When you’re playing guitar, you love to hear the chords you’re playing, but what you don’t love to hear is the string noise that comes along with it sometimes. String noise can be distracting to both the guitarist and the person listening to the guitarist play. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to reduce string noise.
To reduce string noise on an acoustic guitar, practice your technique, slow your playing to determine what part of your technique may be causing string noise, change your strings to a coated version, and mute some or all of your strings using your hand or a string dampener while you play.
In this article, we will show you how to reduce string noise on an acoustic guitar, first by discussing the things that most commonly create string noise, and then we will go over some tips and tricks you can implement to reduce string noise in the future. Now let’s get right into it!
What Causes String Noise On An Acoustic Guitar?
String noise has its place in the world of playing guitar, and often it can add a nice bit of character to a song, but sometimes it can become overbearing and unpleasant if it is not kept in check. You will most likely become aware of your own string noise when listening back to a recording of a song you have played and might then realize just how much noise your strings make that you don’t even notice while playing.
When we play guitar, we actually hear two versions of what we’re playing. The first is what our ears actually pick up as we play a song, and the second version is the version we hear in our heads of what we would like our playing to sound like. Most often, the second version is the more overpowering of the two, and it’s not until we really start to concentrate on the physical version that we hear the noise our strings make while we play.
As mentioned before, this usually becomes most evident to us when we hear a recording of ourselves playing something because then we don’t hear that internal aspirational version anymore. Both versions are necessary, but we need to work hard not to let one overshadow the other.
But before you go trying to fix the issue of string noise, you need to know what caused it in the first place. Getting to understand what causes string noise will help you figure out what you need to change to get rid of it, or at the very least reduce it by a significant amount.
It is important to note that every guitar player, no matter how good they are, will play with some string noise. There is no way to get rid of string noise entirely completely, but there are ways to reduce it so that it isn’t as noticeable and bothersome. But first, let’s discuss what causes string noise.
Your Technique When Fretting Your Guitar
The thing that probably causes the most amount of string noise out of all of the things we will talk about is the technique you use when fretting your guitar. The way you hold your hand on the strings when you play a chord and how you move from one chord to the next chord can create a lot of string noise. This isn’t something you do consciously, but it most often occurs when you aren’t paying much attention to your fretting hand.
You may be putting too much or too little pressure on the strings when you play a chord, or you aren’t relaxing your hand quickly enough when changing chords, meaning you don’t release enough pressure off of the strings, which causes your fingers to drag over the strings and results in that dreaded ‘squeaking’ sound.
Your Strumming Hand
Another thing that may be a cause of string noise is your strumming hand. As you play, the heel of your strumming hand may lightly brush over the strings of your guitar that you aren’t strumming or picking at and inadvertently cause some unwanted string noise. This is another thing you won’t notice you’re doing until you really start to pay attention to it, but it may be the reason you hear string noise while you play.
Something that can contribute to the technique you’re using creating string noise is that you may be playing songs that are still a bit too far above your skill level. This may require you to play songs faster than you are comfortable with or chord progressions that you are not as familiar with and can lead you to play poorly in an attempt to try and keep up with the song. And along with sloppy playing comes unwanted string noise.
The Strings You’re Playing On
Besides playing technique, the other thing that could also be creating unwanted string noise is the physical strings you are playing on. Many people prefer uncoated strings for their feel; however, they do create quite a bit of string noise.
The wound strings (i.e., the top three strings) on your guitar usually create the most amount of string noise, as their windings create friction between the string and your finger when being dragged over, which results in a louder sound being produced unnecessarily. The plain strings (bottom three) strings, on the other hand, create much less string noise because they offer less resistance when being dragged over.
Now, one of the most critical parts of fixing the issue of string noise is to become aware of it, why, by the fact that you’re reading this article, you obviously are. That’s great! Now that you’ve become aware of the string noise that happens while you play, you can work on reducing it.
As we mentioned previously, there is no way to get rid of string noise entirely; it’s just something that comes with playing the guitar, but there are some tips that we can offer that, when implemented, will help reduce your string noise to a level where it won’t be as much of a bother.
So without further ado, let’s get to talking about how to reduce string noise on your acoustic guitar!
Practice Your Technique
This may not be what you wanted to hear, as it’s no quick fix, but this is the thing that will make the most significant difference in the long run. Practicing your technique on your guitar’s fretboard will help you drastically reduce the amount of string noise you’ll hear while you play.
Unintentional string noise is most commonly heard when transitioning your fretting hand from one chord position to another. To get rid of this, you’ll need to practice your transitioning technique. It’s common for guitarists to drag their fingers across the strings when moving between chords, but this is precisely the thing that creates that unwanted string noise.
To combat this, you can practice lifting your fingers off of the strings when you want to change chords. However, it’s also important that you don’t do this too quickly; otherwise, your strings will sound open and create even more string noise.
When doing this, first release the pressure from the strings while still keeping contact with them, so the note doesn’t sound open. Then you can lift your fingers off the strings completely. They don’t have to go too far away from the strings; they just need to not be in contact with them. Because you released the pressure off the strings before removing your fingers completely, this step shouldn’t make any sound.
