You have probably encountered the problem of your ukulele buzzing. It makes an extremely annoying buzzzzz or rattling sound when you pick a string or strum your instrument. Fortunately it’s really easy to identify the cause of the buzz most of the time. Fixing the ukulele buzzing only takes a few minutes.
What is the main cause of a buzzing ukulele? How can you locate the buzz? How can you fix it? Some of the fixes are very easy, but a few of them are a bit more difficult to do and involve permanently modifying your ukulele. If you are uncomfortable doing this, take it your local instrument shop.
Is it the ukulele buzzing or me?
The most important factor affecting the sound of your ukulele is yourself. If the buzz has only just started happening, you can skip this section. If you are a beginner ukulele player and have always had trouble with a buzzing sound, read on!
Make sure you are pressing the strings against the neck hard enough. Don’t press too hard because it will only hurt your fingers. On the other hand, you don’t want your fingers to be too loose either, which will make the string vibrate uncontrollably and cause a buzz.
When you play a note or chord, do not put your fingers in the middle between two frets, nor on top of a fret either. Put your finger immediately behind the fret. Besides making it much easier to press down the strings, you might find it fixes that annoying buzz right away.
Do not let your fingers touch strings they shouldn’t. This will most definitely result in dampened or buzzing strings. Practice makes perfect!
The most important tip? Try to slow things down. When you are just starting to play the ukulele, play chords and switch between chords slowly. You might even want to exaggerate a little bit until you nail those chords. Pluck the strings one by one and change the position of your fingers until you hear each string clearly. Take your time, master your chords at a slower tempo, then speed it up little by little.
Stay focused on the coordination between your right and left hands. Your hands should move together in harmony. If you release your hand from the fretboard before you are done with the pick, your note is going to be muted, and you won’t sound good.
Is your ukulele buzzing? Still? Let’s look a bit further!
Locate, identify and fix the buzz
If your technique is spot on, pick or strum open strings (without pressing down on the fretboard) and listen carefully to hear your ukulele buzzing. The buzz can be either at the tuning pegs (headstock), the nut, the saddle, the bridge, the body or at the frets (= string buzzing). It might also be a combination of several parts.
[IDENTIFY] Mute the strings by holding them down and shake your ukulele. You hear a rattling sound coming from the headstock.
- The main cause of this is loose hardware at the headstock or body
- Check whether the tuning pegs are rattling: if so, tighten their screws
- The gears may be worn and need replacement
- Trim the strings if you haven’t done so already
- If you have other hardware, make sure to tighten the screws there as well
[IDENTIFY] Your ukulele doesn’t buzz when you bar the first fret. When you apply pressure to the strings behind the nut (just before the tuning pegs) you hear the buzz.
- The strings are vibrating in the nut grooves
- The grooves in the nut are probably too flat (see diagram)
- Fix this issue by filing down the groove at an angle
- This will make the single point of pressure smaller
[IDENTIFY] After tightening all the screws, you still hear rattling sounds when you shake your ukulele with muted strings.
- Look for a small crack in the body that might be vibrating. If you find one, you can hold your finger on the crack and strum to check whether that crack is actually causing the buzzing. If so, take it to the shop as you will need a luthier to fix this for you. A temporary fix might be to fill the crack with a small piece of wood or a strip of paper
- There might be something loose inside your ukulele: check for a loose wire (electric ukulele) or other loose stuff in your ukulele with a flashlight and mirror
Fretboard and Neck
[IDENTIFY] Your ukulele buzzes when you play open strings and not when barring the first fret.
- Can be caused by worn strings: try replacing your strings
- Maybe your nut is too low. Place a small strip of paper under the nut, otherwise this needs to be fixed professionally
- Also check the “headstock” section above for nut-related issues
[IDENTIFY] The strings are buzzing along the fretboard and the buzzing gets more prominent when you play higher or lower on the fretboard.
- Your action is probably too low. The easy fix is simply to place a strip of paper under the saddle to raise it. This will lift the action and should stop the string from buzzing. However, it will reduce the vibrations going through the body a little bit, causing a lower volume
- You can buy a new saddle and install it yourself (this is doable). Use sandpaper to make it fit your ukulele and adjust the action
[IDENTIFY] Your ukulele strings buzz when you play certain notes along the fretboard.
- File down the frets where the buzzing occurs
- If you don’t want to modify your ukulele permanently, you can do the same thing mentioned in the previous fix (lift the action)
[IDENTIFY] If you take a good look at your ukulele’s neck, you see that it is bent (either convex or concave).
- The main cause of issues like this is moisture content: the air is either too humid or too dry
- You will need to take your ukulele to a luthier to either straighten or replace the neck
- Additionally, you’ll need to look into getting a (de)humidifier for the room where you store your ukulele
[IDENTIFY] The ends of the strings are touching something or just in the way and causing a rattling sound.
- Simply trim the strings
[IDENTIFY] When you put pressure on the bridge, your ukulele stops buzzing.
- You have a loose bridge
- Check for gaps between your ukulele’s bridge and body
- Try to glue them together again or wedge small strips of wood/paper into place
- This is a temporary fix. It is an issue that should be solved by someone experienced.
[IDENTIFY] When you put pressure on your saddle, the ukulele stops buzzing.
- You have a loose saddle
- Maybe it was sanded too much, so it no longer fits snugly into the bridge
- You can try filling the gaps with a few strips of paper
- You can also buy a new saddle and use sandpaper to make it fit into your ukulele’s bridge
[IDENTIFY] The strings are buzzing and vibrating on the saddle itself.
- This means that the saddle is probably too flat
- The picture above for the nut (section “headstock”) can be used as a reference for the saddle
- Simply file it down a little bit so there is an angle instead of a flat surface
Conclusion: how to fix a ukulele buzzing
Hopefully the causes and fixes explained above will help you get rid of the annoying sound of your ukulele buzzing. If the fixes above don’t help, it might be a good idea to visit a luthier. Good luck!
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