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I've had an ongoing issue with my classical guitar. The third string (nylon) always buzzes on first, second, and third fret. While we're at it, the sixth string (wound metal over nylon core) buzzes on second and third fret. I've checked my positioning and pressure, and the problem isn't me.

I did string this guitar myself a few months back (standard method, not using ball-end strings), and I've been having this issue ever since. What is going on? Could this have to do with the stringing, or a bad string, or something else entirely.

As a note, all my strings are strung the exact same way, and I never get this problem on any other string or fret. Just the ones mentioned above...

It isn't horrible, but I think its affecting the overall sound. Help?

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Is this is a recent development, it sounds like a fret wear problem. At least you know which frets you use the most now! –  neilfein Jun 15 '12 at 4:47
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9 Answers 9

Others have documented the issue very well. Off the top of my head, it could be one of these three things:

1) The neck is bowing outward. It could be caused by the construction of the guitar, the tension of the strings, the humidity of the environment where the guitar is stored or some combination of those things. Unless you know a lot about the construction of your guitars and have the right equipment, it's probably best to go to a guitar place to get it repaired. If humidity does end up being the problem, most music stores offer sponge-based guitar humidifier for fairly cheap. For more drastic cases a trick is to open-stand your guitar in the bathroom while you take a shower. (Make sure not to get it directly wet, though)

2) The frets were made or positioned unevenly and the string rubs against it. Again, unless you know what you are doing, correcting this should be left to people who are able to take the right measurements

3) Your strings have too little action. Low action basically means that the strings are very close to the frets so you don't have to push very far to make a good contact. This can be achieved by shaving down the guitar's bridge and nut. It's great if you want to play fast, but may lead to your problem if the surgery done by someone inexperienced.

I had the exact same problem with my cheapest classical guitar. It was probably a manufacturing defect and the guitar wasn't worth the price it would cost to get the issue repaired. Instead of shelling out the cash I took two small pieces of paper, folded them up, and tucked them in at the bridge and nut under the affected strings. My problem arose about 18 months back and the guitar has been playing fine ever since...

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As others have said, this could be an issue with the neck of the guitar. With steel-string guitars, an issue like this might be fixable with a truss-rod adjustment, but classical guitars don't normally have truss rods, so you'd have to take it to a Luthier or guitar tech for a diagnosis and/or repair.

However, here are a couple of areas to investigate before you take it to a luthier:

  1. "Bad" strings - you might have just got a set with a couple of bad strings. Change the strings again. Also, if this set is a new brand or gauge, go back to the type of strings you had on the guitar before you last changed them.

  2. Dryness - if it is winter where you live and you have indoor heating, it can get quite dry in your house. Guitars generally don't like to be dry. The wood can change in undesirable ways. If this is the case and you don't already use a guitar humidifier, start using one. You might see a positive change over the course of a few days or weeks.

If neither of these things work, I would recommend taking the guitar to a luthier for diagnosis.

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It's possible that an object in the room is vibrating when certain strings are played. This has happened to me a couple of times; a metal picture frame on my wall was buzzing ever so slightly, but enough to be bothersome when I played the bass notes on my guitar. My classical is a lower end model with a laminated top that sounds quite bassy, whereas the treble is somewhat muddy.

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+1 Welcome to the site! That's definitely an issue to rule-out, before blaming the frets or the neck. I had buzzing in my Acoustic/Electric that turned out to be the battery holder shaking in its compartment. A little folded piece of paper fixed it. –  luser droog Feb 21 '13 at 0:16
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If you have several strings all buzzing on the same fret or range of frets, it could be a sign that your neck is slightly too straight. If the neck was totally straight, you would have buzzing all over the place (or very high action to compensate, to the point of unplayability).

Since you have two strings that seem to be having a problem on the third fret specifically, it is also possible that this fret is out of alignment with the others.

The fact that this started right after you re-strung the guitar suggests that you are likely using lower tension strings than were previously on the guitar. Higher tension strings will tend to bow the neck just a slight bit more, which can hide these issues.

If you are willing to spend a little money getting your guitar right, take it to a luthier and have the neck checked/fixed. Otherwise, if you don't want to spend much, try higher tension strings. They are a little harder on the fingers, but they tend to have a fuller sound.

