Dusty Strings Manufacturing / Support / Harps / Buzzing Harp Strings

Interactive Guide to Troubleshooting Buzzing Harp Strings

Printable flowchart

Jonah

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Look down at the string from the top of the harp. The string should be far enough away from both the lever cam (or sliding pin, if you have Camac levers) and the fret that it can't hit either one when vibrating. There is a lot of leeway here and the string does not need to be perfectly centered. It is usually pretty obvious if it is buzzing against a part of the lever.\n\n<strong>Loveland levers:</strong>\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/loveland-centered-string.jpg]]\n\n<strong>Camac levers:</strong>\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/camac-centered-string.jpg]]\n\n[[The string is hitting the cam, sliding pin or fret|fix: adjust the bridge pin]]\n[[The string is relatively centered|pickup?]]\n\n
Carry the harp into another room and play the string again. Sometimes it's not actually the harp, but another object in the room that is vibrating sympathetically with a particular harp note. If you play it in a different room and the buzz goes away, you'll then have the fun project of figuring out what in the first room was vibrating, but at least you'll know that it's not the harp itself. If you still hear the buzz in a different room, go on to the next step.\n\n[[I still hear a buzz|Ravenna?]]
Sometimes legs, stands or feet that are not screwed in snugly enough or have loosened over time can make a buzzing noise. If your harp has a removable stand or legs, try taking them off and seeing if you still hear the buzz. If you do, it is probably not the stand, and you can move on to the next step.\n\nIf you no longer hear the buzz with the legs or stand removed, put them back on and screw in all the legs and knobs firmly. If that doesn't stop the buzz, check the connection between the stand and the base of the harp. If a change in humidity has caused the stand to change shape very slightly, you can put some sticky felt or cork dots on the underside of the harp base to cushion and fill in any gaps that might be causing a buzz.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/felt-dot.jpg]]\n\nIf you have a 36- or 32-string Dusty harp, the feet are more permanently attached with screws to the base of the harp. Lay the harp down on its back and use a Philips-head screwdriver to tighten all four screws until snug.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/harp-feet-with-screws.jpg]]\n\n[[I've tightened the legs, stand and/or feet, but I still hear a buzz|bass strings]]
There are several braces on the inside of the back of the harp. Occasionally we've seen the end of a brace come loose and cause a buzz. If you can, reach your hand inside the soundholes and push on the ends of the braces one by one while plucking the buzzy string. \n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/harp-braces.jpg]]\n\nIf you push on one and the buzzing stops, the brace needs to be glued down. If you can't reach inside the harp, you can knock with your knuckle on the outside where the ends of the braces would be. If the brace is glued down securely, you'll hear a solid knocking sound. If the brace is loose, you'll hear more of a rattly, slapping sound.\n\n[[I found a loose brace|fix: loose brace]]\n[[The braces are all solidly attached|cracked cam?]]
Engage the lever on the "buzzy" string, then pluck the string. Do you hear the buzz with the lever engaged?\n\n[[Yes, it buzzes with the lever engaged|pickup?]]\n[[No, it only buzzes when the lever is not engaged|centered string?]]
If raising a lever does not change the pitch by an exact half step but it's pretty close, you can make fine adjustments by raising or lowering the bridge pin (instructions below). If you find that you cannot get it in tune this way and still keep the string far enough away from the sliding pin and the fret to keep it from buzzing, then you may need to adjust the position of the lever itself.\n\n<strong>Regulation (fine adjustments):</strong>\n1. If a lever sounds just a bit sharp of the half-step when engaged, use the appropriate nut driver to lower the height of the bridge pin (turn it clockwise), as described in the previous step. Then re-tune the string and check the half step again.\n2. If a lever sounds just a bit flat when engaged, use the appopriate nut driver to raise the height of the bridge pin (turn it counter-clockwise), then check for an accurate half step again.\n3. If you have to move it far enough that the string starts to buzz against the sliding pin or the fret, move the brige pin back to where the string is centered, and go on to the next section.\n\n<strong>Regulation (larger adjustments):</strong>\nYou'll need a T-8 Torx driver (available at hardware stores or through Dusty Strings) to loosen the screws holding the lever base onto the harp neck. Don't take the screws all the way out - just loosen them enough so that you can slide the lever.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/camac-lever-screws.jpg]]\n\nThis type of adjustment must be carefully done, as small movements can make a fairly large change in the regulation, especially in the treble range. When you move the lever, be careful to keep it in line with and exactly under the string. Also, when tightening it down again, make sure you don't overtighten the screw, as it is possible to break off the screw head.\n\nTo regulate by moving the lever:\n1. Make sure the bridge pin is adjusted so the string is roughly centered between the lever sliding pin and the fret.\n2. If the lever sounds too sharp when engaged, you need to move the lever up very slightly.\n3. If the lever sounds too flat when engaged, you need to move the lever down very slightly.\n4. Once you get it pretty close, you can tighten it down again and make the final fine adjustments with the bridge pin, following the steps above.
