Guitar repair – One owner, two Sire siblings, similar problems: Big pain!

A return customer brought in his two Sire guitars with the same problem: string buzz. All through March-end till now, I have had to deal with this problem.

Many times, the dryness of the wood makes the fretwires stand, and a strategic tap is all that is needed to seat them back in place.

At other times, you can tap all you want, but the fretwires will not seat. In that case, they have to be filed, recrowned and polished. In earlier posts, I have explained what a pain it is levelling fretwires: for when you file fretwires, you do so in relation to the neighbouring ones. Invariably, after filing one, you will find another one standing proud two fretwires down the line – at least that has always been my experience.

Though both instruments were beautiful in their own right, the one with the natural finish was buzzing only on 1st fret of the treble ‘e’ string, while the one with the sunburst finish was buzzing around the 11th-12th fret of the bass ‘E’ string, the owner informed me.

I decided to work first on the natural finish guitar. Getting to work, I found some six or seven fretwires between the 3rd and the 14th – 15th fret. However, some of them readily sat down when tapped. For the stubborn ones, I knew I would have to sweat a lot. But, no sweat!

I pulled out my tools, sandpapers, polishing compounds et al and got to work. Do remember that both instruments had used strings on them. I couldn’t take them off, or I would have problems when it came time to test for the buzz (you can never really test for string buzz without strings). So, loosening the strings, the first round of levelling was completed. Strings were tightened but the buzz was still there.

Again I set about finding high frets and found it at the 3rd or 4th fret.

As I tightened the strings, I broke the ‘e’ string

and had to replace it. As I continued work and continued finding high fretwires, the loosening and tightening continued and I broke the ‘e’ string again. Again it was replaced, more work was done, more loosening and tightening and the ‘G’ string broke.

At that point, a cheap set of strings was thrown on in consultation with the owner.

Finally, I could not find any more high frets and the guitar played buzz-less.

But before I had strung it up, I performed this simple operation to ensure that string ball-ends did not catch at the end of the bridgepins.

Also, I snugged up the hardware on the headstock, while it was accessible.

After all that work, the buzz was reduced but not gone completely. I looked at the nut slots and they were a little deep for my liking.

On the left is the original nut and on the right is a new nut, to show you the difference between the slot depths. Maybe, I thought, because the instrument had a very low action (both at the 1st and the 12th fret) that it was buzzing.

As I took off the nut, I noticed something strange. While cutting the nut slot, someone careless at the factory had dug in too deep. Then it seemed, he cut from the other end, leaving a step in between. I measured the two ends of the slot and both were the same height.

If the treble side of the slot had been lower, one could have presumed that the buzz was due to this, but that wasn’t the case. Also, the owner had confirmed that the buzz was a recent development.

For my own satisfaction, I bridged the step with a little piece of pickguard material.

I tried on the new nut and the buzz was all but gone.

Again I tested for high frets and found two truant ones. Once those were brought in line, the guitar played like a dream.

The fretboard was cleaned and oiled and while I was at it, some love was also shown to the bridge

I left the cheap set of strings on so that the owner could check the string buzz.

The Sunburst Sire was next on the work table. If you remember there were a couple of fretwires on the bass ‘E’ string that were causing problems. There turned out to be six of them

Unlike those on its Natural cousin, fretwires on this Sire refused to be beaten down and had to be filed, recrowned and polished. The same back and forth as before. But the buzz refused to go. Again, the relief in the neck was optimum.

Then I turned my attention to the saddle and realised that it could be raised a little without raising the action too much.

For trial’s sake, I swapped the original saddle for a new slightly taller saddle, and lo and behold, the buzz was gone!

So, it wasn’t just a low saddle and it wasn’t just high fretwires; it was a combination of both that was causing the guitar to buzz.

The new saddle stayed and I called the owner to come and pick up his guitars. He was happy with the Natural but when he sat down to play the Sunburst, he checked the treble ‘e’ string first, which buzzed like if it had a buzzer in it.

To my shock he told me that this was the problem area in the guitar and I had to tell him that he had, in fact, pointed it out on the bass ‘E’ string, which had been corrected. Anyway, since there was a problem, it had to be corrected. Besides, it was my fault that I did not check the entire fretboard properly.

The work began all over again, this time on the treble side.

That is the before and after of the work done on the treble side.

And, of course, the extra work on the guitar was also done

Hardware on the headstock was tightened,

the fretboard and bridge were treated,

and bridgepin ends were given an angle so that string ball ends would stay off them.

The owner had also provided me with two sets of these

He requested that I put on one of these on the Sunburst, and so it was.

But I was truly happy with the break angle achieved at the bridge with the new, taller saddle. The owner came, tested the guitar and took it home, but I will wait for his call to tell me that magically, the sound and sustain on the instrument has increased appreciably. That is what a healthy break angle does to an instrument.

It was hard work over some five or six days but then there is no greater pleasure than to see instruments that come to you with a problem, get cured.

As always, I leave you with last images of the Sire Siblings



Amit Newton

An experienced guitar tech with over 10 years of experience working on acoustic Gibsons and Martins in the Gulf region. There is nothing that cannot be repaired; the only consideration is the price at which it comes. And yet, if there is sentiment attached, no price is too high! WhatsApp/Call me: 7080475556 email me:

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