Strap Height - Standing ‘til the wheelchair

Cinnamon Kid

Member
Messages
47
Surprisingly, there aren’t many topics on this here. I am coming from a medical, health and longevity standpoint of questioning. I recently in the past couple of weeks did some damage to my fret hand. I (regrettably) had some 5+ hour jam sessions, like every night for a week or two. My thump ‘popped’ one night, of course it didn’t phase me and I kept going. Fast forward a couple of days, started getting bad hand numbness, even pain in my left hand trying to do simple every day tasks. My hand was very weak.

So, I’ve taken a few days off. The numbness and pain is wearing off. But it forced me to rethink proper technique and wrist position. I go between normal and thumb over, just depends. I play almost 100% standing, so I’ve started experimenting with strap height. I’ve never been a low strap guy, definitely not slash, at times Frusciante height maybe when I was younger. But these days a little higher usually, above the belt buckle, more of a Hendrix height or so. Now I am thinking I need to go higher, say a Ted Greene height, or I’ll say, a jazz guitarists sitting position? High as in encroaching on my chin, headstock getting near left ear position. Angle of the neck is part of this discussion I assume.

Just looking for thoughts. Not asking from a standpoint of ones idea of cool. What is proper/ leads to the best wrist position, tips on how to achieve it? I’ve gone as far to suspect that the thumb over is necessary for low strap players to keep their wrist straighter. The technique seems to be hindered some by a high strap. I haven’t experimented enough to know for sure. This hand deal hasn’t been fun, I’m sure carpal tunnel is going to happen one day. I’d like to mitigate the issue or prolong it if I can.
 

Tag

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
40,261
I agree with Thumper. Everyone plays so different and hand position etc. vary so much, your best bet is to just keep adjusting it until it's the most comfortable. I even vary from day to day myself. Now I usually find the guitar situated as close to sitting position is where it's most comfortable.
 
Messages
2,743
first question : do you play guitar to be cool, or to make music? I can honestly say I never gave a "cool" thought to my guitar, strap etc. It was all to suit me, I never cared what anybody else thought of it. And this from a guy who bought a 62 reissue Strat new in the mid 80s, when a vintage style Strat was the most UNCOOL guitar you could buy. IF it didn't have a floyd and a 'bucker it was very uncool! Same with a blackface Fender, TOTALLY uncool!! If it wasn't a stack amp it wasn't sheet! And now look... both the ultimate TGP cool approved gear.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
14,883
It's the position of your fret hand (and wrist and arm) that matters, and its approach to the neck. The body height can vary, as long as the fret hand position is comfortable. I.e., the longer the strap, the more the neck needs to be angled up. (Notice Slash liked to raise the neck almost vertical when doing the fancy stuff - it put his fret hand in an ideal position. Jimmy Page would also raise the neck to make fretting easier.)

My tip is about right angles. The fret arm elbow should be at a right angle or less. The forearm should be at right angles to the neck (the guitar neck, not yours :D), at least when around the middle of the neck. When you barre around frets 5-7, your index finger should be pointing right at your eye - and less than a foot away from your face. The thumb can go over or behind depending on what you're doing. You shouldn't need to change the angle of the neck when changing your thumb position.
When the thumb is behind, it points upward - not along the neck toward the nut - and should be straight and relaxed. It supports the fingertip pressure, which means when your fingers stretch out, the thumb is roughly central - or opposite the middle finger (not the index). Thumb over is used for muting and supporting bends and vibrato - it shouldn't need to be used to fret the 6th (although it can be).

In general, the whole fret arm should feel relaxed, all the way to the shoulder. The only sensation of tension is the pressure on the fingertips (and that's not much).

Barres can be assisted by pulling back on the neck (bracing the guitar body with the right arm). There's a school of thought which says the thumb actually plays no part on barring, but IMO - although it's possible to barre with no thumb at all - that's ridiculous. It's a combined action of light thumb pressure, and light pulling back on the neck. Another view is that the weight of the arm assists with the barre - but only if you keep the elbow tense. If your arm is relaxed, then its weight is going to simply pull your fret hand downward off the guitar, not back against the frets! If the elbow is rigid, however, then the L-shape of the whole arm (pivoting at the shoulder) will tend to pull the index back against the frets. All these things are worth trying to see how they feel - to see if some re-distribution of tension might help - but really it's all of those actions combined, while also feeling relaxed and flexible. It's big mistake to fix yourself in any one position, even a "correct" one.

