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I have an acoustic-electric guitar, which I took home new about 10 years ago. Lately I've noticed that the G on the high E string (third fret, play it all the time) has started to sound like a sitar. The twangy "bwang" whenever I hit it. The F# and G# are just fine, but quite possibly the most common note in the music I play gives me that horrible sound.

Except, when I hit it gently, far too gently to be useful playing in front of other people, the note sounds fine. Which leads me to figure that quite possibly the most common note in the music I play is worn down because it's quite possibly the most common note in the music I play.

So, what are my options? The expensive choice is refretting, which I think is ultimately where I have to go. There's capoing up a few frets up, and I'm seriously considering tuning to D and capoing II so the bad note's an F, not a G. But what are my other choices? The ones more serious than detuning and more inexpensive than refretting?

  • Even though you fixed this specific issue, take it to a guitar tech and get it set up man. They won't do any fret work without asking first, it won't cost you much for a basic set up and you'll feel the difference immediately. – Some_Guy Jan 6 '17 at 10:20
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There's some good related information on this question, so give that a read.

A re-fret isn't always the best answer to a little fret buzz--sometimes a simple setup will fix it. Anything from simple truss rod adjustments, to new nut/saddle pieces could fix you up proper. However, if the problem has gradually evolved from a perfectly fine playing guitar then you could have a serious issue on your hands--which should be promptly handled by a professional. On my acoustic, I developed a fret buzz that was due to the separation of the fingerboard from the neck of the guitar--I had bent the neck too hard too many times while applying vibrato to open harmonics ;). I had to tune the guitar 1/2 a step down and place a capo on the first fret in order to be able to play at all (the capo acted as a clamp for the fretboard). After all that trouble I ended up paying my local luthier $60 USD to re-glue the fingerboard on and I had a completely fixed up and working acoustic in less than a week.

But I digress. Based on your description the problem is likely a low spot on the fret you play the most. That happens a lot--and really the only true way to fix the root cause of the problem is to do a fret dress. Re-fretting is where you replace the fret wire on the entire neck with brand new fret wire, while fret-dressing is simply returning the relative heights of all the crowns of those frets to an equal height. This, in effect, returns your guitar to the same state it was in when your frets were all new--just with a little metal missing off the crowns. Nearly all frets can take a couple of dresses before they become too worn out to grind any more metal off. I would run by a luthier and have that done--but obviously listen if they are telling you something else could be causing the problem. As I stated above, anything from a simple setup to replacing the nut could fix the problem--but with that low spot you describe you will eventually need to dress the frets anyway.

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    "likely a low spot on the fret you play the most". If the problem is a low fret it would cause buzzing on the next higher fret by lowering the clearance between the string and the next fret. A low fret is less likely to buzz because it has more clearance between its crown and the string. – Anonymous Mar 14 '11 at 2:43
  • I think that's what I'm trying to say here. I guess it isn't clear? I'll edit it tomorrow to clean it up a bit. – Jduv Mar 14 '11 at 3:31
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    I might take it in for a fret dress some day, but a crank or two on the truss rod got it usable again. Thanks. – Dave Jacoby Mar 17 '11 at 2:13
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As a quick fix, you can try changing the gauge of your strings to some heavier ones.

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    I'm pretty sure that would make the buzzing worse. Why do you suggest this? I'm curious =). – Jduv Mar 13 '11 at 17:33
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    Well, I have a cheapo guitar that has terrible fretbuzz in certain places when using lighter strings. When putting heavier gauge in the action rises a bit and voila, problem solved! However, This is of course a dirty trick , but works in some cases . – user399 Mar 13 '11 at 17:41
  • Rather than use a heavier gauge, I'd recommend having the truss-rod adjusted if possible. It'd be a very fast and cheap fix that would retain the previous string gauge. – Anonymous Mar 14 '11 at 2:39
  • I adjusted the truss rod and that did it. I do have a set of medium strings in the case, and I'm 90% sure that I have lights on it right now, so I could go heavier, but I'm happy with both the gauge and specific strings I have now. – Dave Jacoby Mar 17 '11 at 2:16
  • If you originally had it set up with medium gauge strings and the truss rod was adjusted to match, then later switched to light gauge, the truss rod would be over compensating. That would pull the neck backwards a bit, leading to string buzz and excessive fret wear. – Anonymous Mar 17 '11 at 4:37
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One thing I've had happen a couple times with the B and E strings is the string got a bend in it when uncoiling it to put onto the guitar when restringing. It wasn't an obvious kink, but enough of a bend that the string wasn't straight.

The guitar had low action, and I'd get a bit of a string buzz where there hadn't been one before. Replacing the string or the set made it go away.

It is also possible for frets to loosen, so look closely at the bottom edge of it where it should be seated against the fretboard. If there's a gap you might have a loose fret.

  • I can feel the fret level drop between the B and E strings on the low 3 frets. Good things to check, but that wasn't it. – Dave Jacoby Mar 17 '11 at 2:15
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    @VarLogRant, Some drop is expected because the fret follows the curve of the fingerboard's radius, however I'd recommend taking it to a guitar tech. They should be able to tell within a few minutes what the problem is. If three frets are out I'd suspect the guitar's fingerboard got banged into something and it's going to take a tech to fix it. – Anonymous Mar 17 '11 at 3:32
  • I should be clear. The frets are worn down. There's spots where it's clear where the string goes and the frets follow a different curve at the treble end of the fret, but if you look down the fretboard, you do not see a fret not looking level with the rest, which would occur if a fall knocked a fret out of the groove or something. But yeah, I do intend to see a tech. – Dave Jacoby Mar 17 '11 at 4:26
  • Sounds like the nut was cut too low on the high side. That's unfortunate because a properly cut nut wouldn't cause fret wear like that. Fixing the frets will cost more than what it would have cost to have the nut done right in the first place. You'll need to have the nut replaced and cut appropriately or having the frets replaced will be a waste of money as they'll wear abnormally fast and you'll be back at the same place again. – Anonymous Mar 17 '11 at 4:34
  • I had adjusted the truss rod to lower the action some, a while ago, and looking at it, there was some back-bow. My poor truss rod decision is probably more the problem than an ill-cut nut, but I might consider changing to bone or Tusq for the nut and saddles some day. – Dave Jacoby Mar 17 '11 at 14:57
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Strings are stretched between the rear edge of the nut and the front edge of the saddle. so if the string warbles when plucked open and when fretted on all or a lot of frets, the problem likely lies in the saddle slot. the saddle slot tapers barely downward toward the entry of the string into the bridge. With 320 grit or finer paper, fold it and use the edge VERY lightly from saddle front toward rear. Maybe 3-5 strokes only. Now set the string in the saddle groove, bring to pitch and listen. If it persists but improves, repeat lightly. A tiny dab of lube (fretboard oil or ChapStick) will not hurt on the saddle slot.

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