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News from the Bench /What's the Buzz?

What's Buzzing?!

A smiling bee buzzes around and eighth notes float behind them.
There are few things more irritating when playing your instrument than coming across a random buzz.

Although this problem may require extensive sleuthing, we are going to cover some of the more common causes of buzzing for violins, violas, and cellos.

Common Causes of Buzzes

Fine Tuners

There are a number of ways fine tuners can cause buzzing on an instrument. 

As pictured above, fine tuners which are fully-tightened may end up making contact with the top of the instrument. The tailpiece vibrates when the strings are played and, because the fine tuner is attached to the moving string and tailpiece, the tuner may bounce repeatedly off of the top of the instrument causing a buzzing sound. 
To correct this issue, loosen the screw (making sure not to remove it from the fine tuner) and tune the string using the peg. 

A silver violin tuner labeled with arrows indicating where the screw and nut are.A close up of a violin fine tuner tightened so much that the bottom of the fine tuner touches the violin's surface.
Fine tuners may also cause buzzing when the screw or nut (on the top side of the tailpiece) is loose, has cross-threaded, or has a small metal burr. 
To correct this issue, tighten the nut. Once the nut is tightened, loosen and remove only the screw. Run the threads of the screw lightly along the edge or surface of a wax candle and rethread the screw back into the fine tuner.  

Loose String Protector
2 violin bridges highlight proper placement of the string protector on a bridge and wrong placement behind a bridge.
Check to see if the little plastic protector that comes on some strings (primarily violin E strings) is loose behind the bridge. This plastic tube is a protector for the top of the bridge and should be placed as such. (See "Good! Bad!" photo above.)
Chin Rest Touching the Tailpiece
A zoomed in view of a center-mounted chinrest touching the tailpiece on a violin.
This problem is specific to the violin and viola (because most cellists really aren't interested in holding their cellos under their chins). 

Center-mounted chin rests are the biggest culprits of this issue. Wooden center-mounted chin rests typically require an adjustment by a luthier when initially installed so they don't make contact with the tailpiece. 
A zoomed in view of a side-mounted chinrest which is touching a violin tailpiece.
And although this issue is more common with center-mounted chin rests, even side-mounted chin rests can shift with use and begin to make contact with the tailpiece.

To correct this issue on a chin rest that previously was not causing a problem, carefully use a chin rest key (or thick paper clip, if you're in a pinch) to loosen the chin rest brackets just enough to slide the chin rest out of the way of the tailpiece. If this does not correct the issue, there may be other structural issues contributing to the issue which can be best diagnosed by a luthier. 
Rosin Build-Up in F-Holes
Two arrows point to the wings of an violin F hole indicating narrow passages for rosin build-up.
One of the sneakier places we find buzzes is in the F-holes of instruments. In the areas of the F-holes which are the closest together, rosin can slowly begin to build up and eventually act as a glue between the two locations.

To correct the issue, you can try gently sliding a business card through the upper and lower corners of the F-holes to dislodge the rosin. If you are unable to easily slide the card through these areas or are concerned about cracking the top of your instrument, bring your instrument into a repair shop for a generally quick adjustment to correct this problem. 
Open Seams and Loose Glue
A close up of a violin rib with an arrow pointing to the top which has begun to separate from the rib.

This problem is especially prevalent in dry fall and winter months (or if you live in Arizona, any day of the week that ends in the letter "Y"). Violin family instruments are glued together with hide glue--a water-based glue that is designed to give under extreme circumstances. This may seem like a fault in the design, but it is a defensive mechanism. A seam that has popped open from a change in humidity is better than a crack emerging along the top, back, ribs, or neck. 

To avoid open seams and cracks, make sure to keep your instrument at approximately 40%-60% humidity by using an in-case humidifier like The Precipitube Humidifier® (click here to learn more). In the Maryland/Washington D.C. area, the easiest way to remember to do this is to begin using your humidifier when you turn on your heat in your home. 

To check for this issue, you can do a visual inspection of all of the places where the top, ribs, back, neck and fingerboard meet on the instrument. If you see a separation in any of these areas, get the instrument into the shop before the problem gets worse. 
Tapes on the FingerboardA diagram of a violin fingerboard which has three tapes to help indicate finger placement. An arrow points to a blue fingertape showing how the tapes can cause string buzzing along the fingerboard..
This is one of the most common causes of buzzing we see. Many teachers use small pieces of tape to help students learn to locate note placements on the fingerboard. While this teaching technique is a very effective way to help students learn note location, it can cause buzzing on the fingerboard. 

To correct the issue, you can remove the tapes from the fingerboard, but we realize some students still need assistance finding note locations. If this is still the case and you own your instrument (or rent it from Lashof Violins), we recommend using a silver Sharpie to mark the note locations on the fingerboard. The replacement Sharpie marks will wear away with playing and can be reapplied as necessary. If you don't own the instrument you are playing or this idea makes you nervous, you can also use a wax or graphite pencil to make the marks on the fingerboard. If you're uncomfortable with writing on the fingerboard at all, we also recommend checking out products like the First Frets or Don't Frets Fingerboard Markers. These products are not without their faults, but we find them to generally work better than individual tapes on the fingerboard. 

(We have dedicated a separate blog post to this issue and you can read more here: How Finger Tapes Cause Buzzing)

Excessive Fingerboard Wear or a Poorly Adjusted Fingerboard

A diagram of a violin neck with fingerboard. An arrow points to the center of the fingerboard, highlighting a gradual scoop along the fingerboard's length.
Violins, violas, and cellos have a gradual scoop running the length of the fingerboard. This scoop allows the string to vibrate freely when the player presses down on the string.

A diagram of a violin neck with fingerboard. The fingerboard has numerous dips and grooves in its surface. The diagram states that when a player presses down on the string in these grooves, the string cannot vibrate freely.

With regular use over time, your fingers can begin to wear grooves in the fingerboard of your instrument. Much like driving across several potholes in succession, these small grooves cause the depressed string to vibrate below the original surface of the fingerboard and to repeatedly hit the surface. 

Additionally, a fingerboard that was never correctly adjusted can have similar issues. Buzzing may happen if the overall scoop of the fingerboard is too shallow or if there are any high spots along the way.

To correct the issue, bring the instrument in to a repair shop for a fingerboard resurfacing. If your fingerboard has been resurfaced a number of times throughout its lifespan and no longer has enough space for adjustment, you may need a new fingerboard. 
String too Close to FingerboardA close up of a viola upper nut and fingerboard. An arrow points to a string groove in the nut which has gotten so low it is causing the string to hit the fingerboard.

Another common issue that happens with regular use is the gradual lowering/wearing of the string grooves in the upper nut. With regular tuning, strings will slowly saw their way through the upper nut (which is located at the top of the fingerboard and is pictured above). Once the nut groove is low enough, the string will make contact with the fingerboard and buzzing will occur. 

A diagram of a violin neck with fingerboard, a yellow string and bridge. An arrow points to where the string is hitting the end of the fingerboard and another arrow points to the top of the bridge.
Strings can also be too close to the fingerboard when the bridge is too low. Bridge height can be affected by changes in humidity (in fact, many cellists have a winter bridge and a summer bridge which they swap out during these seasons), changes in the instrument due to age, a broken or loose neck, or for bridges which were too low from the start. 

To correct this/these issue(s), bring the instrument into a repair shop for an upper nut adjustment/replacement or for a new bridge.