Acoustic string noise, often referred to as finger squeak, is a byproduct sound that tends to occur while changing between chords and notes, and when moving your fretting hand up and down the neck. Some players value this noise as a natural sound that gives a live quality to recordings, while others want clean takes with zero squeak.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide you’ll learn all about:
- What causes acoustic string noise?
- How to reduce acoustic string noise with technique?
- What types of products can help to reduce string squeak?
Before we continue, let’s take a look at some fast facts about reducing acoustic string noise:
- String noise mostly comes from the wound strings
- An adjustment of technique is the most effective way to reduce string squeak
- Coated and flatwound strings are much quieter than plain roundwound strings
- What Causes Acoustic String Noise?
- How to Reduce Acoustic String Noise with Technique
- What Types of Products can Help to Reduce String Squeak?
- Final Thoughts on Reducing Acoustic String Noise
What Causes Acoustic String Noise?
Acoustic string noise is a squeaking sound that occurs as a player’s fingers slide up and down the wound strings. As the skin on your fingers, particularly the calloused skin on the fingertips, catches each wind of the string, a micro pluck happens, and when these micro plucks happen in quick succession, for example, when sliding your finger quickly down a string, the noise produced sounds like a squeak.
How to Reduce Acoustic String Noise with Technique
If you’re looking to reduce or eliminate string squeak in your playing, your first stop should always be to reevaluate your technique.
Step 1 – Find out where your squeaks occur most
In order to address the issue, you need to find out where the problem areas are. Take a song that you play regularly and are aware of acoustic string noise happening in your playing, and record yourself playing it. You don’t need fancy gear, just your smartphone and your guitar will work just fine. When you’ve recorded the song, play back and see if there are any patterns, or any particular chord progressions where the noise is more noticeable.
Do be aware of course that your smartphone won’t quite pick up the same amount of string noise that a high end mic for acoustic guitars will – but it’ll still give you a good starting point.
If you record your playing using a video camera on your phone, you can set up for a closeup of the fretboard to see what’s happening, too.
Step 2 – Work on releasing pressure gently
Once you’ve identified the problem progressions, practice playing through them, but slowly. Take your time, and after you’ve played the chord or note, lift your fretting fingers gently until there’s no downward pressure on the string but your fingers are still in contact (this will help to avoid accidental open notes being played).
Step 3 – Practice contactless transition
After you have mastered the slow release of the fretting hand, the next step is to work on contactless transition. While you’re practicing, make this a slow and purposeful maneuver, in fact, think of it as 2 separate actions – lifting your fingers clear of the strings, then moving your hand to the next position. Be careful to lift your fingers directly off the strings in a nice smooth motion – if you make the action jerky, or you remove them at an angle, you may end up playing unintended pull offs.
Step 4 – Move to the next chord
When your fingers are clear of the strings, move your hand to the next position while consciously avoiding contact with them. Once you’re in the correct position, place your fingers directly down on the strings. This can take quite a lot of practice to avoid having to make small adjustments after touching down.
Step 5 – Use the pad
For the occasions in which lifting your fingers clear off the strings isn’t possible or practical, try using the pads of your fingers, rather than your fingertips. Remember, your fingertips are much more likely to be calloused, which will add to string squeak. The pads are much softer and may actually help to dampen noise.
What Types of Products can Help to Reduce String Squeak?
If you’re not having success with adapting your technique, there are fortunately some products that can help to reduce acoustic string noise, in some cases quite significantly.
There are two string types that can help to prevent string squeak – coated strings, and flatwound strings. Coated strings have a polymer finish that help your fingers to glide over them a little better, and because the polymer does fill in the gaps between the wrap winds, they are noticeably quieter when sliding your fingers over them.
Alternatively, you could install flatwound strings. We go into depth on flatwounds in our Flatwound vs. Roundwound article, but in a nutshell, these strings use a flattened wrap wire, which creates a smooth outer surface on the wound strings. Having this smooth surface can all but eliminate string squeak.
The downside to changing your strings rather than your technique is that these specialist strings can have a profound effect on your tone, which you may or may not like. Regardless, strings are not a permanent modification, and if you don’t like the sound, you can always change back.
By the way, check out our guides to restringing an acoustic guitar, as well as our choices for the best acoustic guitar strings.
If you are dead set against changing out your strings, you could always try a string lubricant like Fast Fret. Like any kind of lubricant, it reduces friction, which will in turn reduce string noise when your fingers slide over them.
This one is more so for your hands than your guitar, but failing all else, keeping your hands moisturized will make them softer and smoother, which in turn will reduce acoustic string noise as you transition between notes and chords.
Final Thoughts on Reducing Acoustic String Noise
Even though there are products on the market that can help, adapting your technique is by far the most effective way to prevent strings from squeaking while moving your fretting hand. If you’re just getting started in your guitar journey, it should be straightforward to get into the habit of consciously lifting your fingers between transitions, but, if you’ve been playing a while, it will definitely take a lot of practice to adjust your muscle memory. The key is to start slow, and make every move purposeful.