If you have the strap really short, that can be worse than having it too long, because it puts the nut end of the neck too far away. It's great for playing on the high frets, but not good for the lower frets. Raising the neck angle from this position doesn't really improve matters!

Lastly, remember the whole point of the strap is to support the guitar - including the neck! The fret hand plays no part in holding the neck up - except when raising it to a better angle, perhaps. The fret hand needs to be free to - er - fret the strings. ;)
 

JosephZdyrski

Member
Messages
3,250
Imo it’s a personal preference ... however that said I would experiment and try new hand positions, strap heights etc. Because playing 5 hours shouldn’t stop you from playing the next day because your hand hurts. I’ve personally put in multiple 12 ish hours days in a row and have had very little hand irritation after.

Perhaps looking at the Jazz Guys for inspiration is a good thing, I’ve always strapped my guitar jazz height even before I liked jazz lol. And as a result I think I avoided a lot of the hand issues other guitarists have encountered along the way. And the amount Jazz players that keep their chops into advanced age while rock players it’s hit or miss and the ones that like to where their guitars lower seem to stop playing, chops decrease with age etc, all goes to support the case for correct guitar height and hand position being superior to a strictly rock approach.
 
Last edited:

dito

Member
Messages
166
Classical and heavy metal shredder: up
Thumb-over: down (not Slash-down)

I have a rule to adjust strap height. Generally I bend it halfway and put it on the guitar. Then I straight my right arm down. I must be able to grab the guitar bottom (in a standing perspective) with at least some part of my fingers. So, adjust the strap til it is ok.

But I'm a Strat guy. With other guitars this will not work.
 

Cinnamon Kid

Member
Messages
47
Thanks for the responses, umm, most of them. I'm going to experiment with it some more, maybe delve into some deeper research if I can find any. Guessing i'll have to look to classical/ jazz teachings. I don't believe its personal preference as some here are stating. I'd venture to say there are thousands of guitar players with horrible technique. In every other musical instrument, and in sports for example, there are proven techniques that are 'the right way' to do something. Even if there are different techniques to achieve something, there are educated opinions and research on the subject that highlight the advantage or disadvantages associated, often times relating to the health and longevity to the person using a certain technique. Seems the guitar world is light years behind every other musical instrument, or there are just a lot of unconcerned players as a whole. I also understand it could be other factors, maybe my strap height is generally fine and not the real issue at 'hand'.
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
32,655
This is another one of those questions any player can answer for themselves.
The bottom line is simply performance without fatigue or damage.
Most players, including many of the most revered and accomplished, get by very well with the guitar about belt high, effectively you are picking at your belly button. Left arm where the best reach for the most positions can take place.
How complicated can it be?
 

Cinnamon Kid

Member
Messages
47
Not complicated, just hoping for some sophisticated outlook on the subject. SRV, Mike Einziger, possibly Claptons back pains that led to peripheral neuropathy, plenty of others could be listed as 'the most revered and accomplished', yet suffer(ed) with hand and back issues. Its why Einziger doesn't use Jazz Masters any longer I believe..
 

Lucidology

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
27,013
In my case play differently dependent on where the guitar is situated ... When standing able a play lot more flashy than when sitting where I play a lot more conservatively ...

If a neck profile is too fat I can barely make it to the of a 2nd set without my wrist cramping up ... Had to sell many a beloved axe because of this factor...
 

dave999z

Member
Messages
234
Sorry about the problem you're experiencing. Sounds sucky. Hope it gets better.

Regardless of whether you use your thumb to actually fret a note, having your thumb coming over the top of the neck results in a healthier position for your wrist (more straight). Your fingers have to get used to that angle, and of course it's limiting if you're trying to do major stretches and difficult intricate stuff on the lower strings. But I think it's worth it. I just limit fast stuff to the top 4 strings, roughly 7th fret or above!