Does your harp have a pickup?\n\n[[Yes|pickup jack buzz?]]\n[[No|try a different room]]\n
If you do find a loose brace, it needs to be re-glued to the harp back, and this is pretty easily fixable by any instrument repair person. If you are in a crunch and need a temporary fix, you can wedge a toothpick under the loose end to keep it from slapping against the back of the harp.
The Ravenna models have two truss rods in back of the soundboard.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/truss-rods.jpg]]\n\nA large harpers knot or a long spline or string tail can buzz against the truss rods when certain notes are played. If you see anything that might be touching the truss rods, trim the ends or tie a smaller knot. If this doesn't solve the buzz, go on to the next step.\n\n[[I've trimmed all the string ends, but I still hear a buzz|loose stand?]]
If the string is too close to either the fret pin or the lever cam, it can buzz against that part when it vibrates. This situation is usually caused by a new harp settling - the various parts of the harp move around or change shape very slightly as the wood becomes accustomed to being under tension. It can also happen because of a bump or a knock to the harp, or a poor regulation job. \n\nThe groove in the bridge pin is what controls how close or far from the lever each string is. The pins are threaded like a screw, so to fix the buzz, you'll need to screw the brige pin in or out to move the string away from the part it's hitting. \n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/bridge-pin-labeled.jpg]]\n\n<strong>Tools needed:</strong>\nIf you have a 32-, 34- or 36-string Dusty harp, you'll notice three different types of bridge pins. The low range has larger pins, which require a 3/16" nut driver to adjust. The mid to upper range has smaller pins, which need a 5/32" nut driver. The very top notes have pointy-ended (bevelled) pins, and need a 5/32" open end wrench to grip the shaft of the pin and turn it.\n\nIf you have a 26-string harp, all of the bridge pins need a 5/32" nut driver except the very top bevelled pin, which needs the 5/32" open end wrench.\n\nThese tools are generally available at hardware stores, but you can also order them from Dusty Strings. Here's what the bridge pins look like:\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/bridge-pin-sizes.jpg]]\n\nIf the string is buzzing against the lever cam or sliding pin, you'll need to screw the bridge pin into the neck to move the string away from the lever. Start by screwing it in a half turn (clockwise) and then pluck the string (the way you normally would when playing) and see if it's still buzzing. After that, go in quarter turns until you've moved it far enough away from the cam that it no longer buzzes when played. Be careful not to go too far, or it will buzz against the fret instead.\n\nIf the string is buzzing against the fret, follow the instructions above, but screw the bridge pin out instead (counter-clockwise).\n\nOnce you have eliminated the buzz, it is a good idea to check the regulation of that lever. With the lever unengaged, tune the string using an electronic tuner, then flip the lever up and check whether the sharped note is also in tune. If it is, or if it's close enough to be satisfying to your ear, you're done! If not, go on to the next section about regulation.\n\n[[Camac lever regulation|regulation (Camac)]]\n[[Loveland lever regulation|regulation (Loveland)]]
There are a few different ways a pickup can buzz. One is if the jack is loose, and you can find that out by pushing on it while plucking the "buzzy" string. If holding onto the jack stops the buzz, it needs to be tightened.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/pickup-jack-installed.jpg]]\n\n[[How to tighten the pickup jack|fix: tighten pickup jack]]\n\nIf you don't think the jack is loose, check the rest of the pickup inside the harp. Are there any wires or cables that are resting lightly against the harp? Those should be gathered up with tape or a twist-tie so they don't touch the harp at all. Are all of the clips securely holding the pickup harness? If the harness (or cable) is rattling in its clip, a drop of wood glue should hold it in place.\n\n[[The pickup does not seem to be buzzing anywhere|try a different room]]\n
A string can buzz if it is too small in diameter for its lever and the lever isn't pinching it tightly enough. This can happen if you replaced the string and accidentally put on the wrong one or, more rarely, if the string has stretched a lot or is otherwise abnormally thin. The strings and levers are very closely paired, so being one gauge too small can cause a problem. Even if you don't think this is the case, you might try replacing the string anyway. Sometimes it's a miracle fix, whether it's explainable or not.\n\n[[I replaced the string with the correct diameter, but it still buzzes|loose lever?]]
