Finding and eliminating Buzzes

Even the finest violin, viola or cello can become “miserable” if it develops a “buzz” and almost every instrument eventually does for some reason or another. Here's a list, beginning with the most common “culprits,” and their respective solutions; from the most simple “self-fixes” to those that will require an experienced repair shop.

The overall “secret” to finding most buzzes is to play or pluck the instrument (or have someone else play or pluck it so you can move around the instrument freely and listen for where the buzz is coming from), then touch the suspected “culprit” and see if the buzz stops (usually with a fingertip, yet in some cases with a toothpick, etc.).

Special note: anything that requires the removal or loosening of all the strings at the same time should only be done by a qualified repairman.

  1. Fine tuner(s)

    There are many styles of fine tuners, and almost all of them are notorious for creating buzzes.

    a. The nut that holds it in place may have become loose (or may never have been tightened properly in the first place). Solution = completely loosen the string and tighten the fine tuner nut. “How tight” is a judgment call based upon the style of fine tuner, how well it fits the tailpiece, type of tailpiece, etc.. Be careful! Many tailpieces have been broken by poorly fitting fine tuners and/or over tightening. While some require needle nose pliers (be especially careful not to over tighten or scratch the tailpiece) generally it can be accomplished with your fingers.

    b. The tightening screw may be too loose. Solution = lower the pitch of the string slightly with the peg, then bring the pitch back up with the fine tuner.

    c. The tightening screw may have loose, “dry,” or poorly formed threads. First option: remove the tightening screw, rub soap on the threads to lubricate and fill in the voids (naptha is the best), and replace the screw. If it's still too loose or the fine tuner has poorly machined threads, you will need to purchase a new fine tuner. In “emergency” situations when you “must” eliminate the buzz and realize that you will have to replace the fine tuner anyway, CAREFULLY squeeze the threads with piers (lightly at first) until the threads begin to tighten (if you squeeze too hard you will not be able to get the screw back in at all!). Or, SLIGHTLY bend the threads so it is no longer loose to vibrate side side when it's screwed back in. Again, start with a tiny bend, then work your way up, otherwise it may not go back in at all.

    d. On “pronged” fine tuners the prongs can be too close together and hold too tightly on the windings, allowing the ball to buzz in its loop or against the prongs. Temporarily remove the string, then with a small, flat screwdriver “slightly” widen the opening between the prongs. Be careful to move the screwdriver side to side evenly so both prongs bend out the same amount when you're done.

    e. On “pronged” fine tuners the prongs can be too far apart and allow the string to buzz between the prongs. Slightly squeeze the prongs closer together with a small pair of pliers until the winding is held “firmly.” Yet, some strings (usually steel) require the prongs to be opened wide enough so they never touch the sides.

    f. Some fine tuners have mechanisms that are loose or become loose with time and should be replaced, yet can be CAREFULLY squeezed with pliers for a “temporary” fix.

  1. String windings

    a. If the winding on a string breaks it will begin to unravel and buzz. Obviously, replace the string.

    b. Less obvious = string windings can become loose, allowing them to buzz against the core of the strings (especially on old strings). If the winding is “extremely” loose you will feel it move over the core of the string when tugging back and forth on it with your fingers. If you can't feel the winding move, firmly slide your fingers up (or down) the string and see if the buzz goes away when you play. If the buzz temporarily goes away then comes back, it's probably a loose winding, though it's still a good idea to check for other sources of the buzz, especially those caused by the nut or bridge.

    c. Also, especially on Dominant brand strings, the bare windings around the metal balls can be loose and vibrate, even when they're brand new. A quick fix is to remove the string from the instrument and CAREFULLY fill the groove where the loose string windings are with "quick gel" super-glue, then allow it to dry (ten minutes usually does it).

  2. Nut grooves.

    If the grooves in the nut have too large of radius or are too wide, the string can move side to side and buzz when playing an open string. Or, if the groove is deeper toward the fingerboard (it should always taper “lower” toward the pegbox) the string will also buzz when an open string is played. Either way, to see if the nut groove is the problem, play the open string until it buzzes, then push down on the string at the edge of the nut with your fingernail (not hard enough to damage the string) and see if the buzz goes away. In mild cases (or if the strings are too high to begin with) a repair shop can file and burnish the groove and eliminate the buzz, otherwise a new nut will need to be made.

  3. Bridge grooves.

    Basically the same comments as for nut grooves. If the grooves are too wide or do not taper slightly down toward the tailpiece the string can move side to side and buzz. To see if the bridge grooves are the problem, play the open string until it buzzes, then push down on the string at the edge of the bridge closest to the fingerboard to see if the buzz goes away (careful not to push too hard and damage the string). If the buzz stops, the grooves will need to be refiled and burnished by a repairman if the string height allows it, otherwise, a new bridge will need to be cut.

  4. Shoulder rest

    a. Check for loose screws, joints etc..

    b. Any part of a shoulder rest coming in contact with the instrument should have a soft covering, such as surgical tubing, leather, etc..

    c. Make sure that the shoulder rest doesn't rotate or flex enough to allow it to come in contact with the back of the instrument.

  5. Loose or cracked tailpiece fret

    Look carefully, and use a toothpick if necessary to see if you can locate the buzz.

  6. Cracked tailpiece (usually between the slot that holds the string and the end of the tailpiece.

  7. Loose label

    Look closely. If any portion of the label is loose it can cause buzzing and will need to be re-glued.

  8. Loose peg balls

    Some are tapered and simply need pushed back in, while others require gluing.

  9. Loose peg rings (metal rings are notorious for buzzing)

  1. Strings in pegbox

    If the end of a string is not properly trimmed flush (or almost flush) with the peg shank it can buzz against the bottom of the pegbox or against the wall.

  2. Tailgut / threaded tailgut nuts

    a. If the ends of the tailgut are left too long they can buzz against the underside of the tailpiece, or in extreme cases, against the belly of the instrument. The tailpiece will need removed to trim the tailgut so, even though the operation is a simple one, a qualified repairman should do it in case the soundpost falls when the strings are removed.

    b. If the instrument has a threaded tailgut, the threaded nuts can buzz in the recess. The solution is usually to enlarge the recess, being careful not to cut the tailpiece too thin. Again, this should be done by a qualified repairman.

  1. Loose fingerboard

    Gently lift on the end of the fingerboard and see if it pulls up off the neck (even slightly). If so, it will need to be re-glued.

  2. Loose endpin

  3. Loose neck

    Loosen the strings and gently lift up on the fingerboard to see if there is any movement in the neck mortise.

  4. Bridge feet

    Bridges must be “fitted” to each instrument. Improperly cut feet (especially the edges) can buzz against the belly. If feet thickness allows it, they can be re-trimmed, otherwise a new bridge will need to be cut.

  5. Open seams.

  6. Cracks in the belly, back, ribs, scroll, pegs, etc.

  7. Loose or separated purfling (Especially notorious on very old instruments.)

  8. Loose bass bar, linings, cleats, corner blocks, laminations, internal repairs, etc.

    These require the use of special mirrors and tools, and in some cases, the removal of the belly of the instrument.

Copyright Lee Instruments 2005

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