fret buzz

Action/Style/Fret-Buzz: The Other Side of the Coin

Action/Style/Fret-Buzz: The Other Side of the Coin

I’ve often hammered home the idea that players need to understand that a guitar needs to the setup for their style to prevent fret buzz. ‘As low as it can go’ isn’t as simple as it sounds and the player plays a massive part in whether a guitar buzzes.

But sometimes the guitar is to blame. And I should talk about that too…

Buzz-Free Guitar Setup

You’ve seen the article headlines… Three Steps to Buzz-Free Setup, or How To Setup Your Guitar With No Buzz, or Banish the Buzz, or whatever.

Well, here is my article headline:

The Promise of Buzz-Free Guitar Setup

The only problem is it’s a promise I can’t deliver on.

Nobody can.

Headlines like this just serve to cement the perception that there is a perfect setup that will allow every guitarist (or bassist—you’re not getting off the hook, low-enders) to play perfectly cleanly with no problems.

Now, let me clarify this a little.

There is a perfect setup that will let YOU play perfectly cleanly. Most of the time.

That setup might not allow the same for someone else, though.

Just because you can sweep-pick out a lightning fast run, wonderfully cleanly, on your guitar doesn’t mean I can pick it up and ham-fistedly hammer out a blues-rock solo without a ton of fret buzz.

And the ‘most of the time’ thing I mentioned above… That’s important. Different songs might call for different techniques, especially if you’re doing covers, and a setup that’s absolutely perfect for one style might not be great for another—it's not just for tone that a player might use different instruments for different songs.

Here’s the thing:

There is no universal perfect setup

If I can get players to internalise this, I’ll go to my grave a happy man because I’ll have done some good in the world.

There is no perfect setup.

There is only a perfect setup for you.

Most of the time.

And this means you have to consider your style and your setup needs. Consider these and find a balance between the two.

Super-low action and super-straight necks might not be for you if you tend to dig in, if you’ve a heavy attack, if you play music that requires a hefty pick-hand.

Or if you still really, really want super-low action in these circumstances, you’ll probably need to become comfortable with some fret-buzz. It’s not the end of the world, after all (despite what we’ve all been lead to believe).

And all of this applies double for acoustic instruments, by the way.

Spare a thought for your guitar tech

Here’s the way the conversation goes:

Player: “I want really low action. Like really low.”

Tech: “Can do, but you understand that as we lower the action, we increase the risk of-“

Player: “Ah-buh-buh-buh-buh. No technical mumbo-jumbo. Here’s a pile of money. Level the frets or whatever it is you do. Low, I say!”

Tech: “Yeah, but you need to understand that buzz may be an issue depending on-“

Door slams as Player leaves.

Later, Player collects guitar…

Player: “Dude. It’s buzzing!”

Ok, nobody really does that but you get the idea.

Or cut out the guitar tech and do it yourself. There are a lot of advantages to setting up your own guitar or bass.

The Bottom Line

The best tech in the world cannot promise a buzz-free guitar if the setup’s not right for you.

The best fret-job in the world will buzz if it’s not right for you.

The best setup in the world is the one that’s right for you.

Think about it.

Gerry’s in Setup-Mode

I’ve been thinking about nothing but setups for the last little while. That’s why I’ve been motivated to write this email. I’m up to my neck in new Sketchy Setups guides. I promised I’d have more and they’re ready for release.

Sketchy Setups are great if you're going to start doing your own setups (which is always a great idea as you can tweak until your guitar or bass is perfect for you). Check out Sketchy Setups for a super easy and friendly guide to getting your guitar playing great.