Troubleshooting Buzzing Harp Strings
The metal-core strings in the low range of our larger harps have a ball end instead of a knot inside the harp. Sometimes the ball can come a bit loose and rattle when certain notes are played. Try putting your finger on the ball ends one by one while you pluck the "buzzy" string. If you find that a ball end is causing the buzz, you can put a piece of masking tape over it or a drop of wood glue or superglue in the groove to stop it from rattling.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/ball-ends.jpg]]\n\n[[Buzzing ball-end strings are not the problem|debris?]]
The jack (where you plug the 1/4" cable into your harp) can come loose over time, which can cause it to buzz when you play the harp. Tightening the jack so it's no longer able to rattle usually solves the problem. These instructions are for the Dusty Harp Pickup, but the same principals will apply to most other pickup jacks as well.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/pickup-jack.jpg]]\n\nIf there is a retaining nut that you can see on the outside, follow these instructions:\n\n1. Unscrew the cap nut with your fingers.\n2. Use a sturdy pin to hold the jack in place while you tighten the retaining nut with a 1/2" wrench.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/tighten-pickup-jack.jpg]]\n\n3. Replace the cap nut, screwing it on with your fingers.\n\nIf there is no retaining nut on the outside of the harp, you merely need to tighten the cap nut with your fingers. If you find you cannot get it snug enough, you may be able to reach inside the harp and tighten the hex nut on the inside using a 14mm wrench.
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Sometimes debris can fall down inside the harp body and rattle a bit when the harp is played. Check with a flashlight inside the harp body for any broken string ends or other bits of things that might be buzzing. Once you've removed any debris that might be in there, check if you still hear the buzz. If you do, go on to the next step.\n\n[[There's no debris but it's still buzzing|loose brace?]]
Loveland levers have hard black plastic handles called cams, which have a notch where they grip the string. Occasionally they can develop a crack around the notch, or one corner can chip off. If this happens, the lever will no longer grip the string tightly, resulting in a thunky or buzzy sound. \n\nIf you have Loveland levers, check the cam to make sure it's sound. You'll want to use good light; even a hairline crack that's hard to see can still have a big effect on the sound.\n\n<strong>Fix:</strong>\n\nIf you see a crack or if you suspect there might be one that you can't see, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to replace the cam. You can order a replacement from us over the phone. In most cases, you'll just need a 1/4" wrench to take off the nut that holds the cam in place. You'll remove the cam and a couple of washers, then slide the new cam on, replace the washers, and screw the nut back on. When tightening the nut, be careful to not tighten too far or you will not be able to flip the lever.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/cam-nut.jpg]]\n\nIn a few places on the harp where the levers are packed closely together, you might need to swivel the lever or its neighbor in order to get access to the nut. In this case, you should first mark the position of the lever with masking tape so you'll be able to put it back without needing to re-regulate that note. Then, you'll need a 7/64" ball-end hex driver to loosen the screw that holds the lever onto the neck. Swivel the lever until you have enough room to replace the cam, then put the lever back in position and tighten the screw. It should be snug, but don't tighten it as hard as you possibly can, because it's possible to strip out the screw hole by over-tightening.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/loveland-lever-screw.jpg]]\n\n[[I don't think a cracked cam is the problem. Take me to the next step.|new string?]]