The other thing to watch for though is elbow problems. (People who play endlessly sitting down, or use a computer all day, can encounter this.) The higher the guitar, the more your elbow is bent (on both arms, but most problematically on your picking hand arm), which stretches and impinges your ulnar nerve and can cause cubital tunnel syndrome (numbness, coldness, and pain in pinky and half of ring finger).

A good principle is that whatever you do should never hurt or be tense.

Good times!
 

Alex Kenivel

Member
Messages
1,723
As someone who has suffered ulnar nerve damage, I pay closer attention to my elbows. I like to have them as straight as possible, which means a lower strap.
 

Cinnamon Kid

Member
Messages
47
I was wondering about the elbow position with a higher strap! That’s the type of input I was hoping to gather. Starting to think a 90° elbow, which puts the guitar just above the belt or so, and a thumb over prominent technique is the way to go. Chunkier necks would help, just going to be limiting with the single note stuff as mentioned. Nothing will be perfect, too many variables. Limiting the angles, wrist and elbow, as much as possible is something worth working at I think. Might have to work with throwing the neck angle upwards when doing something more lead or single note heavy.
 

Guitardave

Member
Messages
9,988
Surprisingly, there aren’t many topics on this here. I am coming from a medical, health and longevity standpoint of questioning. I recently in the past couple of weeks did some damage to my fret hand. I (regrettably) had some 5+ hour jam sessions, like every night for a week or two. My thump ‘popped’ one night, of course it didn’t phase me and I kept going. Fast forward a couple of days, started getting bad hand numbness, even pain in my left hand trying to do simple every day tasks. My hand was very weak.

So, I’ve taken a few days off. The numbness and pain is wearing off. But it forced me to rethink proper technique and wrist position. I go between normal and thumb over, just depends. I play almost 100% standing, so I’ve started experimenting with strap height. I’ve never been a low strap guy, definitely not slash, at times Frusciante height maybe when I was younger. But these days a little higher usually, above the belt buckle, more of a Hendrix height or so. Now I am thinking I need to go higher, say a Ted Greene height, or I’ll say, a jazz guitarists sitting position? High as in encroaching on my chin, headstock getting near left ear position. Angle of the neck is part of this discussion I assume.

Just looking for thoughts. Not asking from a standpoint of ones idea of cool. What is proper/ leads to the best wrist position, tips on how to achieve it? I’ve gone as far to suspect that the thumb over is necessary for low strap players to keep their wrist straighter. The technique seems to be hindered some by a high strap. I haven’t experimented enough to know for sure. This hand deal hasn’t been fun, I’m sure carpal tunnel is going to happen one day. I’d like to mitigate the issue or prolong it if I can.
Certain styles of playing are easier to do with different strap heights. Lower I can more easily do thumb over the neck, higher makes wider finger stretches easier. Higher is much easier for soloing without bending. Too high and you'll get elbow issues. The angle of the guitar neck is a huge deal...so I shift that depending on what I'm doing. Also, don't be afraid to re-position the guitar on your body so things are closer or farther. If I'm trying to play big stretches closer to the nut of the guitar I pull entire thing closer to me.

As others have said the goal is always to avoid "pain".

Over time I've found it's way simpler to not play full chords all that much. Even when I'm playing bar chords I often skip the full finger bar. It's not that I can't do it...but it turns out that rarely do I enjoy the sound of those chords as much. Overall I adapt what I play to avoid any pain. That doesn't mean I don't work on difficult things. But there are so many ways to play the same idea on the guitar that often I can find another approach that works better for me.

Last thought is double-check the setup of your guitar and make sure it's friendly...maybe drop a string gauge for awhile. I do that when my hands are out of shape...

If you are playing a lot of fast single note stuff with lots of bending it's a lot on your hands. Take breaks more often, switch up techniques, etc. so you aren't just wearing yourself out with the same things.
 

p.j.

Member
Messages
5,067
I always learned guitar step length equals the same position as sitting and standing. There should be no difference in guitar position between sitting and standing. Has worked for me since i started playing.
I agree with this. I always play with a strap and my sitting or standing has no bearing on how I am holding the guitar. This eliminates variables and lets me be more consistent. I play with the guitar pretty high. I thank early influences like Steve Howe, Robert Fripp, and Allan Holdsworth for this. (I loved Husker Du as a kid, also, but luckily did not go the Bob Mould strap route!;))
 




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