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A string buzzing may be one of a few things:

  • Inconsistent fret height - the metal frets on the fretboard are height-adjustable, albeit not easily. A fret can be raised by simply levering it out of its slot (carefully), while it can be lowered by grinding it. Less expensive guitars generally have less attention paid to the fretwork. This is going to cost you some money unless you're good at guitar construction; you'll basically need to perform a fret levelling (or have it performed), which requires grinding or lifting frets as necessary to provide a constant fret height across all strings along the entire neck. It is normally "finished" with a "fret dressing", which is simply a rounding/shaping of the frets to remove flat spots and generally increase the ergonomic feel of moving around the neck.

  • Incorrect neck curvature - In steel-strung guitars at least, the strings put over 80kg (175lb) of force on the neck. Wooden necks just can't take that kind of force, so to compensate, a metal rod is put in the neck to provide counter-tension. This requires a careful balancing act; too little counter-tension and the strings will be very far off the body making it difficult to fret notes. Too much countertension results in the strings being too low, causing buzz. I do not know if your particular classical guitar has a truss rod (classical nylon/silver strings have only a fraction of the tension of bronze/steel strings; traditional classical guitars never had them) but if it does you may consider giving it a tweak to lower the tension.

  • Improper technique - When plucking a string with your finger, you generally try to move across it, instead of down into it. This sets the string vibrating parallel to the face of the instrument, instead of toward and away from it. There will always be some of both, but you generally try to minimize the toward-and-away component of the motion.

  • Sympathetic vibrations - The right note, at the right amplitude, can make something resonate sympathetically with, but separately from, the string and the rest of the instrument. The truss rod is the usual culprit where they exist, but loose tuning machines, bridge connections, string ends, etc can all cause rattles.

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I disagree with your statement on technique. The fullness of sound that indicates a good tone is created by the string vibrating into and away from the soundboard (perpendicular). This motion results in the greatest movement of the soundboard. Although the RH fingers move parallel to the soundboard, the use of (and shaping of) fingernails cause the string to move perpendicular to the soundboard. A string vibrating parallel to the soundboard will sound thin and/or "tinny" –  tpburch Feb 22 '12 at 13:59
You can rule out sympathetic vibration by playing the "problem" pitch on another instrument nearby (loud!) and see if you hear the buzz. –  slim Feb 22 '12 at 14:21
@tpburch - I'm not sure that is correct. A strong component of the vibration is passed through the bridge, and it doesn't matter whether it is parallel or perpendicular to the soundboard. Sure, there is an element from the strings vibration right in front of the sound hole, but it isn't a major component. –  Dr Mayhem Feb 22 '12 at 23:18
@DrMayhem - I agree that the vibrations are passed through the bridge, but I would say that the direction of the vibration causes different pressures to be placed on the bridge. This results in a noticeable difference in the tone of the note. This can be easily demonstrated by playing a note each way, being careful that the vibration is the correct direction. When I have done this, the difference is surprising. –  tpburch Feb 24 '12 at 13:45
As I already said, I checked my technique. Using the exact same (proper) means of holding down the fret and plucking, I only get the buzzing on the indicated strings. The others sound perfect. –  JasonMc92 Feb 24 '12 at 20:06
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Could you please post pics of your frets ?

In fact, another problem could be that the frets you mention are a bit "used", and the string, when pressed on them, gets a bit nearer to the bar than it should...

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I know this sounds really sketchy and wont look very pretty, but I had the same problem with one of my classical guitars and I found that the nut and the bridge had a tiny chip in the slot where the string would usually sit. So I put a tiny piece of masking tape over that par of the nut and bridge and then put the string back in. It worked fine.

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If the problem arrived after you changed the strings, maybe there was a high tension set on before, and you changed to low tension. That can lower the action as there is less tension on the neck.

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if it's ony those two strings and since changing the strings, then that's a bit odd.

Others have suggested issues with the guitar, but it's also possible for the strings to be damaged/dented. Is there any kind of a kink in the string where it sits on the frets ? This would make the rest of the string sit lower when it's fretted at the kink, and cause buzzing.

If that's the case the only real answer is to replace those strings.

I have had this on electric guitars before- in fact it's not unusual if the strings get old- but I'd imagine it's less common on nylon strings.

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