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<strong>Loveland Levers:</strong>\nTo tighten the screw that holds the lever onto the neck of the harp, you'll need a 7/64" hex-head ball driver (available at hardware stores or through Dusty Strings). Turn clockwise to tighten. You want it to feel snug, but do not turn it as hard as you can! Overtightening the screw can actually strip out the threads in the screw hole and cause the screw to lose its grip.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/loveland-lever-screw.jpg]]\n\nIt is possible, but very rare, for the lever handle, or cam, to be loose enough to vibrate. If this is the case, you can use a 1/4" wrench to tighten the cam nut. Don't tighten too far, or you will not be able to flip the lever very easily.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/cam-nut.jpg]]\n\n<strong>Camac Levers:</strong>\nTo tighten the screws that hold the lever onto the neck of the harp, you'll need a T-8 torx driver (available at hardware stores or through Dusty Strings). Turn each screw clockwise to tighten until snug. Be very careful about overtightening! It is relatively easy to break the head off the screw if you turn it too hard.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/camac-lever-screws.jpg]]
Generally when someone says that their harp has a buzz, there are two different classes of buzz that it could be. One is a string buzz, where the string itself is hitting something when plucked. String buzzes are usually easy to find, once you know where to look.\n\nThe other is a sympathetic buzz, which can be harder to pinpoint. The whole harp vibrates when you pluck the strings, but playing certain notes can excite different parts of the harp into vibrating more. If two parts somewhere on the harp are touching, but don't have a tight connection, playing a certain string or strings can cause those parts to vibrate sympathetically and buzz against each other. So you may know that when you play a certain note you hear a buzz, but the buzz may not in fact be coming from anything that the string is actually touching. The best way to pinpoint the source of a sympathetic buzz is to try holding onto or pushing on various parts of the harp while playing the buzzy string. You are looking for a loose part that, when held securely, causes the buzzing to stop. Once you've found the source of the buzz, it's usually fairly straightforward to fix it.\n\nThis troubleshooting guide is designed to walk you through the process step by step, asking questions and presenting potential solutions along the way. It will take you down different paths depending on your answers. You can always go back and change your answer to a question, and you can also refresh the page if you want to start over completely.\n\nIf you prefer to see all of the possible paths, you can print out a basic flow chart of the process from the link above and follow along with it.\n\n[[start troubleshooting|lever position?]]
Push on a few levers at a time with your fingers while plucking the "buzzy" string until you've tried all the levers on the harp. If you find that pushing on a lever stops the buzz, it could be that the lever is a bit loose and not making solid contact with the harp.\n\n[[I found a buzzing lever|fix: tighten lever]]\n[[Pushing on the levers made no difference|what next?]]
You've now gone through just about everything we've ever seen cause a buzz and if you haven't found it yet, you're probably wondering what to do next. \n\nIf you got your harp through a local store, try consulting with them to see if they can help you troubleshoot. If you can take your harp to them, that will be even better than talking on the phone.\n\nIf you don't have a local dealer, you are welcome to give us a call. We'll ask you to describe what you've already tried and we'll see if we can help you sleuth it out. We are usually not able to tell you what's causing the buzz just by listening to it over the phone, but we may be able to offer some more details about the topics covered in this guide. We also can't help you very effectively over email - it really needs to be a phone call.\n\nIt can also be useful to get a friend with a good ear to come over and help you listen for the source of the buzz. If it's subtle, it can be hard to locate by yourself. \n\nOnce you've found the source, we can help you figure out how to fix it!
Is your harp a Ravenna model?\n\n[[Yes, I have a Ravenna|truss rods]]\n[[No, I do not have a Ravenna|loose stand?]]
If raising a lever does not change the pitch by an exact half step but it's pretty close, you can make fine adjustments by raising or lowering the bridge pin (instructions below). If you find that you cannot get it in tune this way and still keep the string far enough away from the cam and the fret to keep it from buzzing, then you may need to adjust the position of the lever itself.\n\n<strong>Regulation (fine adjustments):</strong>\n1. If a lever sounds just a bit sharp of the half-step when engaged, use the appropriate nut driver to lower the height of the bridge pin (turn it clockwise), as described in the previous step. Then re-tune the string and check the half step again.\n2. If a lever sounds just a bit flat when engaged, use the appopriate nut driver to raise the height of the bridge pin (turn it counter-clockwise), then check for an accurate half step again.\n3. If you have to move it far enough that the string starts to buzz against the cam or the fret, move the brige pin back to where the string is centered, and go on to the next section.\n\n<strong>Regulation (larger adjustments):</strong>\nYou'll need a 7/64" hex-head ball driver (available at hardware stores or through Dusty Strings) to loosen the screw holding the lever base onto the harp neck. Don't take the screw all the way out - just loosen it enough so that you can slide the lever.\n\n[img[http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/images/twine/loveland-lever-screw.jpg]]\n\nThis type of adjustment must be carefully done, as small movements can make a fairly large change in the regulation, especially in the treble range. When you move the lever, be careful to keep it in line with and exactly under the string. Also, when tightening it down again, make sure you don't overtighten the screw, as this can strip the threads in the screw hole.\n\nTo regulate by moving the lever:\n1. Make sure the bridge pin is adjusted so the string is roughly centered between the lever cam and the fret.\n2. If the lever sounds too sharp when engaged, you need to move the lever up very slightly.\n3. If the lever sounds too flat when engaged, you need to move the lever down very slightly.\n4. Once you get it pretty close, you can tighten it down again and make the final fine adjustments with the bridge pin, following the steps above.