An issue that probably every ukulele player will encounter is that extremely annoying buzzzzzing or rattling sound when you pick a string or strum your ukulele. Fortunately, it’s (most of the times) pretty easy to identify the cause of the buzz and fixing only takes a few moments.
In this guide I’ll try to explain to you what the main causes of a buzzing ukulele are and how you can identify them. Of course I also tell you how to fix them. [disclaimer] Some of the fixes are really easy, but a few of them are a bit more difficult to implement and involve permanently modifying your ukulele. If you are uncomfortable doing this, take it your local instrument dealer!
Locate the buzz
Before fixing the buzz, you need to know where it is coming from. Maybe it isn’t coming from the strings? Pick or strum the strings and listen carefully where your ukulele is buzzing. It can either be at the tuners (headstock), the nut, the saddle, the bridge, the body or at the frets (= string buzzing). A friend can help you locate the buzz when you strum or pick.
Fixing the buzz
Once you have located the buzz, you can read the appropriate section below to learn how to fix the buzz. It is possible that there are several causes. Feel free to read the whole guide.
Identify: When you hold your strings down to mute them and shake your ukulele afterwards, you hear a rattling sound coming from the headstock.
• Main cause for this is loose hardware at the headstock (or body). Check if the tuners are rattling and tighten the screws on them.
• The gears may be worn and need replacement.
• Trim the strings if not done already.
• If you have other hardware installed on your ukulele, make sure to tighten their screws also.
Identify: You don’t hear any buzz when you bar the first fret. When you apply pressure on the strings behind the nut (just before the tuners) you hear the buzz.
The strings are vibrating in the nut grooves. This means that the grooves are probably too flat. The pictures below show how you can 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 are still hearing rattling sounds when you shake your ukulele with muted strings.
• Look for a small crack in your body that might be buzzing. If you find one you can hold your finger on the crack and strum to check if that crack is actually causing the buzzing. If so, take it to the shop. This needs to get fixed by a luthier. A temporary fix may be filling the crack with a small piece of wood or paper strip.
• 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.
Identify: You are hearing a buzz when you are playing open strings and not when barring the first fret.
• Can be caused by worn strings, simply replace your strings.
• Maybe your nut is too low. If possible you can please 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 up the fretboard.
• Your action is probably too low. The easy fix is by simply placing a strip of paper under the saddle to raise it. This will higher the action and should stop the string buzzing. It will however lower the vibrations going through the body a little bit, causing a lower volume.
• You can also buy a new saddle and install it yourself (not that difficult). Use sandpaper to make it fit your ukulele and adjust the action.
Identify: Strings are buzzing when you play certain notes along the fretboard.
• You can file down the frets where the buzzing occurs.
• If you don’t like permanently modifying your ukulele, you can do the same as mentioned in the previous fix (higher the action).
Identify: If you take a good look at your ukulele’s neck you see that it is bend (either convex or concave).
Main cause for issues like these are moisture content (either too wet or too dry air). 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 you store your ukulele in.
Identify: The ends of the strings are touching something or are simply in the way and causing a rattle sound.
Simply trim the strings.
Identify: When you put pressure on your bridge the buzzing stops.
You have a loose bridge. Check for gaps between your ukulele’s bridge and body, perhaps the glue isn’t holding anymore. You can try to glue them together again or even wedge some small strips of wood/paper in 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 buzzing stops.
You have a loose saddle. Maybe it was sanded too much so that it doesn’t fit snuggly anymore in the bridge. You can try filling the gaps with a few strips or paper. You can also by a new saddle and use sandpaper to make it fit perfectly in 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.
Hopefully the explained causes and fixes above can assist you in getting rid of that annoying buzzz, good luck! Hopefully you've enjoyed reading this guide. Any remarks, questions or suggestion? Use the contact form to let me know what they are!