Then once your fingers are off the strings, you can move them into position for the next chord you want to play without worrying about creating a dragging noise on your strings. The more you practice doing this, the easier it will become, and eventually, you won’t even have to think about doing it; it’ll just become part of the way that you play.
Sliding Your Fingers Across the Strings
However, taking your fingers off of the strings entirely isn’t always possible, as some songs call for an intentional slide across the strings (known as a glissando). So what do you do when that is the case? There are three ways you can reduce string noise while sliding your finger across a string.
Use the Pad of Your Finger
The first method you can try is to use the pad of your finger to slide across a string instead of your fingertip. The tips of your fingers have likely become calloused from long hours of practicing your skills, and as a result, will create more string noise when run across a string. However, the pad of your finger will still be soft and puffy, meaning that it will create less string noise and mute out some of the high metallic sounds that create squeaks.
Angle Your Fingers Back
Another thing you can do is to angle your fingers back before you start to slide them across the strings. This means that more of your finger will be in contact with the string as you slide along it and help reduce and dampen some of the string noise that can be created due to it. This method is especially helpful when you need to slide along the strings quickly or if you’re playing a more technically difficult part of a song.
Wet Your Fingers Beforehand
The last tip we have for sliding across your guitar strings is to wet your fingers before doing so. This may not always be possible, but if, for instance, the song you are playing starts out with a big slide, you can lick your fingers just before you start the song. This may seem gross to some, but lute players do it all the time, and no one seems to be bothered by it.
Slow Down Your Playing
This will go hand in hand with practicing your technique. Slowing down the speed at which you play will give you more time to move your fretting hand’s position properly and will allow you to actually see what your hand is doing. This way, you won’t be relying on muscle memory to play chords; you will really need to pay attention to how you play.
Playing at a slower pace will allow you to observe every move that your hand makes and how that impacts the sounds you hear from your guitar. You’ll begin to have a better understanding of how even the smallest shift of a finger can have a significant impact on the sounds made by your guitar.
As you do this, you will be able to more easily recognize at what point your strings make the noises that you are trying to eliminate, and then you’ll be able to adjust accordingly to ensure that those sounds don’t repeat in the future.
The same goes for your strumming hand. When you slow down your playing, you can observe if at any point a part of your hand unnecessarily touches the strings, whether that be the heel of your hand on the top strings or your fingers on the bottom strings. If you notice that this is happening, you’ll be able to adjust the angle of your hand or the way you hold your plectrum to ensure that your strumming hand doesn’t cause unwanted string noise.
Change Out Your Strings for a Coated Set
One of the other things that might help reduce string noise by quite a bit is to switch out the strings you currently have on your guitar for a set of coated strings. Coated strings are smoother than regular strings, so they offer less resistance when you slide your fingers across them. This creates less friction when your fingers move across the strings and, as a result, creates less string noise too.
Below, we have listed some coated strings options for you to choose from if you are unsure of which strings you should buy.
- D’Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
- GUITARX X436-L Coated Hexagonal Steel Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Strings
- Elixir Strings 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings w NANOWEB Coating
- Ernie Ball Everlast Coated 80/20 Acoustic Guitar Strings
- Fender 60L Acoustic Guitar Coated Ball End Strings
- DR Strings DRAGON SKIN Coated Acoustic Guitar Strings
If you’re not sure that you want to change out your strings just yet, you can use a string lubricant (like the D’Addario XLR8 String Lubricant & Cleaner) to create the same effect that you would with coated strings. The string lubricant will help remove some of the friction created by your fingers on the strings and reduce string noise.
Mute Your Strings
This may seem counterintuitive because you do still want your strings to make a sound, but muting your strings doesn’t mean taking their sound away. Muting your strings simply means dampening the sound of the strings you are not playing on in a specific moment.
You can do this in several ways, the first of which being by using the heel or palm of your picking hand and lay them lightly over the top (thicker) strings when you are picking on the thinner bottom strings. This will help dampen their sound and stop them from ringing out while you play on other strings.
However, if you are playing on the guitar’s top strings, you can try using the fingers that you don’t need to pick at the strings to cover the bottom strings of the guitar. This will also create a dampening effect on these bottom strings and stop them from creating unwanted noise while playing on the top guitar strings.
These techniques may take some practice getting used to and finding a position that feels comfortable for you. Still, once you start to do this regularly, you’ll definitely start to notice it making a difference in the amount of string noise you hear while you play a tune. Which, at the end of the day, is what we are all after.
If you want to find a way to dampen all of your guitar strings at once, instead of having to do it manually with your hand, you can use a string dampener (like this Gruv Gear FretWraps String Muter). This will partially mute all of the strings on your guitar and reduce some of the excess vibrations and string noise that aren’t caused by your playing technique.
String dampeners are usually placed on or above the first fret of your guitar and help to dampen the noise made by your strings that you may not even be picking up on. String dampeners are most often used in studio settings where string noise can be picked up quite quickly, but you could use them in any setting to quiet your strings a little.
Trying to fix individual aspects of how you play your guitar, like reducing string noise, can be tricky. Tricky to identify what needs to be changed and even tricker to change it once you know what you change. Humans are very good at forming habits but not so good at breaking them, so these changes may not be easy to make.
But if you put enough effort into it, anything can be changed, and hopefully, the tips in this article have helped you take the first step towards reducing string noise when you play your guitar!