error nor is the guitar set up poorly. Strats just do that.
The Fender American Professional Stratocaster seen at top? That buzzes too.
My point is that no matter how much money you throw at a Strat or a Tele, fret buzz happens.
Is there any electric guitar that doesn't buzz?
The only way to really combat fret buzz is to play guitars that have thin necks with very flat fingerboards.
A cheap example is the Ibanez GRX20; it has a thin neck, big fret wire and 15.75" fingerboard radius.
A not-so cheap example is a Jackson Pro Soloist SL2, which has a 12-to-16" compound radius and jumbo fret wire.
You will notice quickly that the less-buzzy electrics with the thin necks and super-flat fingerboards are "metal" guitars. And I don't care much for those at all.
Lower cost recommendations for those that want a less-buzzy neck on guitars that aren't "metal"
"Metal" guitars suck. These don't.
This is an SG and sometimes listed as having a "faded" color. It has the SlimTaper "D" shape neck with 12-inch fingerboard radius. At the time I write this, it does sell cheaper than the Squier Classic Vibe guitars do.
I'll be talking more about this guitar later this week. Loads of character.
This has a 24.75" scale length like a Gibson and a 13.75" fingerboard radius. Both pickups are lower-output vintage style, meaning it does not have ridiculous "metal" pickups with too much output. Nicely priced.
This is basically a Strat with a 12" radius fingerboard without the high price tag of the Eric Johnson Stratocaster.
Fret buzz is not your enemy
I play a Jazzmaster, which is a total buzz-monster if not the most buzzy guitar Fender and Squier makes. It buzzes not only on the neck but also at the bridge and even has overtone vibrations behind the bridge. But I love the guitar anyway. I learned to work with the buzz and now I get tones out of that thing I never could with any other guitar.
If you know your guitar is set up correct and it still buzzes, yes you could switch to balanced tension strings (promotes even vibration) and a thin, flappy pick (the more flexible the pick, the less the strike strength, the less vibration, the less buzz), and that may help somewhat...
...but it's better overall to just accept the buzz and work with it - especially if it's a Fender or Squier electric.
More articles to check out
- The guitar some buy in threes because they can: Grote GT-150
- You're not allowed to change a brake light in a new car?
- Unexpected surprise, Casio F201
- Why the Epiphone Explorer is better than the Gibson (for now)
- You should surround yourself in guitar luxury
- Forgotten Gibson: 1983 Map Guitar
- Casio MTP-V003, the one everyone missed
- Just for the look: Peavey Solo guitar amp
- Spacehunter, that '80s movie when 3D was a thing
- The Ice Pirates 1984